Tobold's Blog
Thursday, May 23, 2013
 
The Azerothian Dream

The new President of the People's Republic of China, Xi Jinping, this year started talking about "the China Dream", to offer an alternative to "the American Dream". Wikipedia defines the American Dream as "a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work". And I frequently hear people talking about MMORPGs like World of Warcraft in similar terms, stressing the need for equality of opportunity and meritocracy.

Now there is certainly nothing wrong with such a set of ideals. But it has to be remarked that America in fact isn't doing all that well in social mobility, being ranked far below most European countries, especially the Scandinavian ones. Anecdotal evidence notwithstanding, it is a lot easier for a poor Norwegian kid to become successful than it is for a poor American kid.

Now a virtual world like Azeroth is certainly on paper offering better equality of opportunity than any real world country. Everybody in Azeroth is born equal. But if we look at the outcome, it is rather clear that Azeroth is not a very equal world. By whatever measure you define success in a MMORPG, there are huge differences between players in spite of that equality of opportunity. And if you look closer, those differences aren't based on merit. There barely any correlation between skill and success in World of Warcraft, and all other MMORPGs.

There are many reasons for that. One is that far more than in the real world, people strive for very different goals. In the real world people are subject to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, that is they have to look out for basic needs like food and shelter, then things like health and safety, before they can think of terms of achievement or self-actualization. The pyramid of needs of virtual worlds is a lot shorter, because there are little or no basic needs. Food is something that gives you a combat buff, not something that kills you if you don't have it. Avatars don't age or suffer from diseases (not counting funny zombie plagues), and even death is just a minor inconvenience. Thus in a world with no basic needs, everybody is free to go for whatever achievement or goal he wants to.

The second major effect is that in the real world every person has 24 hours per day. In virtual worlds the number of hours people spend in that world per day varies a lot, from people who spend less than 1 hour per day in Azeroth to people who spend 16+ hours per day there. And unlike the real world, virtual worlds are designed to reward you in proportion to the time spent there. Many activities are even designed in a way that you can never become weaker with time, there is eternal progress only limited by diminishing returns. If you plot the progress of your character over time spent in game by some measure like damage per second, the only possible downward dips are the minor ones from the variability in your personal performance; but the major effect is the ever upward trend of your dps growing with level and equipment.

So while at equal level and equipment one could compare for example a measure like damage per second between players and correlate the result with skill, this is something that in practice almost never happens, because it is rather unlikely that two characters have exactly the same equipment. So if you take two random players and compare them, the differences in performance between them are more likely to be due to different amounts of time spent in game, different levels of seriousness of their guilds, and the resulting different "gear score". Even if we look only at "raiders", as being players with approximately similar goals in the game, we'll find huge differences based on factors like numbers of raid nights per week, and how those guilds are organized. You could argue that the guy who ends up wearing the leetest armor is the one who worked hardest for it, but that isn't exactly the same as saying that he is the most skilled players of that game.

While I think that any talk of video game addiction is misleading, it has to be remarked that there is a certain danger involved with virtual games offering virtual success mostly as function of time spent in game. Many of us live in rich societies where for some parts of our lives the basic needs of Maslow's pyramid are provided by others. So it can happen that for example a student values the virtual successes he can achieve (and more easily at that) in a virtual world more highly than boring real world successes like good grades. But as most of us need to supply for themselves at least for some part of our lives, and virtual successes don't lead to real world success, there is certainly a danger of somebody getting his priorities wrong and ending up less successful in real life because of focusing too much on virtual success. If you discard the American Dream of real life success for the Azerothian Dream of virtual success, you are likely to regret that decision at some later point in your life.

Comments:
I've seen two lives... well. I hesitate to say 'destroyed' or 'ruined', like their families do, but I would very generously say, "Had their RL options reduced dramatically and permanently," by WoW. All in the pursuit of the Azerothian dream. Which, in a decade or so, will be so utterly irrelevant it will essentially be considered by the rest of the world as if they had never achieved anything at all.

