The Proteus Effect

Nick Yee, of Project Daedalus did some interesting work in his doctoral thesis, in which he studied something called the Proteus Effect. Namely, he showed that what toon you play has an effect on your behavior. By using virtual reality to manipulate the attractiveness and height of experimental subjects, they became more agressive (height), or more willing to approach another person more closely (attractiveness), or disclose more information about themselves when asked (attractiveness).

Nick was even able to cancel out the possibility of “priming” or the sort of social feedback that other’s reaction to your toon’s height or attractiveness has by changing what the confederates in the VR-implemented experiement saw. That is to say, even though the subjects saw themselves as taller (or more attractive) in the VR environment, the people they interacted with did not. I say, that’s pretty slick.

But really, what us gamers want to know is which toons will level faster, don’t we?

Well, Nick has an answer for that, too. Sort of. First of all, he gathered data on height and attractiveness for all the different races of WoW. (I know, it’s not Everquest, darn it. But we can still learn from it.) Attractiveness was based on a toon with randomized appearance, and given ratings by an independent panel, probably composed mostly of college students. Here’s the ratings:

Dr. Yee then sampled characters from WoW over the course of a couple weeks and ran regressions to see if the levels of character correlated to attractiveness and/or height.

Yes, yes it did. The most attractive race (Human) was on average 2.7 levels higher than the least attractive. The tallest race (Night Elf) was on average 4.5 levels higher than the shortest. Dr. Yee is careful to say that this might not be causal, since more serious players might choose taller toons. And notice that popularity seems factored out of this analysis, so the wild popularity of Night Elves maybe doesn’t mean as much.

Nick points out that the average playing time in WoW to get to level 60 is 480 hours. That’s three work months, by the way. I’m not sure if EQ2 is shorter or longer than that, though it’s in the ballpark.

In thinking about this in Everquest terms, I note first that there are virtually no trolls at the high levels of the game. Well, or at any level. Folks just don’t want to play trolls. If you go on a raid, you will see lots of toons that are sexy (Night elves, wood elves, half elves) or tall (Barbarians, Ogres, Kerrans). There are far fewer gnomes, halflings or dwarves. Arasai and Fae certainly exist at the high end, but not in great numbers.

Now I have friends in-game who play gnomes, halflings, dwarves and Fae. Some of them leveled pretty fast. I’m not trashing y’all, but I’d like to hear from you. Have you also played a tall toon? Did it make a difference? Did it make you feel different?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Tipa Dungeoncrawls

Tipa reports on the good time she is having playing a game called Dungeoncrawl. Dungeoncrawl is a descendent of rogue which my mundane alter-ego played in the early 80′s as a CS grad student. It was able to present a graphical UI and a 80×24 CRT “glass tty” terminal. There were strange monsters, odd potions, magic scrolls. Sometimes you could find an arrow where the field that held the damage modifier for the arrow had become corrupted, so that the arrow did, oh, say, 1,396,419 points of damage every time you hit with it. So you would become invincible, only to die to a poison arrow trap when you became a bit uncautious. And there was no resurrection, you had to start over with a new character at level 1.

I spent lots of time playing that game instead of writing my thesis. rogue led to Hack and then Net-Hack. And now to Dungeoncrawl, it seems.

Tipa relates:

Modern RPGs don’t have one tenth the complexity and depth of Dungeon Crawl. They also don’t have text graphics. Modern games are graphically astounding but have lost a LOT of of the play value of these RPGs from the 80s and 90s. This is the root of my frustration with modern-day MMOs. Way too much focus on making beautiful screenshots. Almost no focus on letting you stretch the boundaries and go your own way. A game like WoW forces you into such a narrow track — every class has pretty much one best way to kill something — that there’s no surprise people get bored so quickly.

Even old Everquest started out a lot more open. There were plenty of ways to fight creatures. You could kite, quad kite, fear kite, root and rot, charm kill, charm cycle, or tank and spank. It all depended on what skills you had available. The problem was that not all these strategies were created equal. Some classes were far more able to kill critters than others. Of course, this leads players, who are now paying customers, to call foul.

I’m no exception. I remember going into East Karana (funny that Tipa should call her blog that) to farm spider silk with my monk. It’s something he could do to earn some cash to get the really good weapons he needed to be successful. But if there were druids in the zone, forget it. They would be pulling all spiders in the zone, running around like maniacs, and then killing them all. I’d get nothing. I would have to just turn around and go somewhere else, or play some other toon. Like this redhaired elf enchanter I just rolled up.

