Tobold's Blog
Thursday, May 14, 2009
 
Playing for incentives

Green Armadillo of Player vs. Developer has a great post up on Blizzard trying to discourage players from playing Wintergrasp by removing incentives, turning the daily quests into weekly quests. Simply put, there were too many incentives to do Wintergrasp, so too many players played there, causing a lot of server problems. Reducing the incentives will reduce the number of players, and balance the load on various zones better.

Thinking about that I couldn't help but notice how different a game like Free Realms is regarding incentives. So different that I sometimes get reader's comments about FR here which completely miss the point, trying to apply the WoW incentive-based game philosophy to Free Realms, which simply doesn't work. For example I don't particularly care for the Free Realms two kart racing games. But in Free Realms my level in kart racing, and any quest rewards I might acquire doing kart racing, only affect the kart racing game itself and are completely irrelevant to my progress as blacksmith / miner, or chef, or brawler, or any other job. Thus whether SOE increases or decreases the incentives of the kart racing game has zero influence on me playing the kart racing game, because in any case the rewards would only help me to race karts better, which isn't that much fun to me.

In World of Warcraft the various possible activities are much more connected. You don't need to be a big fan of PvP to want to play Wintergrasp. Some people just do it because of the incentives, because the rewards are good, and doing Wintergrasp every day will help you get gear you'll want for arenas or raids. Thus Blizzard's plan will work, because by removing the incentives you remove a lot of players who are only there for the rewards, while those who play Wintergrasp because they happen to like it will stay.

Is it just me, or is there something inherently wrong about a game design in which you end up pursueing a game activity you don't like very much only because of the incentives, the rewards that will enable you to access the part of the game you really want to play?
Comments:
The main problem with Blizzard's "fix" is that no one cares about stone keeper shards. Making the daily a weekly isn't going to affect anything.

People go to Wintergrasp to get Wintergrasp Marks of Honor and the large chunk of honor you get (outside of the daily quest honor). People go even when you are defending and have a high probability to lose, because there's a mark in it.

Just like the other Battlegrounds, Blizzard has decided to make gear require marks of honor from each BG...which WG also has. Blizzard can take away 30g a day and some useless stone keeper shards, and people will still be flocking there every 2 hours for their marks.

But most prevalent on my mind is this: Rather than fixing the problem of the lag through instancing or changing incentives so that all people in WG aren't flocked together at the castle...they are actually trying to dissuade people from coming and experiencing WG...a big part of WoTLK.

Screw incentives, and how they are used to get you to follow a particular path...that topic has been around since man invented religion and specialized occupations.

What does it say that Blizzard has given up on fixing WG, and instead are trying to make it less popular so they don't have to actually fix a glaring problem?
 
I wonder what would happen if Blizzard took away all incentives to do anything.

Do the activities in WoW have any intrinsic fun, or are we all just lab rats pushing the cheese button?
 
Do the activities in any game have any intrinsic fun, or are we all just lab rats pushing the cheese button?
I fixed it for you. And to answer your question: Yes, there is intrinsic fun in defeating other players in PvP, and there's intrinsic fun in executing the coreographies of raid encounters with other players. But as Tobold pointed out, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A raider doesn't necessarily enjoy a PvP battle, and a PvPer doesn't necessarily enjoy a raid. The incentives are not intended for the faithful, they're meant to lure in potential converts. Blizzard is trying to encourage "cross-pollination" to slow the problems emanating from content churn. When the raider complains that there's not enough raid content, they'll say that he should PvP instead. When a PvPer complains that there isn't enough Arenas / Battlegrounds / World PvP, they'll say that he should raid instead. That way they'll gain a bit more time to make the next raid instance / arena / battleground / world PvP location. It seems that Blizzard forgot that due to WoW being a very PvE-heavy game, the player base is also very PvE-heavy. Therefore incentives tied to PvP were vastly more effective than they anticipated.

Funnily enough, this has a precedent in Vanilla WoW. When the honor system was introduced, Southshore vs Tarren Mill was so popular that it made the Eastern Kingdoms unplayable. The battlegrounds were rapidly introduced with extra incentives to lure the players into PvP instances, which were much more manageable. Then Blizzard forgot the power of incentives before the Burning Crusade when they turned honor into a currency. Because the gear was so powerful and so easy to get, raid instances emptied almost overnight, and quick adjustments were necessary.

With the lead WoW developers having moved to new projects, it seems that institutional dementia is kicking in. There's nobody with enough clout around to remind the current developers what happened the last time.
 
