Tobold's Blog
Sunday, September 09, 2012
Confirmation bias

The book I mentioned yesterday, Democray Despite Itself, also has a discussion about journalism, how people interpret news, and thus the discussion is also relevant for blogging. One very interesting section is talking about confirmation bias, the tendency of people of interpret news as confirming what they already believed before. Thus the same piece of news can be interpreted by different sides as supporting their argument. I see that in blogging all the time.

One example and prediction: The number of subscribers of World of Warcraft will most certainly go up with the release of the expansion (it always does). But it is possibly that with the game getting old this time no new absolute peak will be reached. So I consider it very possible that at some point in the future Blizzard will report their subscription numbers, and it will be something like "11 million" or "12 million". How will people react to that?

Well, the people who believe World of Warcraft is the greates game ever will take this news and interpret it to confirm their bias towards WoW. They will point out how many millions of players Mists of Pandaria added to the game, thus interpreting MoP as a success. They will point out how many million more subscribers WoW has than any other game, or how many more million dollars of profit it makes.

But the same news will also be read by the World of Warcraft haters. And they will interpret it to confirm *their* bias: World of Warcraft is obviously dying if the Mists of Pandaria doesn't succeed in beating the all time high of subscribers. The expansion is a failure, because it added less millions of subscribers than previous expansions. Over half of the subscribers are in China and thus for some reason don't count, etc., etc., etc.

I do try to write in a balanced way on my blog. But confirmation bias also means that anything I say about a game will be interpreted by those who hate that game as overly positive, because they interpreted the same facts in a far more negative way. And by those who love the game, any opinion I have will be interpreted as overly negative, because they read the same news in a far more positive way. I had some crazy people in the comment section recently who interpreted a blog entry from me about playing WoW during the Guild Wars 2 prerelease as an attack against Guild Wars 2, when in fact I had just not preordered the game. They projected their pre-formed belief that Guild Wars 2 was the greatest game ever and not yet sufficiently hyped on my blog post about something completely different, and found that me posting about another game was "proof" for their belief that GW2 wasn't sufficiently praised.

Sometime the tendency of readers to not listen to any arguments I make, but to take every fact or opinion only as a confirmation of what they already believe, makes me despair of blogging. Why argue when even facts will not sway opinions?

Take solace in knowing that the silent majority doesn't fall prey to this trap. :)

Or on the flip side, if they do, you'll never have to know about it anyways since they don't vocalize it!
People get worked up just as much over their mobile OS platform of choice, so it's not just a gamer's problem.

Some of the bile and misinformation in comments sections really makes me wonder about humanity.

I do like the idea that one site had; they have a handful of trusted commentators that are able to keep the conversations civil. The only downside is it isn't open to the public.

I kind of hope that's the future of comment sections. You have to earn your trust somehow.
I found that arguing on the internet on anything that people somehow feel invested in (products, lifestyles, politics etc) is completely pointless. One can get fun from the excercise itself but a changing of minds: it will NEVER happen (maybe when hell freezes over).
Life isn't just about facts. If it was it would scarcely be worth living.
"Liberal," in its original meaning, refers to being open to new information and ideas, and evaluating those ideas based on their merit rather than how well they fit with what one already believes. That usage has been replaced with "opposite of conservative" and loaded with political baggage, and it's a real shame; the moral weight of the older usage has been lost, and with it, our ability to distinguish the method of thought it describes. Empathy, we don't has it.

How to be liberal: Make an effort to read or listen to each side of an argument with empathy. Try to understand why the person would write or say such a thing. Evaluate their arguments based on the information they present. Avoid labeling and dismissing ("he's a wow fanboy, his opinion is worthless"). A different idea is not a threat to your well-being, it is an opportunity to test and evaluate the utility of your idea. You are not the champion of your beliefs; they are your tools. Test them, break them, put them back together. Steal the best ideas you find and make them your own.
In the US, "liberal" usually means socially liberal, and is attributed to the Democrats. While in Europe "liberal" usually refers to the more right-wing policy of economic liberalism. There are surprisingly few parties that want *both* economic and social liberty.
Bloggers are also not immune for stating their opinions as if they were facts ;)
The existing example is Wrath and Cata WoW subscriptions which prove that millions left because it was too easy. Or too hard.

In defense of the internet, in real life I don't find people overly rational, reasonable, analytical or flexible. And yes politics, Apple/Windows, iOS/Android, ... I have even read about the occasional disagreements on religion throughout the world.
The reason the Chinese subs are dubious is that they aren't paying a subscription. You buy a 100 hour card, and if you quit with 1 hour left, you are technically still a customer. It's a lot closer to F2P than a true sub, and it's always been a dubious number that is more for marketing purposes than anything else. They certainly don't generate anywhere the same amount of money as a subscriber in the rest of the world.

That said, you are right about the rest of it. I've been out of WoW for years now, but I've noticed that every single blog I read that was once nearly exclusively about WoW isn't anymore. Then I see Blizzard doing things like F2P for the first twenty levels, if you subscribe for a year you get D3 for free--- things that they would never have done back when WoW was growing by millions of people a year. Calling it desperation might be a bit strong, but it is certainly a good sign that they feel they need to hustle to recruit new customers and retain the ones they have.

