Tobold's Blog
Monday, December 07, 2015
Civilizing multiplayer games

There are a range of different theories about how humanity arrived to develop civilized society instead of living in anarchy and people bashing each others heads in on a whim. The general idea is that humanity discovered that civilization has big advantages, and that these advantages more than make up for the disadvantage of having to live by the rules. Unfortunately in many multiplayer games this process of civilization hasn't taken place yet, and there is still a lot of anarchy. Anonymity, the lack of history, and the short-term nature of most interactions makes civilized behavior in a multiplayer game less advantageous than it is in real life.

Three days after having stopped to play League of Angels I checked out my character and found he had been kicked from his guild. Then I checked Shop Heroes, which I had quit a month ago, and found my character was still in his guild. It is unlikely that the population of one mobile game is inherently nicer and more social than that of another. Thus the difference clearly lies in the game design:

In League of Angels my value to my guild is purely in the *future* contribution. My past contribution to the guild doesn't count. Any low level new player who is moderately active is of higher value to the guild than a long-standing player who stopped playing. It is better to kick everybody out ruthlessly after a few days of inactivity than to hope that they'll come back.

In Shop Heroes my value to my guild is both in past and future contributions. There is a record of my past contribution in the form of my past investment into the guild city. If I leave or get kicked out, I take my past contribution with me, and the guild loses it. Thus a guild leader would need to be rather confident of a new player that his overall lifetime contribution would be higher than mine before it becomes advantageous to kick me out and replace me.

It is easy to see that the Shop Heroes model resembles more closely real life. Your boss doesn't fire you because you fall sick for a week. Depending on where you are you have more or less legal protection against that; but even without it your boss would be aware of your experience and invested training and time in you, so that replacing you by a new guy after just a few days doesn't make business sense.

In short, in Shop Heroes and real life you have a history that matters, while in many other multiplayer games you don't. And I think that the quality of interaction in multiplayer games would make great strides forward if having a history would be the default system. Civilization doesn't work without a record.

That's a very inaccurate analogy. I'm betting you didn't contact your guild leaders in either LoL or Shop Heroes on the first day you decided not to play for a while, tell them you would be out of the game and agree to keep them updated regularly on when you would be back. That would be an absolute bare minimum requirement almost anywhere for keeping your job.

Indeed, where I work, if I am ill or otherwise unable to work, not only am I required to contact a manager, personally, by telephone, no later than one hour before the time I'm due to arrive, but I have to contact them again, personally, by telephone (email and text are not acceptable) on every subsequent day that I won't be attending. If I fail to do this and simply don't turn up they will telephone me at home to find out what's going on.

For long-term absences, and a month is long-term in most situations, it is possible to take leave of absence from some jobs but never without prior consultation and agreement and usually according to written terms. Long-term illness is covered by statutory rights, at least in some jurisdictions, but again there are formal processes requiring both notification and evidence.

Even much more informal organizations like clubs, societies and sports teams don't allow people to vanish without a word then come back a month or a year later and slip back in as though nothing had happened. Your place on the team would long since have gone to someone else, your role on the committee would have been re-assigned, your locker would have been emptied and allocated to someone else.

As far as I can see, guilds in MMOs are actually far, far more forgiving both in their application of sanctions and in their expectations of behavior than almost any organization in the real-world. If anything, its the real-world that should take pointers on how to become more civilized from MMOs, not the other way around.
You mean League of Angels, right?

I can see where they are coming from but three days does seem ridiculously trigger happy. Without having played the game is does suggest that there must be an extremely fast turnover of players in the game that they assumed you weren't coming back.
Thanks, fixed the error. Next I'll confuse World of Warcraft with World of Warships. Too many games, not enough different words in the titles. ;)
The analogy is bad. You even said it yourself: you boss does not fire you because you would take your contributions made to your employer with you (how would that even work? I guess you could assume patents or something like owing parts of the building.), but they keep you because finding a suitable replacement would take way longer than accepting the profit loss due to your absence.
Now imagine any low skill job and picture someone with years in that role being away for more than a couple of days without notice. Do you think they will not fill the spot with the next candidate?
The only difference is the time it takes to find the next canditade compared to the time of absence. Your contributions do not matter unless you still own the rights to them and no other candidate can offer those - and even in the case that you are the best fit with vital assets, if the loss due to your absence is higher than kicking you out and getting the next candidate, you would be replaced.
The more fitting analogy would be, you having brought valuable assets, but being on a freelance type contract.
Without the company making a loss due to your absence, they would not care and kicking you out would cause damage as they would lose your assets.
Two "No Call, No Shows" in a row will generally lead you to being fired anywhere in the US. Some places are more strict - I was let go from one place because I was seven minutes late and didn't have any sick leave left (they take 4 hours of sick leave even if you were 1 second late clocking in). That the company had invested six months into my training was irrelevant.