Success in Dungeoncrawl involves mastering multiple styles, and employing the one that is most suitable at any time, something I like in a game. I like a game that requires, patience, intelligence, flexibility, and determination. The downside to that is that the more a game asks of players, the fewer players there will be. The fewer paying players, that is. So, I don’t see that happening.

Finally, Tipa asks the eternal question:

But shouldn’t RPGs, even MMORPGs, be more about the journey than the end? Racing through content to get to the GOOD stuff is the mark of a game without imagination. The game should be as fun and rewarding at level 10 as at level 100. If old, free, text-based RPGs can do it, why not games with hundreds of millions of dollars behind it, like WoW?

To me, this has as much to do with what a person brings to a game as the game design. I know people who thing the most fun thing to do is to level from 0 to 20. They do it constantly, and switch around races, classes and zones to vary the experience.

Still, the structure of the games contributes to this. MMO’s now have more quests, lots more quests. With rewards. This is a good thing, it would seem Players surveyed by Nick Yee of Project Daedalus point out that it also makes everyone very reward focused. When you “play” with something, that sort of implies rthe lack of any discernable goal, doesn’t it?

Hit Monsters, Get Gold

Via Amber, Cuppycake reports a conversation with a gold farmer (this is in WoW) who wanted to level Cuppycake’s toon from 60 to 70 and then rent it for 20 bucks a week to farm or powerlevel with.

(16:55:00) Cuppycake You’ll level my character from 60-70 without me paying anything?

(16:55:16) ipssuppliers8@hotmail.com if u rent ur lvl 70 char to us ,u may get 1000g or 20$ per week.

(16:55:43) Cuppycake I don’t get it.

(16:56:58) ipssuppliers8@hotmail.com no. u can get it back.

(16:57:13) Cuppycake Ah, what do you use my character for?

(16:57:51) ipssuppliers8@hotmail.com we rent our clients’wow acc one week or so.after one week u get it back again.

(16:58:03) Cuppycake Yes, but what do you use it for?

(16:58:53) ipssuppliers8@hotmail.com we use it to hit monsters and get the golds ,then pay payment or offer lvling service.ok?

Of course, the farmer claimed it wasn’t against the EULA (it is), and that the account would not be banned. Right. She didn’t mention whether all the assets on the account would be vendored and the gold moved off and sold or not. But then, Cuppy didn’t ask.

The mention of an IP proxy indicates that they believe that MMO operators not only look for platfarming accounts, but trace them to IP addresses as well.

Finally, the thing that just makes me shake my head is the powerleveling. Isn’t playing the game supposed to be fun? If you’re not having fun, you are doing it wrong!

Death Penalty

In Social Architectures in MMO’s, Nick Yee summarizes what players have said to him about how various game mechanics affect social behavior such as altruism and gregariousness.

One of the game mechanics discussed is the severity of the death penalty. Back in the old days of Everquest, when you died, all your stuff was left on your corpse in the place you died. You revived as a meat body, sans stuff, at whatever spot you had last had a “bind” spell cast on you. And then you had to run back to your body to get your stuff, braving all the dangers between you and it. I remember that Lobilya (my RL spouses hobbit in EQ) once spent perhaps a week trying to recover her corpse.

In addition, you actually lost experience from dying, to the point where you would lose a level. Which happened to me a couple of times. (Man does that suck!)

There are some who long for those days, feeling that the general altruism and competence of the player base was better as a result. Corpse recoveries turned into bonding experiences.

I feel that modern MMO’s do indeed have too little altruism and gregariousness, however, I don’t wish for a return of serious death penalties. Which is good, since I believe that MMO operators would pay a serious financial penalty for reinstating it.

I think that in general, the big death penalty enjoys the association with the smaller group of players that played in Everquest before the MMO explosion that happened with EQ2 and WoW, which released within a month of each other. I see the big death penalty as more ambivalent with regard to social interaction.

A big death penalty creates more of a social obligation, both within a group, and within a guild. This can lead to more bonding, when adversity is successfully overcome, or it can fracture relationships. When your groupmate has caused the group to wipe yet again, or your guildie has just asked for yet another corpse run in a zone that’s too big for him.

A big death penalty definitely increases the amount of risk faced. Which can give all of us adrenaline junkies a rush, and can make people more risk averse and cautious, sometimes at the same time.

Finally, a big death penalty, especially one that actually deducts experience, will definitely weed out bad players, which enhances the pickup game experience for those players who are successful. However, if you hope that MMO operators will make their games more difficult in the hopes of having fewer customers over time, dream on.

One of the aphorisms about baseball that I love is “The Game does not build character, it reveals it.” I feel this is true of MMOs.