You buy a 100 hour card, and if you quit with 1 hour left, you are technically still a customer.

No, you aren't. That is a typical example of somebody telling a lie, and everybody blindly believing it, because it fits in their view of the world. Blizzard very clearly states that "Internet Game Room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers." So the mythical Chinese guy with 1 hour forgotten on his prepaid card isn't counted after 30 days any more.

Still, simply logging in once a month does not put them on the same plane as somebody paying $15/mo whether they play or not.

I would lay some serious money on this: if they changed the definition to subscriber to someone who used at least $1.00 of game time a month, the number would drop by a few million.

Doesn't that seem really silly to you? You would lay money on something that you admit you have absolutely 0 knowledge of, that you can't even make an EDUCATED guess on, all because you feel that way?

I wish MMO tribalism would end. Political tribalism I can at least understand since it can really change basic policy and how your life is run...but MMO tribalism is just so...childish.

Play whatever MMO you like. Stop playing it when you no longer like it. And don't worry about badmouthing any that you don't like, they don't matter to you at all. Badmouthing another MMO does not win you points, does not make you a "better" fan of the MMO you do like.
I don't play any MMO actually. Haven't for years. For some reason I keep coming around here anyway. I can't figure it out myself.

That's kind of the point of a bet, especially an internet bet with no chance of money changing hands--- to wager on something when the outcome is uncertain. If I knew the truth, I'd just say it.

China is all well and good, but it's marginally less dishonest to include people who are not subscribers as subscribers than it is to include everyone who ever signed up for a F2P game like World of Tanks as clients. I don't say that to knock WoW, except to the degree they keep trying to boost their numbers with some dodgy numbers. This is like when GM tried to claim it was the biggest car company in the world by counting all the cars made by a company they had a 10% interest it. It's not complete nonsense, but it's mostly nonsense.

The reason why Blizz always likes to throw those numbers around is the same reason that you think me attacking those numbers is an attack on the WoW; making it seem really really popular and awesome makes the game look good. It contributed massively to the impression that WoW was an unstoppable juggernaut growing exponentially. They don't mention that half of the people they count as subscribers aren't, you know, subscribers who pay vastly less than American and Euro gamers.

If we assume the China numbers are constant at 6 million, WoW went from 6 million genuine subscribers in 2010 to 4 million today, which is a million a year loss, and 1/3 drop in actual subscribers.

The clients in China use an entirely different pay model than the clients in the the rest of the world. Mushing two different sets of clients into one number is misleading and dishonest.

That's why I complain about it. Also a wee bit of an axe to grind maybe, but really I have an axe to grind with the whole genre.
Welcome to politics, Tobold.

Okay, smart assed remark aside, I guess that's just part of the blogging life these days. It's much easier to pick and choose what you read, only seeing what you want to see, rather than what it is.

Of course, you could also make an argument that everything is determined by what we see and how we interpret it, versus the independently variable data. The internet just allows people to filter those interpretations more effectively.

Confirmation bias tends to revolve around not looking for a way your own prefered hypothesis (or as it seems at the time, truth) could be wrong by some measure or metric.

So, is it always a lover or hater poster?

Sounds confirming.
"Wizard's First Rule":
they (people) will believe a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they are afraid it might be true.
I would take a leaf off of Christopher's page to answer your question: the point of arguing is to learn more about oneself. Just like you explain in the opening of your article, people tend to bend facts to suit them, so trying to use facts to sway opinions is bound to be really tough. I think that's why it's so popular to resort to swords and stuff instead.

And in my experience, "liberal" in the US means "communist". ;)
Writing about WoW during the GW2 prerelease orgasmafest and expecting reasoned discussion was just bad timing.

You started a conversation that was a disconnect with the current mood and you got unpleasant comments. You kind of have to take a little responsibility for putting yourself in that position. Like accidentally walking into the women's bathroom and getting mad at them for freaking out.

And maybe you're just confusing "opinion" and "mood".
It's unfortunate that liberal has become associated with any particular position or platform, as the style of thought it originally described is applicable to any conflict of ideas. Most often, being open to the perspective of your opponent serves to strengthen your understanding of your own position, as countering their arguments may require thinking in new or different ways about your own. Using overheated rhetoric and personal attacks (American politics, I'm looking at you) may win votes but it doesn't inform the public or challenge weak ideas. Both parties' own platforms would improve if they risked direct engagement with real plans for solving problems, but they exchange the possible perception of weakness for the certain perception of an abandonment of reason. This comment has wandered far afield, but it is applicable to the "wow is thriving/wow is dying" argument - state facts as facts, conclusions as theories, and your own position as just that: your own. It's far better to present a fully supported theory instead of a partially supported claim to fact.
WoW, despite not being the latest game to come out, is still an ongoing game, so talking about it is not "bad timing" and never has been. There is nothing bad to take responsibility for. Nor is it remotely similar to going into the wrong bathroom, not unless the blogosphere had a clearly-marked sign that said "Guild Wars only", which I somehow never found.
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