Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

All You Need is (Shard of) Love!

After completing the access quest, which starts for Qeynosians outside the NQ gate in Antonica, I went into the Shard of Love with guildies Karaya, Exit and Index. It seems that Erollisi Marr is still missing and there seems to be a problem with her home, the Plane of Love. I've been an adherent of Erollisi Marr for 3000 years. So naturally I jumped at the chance, and we investigated. There was no sign of her, her guardians have suffered serious memory loss, and the place is afflicted by lots of doleful listlessness, muck of neglect, and other such problems.

There are several nameds, all of which spawn as ring events, and the drops are mainly house items and appearance gear. For example, there's a fireworks that gives you a rain of rose petals. And a love seat for your house. (Did I forget to mention that my house got a new room, and more slots for stuff! That will keep me busy for a while.)

For instance, there was a very unhappy fairy surrounded by angry bees. And those bees had quite a sting. On one pull, the bees flew down from their tree and turned in unison to look at me. Erk! My finger hadn't even reached the mez button before I was dead. I hadn't cast a spell or nothin'! But I was rezzed and we moved on.

After poking around and clearing stuff out, the guardian remembered enough to tell us to go to the Chapel of Love. I refrained from singing on voice chat, but only just barely. But first we had to defeat the guardian of the Chapel, Valoron.

Ok, so most of these mobs are tough, but nothing terribly special. We died a lot but that's because there were four of us, no healer, and the tank was level 72. Karaya's coercer pet was very handy, but I pulled aggro from it or others several times and died a lot as a result. Hmm, I guess my respec boosted my dps. Or something.

The paladin tried putting amends on me, but that mostly succeeded in getting HIM killed first. Level 72 is rough to tank that zone, though there's only one mob red at that level.

I won't spoil what the final mob is, or how the plot resolves because, for me, that's part of the fun. There are 3 collections in this zone, and an opportunity to harvest a pomegranate, which very likely is has a new recipe out there to make use of it.

Good times all around.

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A Date with (Shards of) Destiny

I took time out from playing Rock Band: The Beatles yesterday to try EQ2's Live Update 53, which they are calling Shards of Destiny. I thought I'd give you a report.

First, I use the Station Launcher, and boy was I glad about that. It downloaded the patch while I was doing something else and not even thinking about the patch. I remembered it was patch day at about 2:30 PDT when Phritz, who was working from home, called me and suggested I start downloading it, since it was taking him quite a long time.

So I went to log in and went right in to the game. That's sweet! It took Phritz maybe another 20 minutes.

Once in game we found that all our racial and class training choices had been undone, and needed to be repicked, with some new options available. Also, many equipment items had been changed to be HEIRLOOM and thus attunable, and had been de-equipped. So, there was lots of housekeeping to be done on login, the moreso if you had alts. Since I wanted to try a lot of the different bits of the LU, I skipped bringing the alts up to date.

One of the things that was notable is that they have moved certain utility powers into the racial powers category, expanding the availability of these skills. For example, Kerran can now take training that lets them be trackers. So you can have a healer that tracks too, as long as you are Kerran. We high elves (along with dark elves) got the ability to port to a group member in zone. Recast every 12 hours.

I'm very happy to have this ability, and I note that my groupmates will likely be glad I have it too, since it will speed things up for them. Zones are very big these days, and can have dangerous stuff in them.

Next, I couldn't help but noticing all the whining going on in level chat about avatar gear being downgraded and de-equipped. The de-equipping is a consequence of said gear being made HEIRLOOM, which I think that raiders should welcome. Still, it's no fun having your gear downgraded. If I recall correctly, that happened once before, while Desert of Flames was the current expansion, and it wasn't just avatar drops that got downgraded.

I learned through hard experience that it's bad to take stuff away from players, and I figure the EQ2 team knows it, too. So I guess they had a good reason for it. Still, it's something that any gamedev should work really hard to avoid. Nuff said. (On that topic anyway, you can't make me shut up that easily.)