For example, Druushk (thanks to Chuman of Lineage for the screenie):

This dragon is known to some as “Druushk, the Guild Killer” It is necessary to kill Druushk to get the mythical version of your epic weapon. He is very, very difficult; a big leap upward in difficulty from all the content before him.

To those guilds that manage to figure out how to kill him, it’s a bonding experience. To those that don’t have the social reserve, patience, trust, and respect for each other, it’s something else. Sometimes he destroys guilds even though they manage to defeat him.

The first guild on our server to beat Druushk was Aftermath. That guild no longer is a force on Butcherblock, if it even exists at all. Rumor has it that members were not on speaking terms, they only logged on or played to raid in order to have their mythicals.

First of all, playing Everquest II should be fun. Not a job. Not something you have to grit your teeth and put up with. It’s supposed to be a game.

Ok, wiping 20 times without success on one nights raiding wouldn’t be considered to be fun by most people. But it can be fun, if you’re doing it with people you like and trust. And if it doesn’t turn into the blame game.

What it comes down to, I think, is whether you think that failure is shameful. I don’t require that failure be labelled success, but wiping on Druushk 20 times in one night does not mean that you are a bad player, or an unworthy guild. It just means you have to do something different, get stronger, change tactics, something.

What matters most is what you bring to the game, not what it brings you to.

The Daedalus Project

A guildie of mine, Jioja, recently turned me on to The Daedalus Project, the social science research of Nick Yee, a research scientist at Xerox PARC, just down the road from my mundane alter-ego.

Dr. Yee started studying Everquest, Quake, and Starcraft as an undergrad in a psych methods class and that’s how he started playing EQ. He has ridden that research interest all the way through a Ph.D. in Communications from Stanford, and into his current position.

His site offers a lot of thoughts to chew on. And we do a lot of chewing here, being 3000 years old gives you the time for some rumination.

In any case, I’ll be posting thoughts based on some of his writings here. His bio doesn’t say which games he plays now, so who knows, we may run into him in game, too.

Artful Dodging

My favorite thing from EQ1 was sneaking Toldain in past the Third Gate of Neriak, invisible. Being spotted by something that saw invisibility was basically certain death, and a very difficult corpse run. It was necessary for some coins in the fountain quest, that I don’t quite remember any more. But it involved lots of dodging around, lots of sneaking skill on the part of the player as opposed to the character.

While not quite like that, Lord of the Rings Online has a quest series where you assume the persona of a chicken. Yes, that’s right, a chicken. Well, with me, it was a rooster. I was level one, and I had two abilities: scratching for worms, and putting on a big burst of speed (which involved lots of squawking).

You then have a series of quests that first send you across the Shire to speak with some of the animals and then into other zones in the game. Including the highest level zones! Now not everything that would want to kill a human will try to kill a rooster, I suppose. But some things are more likely to try to kill a chicken than a human or a hobbit.

To me, this is a very similar thrill to sneaking into the Third Gate and talking to someone in a quiet corner. And here’s to that!

Shiny!

Tipa points us to an article written by her alter-ego Brenda Holloway about GU46 and the Void Invasion on Massively.com

The basic idea is that the Void is invading Norrath and possessing various creatures via Void Storms. Your mission is to cleanse these creatures, killing the invader after forcing them out of the possessed body. Doing this repeatedly earns credits that can be spent on a variety of rewards, including appearance gear, house items, and even…

A Shiny!!! In your HOUSE!!!

Alice Explains Age of Conan

The hot new MMORPG is Age of Conan. Alice has some screenshots up from it. She says:

Okay, so I’ve been hearing quite a bit about AoC: it’s got depth, it burns the heck out of your graphics card, it’s more “realistic” than most MMOs. Graphic. Meaty.

I was wondering what this meant, and then me ole buddy (and Quake pal and SWG pal) Jadell sent me some screenies of his avatar.

It turns out that when you are naked in AoC, you are, ahem, naked. Take a look. After all, the internet is for porn.

Go ahead, look. I’ll wait here.

I’m curious about a few things. The screenie is of a woman, but Conan is one of the few men that refined the fine art of fighting without armor. So presumably men can fight naked too. What do they look like?

Under what circumstances are you naked? When you change to a new armor/clothing piece? After you die, is there a naked corpse run, like in Everquest? (In EQ, we joked about being nekkid, because you weren’t, some clothing was more revealing than “naked”).

I further note that when you are naked, you still have jewelry on. This adds to the performative nature of the nakedness. That is, a character is not incidentally naked, but is on display.

Are you naked in character creation? Inquiring minds want to know.

Further searching has turned up The Top 10 Reasons Age of Conan’s Release was Delayed Six Months which includes Reason 4:

The modellers were so distracted by boobies that they forgot to design female armor.