It’s Getting Better All the Time

Psychochild and Ferrel of Epic Slant have posted thoughts resulting from their in-game discussion in LOTRO of how rewards systems conflict with and interfere with game design and guild leader (respectively) goals. And how they could be improved to make things better.

Ferrel’s thoughts I’ll summarize thus:

  • Players have been conditioned by the game to focus on loot, and upgrading their own characters.
  • In consequence, players don’t like testing new encounters, which involve lots of death, repair bills, and not much loot as a reward.
  • Some of the obvious guild reward systems meant to fix this have problems of their own.
  • Guild leaders need to take a stance of “we’ll do what’s best for the guild’s success first, then worry about what’s best for individuals.”
  • Spreading gear around is good, a bunch of good gear dropped on one player can disappear all too quickly.
  • This will mean that the stars in your guild will end up a little behind their peers in other “uber guilds”. Even so, it will help keep the guild viable and successful.
  • In spite of all that, players will still hate testing new encounters.
  • Did I mention that players really don’t like dying a lot with little/no rewards?

Brian “Psychochild” Green jots down a few ideas about how the game design could reward learners better. I’ll summarize him:

  • He begins with the assertion, taken from Jonathon Baron, that “our games will only truly advance once we focus on community Development over Individual Achievement”. [As an aside, I don't think those words could be uttered seriously even as little as 2 years ago. ]
  • Behavior that is rewarded is encouraged. So how to reward learning rather than winning?
  • Partial success rewards might be good. We could spawn a low-cost repair vendor if you get the mob to 75%, for example.
  • Focus more on what the game is about. [Early MMO's did stuff because that's how it worked in D&D, I'm convinced. And D&D had the loot chase, that's for sure.]
  • Gear used to be a stepping stone to higher content, is this necessary? Likewise, raiding is often a steppingstone to higher content, is this also necessary?
  • Players have expectations for gear grinding based on past experience, and will need to be retrained if you change the paradigm.

Both of these posts are well worth reading in full. And if you’re just the sort of obsessive redheaded high-elf that I am, you’ll go do that right now, even if you aren’t 3000 years old.

Hmm, you’re still here. Well, never mind, I summarized them because I knew that you were far more healthy psychologically than I am, and wouldn’t bother.

These posts are an excellent followup to the discussion of intrinsic vs. extrinsic rewards. What do we see with extrinsic, highly predictable rewards? We see people developing “real life issues” just about the time their character is fully geared with the new expansion. Learning theory predicts this. If rewards are highly unrandom, then behavior extinction is very rapid.

In less psychobabble, if a vending machine stops giving you candy bars, you stop putting in quarters really fast. But if a slot machine stops giving you jackpots, you keep putting more quarters (or dollars!) in, thinking, “It’s DUE!!”.

Last week, for my (mundane alter-ego’s) birthday, I got Rock Band: The Beatles. The rewards are pretty much all intrinsic. In Rock Band 2, you could at least earn “money” to get yourself a different outfit, or a better looking axe. And success with some songs opened up new venues and new songs to play and new challenges.

Rock Band: The Beatles doesn’t even have that. You play the songs because you love them and remember them (40 years ago is just a blink of the eye if you’re 3000 years old). You practice them because you want to get better at playing them. If you ever get 100%, you try the next harder difficulty. And you do it with your friends, because its fun. You’re motivated to do better so that you as a team can do better.

I think the key to this progression is the score and the “% played” numbers put up. There is immediate feedback while playing: if you miss, you don’t hear the song. And there is summary feedback immediately when you finish. This is pretty powerful, and its intrinsic. Success isn’t boiled down to one bit: win/lose. I’m not sure how you fit this into the traditional fantasy rpg millieu, but there’s got to be a way.

As to “players don’t like testing an encounter”, I think you are up against something far more fundamental than the loot reward system. As a martial-arts instructor, we have to retrain everyone who comes through the door with respect to the meaning of failure. We take the stance that failure is necessary and valuable. When a student can’t do a technique, we smile and say, “Good!” because we want them to understand that the techniques can’t be learned without a bunch of failures at them. My point is this: everyone has to relearn this. To most people, failure means you are stupid loser. This attitude must be corrected within our dojo, since to be successful, students must first fail. A lot. There isn’t any other way.

And I have to tell you, I don’t know how to address that from a game design perspective, within the traditional MMO framework. Rock Band: The Beatles introduces “No Fail Mode”, to spare those who are worried about it from the pressure of failing and making the group fail. Becuse failure means you’re a stupid, klutzy loser rather than meaning you’re someone who hasn’t learned how to do this song yet.

I’m not completely down on the feature, as it allows new players to be drawn in without feeling like a big burden to more experienced types.

Maybe that’s work for the in-game social leaders. I have run across guild leaders who exhort their guild, “It’s not about the drop, it’s about the kill!” Which is certainly my attitude.

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” – The End, The Beatles

One thought on “It’s Getting Better All the Time

  1. As I said in my post, the way we change attitudes is to change what we reward. If we just reward the win, then the attitude of “winning = good, losing = stupid” will be reinforced. Especially if losing carries penalties for other people: lost time, repair bills, etc.By giving small rewards for real progress, this helps gives incentives. If you get to 25% of damage done on the boss and get super-cheap repairs, that's a small boost to keep learning despite losses. If you can't even do 25%, then maybe there's a hint you are tackling content above your ability (or gear, perhaps). As I said, players will do what developers reward. It's the same thing in martial arts: the instructor saying that you did an okay job is enough for most people to get back up and try it one more time. Eventually they learn that failure isn't to be shunned, but in the short term it's the kind words that keep them going.That's my perspective, at least. Glad you liked our articles. :)

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