Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Mechanics of Selfishness

Yesterday I did something that's unusual for me, and that was have a conversation with several people about games. Namely on the Guildcast podcast, with Shawn and Rubi, and 3 other people.

It was fun, and while I don't think I made the most intelligent arguments ever, we did stumble upon the topic of gaming communities, and how games like Rift and World of Warcraft have douche baggery communities, where as games like Guild Wars and even Starcraft 2 have in fact, really pleasant communities with a ton of helpful people everywhere you go.

Now I'm not big on talking about community and people, because that's more Rubi's shtick, but this got me thinking after the time I had this morning with the new Starcraft 2 community I was introduced to on the show.
Basically the people from the Starcast community we're friendly and helpful to me, which made me ask the question why.

Why is it that Guild Wars and Starcraft 2 can bring out the best in people and make such friendly communities despite being so different?
You'd think that a game revolving around hardcore PvP like Starcraft 2 would have terrible community if conventional wisdom was true, which again in this case it's evidently not.

So where do game like Rift and WoW go wrong, and generate a community with such selfishness at every level of play?

Well, the short answer is because their STRUCTURED that way.
It is the very mechanics of the game that either incentivize altruism and cooperation, or selfishness and greed.

As to how they do this, well this is where we get into the weeds a bit.

Incentive to be Selfish

Now I don't think I need to make the argument that WoW's community has some less then desirable fellows playing the game, look at local chat any day of the week.
And Rift's community seems to be showing early signs of asshattery and abuse.

But why? Is there really that many assholes in the world, and they all just so happen to like these games?

No, it's the games who are making people act like this, as well as attract people who want to act selfish and prickishly. It in effect turns people who otherwise wouldn't act this way under different circumstances, act like selfish pricks.
Now the idea of this doesn't go down well with a lot of people, but let's take a look at how these games work before reaching for your flamethrower.

Levels and Loot
First off these game prioritize levels and gear over anything else, you don't have to be any good at the game to win, you just need to be a higher level, or just have better stuff.
Everything can be solved with better stuff.

Which, at it's core, is just a factor of time.

Ninja looting and Kill stealing
Who honestly likes being on the receiving end of this? Your just finish killing off a boss just to have some asshat steal your loot.

That's because the game allows them to do it, and there is really is nothing you can do about it.
And because the game only rewards who hits first, or grabs the loot first, with an empathies on loot and EXP being the end all be all, there is a strong incentive for people to act this way.

Ganking and Griefing
Now why would anyone want to spend their time, ruining the time for others?
Simple, because they can.

While limited, both Rift and WoW allows for freeform PvP as well as to allow players to take actions that either directly or indirectly negatively impact on almost any other player they meet, with very little in the way of consequences for doing so.
With nothing to lose and fun at others expense to gain, maybe even a bit of loot, there is no reason not to...... besides ethics that is.

If there are no consequences, then it must be OK.

The long short of it is this, the reason people act selfishly, is because the game rewards them being selfish. If they are selfish they will get more loot, and that means they win.
Allowing people to not only be selfish but also having little to no consequences, is there little wonder why people act like flaming jackasses?

Now let's look at the opposite example and see what we can learn.

Clean and Simple
So what makes Guild Wars and Starcraft 2's communities so, well, peaceful?
Well you know how I was going on about how WoW and Rift not only allows for asshattery, but incentivize it through their mechanics?
It's because Guild Wars and SC2 do not allow you to be, nor do they incentivise it, but in fact they go in the other direction with their mechanics.

Skill and Assigned Loot
In both games, levels and gear are virtually meaningless, literally so in SC2.
It doesn't matter what you have, only how you use it. You can't buy your way to success either.
In PvP, you win on your skill alone, and if you play with a team, you either win together, or lose separately.

Guild Wars also goes one step further in PvE with assigned loot drops. Not only are random players just not able to take your loot, because of the instancing, but this also makes it clear and unambiguous as to who gets what.
And it's looking like Guild Wars 2 is going to continue this tradition.

There is just no room for being an ass here, it just doesn't work.

Fair and Balanced
Another strong point in these games favor is their empathies on fair and balanced PvP, and keeping PvP and PvE separated by a raw iron fence....... made of tigers.

When you go into a match in either game both you and your opponents have the same tools and resources to work with, no one is favored, no one has an inherit advantage.
It's all down you how you execute your build, and your ability to make decisions, multitask, and pure personal skill and experience.

Teamwork Works
Because the currency of success in these games in either PvE or PvP is skill, teamwork becomes a integral feature in these games. Where as you CAN play by yourself and do very well, working with others will get you there a whole lot quicker, and you'll likely have a grand old time doing so as well.

In SC2 even though your own personal skill determines your success rate, it's only given meaning in light of other people. Playing with people is the best tool in your arsenal to get good at the game.

There really is nothing more to gain by going it alone. You'll be no better off, there is no incentive.

Overall the reason these games have great communities is because they:
A. Don't incentivise mechanics that gives you any kind of advantage over anyone else.
B. Keep interactions between people both fair and consenting.
C. Reward teamwork and share rewards as equally as possible.

In closing what I've come to think is this.
If you want people to act in a certain way, it's all about incentives and disincentives.
Reward someone for acting like an asshat, and soon enough everyone will.
But if you reward working together, personal and collective skill, then people will do it, and it will be great for everyone involved.

As well as make the developers time a whole lot easier.


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