Tobold's Blog
Friday, January 13, 2012
Game rules and player behavior

Games have rules. But besides those rules there are often conventions and social norms, which are not governed by the game rules itself. The behavior of players and supporters of a game is often influenced by factors outside the game rules, by how clubs are organized, how tournaments are organized, and so on. But that separation is less obvious for online games, as the game not only sets the rules for the game itself, but also organizes how the players come together. Social issues like cheating in online games can have technical solutions, like Diablo 3 is attempting to make their game cheat-free by keeping all information server-side. And changes in the game engine on how players meet, for example the introduction of the Dungeon Finder in World of Warcraft, have profound social consequences on how players interact with each other.

Yesterday Helistar remarked in my post about Rohan's experiences with other players in raids that these experiences "had absolutely nothing to do with the game". And for the reasons listed above, I beg to differ. I think that how nicely or horribly players treat each other in a MMORPG is very much influenced by game design, because the game design not only covers the rules of the game itself, but also the effects of how players interact with each other. If you took two otherwise identical MMORPGs, but made grouping give much more bonus xp in one of them than in the other, you would over time observe very different player behaviors and attitudes towards grouping. Blizzard is pretty obviously constantly social engineering player behavior in their endgame by fiddling with nerfs and various systems to distribute epic gear, with guild perks, and RealID tags.

Thus the developers cannot be completely absolved from any responsibility for players behaving badly. One guy behaving badly is probably a problem of that one guy. But if similar modes of bad behavior are widely reported in many groups or guilds, we need to look at what parts of the game design favor that sort of behavior. I am sure that Blizzard thought very carefully about how to distribute loot among group-members in Diablo 3, because by having a game design which attaches real money value to every piece of loot, there is an obvious risk of fostering bad behavior among players. I've seen the negative effect of a real-money player economy very clearly back in the days where I played Magic the Gathering Online. It turned what was a fun game into a cesspool full of card sharks.

But besides the dangers of game design fostering bad behavior, there is also an opportunity of better game design fostering better behavior. I once was positively surprised of receiving a very nice welcome from more experienced players in some Asian Free2Play MMORPG; it turned out that this game had a system where experienced players would mentor new players, and in return receive rewards based on how well the new player was doing. The first Asheron's Call had a similar system of lieges and vassals, which gave the game a completely different social dynamic than other MMORPGs. Players of MMORPGs react strongly to incentives and rewards, and a game in which you are rewarded for helping new players ends up with a very different community than a game where it would be advantageous to gank them.

Of course game developers already have realized this. There has been a constant development over the last decade to create game rules which prevent bad behavior. We went from simply "play nice" policies to games in which it became increasingly impossible to hurt other players. Today it is hard to imagine that there were games where you could actually "kill steal" or "ninja loot", getting the xp and loot rewards from a mob somebody else pulled. The terms are still used, but now describe much less critical modes of behavior. I can only hope that in the future this trend goes from removing possible interactions between players towards enabling positive interactions between players, and rewarding them.
Just curious, is the "Asian Free2Play MMORPG" Atlantica Online? That has one of the better communities of any game I've ever seen - too bad the game itself has the typical F2P problems.
No, it was a game called Luminary. But Atlantica Online is also nice.
Something I've noticed with TOR is that it's possible for our party or ops group to have several low level characters in it, and they can still be rewarded for their presence and participating with a token of relatively worthwhile exp.

It seems to scale down - we haven't had the exact numbers figured out. But where a level 49 might be earning 2759 from an elite mob kill in Ilum, the level 29 tagging along to play with his friends is getting something closer to 649 - an equal percentage of level-progress, for that level? We don't know.

Either way, they still get absolutely murdered if we're not watching agro. But it's a nice way for guilds to explore together and enjoy some activities without people feeling like they're missing out on rewards that other people ARE getting, feeling like they should be splintering off to do their own thing in order to 'progress' instead of hanging out with friends to dance in strange places and see world bosses being downed. In WoW, doing that sort of thing the lowbies would have been penalized for being near a high level player and would receive somewhere between 0-5 exp per mob kill.

Now, if they were to implement something like City of Heroes' sidekicking scaling so that higher level characters could play with lowbies and not have them simply trash everything in sight, running a 30min flashpoint in 3 min, but preserve some of the original intended gameplay challenge, I'd be in heaven.
It is interesting how far we have come to accept social engineering as "good enough" when it comes to fostering morality by bribing people. Do you think the recidivism rate for criminals would go down if we paid them to stop committing crimes? Would it be ethical to do so, if it worked?

