Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Utilitarianism and WoW LFR

Utilitarianism is a philosophy that says that something is good if it causes "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" of people. I had to think about that when I read Rohan's complaint about Ghostcrawler's remarks on LFR. Ghostcrawler is saying that "Most of the players doing LFR just didn't raid at all before. They were never really eligible for recruitment.". Rohan says that even if this is true, LFR could still be hurting "real" raids.
To see this, imagine a population of 100 players. Before LFR, 20 of them participate in regular raids. We'll call these 20 players Raiders, and the other 80 players Casuals. Then LFR comes out. 10 Raiders switch to LFR, along with 30 Casuals. So the following statements are both true: 1) LFR has significantly damaged normal raiding. Normal raiding lost 50% (10 of 20) of its players. 2) The majority of people in LFR didn't raid before. 75% of raiders in LFR (30 of 40) didn't raid before.
Now I find it completely believable that Rohan's numbers might be not so far off reality. But what does that tell us about LFR if we look at it from the point of Utilitarianism? It tells us that LFR is a good idea. LFR causes the greatest happiness of the greatest number of WoW players. We go from 20% of players being able to raid to 50% of players being able to raid. That is certainly maximizing happiness of the 30% of players previously unable to participate in the end game. And the 10% that switched from regular raids to LFR also did so as a matter of free choice, thus LFR provides more utility for them than regular raids. Only 10% of people could possibly be said to be somewhat worse off, having more trouble to organize regular raids. But they aren't prevented from raiding, they just need to change organization.

Any game in which the most desirable part is made exclusive for a minority of players is bad from this philosophy's point of view. Utilitarianism tells us that more equality is better overall, even if it obviously is considered a loss by the minority of elitists who lost their special status. All that hogwash that the elitists tell about players needing somebody to look up to is just self-serving bullshit. Nobody needs a goal that he is unable to reach.

While I agree that LFR is a good thing overall, I have to disagree with the way you got there.
There are *a lot* of problems with Utilitarianism, so unless you show why Utilitarianism is a good thing, claiming that LFR is good because of it is kind of pointless.
A number of issues here.

Raids are not in my opinion the most desirable content to the approx 97%.

The reason being that even in RF the session lengths are too long for a typical casual player.

I believe that they would prefer 5 man content in its place. Put the same rewards on a new set of 5 man dungeons and watch RF die over night...

I suspect the non raiders that now raid via RF do so because it is the only source of upgrades as they need the raid rep to unlock valor purchases.

The purpose of RF in my opinion was to make raid development financially viable. Prior to RF it was consuming far more development resources than could ever be justified based on its usage.

I believe that from a subscription stand point Blizzard would have been better off cancelling all future raid development and redirecting the budget to regular releases of new 5 man dungeons with new gear upgrades awarded via drops and valor grinds.

Blizzard actually choose to preserve raiding for a tiny minority and provide the bulk of their customers with what would only be their second or third preference for content.

RF was the best thing that ever happened for normal mode raiding because without it there would be no raiding. Losing a few of their raid team to RF is getting off lightly.

The majority are still subsidising a non viable minority interest and receiving second rate content in return.
Sorry I forgot to add the main point. As a result of what I explained above, RF has nothing to do with utilitarianism, quite the opposite imo.
There are *a lot* of problems with Utilitarianism

There are a lot of problems with EVERY philosophy, religion, or ethics that exist. If there was one that was clearly superior to all others, we would long ago all have accepted that. But there isn't, and the only thing we have is a wide range of competing ideas and philosophies.

There is no way to "prove" irrefutably that one philosophy is better than another. But in my personal ranking a philosophy that tries to maximize overall human happiness clearly has some advantages over certain other approaches.
From a developer standpoint this makes sense - raiding is the most exciting thing people look up to, so we'll give it to them somehow! Unfortunately, I find myself hard pressed to imagine somebody running LFR and being excited, let alone happy about it. I'd liken it to daily quests - more of a chore than engaging content, its only saving grace being that you can only do it once a week.

When the choice is 20 happy people and 30 unhappy people VS 10 unhappy people and 40 more unhappy people... guess what, the 20 happy people still win!

That in itself does not necessitate that LFR is bad from an utilitarian standpoint, perhaps only its implementation is at fault. To spin Woody's suggestion regarding long session length, one could offer LFR instances on a per boss basis. One could also offer LFR tool for other difficulties, again, for every boss separately. There are lots of things that could be done which may lead to more happiness as a whole.
Tangentially, I have to wonder more and more as I go on whether the majority of WoW commenters simply know a lot more people than me or whether they are simply a lot more comfortable judging what people want to do than I am.