 
Actually most workers in real life are hourly paid, so more time = more rewards isn't unrealistic or a "video game thing", it's rather obvious.

"skill" can be defined exactly as efficiency, how much gold/gear/whatever can you get in an hour, but yes, even an unskilled one can outperform a skilled one by working harder. This is normal, the plumber who works 10 hours a day SHOULD earn better than a lazy scientist.
 
So either we must:
a) Allowing the transfer of real life resources into a game avatar to enable true equality in game via the elimination of the ingame time deficiency or
b) Restrict time permitted in the online world to prevent a detrimental impact on RL concerns.
A less trolling version of b would suggest that since advancement is related to time spent, progression should be limited to an amount of activity considered achievable in a short period of time. For example, Each week I can only earn X rep with faction A, Y levels on my battlepets, and Z gear points (those points being the only way to purchase items). All players with an interest in one channel will progress at an equal rate, but those players with more time can advance in multiple (non-overlapping) fields.
concerns.
 
Do you have any evidence to back up the assertion that there's barely any correlation between skill and success in an MMO?

The rest of your post goes on to suggest other factors that are also correlated with success, but nothing is said to show a neutral or negative relation between skill and success. Lots of things can be correlated with success!
 
I wasn't saying that skill doesn't help with success in an MMORPG. I was saying that the other factors have such an overwhelming influence on success that skill barely makes a difference.

Compare for example a person's progress in gear score with a person's progress in some ELO scoring system: The ELO score tends towards the "true" skill level of the player, going up and down. A gear score only ever goes up, and even the slope of how fast it goes up depends for long periods nearly exclusively on time spent. Only very late in the game, in the so-called "endgame", is a player even challenged, and thus some correlation between skill and progress is possible. And even then, due the endgame being group activities, it is more likely to be a measure of the overall organization of a guild than of an individuals personal skill.
 
So either we must ...

Why would that be an either-or list with only two alternatives? Neither of your options is in any way desirable or even remotely possible (although the Chinese tried b) ). Adding real world injustice to Azerothian injustice doesn't add up to something just.

I can think of a couple more options:
- Make games with a scoring system that better reflects a player's skill.
- Make games in which the rewards are intrinsic instead of handing out virtual rewards that are ultimately worth nothing.
- Make non-competitive games.
- Better parenting.

It all depends on what in your mind is the ultimate goal, of what you think games *should* be. Right now, even a modest goal like that games should not be designed to create illusions of virtual success while keeping people from having real world success appears to be far fetched.
 
Nick, the most skilled player in the game with 10 hours a week to play will get stomped by a full time raider who is awful.

Just the facts. The power difference between a well geared player and a badly geared player is immense. Back in the day I would take out three badly geared enemy players by myself, and it wasn't especially close.

Here is what you need to be wildly successful in WoW: 1) Time 2) friends in the right guild and 3) the minimum level of competence one should have from playing a game for 40 hours a week and popping on elitist jerks to get your damage rotation.
 
As far as video game addiction, I think it's a crutch people go to when coping with problems. Problem is that playing a video game all the time usually makes whatever the problem is worse.
 
I wasn't saying that skill doesn't help with success in an MMORPG. I was saying that the other factors have such an overwhelming influence on success that skill barely makes a difference.

I honestly can't understand why you keep repeating this, when every real-world data points exactly to the opposite. Is it an example of the good old http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fox_and_the_Grapes?

Take a look at guild progression and raid nights, there are guilds running 2-3 raids/week which are light-years more advanced than those doing 6 days/week.
Read some of the world top guild blogs: they put in a lot of time during the progression, which then goes down vertically as they completed the current tier.
Check the ilvl of the raid group of the top-level guilds: it's much much lower than the one of other guilds (starting with mine...) when killing the same boss.
Your comments on gear level and DPS are again completely false, since you don't rely on real data. Here is some: in my guild, which should be people with the same skill level, people with almost identical gear levels put out completely different DPS numbers. On our last Lei Shen down, we have two rogues, exactly same ilvl and both have the new meta. There's a 30% different between the two.....