It's something wrong with the PLAYERS, not Blizzard. If someone plays an aspect of the game for some reward he is doing something stupid. Blizzard is just (ab)using this to make players play the same content over and over.

You can start raiding in quest rewards and gear up in Naxx.

You can start arena in crafted blues and gear up after a couple weeks in 1200 rating.

Yet players go after ANY rewards to make their character look better (some sick kind of social status). They even do it when the reward is not even useful, like camping eggs for useless points.

As long as stupid people exists, stupid-abusing (goblinish) movements will also exist.
 
Gevlon, all I have to wonder is, how in God's name can I ever be as good of a WoW player as you? Apparently you hold the secret to playing WoW correctly, i.e. building up more money than you can use, while the rest of us chumps mistakenly have fun incorrectly with how we play our game.

Gevlon, can you do us stupid people a huge favor, and just tell us all how to play already, so we can play the video game correctly?

Obviously if I camp eggs, I'm stupid. I'm sure everyone knows that doing that instead of making gold and taking screenshots of it is dumb.

There's a disconnect somewhere, and I and a few million other players would really appreciate it if you can teach us how to play WoW correctly.

Thanks in advance Gev!
 
"Is it just me, or is there something inherently wrong about a game design in which you end up pursueing a game activity you don't like very much only because of the incentives, the rewards that will enable you to access the part of the game you really want to play?"

It is really interesting to see what people will do for even a minimal "reward" offered.

More and more games have achievement and meta-achievement systems that tell players to do a ton of silly things, besides the complete range of humanly imaginable pvp, pve and whatever activities. Often for a rather pitiful reward.

Gevlon is right, something must be wrong with us players. Greed at its best.

But I also feel the basic game design is more about keeping the hamster running in the wheel than providing new and exciting content.

It also does not offer anything else.
 
"Is it just me, or is there something inherently wrong about a game design in which you end up pursueing a game activity you don't like very much only because of the incentives, the rewards that will enable you to access the part of the game you really want to play?"

That sums up exactly how I felt about having to get my PvP trinket in WoW in order to raid Mount Hyjal..... it was a life saver when fighting Archimode..... and often could be the difference between a successful kill and a wipe.

The problem has rolled over into WotLK, at least for feral Druid tanks..... much of the PvP gear is best in slot (or close to) for feral tanking.... which is a sad state of affairs. (It's also much more predicatble to acquire - no waiting on the RNG to give it to you.... just play enough pvp and its yours)
 
What we're basically doing here is querying the wisdom of deferred gratification.

WoW is a source of entertainment that competes with a vast array of different options. People playing WoW are at any given moment choosing WoW over other options some of which may be very entertaining and attractive. Doing something dull in WoW when one could be watching a great film or playing football or getting drunk is a choice one makes because gratification is expected, just not instantly.

For a pve trudging through bgs for an honour reward the real reward is becoming a great raider. The player is, for example, making a choice that having the pvp trinket for the Archimonde fight is a better option than being a sucky raider that the guild has to bench.

It's worth doing something you don't like (battlegrounds) because it unlocks content you do like (a raid spot on an exciting raid).

People throw around the word stupid too much. Most people choose their actions based on a sound understanding of what's best for them. I don't like commuting. If I refused to ever commute then I would never get to my job (which I do like) not would I ever receive pay (which I also like). Deferred gratification.
 
Stabs, thanks for coining a term. Though I just ask myself if it is really the appropriate term for this...

I indeed doubt the wisdom of "deferred gratification".

I do not like the instant gratification mentality either, but having to go fly fishing because I want to play soccer with proper shoes sounds about as idiotic as various things we can do in WoW. ;)

Your boss in your beloved job also did not tell you to take the most annoying means of transportation as requirement for the job, did he?

This is the issue, games by now are set up intentionally in a way that people have to do EVERYTHING to get something special. This is basically a content extender, and it leads to hordes of PvE players who give a damn about battlegrounds camping flags in Warsong Gulch during Children's Week (you can read about that at Broken Toys).
 
Once upon a time, I played single player games over and over for months, just to beat that high score (either mine, or a friend's) again and again.
Then came the multiplayer games, which I played over and over for months, just to get that screenshot with my name on the 1st position of the score list.
After that, team player games came, and I played them over and over for months, just to see our team on the nr 1 position of the league/tournament/ladder.
And then I jumped into MMO games, and played them over and over for months, just to get that one new special/powerful item.

When I look back, I can say that I do like player progression (improving your own skills in playing the game) a lot , but I do NOT like character progression (improving your game character's skills/gear/whatever).