Over and over I see people (non-developers) make arguments about what the players want that I am simply unable to either support or deny. I always come back to the fact that I simply don't know a wide slice of the player base. While I may know around 100 people who play the game if you count those I only know online and even acquaintances, that's still a relatively narrow slice of the total pie of players. And there has to be some selection bias, they are almost guaranteed to be statistically more similar to me than the general population since they are people I might reasonably hang out with.

I've just sort of grown all sorts of apathy when it comes to sweeping proclamations on game design, which I used to love, and now just focus on how changes make me feel personally without dressing it up in how others may or may not feel.
I'm one of those people who switched away from raiding when RF came out. Last raid I gloried was firelands. I used to hardcore raid because I found raiding to be the most rewarding and sometimes enjoyable experience in the game. And raids have the best music in the game. I still feel a rush of excitement stepping into ulduar, the first chord of ahn qiraj exterior, the oboe from illidari walk in black temple. And the raids are the fulfillment of the storyline. You can watch the silithid spreading across kalimdor when you run around questing but you can only kill c'thun in a raid. You can spend all of wrath dealing with Arthas' armies, but if you never raided you never fought Arthas himself. Never get your red bug mount.

To me, the raid content was the best content. And now I get to see that content without having to deal with all the stresses and drama of a raiding guild. I don't have to keep farming the same content over and over to get pointless gear for artificial progression so that I can see the next raid, I can just play the way I want. Also, the new raids need better music, just saying.

But my situation probably doesn't apply to everyone, or even a plurality, so what do I know.
Michael said: "I don't have to keep farming the same content over and over to get pointless gear for artificial progression so that I can see the next raid"

Worth pointing out though that unlike the Normal and Heroic modes, the Raid Finder mode is the only one that actually has a gear requirement to progress.

In the other modes your team mates can compensate for you, or you own high levels of skill can offset a lack of gear.

In RF it doesn't matter if you top the meters every week and never fail on the mechanics, if you don't have the ilevel you are flat out not allowed to progress to the next tier regardless of how good you are and how easy the content is.

That is one of the multitude of reasons why I quit - having to repeatedly farm the same content for pointless randomly awarded gear due to a totally artificial and arbitrary progression factor invented by Blizzard!

Blizzard know that I and my guildies don't want to raid full stop - including RF. They know we would rather do it once to "see the content" and then farm VP's via other activities. That is why they used a double gate and locked VP gear behind Rep from killing raid bosses.

Why do that? 12 million subscribers (significantly more than they have now) quite happily subbed in Wrath to spam 5 mans for VP.

So to answer Sine Nomine - Blizzard know EXACTLY what the majority of players preferences are. You only have to look at the attempts they make to prevent players from doing what they really want - although simply not providing them with what they want (new 5 mans) is the ultimate measure. RF has been nothing but a con trick to dupe the majority into funding content for a minority and Blizzard seem to be doing everything they can to prevent players bypassing it.
Just looking at $ not philosophy, I feel many commenters tend to overlook the economics. If a small % of your players do X, at some point it is hard to justify spending that much on X. The 1337 argue it is aspirational - that all the players aspire to work for a year to be one of the 1% who clear BT. IMO, there are fewer of those players playing these days. Certainly far more people just move on. I don't think the 1337 are as admired and coveted as they think they are.

(# for example only) If 10% of WoW players raid and they spend 80% of their budget on it, then what happens when a competitor starts spending 80% of their budget on the "bottom" 90%.


As an aside, more people feel like Woody than I but I really dislike 5-mans. My worst times in WoW have been pugging 5-mans. I was glad to see their decline in WoW.


This is just the common gamer forum argument - game company should do something to reduce their customers/profits in order to do something the poster prefers. I don't understand the motivation for the game company to do that.

I've been both an advocate and opponent of rule utilitarianism for a god few decades now, and generally find it to be an interesting subject. I don't even know what LFR is....a WoW raid? I have no idea...but I can say that only the most rigid application of utilitarianism would exclude the possibility that a certain measure of "attainable exclusivity" is not beneficial to the greater good. At it's simplest interpretation you look for greatest common good over the smallest mitigation of "bad." In reality, a decent utilitarian approach would regard the prospect that an echelon or attainable goal which, through motivation and exclusivity encourages the larger body to work towards said goal may ultimately net the greatest good over the longest period, rather than a short gain that quickly trails off to a loss of interest/desire and therefore an overall weaker net gain. Or put another way: the greater long term gain of a motivated body of people with a defined achievement goal is potentially greater than the short term happiness of just giving everyone that goal and then watching the interest/happiness evaporate.