How exactly do you explain this data only with gear level?

Same question @4c22cb52-3723-11e0-95c0-000bcdcb2996: how can guilds who do 3 raid/week (=12 hours) be much more progressed than guilds who raid 6 days/week? Again, it seems to me that you're basing your conclusions on your wild guesses instead of looking at the data.
 
Helistar, but there you are basing your argument SOLELY on the difference between people who are already very far advanced in the game. And as I said, the further you advance, the more skill plays a role.

Now consider the following contest: You and me create a level 1 character, and who of us has the higher gear score in one week without outside help wins. Would you say that this contest would be a function solely of skill? Or would it be overwhelmingly be decided by who of us two has more hours per day to play?
 
Helistar: You're shifting the discussion to something we aren't talking about.

We aren't talking about guilds, we are talking about players.

That guild that raids 6 times a week is probably stringing together relatively mixed groups, maybe with a pug or two. The hardcore raiding guild runs more or less the same team in a very organized and coordinated way. That's cool, but that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about the effect /played has on the players success in the game.

And your point about how the same gear and same guild with wildly different DPS goes, you're kind of proving my point. The inferior player is just as successful as the better player. They are in the same guild, getting the same gear, but with less skill. /played (and social connections) has a higher effect on success than skill.

Still, what would the dps difference be between your good rogue in quest greens and your weaker rogue in his raid gear?

Bet it's more than 30%.



 
There barely any correlation between skill and success in World of Warcraft, and all other MMORPGs.

I'm confused. Didn't you just spend a lot of time two posts ago arguing that what constitutes "success" in an MMO is subjective?

If you are defining success as "high ilevel," okay... so what? Does the speed and efficiency of achieving even an assured goal count for nothing? I'm assuming you care more for the competitors finishing the race in 10 minutes over the ones who spend 20 hours crossing the same finish line.

If instead you are referring to the fact that unskilled players can potentially beat skilled players through brute (time) force... again, in what contexts? There are certain ilevel thresholds of gear that further time cannot purchase. Heroic raiding gear, for example.

Now consider the following contest: You and me create a level 1 character, and who of us has the higher gear score in one week without outside help wins.

Why not simply make it "who hits level cap first?" In which case, the speed runner will likely win even if you played 24 hours a day, e.g. skill > time.

Honestly, this whole post is bizarre. If the whole of WoW (etc) was ELO based, it would shut off the majority of the game to millions of players, just like the TBC raiding model and attunements did. Making certain things like leveling more "time-friendly" allows WoW to sell itself to a broader audience. Is that supposed to be... bad?
 
@4c22cb
And your point about how the same gear and same guild with wildly different DPS goes, you're kind of proving my point. The inferior player is just as successful as the better player. They are in the same guild, getting the same gear, but with less skill. /played (and social connections) has a higher effect on success than skill.

That conclusion doesn't follow at all. If you are defining "success" as "got carried by a guild," the only relevant factor there was social connections, not /played. In fact, without social connections, there is no reason the under-performing rogue would be kept. Ergo, the /played time has nothing to do with anything.

Still, what would the dps difference be between your good rogue in quest greens and your weaker rogue in his raid gear?

Bet it's more than 30%.


I bet it isn't. Argument countered!

More seriously, I'm not even sure what you or Tobold are struggling to prove at this point. Yes, WoW features gear progression. And, yes, overall DPS is affected by what your, e.g., critical strike rating is. But someone who does nothing but drool on the keyboard deals zero DPS.

So... what? If someone is equally skilled as you, but spends more time playing, they win. And that's... bad? I was unaware that someone working two jobs is considered more successful than I am earning the same amount of money for less work.

In Helistar's two rogue example, imagine if the skilled rogue had a lower ilevel than the unskilled one, but they still had the same DPS scores. Or, hell, just say the unskilled (but better geared) rogue did slightly more DPS. How is that success for the unskilled guy, when the skilled rogue is remaining competitive with less time spent, let's be honest here, grinding? In every other context, the more efficient path is desirable. And more importantly, the skill rogue has an easy means of further improvement (raid drops), which will further highlight the discrepancy.