As for your overall design point, I'm not necessarily sure whether it's better or not. Yes, you were not kicked from Shop Heroes, presumably because the guild had not reached its player cap and thus you were worth more than an empty seat. But it was not as though you had any sort of "social currency" built up - you quit a month ago. For all intents and purposes, you were a member of a zombie guild, giving the illusion that it was active by body-count alone.
Notice that this is an international blog, and I have to keep my examples as general as possible. There is no such thing as "no sick leave left" in Europe, if you are sick for months, you are sick for months, and there is legal protection against you being fired for it.

Also you need to consider the position of the person in the company. The guy sorting the mail is easily replaced, but the so-called "knowledge workers" are much harder to replace quickly. Especially if they have strategically important knowledge, I doubt Google would be quick to fire the guys who know how their secret search algorithm works.

In any case, if your company fires you faster than your League of Angels guild would, I'd recommend a different employer (or a different country of employment) anyway.
"Also you need to consider the position of the person in the company."

Yes, and you need to consider the position of the player (and the character) in the guild. There are always people in MMO guilds who are difficult to replace - raid leaders, social co-ordinators, people who play classes that are key to completing desired content etc etc. Those people will be played more slack but in the end even they will be replaced. Did your character fall into one of those categories or was he loser to "the guy sorting the mail"?

As for "if you are sick for months, you are sick for months" again you are completely ignoring your obligation as an employee to inform your employer of your sickness and keep them informed about its progress. I am certain that applies equally in the EU as anywhere else. If you just vanish without telling anyone your employers are not required to hold your job open indefinitely until you re-appear. Did you tell either of these guilds before you stopped playing that you were not going to be logging in for a prolonged period?

As a guild member you may not have the same formal, written terms of membership as an employee (although many guilds do have a written constitution and rules to which you agree on becoming a member) but you still have the responsibilities of anyone who wishes to become and remain a member of a social group. Letting people know if you are not going to be around to perform your usual role is one of those responsibilities.

The analogy will not stand up however many props you place behind it.
Bhagpuss, I don't give a flying shit whether you like my analogy or not. Don't split hairs. The point was that there are stronger bounds in real life than there are in multiplayer games. If that is not the case in *your* real life, I can only pity you.
In real life you're forced to be extremely discriminating in who you choose to have strong bonds with. Do I hire this employee who seems fairly marginal and may not work out, and end up paying for a lot of training to no benefit? Do I apply for a job with this company, that may go bankrupt in a few years and not be able to pay off its pension plans? Do I take this person as a lover, and risk heartache, if I'm not sure if they'll stay devoted? The potential for being hurt precludes us from seeking out greater happiness.

I view this as a supremely negative thing about real life, that we are forced to be so discriminating, or have increased risk of being hurt.

In a game, a well designed system should reverse this, allowing you to be not at all discriminating, but experiment wildly, without fear of negatively affecting others or being hurt yourself. If a game makes inactive players a drain on the guild, then that's a poorly designed game.
This is precisely why LFG is poison.
This is why FFA PVP games don't work and turn into shitty little ultra-niche dens of psychopathy. The response by devs and psychopaths is that if goody-two-shoes players seek order and stability against PVP, they can create that safety and civilization for themselves in-game, by establishing an in-game, player-run justice system and police force (which the psychopaths can gleefully rebel against with their superior non-carebear ruthlessness).

In reality, it's a smokescreen, hampered. That supposedly player-generated 'civilization' is never incentivized because in-game peace is boring, death has no consequence, and any justice systems that might actually deter bad behaviour (such as being locked up for a few hours/days/months) aren't allowed because then the misbehaving might stop playing/just create alts to get around their punishment.
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