Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Not playing well with others

This blog had "MMORPG" in its title for years, so you might be excused for thinking that I like playing with other people online. Unfortunately the reality is more the reverse: Because I played with other people online for years, I don't like to do it anymore. The fundamental reason for this is probably human variability: Just like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you will get when playing with real people. Now imagine a box of chocolates in which 1 out of 10 chocolates is filled with shit, or cyanide. Would you want to take a chocolate? It doesn't matter that the majority of interactions with other humans online are unremarkable or even positive, it is that one toxic interaction that is going to ruin your evening.

Humans are unreliable when it comes to games. You don't know how competent they are going to be when they are on your team, or when you play against them. I dare you to find a single multiplayer online game in which the players haven't complained about matchmaking. Depending on what game you are playing, you might also be negatively affected if somebody else is going afk because his door bell rang, or his internet broke down. And then you have the real toxic encounters, in which another player is abusing the chat function or some game functionality to try to annoy you. If playing with other people is so great, why do modern games nearly universally now have systems that prevent players from talking freely to each other in game?

Apart from long years of negative experiences with other players online, I also have a more philosophical reason for not wanting to play that way any more: I often feel that I serve as "content" in a game in which the developers were simply too lazy to include an even half competent artificial intelligence. While graphics in games have improved dramatically over the last two decades, the AI opponents in games today are either non-existent or less good than in games from 20 years ago. Not only do I feel somewhat exploited by being used as content for other players, often in a setup in which my role is clearly pre-defined as that of a victim; the lack of AI also makes certain games less useful to me, because I can't play them when not connected to the internet. "PvP only" to me is a cost-saving solution to produce games on the cheap, and those cheap games just don't meet my personal standards.

Now obviously my dislike of PvP isn't absolute. Some games manage the interaction between players better than others. For example I do like Wargaming's World of Tanks, Warships, etc., because the 15 vs. 15 setup tends to moderate human variability by having a large enough sample. I also like mobile games which only pretend to be PvP, but in reality replace the other player by a more reliable AI; because that works both ways, you can be the designated victim for another human and the game doesn't even tell you about it. Other people get around the social problems with other players by exclusively playing in guilds / clans / groups of friends, but that is not an option for me anymore, as I am no more able to attend regularly like I did during my WoW days.

We live in a world in which every year more games come out than I could possibly play. So I'm warning game developers that if they don't put a decent AI in their game, I'll just play something else. And I doubt that I am the only one who thinks like that.

Given your last post, you're already the ideal customer, buying games and mostly not playing them. How would a developer be able to tell if you were not playing their game because they are, as you put it, "lazy" or because you have simply never found the time to play? Leaving aside whether they would care in the first place, you've already given the developer the economic reward they sought.
I’d say that developers care any more whether you “buy” their game, as frequently they will give you the game for free. Monetization these days is mostly via continuous player engagement, ehich leads to the players buying virtual stuff like loot boxes.
When I started letting my 3 yr old "play" fortnite on the xbox "with" the 10 yr old on the switch I kind of felt bad for the folk matched with him on a team. Then I remember all of the people I've been matched with over the years in games like counter-strike, world of tanks, league of legends etc.
When people talk of all the "toxic" interactions they have in online games it does make me wonder. Either I have a much higher tolerance of toxicity than the average, which I doubt, or I've been exceptionally fortunate, which I also doubt. Or people like to exaggerate.

I've been playing online games for twenty years and I can very nearly remember the individual "toxic" intereactions I've had in that time. They're memorable ebcause they're so rare and unusual - and yes, because they do indeed ruin the evening. If I had one in 2018, though, I can't recall it.

What's more, most of the ones that do stick in my mind come from a decade or more ago, before MMOs began using the kind of social systems they use nowadays. Since I rarely have to speak to anyone in game unless I really want to, the chances of a genuinely toxic interaction are hugely reduced.

As for things like people playing badly in groups and causing a failure - who cares any more? It's hardly like the old days, when it took an hour to put a group together and one bad pull could mean an entire evening wasted. These days if an instanced dungeon or match doesn't pan out for whatever reason it's a very minor hiccup. A few mouse clicks and a couple of minutes and off you go again.

As for the nature of communication in MMOs, when it does happen, people are orders of magnitude less offensive now than they were when I first started playing. The combination of cultural change and aggressive moderation systems has all but removed the most egregious behavior, which was relatively commonplace fifteen years ago. It is in the MMOs I play, anyway. Your mileage may vary.
I can't predict Angry Birds/ Fortnite style insane smash hits very well at all. They don't tend to be games that cater to my tastes. However, most of them do seem to lean heavily on players as content and / or microtransactions. I don't think that's a trend that will change any time soon.

Are you playing "competitively?" That's what it takes to suddenly find all these toxic players. And by "competitively" I don't mean at the highest level, just in a PvP match scenario with strangers will do.

I've had plenty of people yell and scream at me for "Making them lose." I think my favorite was when I was trying to get the shoulder recipe in WoW, you had to win a ranked battleground, well, I had to win a bunch of ranked battlegrounds as the drop is rare.

PvP really pulls out the worst in people. And then you have people that are just hyper-competitive dirt bags to begin with. You don't get that nearly as much with PvE.
I don't notice it much, but I've had a policy for ten years now of not turning on the mike, and setting the mute option whenever possible. That guy who's swearing at me for not having a mike on probably considers me toxic to his game since I refuse to allow that dialogue in my house.

OTOH totally agree on the AI issue. No good AI or effort at a single player experience worth engaging with, and the game is probably off my list. I'm an old gamer, however, and that is definitely not what my son and his friends are seeking out, which is the game that gives them the most tools to play cooperatively and competitively.
I just want to mention that here as it matches your dislike of PvP. Did you ever look at Faeria? It's a nice card game with a lot of PvE content.

It's buy to play but they don't sell boosters, you'll earn all cards by playing.
Game AI was never good in the first place. If you install any old strategy game (ral-time or turn-based), start the game on hardest difficulty and use the cheat code to reveal map, you'll see that harder difficulty of the game is acieved by giving AI enemies the big head start.

E.g. in Civilization-like game, while you start with your settler unit, enemies will have two cities plus several advanced tech troops on turn 1. AI does not learn the new tricks on hard modes, just gets its aggressiveness cranked up.
You know, this got me thinking, whatif there was a Uber rating system in place in multiplayer games? Each side rates the player they are with. It seems to work with Uber (and other applications), it causes users to behave in a socially acceptable way. Of course if the game is designed for the trolls out there, then the ratings will skew for that particular game, but isn't that what the game wants in the first place? This also would solve some of the problems I have when I pick games, I can't readily see the personality types that are playing the game, which affects my enjoyment of the game. Also if this is implemented correctly, you can segment your gaming population by ratings/personality types. Allowing the l33t gamers to play with each other, and the casual gamers to run with others that share their beliefs. I know that rating each player would get tedious, but in the end it seems like a solution (and I'll make The Amazing World of Gumball reference here:
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