If both of you are just trying to point out that gear can compensate for skill in limited amounts in certain context, you might as well have just pointed out WoW is an MMORPG.
 
Azuriel, let us rephrase it then: Of all the hours you spent in World of Warcraft, what approximate percentage did you feel your skills challenged?

For me personally that percentage of the game that was challenging was in the single digits. Thus if I spend over 90% of the time not needing my skills, I would say that it is not a skill-based game.
 
I can think of a couple more options:
- Make games with a scoring system that better reflects a player's skill.


A skill based online ranking computer game would be very niché.

People don't like being told they are below average. They must excuse their poor performance by saying that they play for fun/social factors or that their opponent had an unfair advantage (pay to win, can play longer). A skill based mog would remove all those options. Players without an excuse to blame end up blaming themselves or the game and both of those will result in players leaving.
 
Now consider the following contest: You and me create a level 1 character, and who of us has the higher gear score in one week without outside help wins. Would you say that this contest would be a function solely of skill? Or would it be overwhelmingly be decided by who of us two has more hours per day to play?

Now you're changing what you wrote just to demonstrate your point. One of the criticism (from you as well, BTW) is that the entire leveling process is too fast, so why are you now focusing on something which will take a couple days of /played? Leveling will take time, the more, the faster, but when you reach the endgame this correlation stops.
At the endgame (= where all the players are), if you want to improve your character without raiding, you're blocked by the weekly caps. And a cap means that playing twice will not give you twice the stuff, so your "time = success" hypothesis breaks down.

The inferior player is just as successful as the better player. They are in the same guild, getting the same gear, but with less skill. /played (and social connections) has a higher effect on success than skill.

Well, here you're making assumption on who has the highest /played of the two, which in this case is the one 30% higher, so it would seem that lower /played means same success....

BTW your comment is a lose/lose for you:
- if you can get the same stuff with less /played, then /played is not a measure of success.
- if a player gets better with a higher /played, this is pretty much a proof that game is skill-based, since skill is acquired with practice.

As for your question: Still, what would the dps difference be between your good rogue in quest greens and your weaker rogue in his raid gear? why are you pulling a strawman? If personal skill plays no role, two players in the same gear should have a near-zero DPS difference, end of story. 30% is close to one full tier of gear difference.

(BTW in case you wonder, the DPS difference comes from being able to abuse the combat mechanics, something which is learned with practice and good knowledge of how to play your class, which is pretty much the dictionary definition of "skill").
 
Azuriel, let us rephrase it then: Of all the hours you spent in World of Warcraft, what approximate percentage did you feel your skills challenged?

I will answer for him: considering that I log in only on raid nights and we're starting on HM, I would say pretty much always except on trash pulls or while I wait for grouping....

Since with the XP nerf I'll be leveling alts, this % will go down, but not as much as you can imagine: I level through dungeons playing classes/specs I'm completely unfamiliar with, so random button-mashing doesn't cut it.
 
As a sidenote to the gear and dps relation. While it is not exactly dps, I can say that heroic blues/Some quest greens vs current tier epics (Throne of Thunder) has a more than 100% damage increase. My new hunter and a guildy were doing heroics (same spec as well), and his auto attacks deal a bit more than twice the damage mine do on non crits. If you factor in higher crit chance/haste/mastery... the damage difference from gear is over a 100% increase
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
considering that I log in only on raid nights and we're starting on HM

And your character does not have thousands of hours /played?

I accept you statement that you are only playing the challenging part of WoW these days. So in your mind WoW is a challenging game requiring skill. But to arrive at that conclusion you need to put up big blinders and ignore both the activities needed to even get to the point where you can do hardcore raiding, and all the other activities that are out there and that are used by millions of other players.

You can't tell me that leveling, or doing daily quests, or farming vegetables are challenging activities that require skill. So you simply pretend that all these don't exist.
 