Blizzard's mistake was not grouping players anonymously, but rather mixing together groups of disparate players with no common background or play-style; sticking the performance-minded players with those just killing time. It was pretty clear in Rohan's case that it was a simple culture clash between the two guilds. One side saw the other as not taking the game serious enough, not "pulling their weight," and thus lashed out at the injustice. If you had a full raid team of those kind of players, I doubt the yelling would have occurred.
But you're taking my experience out of context. I've been with my guild for three years. The merger existed for 2 months.

What makes the last two months more indicative of the rules than the previous 34 months?

Wouldn't it more likely be due to the people involved?

My theory is that like attracts like. The people in the other guild self-selected for the traits I found repellent. We self-selected for different traits. The merger was done before we really realized what each side was truly like.
Do you think the recidivism rate for criminals would go down if we paid them to stop committing crimes?

The United States has 743 prison inmates per 100,000 population, Germany has 87. Given these numbers and the big difference in the welfare system of the two countries, I would say that yes, paying people to not commit crimes does work rather well all over Europe.
Honestly, I remain on my position: in ALL games you get shouting and screaming as soon as one player feels he can blame someone else for his failure. Be it the (perceived) incompetence of a team mate, the "luck" of the opposing team, the cheater in face of him, or anything else which can be used to shift the blame. You get it even in single-player games (e.g., stupid developers not allowing quicksaves).

I find Azuriel's to be a better explanation of why this happens in WoW (and BTW it's a general principle which applies to all games and not just WoW).

And I'm not sure that bribing works that well, either. What I mean is that the mentoring system will not turn an asshole into a nice player, but just "filter" the players so that the assholes will just leave for another game.

I also find funny that WoW ends up targeted all the time: I have a tendence to blacklist-no-questions-asked anyone who gets insulting or too annoying. If I compare my blacklists, it's something like:

- LotRO: 1
- WoW: around 10
- WoT: I stopped counting a long time ago

So it would seem that loot and raids are not the driving force.
I suspect a lot of the complaints about ass-hats in online games come from two types of people.

First there are some who are a bit too sensitive about the ass-hattery that will inevitably exist. It's a playground, folks - deal with it.

Second are those who are basically ass-hats themselves and don't like the competition. They get mad when anyone gets away with the bad behaviour they want to do. Unfortunately for them, like attracts like.

Social engineering is a bit limited in its effects. And it can actually erode the value of being a civilised player. If ninja looting is impossible, for example, you can't classify players on the basis of whether or not they do it. Cross-server dungeon finders make it even worse in terms of selecting good people and leaving the ass-hats to group with each other and write to forums about how horrible PUGs are.

And of course there is the legitimate point that has been made by several people about how different players want different things. I don't play MtG but "a cesspool of card sharks" might just be people who enjoy playing a skill game for money.
I think a lot of the complaints are from twats who don't seem to realise that if they queue up for a random PUG, they will be grouped with random players. And if they want some kind of 'quality assurance' then they should go with premades.

I was in a warzone on SWTOR the other day where a couple of the players were flipping out and screaming at everyone else to never queue again. That's just stupid, it's the upset players who should a) not queue if it's going to drive up their bloodpressure and b) form premades if they want to play in premades.
Honestly, I think a lot of the issue here in the WoW sense is that they have great tools if you want random people, but wretched tools if you want to find a consistent group.

Guild finding tools and guild advertising tools are no where near on par with LFD and LFR. I think if they solve that, you'll see a rennaisance of sorts, but that I see as the force really driving the game down.

You can quickly see this on an RP server rather than a PvE server, as it's a smaller raiding population. Many people start guilds because they can't really find a like-minded one to join.

It's to be expected when the random-group feature is robust, and the social-grouping feature is nil. I think perhaps they expected RealID in it's original intended incarnation to solve that, but we all see how that went.
"Today it is hard to imagine that there were games where you could actually "kill steal" or "ninja loot", getting the xp and loot rewards from a mob somebody else pulled." I've noticed in SW:TOR that there are places in the world with Elite level mobs which are in proximity of a loot container. I've had multiple experiances where once I've engaged the said Elite, someone will come up and open the chest and take the extra credits/items that the encounter provided. I was really surprised the first time this happened, but see it as an oversight to what will become a bigger issue given enough time.
Totally agree with Spinks. And from my perspective, a solo player who can't reliably play on a schedule, the Finder system has actually improved the community for me.

Back before the Dungeon Finder, players had control over me whether I could find a PuG group. And we all know what power does to people.

I may have to put up with occasional unpleasant chat reading, but that beats the hell out of sitting around and waiting to beg my way into a group, often getting no response at all. And certainly don't try to do any new content.

I enjoy the vast number of randoms I get, I ignore, or quit the bad ones. Doesn't seem like that big a deal.
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