However, I am not a big fan of the utilitarian method anymore, so I think there are serious flaws in application here; but just want to point out that the shortest root to happiness, even under the most simplistic utilitarian models, is sometimes not the most prodcutive in terms of maximizing overall happiness.
One more comment, that I agree with you that the key issue with elitism and goal achievement is that it fails if the goals are unattainable. So if a raid inherently excludes the majority of a population, and is never attainable by that population at all, then it is by definition going to be counter-productive, as you indicate. When I typed earlier I wasn't considering your final sentence about the "attainable" part. Without attainable goals, you're never going to achieve the greater gain, under utilitarianism or any other model, for that matter. So....yeah, guess I am agreeing with you on that.
Well, I think the having somebody to look up to thing has merit, even if you can't realistically expect to be as good at a certain thing as them. But not in the context of MMOs, because being motivated to raid more is not, you know, a beneficial activity. It's like being motivated to watch more reality TV. If you're motivated to play basketball because you like Kobe, you'll be in better shape even though you'll never be as good as him.

In any case, I'd suggest that in WoW virtually anyone who isn't severely disabled could achieve elite status in WoW if they were willing to invest the time. The hurdle to success is willingness to spend the time, not the inherent difficulty of the game. So your point is dubious on both fronts; role models can be beneficial, and in WoW there's no goal that isn't achievable.
Not a WoW player but basically what I read is: "More people can play content."

That is always a good thing.
To me the question is more about what the actual hurdles were that prevented people from raiding before LFR. I quit playing before LFR was implemented I think, sometime in BC. At that point there seemed to be two big hurdles time and skill/gear.

Time is ultimately why I stopped playing. The guilds on my server that I was interested in playing with all wanted to raid starting pretty late in the evening and going past midnight. As a responsible adult and parent with a job that required my presence at 7am I just couldn't do that. Additionally even 1 hour long uninterrupted chunks were becoming hard to find. For the group of people were time was the main constraint LFR makes very good sense and I honestly see no issue with it in that context.

I lump Skill and Gear together because to some extent one can compensate for the other. I'm not claiming to be an elite player but I'd like to think that I was always competent. And I always put a lot of effort into making sure I was geared as best as I could be prior to joining a raid. On my first Molten Core raid I was averaging just under 300 DPS as a Fury Warrior with the best dungeon and PvP gear that was practical for me to obtain. I never experienced the affects of LFR myself but friends told me it led to raids being simplified a lot so that normal PUG players could use it viably. I don't know if that is factually true but if an LFR is implemented in that manner then I would object to it. Of course if you don't make it all simpler and just let the proles succeed then the LFR could actually damage the game community.

I guess it all comes down to personal taste so far as challenge goes and what a company needs to do to meet it's own goals.
Several thoughts I had have been already covered in some form.

However I think a couple of points were not brought up.

First is server fragmentation. There's only so much people available on your server to find a sufficiently 'like minded' group to raid with (outside RF). Further reducing this pool (via RF or otherwise) can have drastic effect on activity viability (non-RF raiding in this case). So "But they aren't prevented from raiding" is not necessarily true.

Another point is quite simply money. Suppose Rohan's numbers are true for the purpose of this discussion. 10 Raiders who don't want LFR quite possibly can't do a proper raid anymore and quit the game. 10 Raiders who are now LFR quickly see everything there's to see (since LFR is trivially easy I believe) and also possibly quit. So we potentially lost 20% of subscribers. Now the question is -- how many Casuals is LFR keeping in game (vs. what would've happened if there was no LFR)? Is this more than 20? Who can say with certainty?

P.S. I also happen to agree with the gist of this comment: "20 happy people and 30 unhappy people VS 10 unhappy people and 40 more unhappy people" and also that people doing LFR are not interested in raiding as such in the first place -- they are doing it for gear and possibly for the sights.
that people doing LFR are not interested in raiding as such in the first place -- they are doing it for gear and possibly for the sights

How many raiders would be left if Blizzard removed gear drops from raids? I think we can safely say that "classic" raiders are also "doing it for the gear".

What keeps 90+% of people from doing classic raids is the required dedication and attendance. You need to be there X days per week for Y hours to many people feels more like a job than like a game. LFR gets a lot more interested people because organizationally it is so much easier, and doesn't require you to sign up for some pseudo-military structure.
How many raiders would be left if Blizzard removed gear drops from raids? I think we can safely say that "classic" raiders are also "doing it for the gear".