You can't tell me that leveling, or doing daily quests, or farming vegetables are challenging activities that require skill. So you simply pretend that all these don't exist.

You're JOKING, right?
Leveling when a new expansion comes out takes what? 24 hours game time?
Farming vegetables, even assuming you do it every day (I don't), takes 5 minutes.
Daily quests? I stopped doing them 1 week after the expansion got out, I only managed exalted with the MoP factions recently, thanks to rep coming from scenarios/dungeons/5min farming.

Even with the MoP release daily-rep fiasco, the amount of non-raid/non-group time required to be an active raider is insignificant compared to the raid time, i.e. I spend most of my time ingame doing activities which are not only non-trivial, but also what I want to do..... and this is without counting theorycrafting, simulations and log analysis, which are offline activities.

This is not BC anymore, all repair costs are covered by the guild bank, any boss money is in my pocket to buy flasks/potions/etc. Compared to other MMOs, WoW has advanced a lot in activity separation, apart from leveling (and if you've read my messages, you know that I hope they'll remove it) there's little activity you *need* to do which is unrelated to what you *want* to do.

The point is that I know what I want from the game (= raiding) and I focus on doing that. The rest is secondary and I do it "for lolz" (like battle pets), or when (as you posted in your new post), I just want to relax and kill time.

 
The point is that I know what I want from the game (= raiding) and I focus on doing that. The rest is secondary and I do it "for lolz" (like battle pets), or when (as you posted in your new post), I just want to relax and kill time.

And I fully support your right to play World of Warcraft like that.

It is just that if I make a statement about World of Warcraft in general, I am not exclusively talking about the tiny sub-game you are playing. I am talking about all the activities of all the 8 million players. And even you would agree that there are lot of people doing daily quests or leveling alts or doing crafting and all the other non-challenging activities in the game. So seen as a whole, the percentage of challenging content in World of Warcraft is small.
 
When The Old Republic became a free game I played it (quite intensely) for a couple of weeks. I never played the 'endgame' (this permanent raiding of the same areas for random drops that become moot with every update just seems silly to me) but as far as the leveling to cap is concerned: There was little skill involved. Yea. I did it a lot faster than the average player, but thats due to my reading of guides. Skill is knowledge in solo play. The one thing I was "proud" of was understanding the Auction House quickly and making enormous profits through arbitrage. But that's not skill, that's just not being a fool.

I guess the endgame is more like World of Tanks as in it is a "team game". There skill means your ability to function in (and accept) your role and adept not only to one or two mobs but also to what happens to your whole team and anticipation of the other's behaviour. Skill is understanding of tactics.

So my estimation is this:
- Solo leveling = no relevant skill involved
- advanced team play = a lot of skill involved, namely tactics


People don't like being told they are below average. They must excuse their poor performance by saying that they play for fun[snip]
Haha! This is exactly what happens in World of Tanks. WoT has a clear definition of winning: You win the match. There is a screen that literally says: "Win!"
Over a couple hundred/thousand games you get a winrate which shows your skill. (It will be higher, if you regularily platoon with other good players of course).

Tankers with bad winrates do either of the following: Saying they "play for fun" (somehow indicating that for them fun means playing bad on purpose) or that they "always get bad teams" (showing that they know nothing about statistics).

In fact in the forums there are some players (me among them) who would favour some kind of ELO system for WoT. I would assume that good tanking abilities correlate strongly with good chess playing abilities.

Most bad players don't fail at clicking the mouse button at the right time, they lack any understanding of how to react to what happens on the map and how to position themselves, most of all: they lack patience.

So in general: I don't accept that skill is about clicking the mouse button at a place on the screen (children can do that) or knowing where to hit a tank or what build to choose for a mage (a child can google that), but to calculate how to be a part of a team and anticipate the moves of your opponents.
 