What I enjoyed in WoW was being the best healer/dps of the raid, and I *hated* the fact that this was for a large part limited by my character progression (one of the reasons why I never really bothered much with PVP). However, it has been a very addictive incentive, which is why I submitted to the maximizing-gear/skill/whatever-grinds.
It happened to me once, and I'm not going to let it happen again, because it does not improve the fun factor (actually it reduces fun), only the time spent factor (which seems logical due to the monthly fee).
 
Yes, WoW players are a bit nutty. And don't kid yourself; there isn't a single part of the game that isn't driven by incentives. Even if you personally enjoy an activity, you wouldn't be able to fill a raid, an arena team, or a bg if all you had to offer was the lulz. You would be nearly alone.

All of WoW is just a big hamster wheel you are paying to run on. If you run real hard, they give you cheese. While you are on the wheel, it seems natural to run on the wheel, it seems fun to run on the wheel. But once whatever part of your brain that is getting stimulated by all this cheese is satiated, it all seems very very absurd.


Also, this is further evidence of my hypothesis that Blizzard's strategy is to invest the minimum amount of effort possible in the game to maximize Return on Investment. See, they figured out they don't have to offer nearly as much cheese as they thought they did to keep the subscribers around.
 
@Toxic:
"All of WoW is just a big hamster wheel you are paying to run on. If you run real hard, they give you cheese."

Thank you for summing up all MMOs.
 
Andrew:

Yep, this is true. Though many MMOs aren't quite as bad (or good, depending on how you look at it) at getting people to start running.
 
>>Is it just me, or is there something inherently wrong about a game design in which you end up pursueing a game activity you don't like very much only because of the incentives, the rewards that will enable you to access the part of the game you really want to play?<<

That's a dangerous idea though, because without incentives every piece of content in the game has to be fun for a lot of people, or it will die off. Which is probably impossible.

If a lot of people don't like kart racing, and there are no incentives to do it, kart racers who do like it will see the population dwindle, and usually to a point where the activity itself becomes untenable even for those that do like it. You can't have a 12 person race or a tournament if only 8 people on the server like kart racing.

So its either do nothing, fundamentally redesign the content to attract more people, or add incentives. Usually the third is easiest to do.

Wintergrasp to me sounds though that its not so much because its more fun, its because the incentives are tops compared to other zones. There's fun in play and fun in reward too.
 
neispace,

I suppose this is a ridiculous utopian idea that exists in the realm of unicorns and perpetual motion machines, but I propose that the platonic ideal for an MMO should be a game in which each element stimulates the pleasure center of the brain so much that enough people are willing to do it without a carrot or a stick to goad them into it. Sort of like how most non-mmos are or try to be. I'm not ruling out rewards altogether, but I am suggesting they should be secondary motivation, not the primary.

Of course that contradicts the drug dealer economic model that MMOs currently follow, but then what does that say about the genre?
 
"a game in which each element stimulates the pleasure center of the brain so much that enough people are willing to do it without a carrot or a stick to goad them into it."

Grats Toxic, you've just invented porn.
 
Masturbation is serious business.
 
But seriously I also invented Super Mario Brothers, and I played the crap out of that even though as soon as I hit the rest button all progress or reward was gone.
 
Sounds a lot like work. Grind away at something you don't like that much just so you have the resources to do something you do like.....

Some people enjoy their jobs all the time, most people enjoy it some of the time, lots of people just grind because of the incentives. Lots of people do things they aren't very happy with just for the money (evil corporate jobs, etc...)

Back in vanilla I was in a guild that was PvP focused (most came from AC-DT, many are in Darkfall now). We started raiding MC->BWL because to compete against the best PvPers we needed T2 gear. Since Top Gear + Skill > Average Gear + Skill.
 
"I propose that the platonic ideal for an MMO should be a game in which each element stimulates the pleasure center of the brain so much that enough people are willing to do it without a carrot or a stick to goad them into it."
But are you saying that some/all of the activities in WoW are intrinsically unfun or that they lose their luster over time?
Just because something is fun doesn't mean it continues to be fun. If it did, we'd still all be playing with Matchbox cars or playing the original Super Mario Brothers, and wouldn't need variety or new games. Rewards/achievements are a way for developers to keep us playing, and in the case of MMOs, paying.
However, it seems like some people expect unlimited content. No matter how much content there is, someone more hardcore than you will complain that there isn't enough anyway. Blizzard needs to keep the majority of their subscribers paying. If you don't like what they're doing you can always vote with your wallet.
 
yes, something is wrong and I think n1ck has a point about the marks.
 
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