Tobold's Blog
Monday, December 28, 2015
I hide behind the priest

The title of this post was a running joke in my previous D&D campaign, where we had only one tank, one rogue, and 4 caster / ranged characters. The general tendency in combat was one of moving away from the fight. And frequently the mages ended up "hiding behind the priest", in the hope that any ranged attacks or moving enemies would attack the person in front of them first. Some funny moments, but overall it was rather annoying and not very heroic. The current campaign is better, having 2 tanks, and the other characters having mostly short range attacks and spells, giving the whole thing a more forward motion.

I was thinking of that because I am currently playing World of Warships, and I am frequently getting annoyed by the behavior of the other players. Many players just try to "hide behind the priest", that is generally moving *away* from the enemy and hoping that the enemy is firing on the closer allies first. Even if the victory conditions clearly would favor a push forward to capture a zone, players are more concerned about their own survival than about winning.

Somewhere that is a problem of game design, because the current rules are an encoded tragedy of the commons, quote Wikipedia "a situation where individuals acting independently and rationally according to each's self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole". It also has to do with the history of warfare, which was a constant arms race between aggressive and defensive new methods. The periods in which defensive tactics were stronger than aggressive ones frequently led to stalemates and big losses of human life, for example in World War I. That doesn't make for good gameplay, which is why there are about a million WWII games, and few WWI ones.

The problems can easily be overcome by coordination between players. If you have the equivalent of a "guild", with Teamspeak, you can organize a great battle plan, with the battleships in the back, the cruisers around them to protect from enemy destroyers, and the destroyers in the outer most circle for scouting and firing torpedos. But that opens up a completely different can of worms: If you play in this organized way, somebody needs to organize, and others need to obey orders. That maximized your chance of winning, but turns World of Warships from a casual game where you do battles when you want with whatever ship you want for how long you want into something far more resembling work: Having to be at a specific time online, with the ship the guild needs you to play, and for as long as the group wants to play. Not everybody's cup of tea, that.

I think such multiplayer games should strive by game design, by the incentives that reward certain behaviors, that an uncoordinated group doesn't become victim of the tragedy of the commons. The game design must reward individual behavior in such a way that everybody's self-interest becomes aligned with the best interest of the whole group, even if that whole group is one of random strangers who aren't talking to each other.

A game I feel that tried to incentive team gameplay even when playing with random people was MechWarrior Online. I played that game way back in alpha and at first you only earned points and credits based on things like kills or damage done, etc. What happened though was that all the players gravitated towards the assault or heavy class mechs because why play a smaller weight class if you weren't rewarded for doing things like scouting, marking targets, etc.

Once they changed up the scoring systems players ended up picking whichever weight class they liked best and would get rewarded for playing to that classes strengths. So someone with a light mech class that scouted and marked targets and was a good harasser can now end up with just as many or more points then the guys in the giant mechs downing enemies and dealing tons of damage.

If developers don't properly design and incentivize team play then players will always follow their best interests when playing with ransoms.
The problem here is more fundamental: is there a team or is there not?
- If you design your game around the idea that the players are in teams, working together towards a common goal, than the player observed to be underperforming is hurting his team, therefore draw the rightful criticism of teammates (which is usually not presented in a constructive way).
- If you design your game around the idea of no teams, than you get all man for himself.

Pick your poison. Please note that there is no third way due to the social obligation of reciprocity: if I am working for the team (because the game tells me to), then I expect all others to do the same.
But that's where intelligent game design comes in Gevlon. To use MWO as the example again a player who plays a light mech but fails to scout/mark targets (i.e. Play their mechs team role) will earn significantly less credits then one who does. Credits directly affect what that player can then do. What mechs they can field and maintain. What weapons/mods/engines they can buy. This is smart design because it is in the self interest of the player to help their team so they tend to do so or if they don't know how they want to learn how in order to be more successful.

I think you'll always run into situations where the least helpful person on a team gets singled out and criticized but game design should take that into account. One of the reasons Heroes of the Storm is so popular is because it minimized the effect one bad player can have on a team. While a bad player still hurts they put a lot of systems in place to incentivize team play and stifle how much a squeaky wheel can bring the whole team down. That's smart game design.
I've been addicted to Star Wars: Battlefront and feel it's another example of incentivized teamwork in action, something that I think early reviewers missed in their haste to dismiss the game because it only focused on 12 maps. Among other things the game strongly encourages players to try and work in some sort of coordination through gameplay, rewarding assistance (you can get a lot of points for working to the group goal or helping others even if you don't "get the kill" yourself) and concentrated fire is a much more effective way to take out enemies than going it alone. This is one of the many reasons I'm so impressed with SWB such that I'm playing it almost exclusively as my main multiplayer experience right now.
I think if you pull off some of the behaviour seen in the various WoX games in the army, their sarge would not be too happy ... and they would end up front of a court for cowardice in the face of the enemy and/or subordination.

You will also see that if you up the stakes (money or in extremis - their lives), suddenly even the worst idiots can become team players.

I don't think this is a social issue, but rather an issue where gamers are making movement and reaction decisions based on how games have been designed in the past.

When I played D&D, I knew the effective radius/area of effect of spells, the range of an archer or the range of melee attacks, and I moved accordingly. If players are using excess turns in movement, rather than in combat/defense, then no one has a right to complain if it's not being addressed as an issue by the DM. But this really applies to any game.

The bigger picture here, and more important question, is if something becomes an annoyance, then do those who are annoyed become labeled as "hardcore", versus those who are not, simply because they take their game more seriously?
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