Saying they "play for fun" (somehow indicating that for them fun means playing bad on purpose)

We've established here that some people can take a game with no official win condition and play it very competitively. So why would you be surprised that the reverse also happened, people playing a game with an official win condition and not playing it competitively? It's not "playing bad on purpose", it is "not giving a damn about improving your performance". In spite of you saying that any child can google where to hit a tank, I bet most of those casual players never bothered to do so. It is still a fun game even if you don't try very hard to win.

I don't accept that skill is about clicking the mouse button at a place on the screen

World of Tanks would obviously be a bad example for that, as for a real-time game it is very much on the slow side, and a fraction of a second or clicking a few pixels to the left doesn't make a big difference. That isn't universally true for every game.

to calculate how to be a part of a team and anticipate the moves of your opponents

It helps if your opponent is a raid boss and you can "anticipate" his moves by watching a YouTube video.

But what is more striking in the comparison between WoW and WoT is that in World of Tanks you get to be part of a team from the get go, so you can learn both teamwork and anticipation of your opponents from your very first game. In World of Warcraft you can't do that. You first have to level up your character for many hours, doing activities that aren't about teamwork at all. And a lot of players never leave that phase of the game.
 
My raiding experience mostly ended in BC, with a little Cataclysm in there, so bear with me if this is horribly outdated, but IMO about the only genuine skill being exhibited these days by raiders is by the officers running the raids as they are the only ones still making choices. And maybe the healers. Everybody else just needs to hit their simplified rotations and execute a simple dance. It's memorizing the dance and the rotation, which even a child could do. The hard part is not any individual part, but in getting 10 people to not fuck up at the same time.

See how easy it is to be reductionist about skill?

The in-game status achieved by the raiders is way way out of proportion to the skill demonstrated, can we agree on that? They're running around like the Kobe Bryants of their server because they've demonstrated the same basic skill level that would barely get you past level 3 of Battletoads, but they're willing to spend 12 hours a week doing it. Not terribly impressed.


 
But what is more striking in the comparison between WoW and WoT is that in World of Tanks you get to be part of a team from the get go,

No, what is most striking is that WoT, supposedly a team/coordination game, has the most disfunctional and shitty chatbox I've ever seen, making communication near-impossible.

 
You use the chat box in your World of Warcraft raids? You surprise me! I thought it was generally agreed that typed chat isn't good for team coordination in any game.
 
You use the chat box in your World of Warcraft raids? You surprise me! I thought it was generally agreed that typed chat isn't good for team coordination in any game.

During fights, no and it's usually only the raid leader who talks, in between, yes, I find written text a lot easier to deal with than 5 people talking at the same time. WoW fights are also a lot faster than WoT fights, with arty I have a 30s reload time, you can write a lot :)

BTW in the random battles of WoT, I've never been able to have the voice chat, I think I switched it on, but it never worked, even in-platoon.

 
@Tobold
Thus if I spend over 90% of the time not needing my skills, I would say that it is not a skill-based game.

I'm not sure a binary distinction is useful for as large a game WoW can be. Comparatively little skill is necessary in the opening moves of a Chess game (at most, just memorize the best ones), in comparison to the mid/late game. I don't think people even really want to play a skill-heavy game in which you can lose in the opening moves; there usually a ramp-up period of complexity.

I understand what you're driving at though. Leveling is easy. Dailies are mindless. People can be rewarded (to a point) with just time spent. Maybe someone playing 16 hours/day beats the pro-player who just started out, at least for a while. But to suggest skill contributes nothing to success is a whole different argument - one that is categorically false. Skill can reduce the time necessary to level from 50 hours to 25 hours; those saved hours constitutes success, IMO. And as I pointed out earlier, simply running in a race takes little skill; winning that same race is an entirely different story. Same activity, different successes.

It is fair criticism that Blizzard puts the most skill-intensive activities in endgame group content. What else could they realistically do, though? This is a conventional RPG with both level and gear progression. If skill was required at all levels, you wouldn't have millions of people playing because they would have hit a brick wall at some point along the way. The average player is average, not skillful. Under the current paradigm, Blizzard can capture both the average player (and the bad ones) along with the ones seeking greater challenges... after they level up.
 
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