True in part (part of motivation is definitely gear). But those non-LFR raiders are also raiding for challenge and some other intangible 'stuff' like community. I know I did back in my time. If they only raided for gear, they wouldn't decry LFR nearly so much.

So yes, I would say that there are people who are doing raids 'for raids' (taken as a whole).

What keeps 90+% of people from doing classic raids is the required dedication and attendance.

Also true in part. You definitely need this to be successful non-LFR raider. But you also need to have some 'skill'. However much people decry skills required in raiding as 'non skills' or 'easy', it is still demonstrably true that many people can't even reach this 'low' plank.

LFR, just like DF, dumbs down content so much that a random collection of people who are not even trying can get through.

It is demonstrably true for some people rewards without challenge are not interesting (if nothing else, this subset includes me, so the statement is technically true). These people quit WoW because of DF/LFR. It is not certain (at least I haven't seen any real attempt at proving this) that this loss is offset by better retaining of 'casuals' through LFD/LFR.
But those non-LFR raiders are also raiding for challenge and some other intangible 'stuff' like community.

But you also need to have some 'skill'. However much people decry skills required in raiding as 'non skills' or 'easy', it is still demonstrably true that many people can't even reach this 'low' plank.

While I agree with both of these statements, they are a minefield of misunderstanding.

Basically the problem lies with words like "challenge" and "skill". It is certainly true that to be successful in raiding requires practice. Some trying it for the first time, and unprepared, will most certainly fail. Thus it is also true that there is a "challenge" of practicing your moves until you get them right (and hope that everybody else gets theirs right as well, which is another huge source of conflict).

At the same time it is also true that the correct moves required to succeed in raiding do not require you to have a huge IQ to figure out. The challenge exists, but it is a very different challenge compared to lets say figuring out your next move in chess. What you need to do *would* be trivial if you had more time, but is challenging because you don't get that time.

Thus the minefield of misunderstanding where it is perfectly possible for somebody to say that raiding doesn't interest him because the challenge is "too easy" for him, although he is not able to overcome that challenge. There are lots of different types of challenges, and not everybody is interested in the same type.
No argument from me there.

The traditional raiding challenge in WoW consists of knowing what to do (which is often trivial and/or can be learned beforehand, but not always) and being able to execute it under pressure (mostly time pressure). Action game and all that.

It is perfectly fine to do not like / want that.

Going back to the original point I was trying to make --
it is still a fact that some people like this kind of challenge and for them 'dumbing down' of LFR/DF 'destroys' the game and makes some of them unsub. It is also not proven (I think) that additional retaing of players through LFR/DF availability offsets this loss.
it is still a fact that some people like this kind of challenge and for them 'dumbing down' of LFR/DF 'destroys' the game and makes some of them unsub. It is also not proven (I think) that additional retaing of players through LFR/DF availability offsets this loss

You are right to call this "not proven". We do not have the data. But we can observe what the ones who do have the data, Blizzard, are doing. With LFR being just one element in a long sequence of "dumbing down" content, I would assume that Blizzard's data say that it is financially beneficial.

Even if there are lots of people who think that raiding was best during vanilla WoW and got worse with every expansion. I always had problems with that concept: Why would a company spend millions to make their game worse with every expansion? I think, as you said, it is more a case of making the game worse for a small minority, while making the game better for another, larger, population.
It is very possible that you are right.

It is also possible (although not necessarily equally) that they (Blizzard) drew incorrect conclusions from the statistics that they have and made 'wrong' (financially) decisions about the game direction. After all the game is shrinking and it is technically proven that it *is* possible to grow (financially) long-term at least on the small scale (Eve). Of course it is not proven that the same is possible for a 'pop' game.

We also all witnessed what happened to Farmville and Zynga. Perhaps 'dumbing down' is not, after all, the way to go 'long term'.
Different players want different things out of their games. And so their idea of a good game will vary hugely from other players. It sounds like WoW has become a worse game in my opinion, but that's just my opinion and I can see how other people would not agree, and possibly for a large variety of reasons.

A good example is that I like Eador: Genesis, and in fact prefer it to the newer much shinier version. I feel that the improved graphics weren't worth the trouble because it seems like they only went half way with them. The old game is perfectly fine. Meanwhile I know several people that refused to try the old version at all because of how simple the graphics were. For them the prettiness of the graphics was a huge part of making a good game.

With WoW Blizzard has probably made the marketing decision that it was better to cater to one set of tastes that varies from my own. I would guess that they did it because they believe it will help them retain more customers long enough for them to roll out their next MMO.
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool