Thursday, May 12, 2011
Doubting the value of Apartheid
Both Nils and Klepsacovic have been arguing for player segregation in MMORPGs, separating the good players from the bad players by some game feature. I don't think that apartheid (the Afrikaans word for segregation) is a good idea. Not because it is like in the real world, where Apartheid didn't work all that well in South Afrika, or segregation in the US south; but because virtual worlds are NOT like the real world.
The idea of player segregation is based on a flawed premise, that there are two distinct sorts of players, the "good" and the "bad", or you could call them the "hardcore" and the "casual". That is almost certainly not true. If you plot any natural skill, talent, or intelligence of any population, you always get some sort of gaussian distribution, that is a bell curve in which most people are average, and few people are very good or very bad. For segregation to work, this would have to be a bimodal curve.
One well researched example of this is the IQ curve. In any population most people are of average intelligence, and there are equal, but small, numbers of geniuses and morons. But the IQ curve also shows that people are notoriously unable to have a realistic view of themselves. If you ask people to estimate their IQ, the average of the estimations is 120, which is significantly higher than the real average of 100.
Thus if you ask players whether they are good or bad, you will get pretty much everybody thinking that they are among the good players. If you make "easy" and "hard" servers, you'll find the easy servers standing empty, because nobody would even want to admit that he might not be top notch.
If self-segregation doesn't work, then how about forced segregation? Again that isn't quite as easy as in real life, where whether somebody is black or white is relatively obvious in most cases. If you look at the current population, there are obviously some players who have all the achievements of a top raider, but who did either buy their way into a top raiding guild like Gevlon did, or are the hardcore guild leader's girlfriend. On the other hand you'll have real top notch players who took a break, and are missing the gearscore and achievements you'd be looking for.
In principle some sort of player segregation is already on offer, the same dungeons exist in normal and heroic form. The huge amount of complaints this current system evokes shows that this isn't working well at all. The fundamental reason for that is shared responsibility, especially for the dps role where there are always other players fulfilling the same role. Any group content can only measure the performance of a team, and thus there is always room for a less good player to be "carried" by the rest of the team. If you wanted a working player segregation, you could only offer solo content.
And ultimately the idea of player segregation in virtual world is bad for the same moral and social reasons that segregation and apartheid are bad in the real world: The hardcore raidleader playing with his less competent girlfriend is *not* a failure of the system, but a symptom of MMORPGs being social games as well as games about performance. Segregating friends because they have different degrees of skill is a fundamentally flawed concept, and leads to less attractive, less social, less friendly games, which only the most unfeeling players would actually want to play.