Ok, the next thing I did was to visit the Chronomancers (in Qeynos Harbor for Qeynosians) and then tool about Antonica at level 20, visiting points of interest and finishing quests to complete a couple of Antonican Achievements. The system works well and smoothly, and it was fun trying to remember where all the places in Antonica were. Sure, you know where Bramble Woods are and Gnollslayer Highland, but where, exactly, are the Watchtower Plains? Lonely Isle? Misty Isle?

I was shocked by the number of quests in Antonica that I had never finished, and this was with Toldain, not an alt. As it turns out, finishing gray quests will still count for the achievement, but you won't get AA points for them.

One of the most confusing points about the Achievements is trying to figure out why you have credit for this but not for that. For example, the only point of interest that Toldain has for Commonlands is Turmoil Cemetery. I know for a fact he's been to lots more places, but that's the only one they could figure out from my quest journal, I guess. Which is weird, since it's right in the middle of CL, I don't think you could get there without going over some of the other POI.

After that, I joined some guildies in Shard of Love, the new zone, after doing the access quest. I'll have more on that in a different post.

Back in 1999, Jonathon Baron wrote, in the essay "Shame and Glory": "Don't build a pyramid." This LU has taken that advice to heart. It's thin on new quests, but not so thin on expanding the possible goals and activities for players that are tired of the chase to be "uber". New recipes, acheivments, new mentoring possibilities, and missions to go to old dungeons and hunt down bosses, missions that change every day.

The vocal reaction in level chat was pretty mixed. Of course, many of the strongest voices are those that belong to top raiding guilds, and the LU wasn't terribly kind to them. A lot of trouble, nerfed gear, and not much new to do. But there are raiding Achievements, and maybe a new encounter, I'm not sure.

And the timing couldn't be better, business wise. Would you rather sit in a queue waiting to get in to Aion for three hours or go mess around filling out an Achievement or two with your old EQ2 toon? It's all about fun, right?


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Apparently I'm turning into a Will Wright junkie. I just ran across an interview Wright did with biologist E.O. Wilson on NPR.

In it Wright mentions SimAnt, a game he made based on his interest in biology and his reading of Wilson. My first thought was, "Yeah, but how well did it sell?" Much to my surprise, it apparently sold 100,000 copies and was named Best Simulation Program by the Software Publisher's Association. So much for cynicism, and my notions of what is commercial and what isn't. Just to further rub salt in my own wounds, I remind myself that The Sims is the best selling game of all time. And it isn't really even a game by conventional definitions. There are no victory conditions, no phat l00t.

But what about The Sims Online? That didn't seem to work as well, shutting down August 1 of last year, after being rebranded as EA-Land in 2007. I never played it, I don't know what the problems were, though the Wikipedia article hints at problems with the in-game economy. Or maybe it was that whatever was interesting and fun about The Sims was spoiled by having other people around?

Anyway, we were talking about E.O. Wilson's interview. He stated that he thinks that games will be very big in education, and talked about having a virtual Jurassic forest that students could walk through with an instructor, walking away from the "I talk, you listen" format of college lectures. Honestly, I'd say the lecture is the one thing in college courses most likely to survive, though I agree that the printed textbook is in big danger.

It got me thinking though. What's the game that teaches people to do algebra or calculus in that sort of exploratory, toy-like way? Tying this back to MMO's, can any of this be a shared experience?

On the plus side, I've learned a great deal from board games and tabletop roleplaying, which is social. On the minus side, once you bring other people into the equation, you introduce the possibility of shame, which stifles learning.

As I said yesterday, I think that shame has to be addressed not with game mechanics, but socially. In fact, by striving to avoid shaming players, and allowing them to be successful at every step of the way, game designers may unwittingly be feeding the shame culture by creating expectations of success. I think this plays out in education with the whole "self-esteem" curriculum movement. I've come to see confronting failure as a critical part of growth.

Of course, game designers are trying to sell games as pleasant recreations, making players fail all the time might not sell too many copies. But I've continued to be astonished at how strict MMO gamedevs can get away with being to their customers. Games can have powerful effects through narrative and media. Isn't it possible to separate failure and shame? We do that in private all the time...

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Monday, September 21, 2009

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


Does Gear Matter?

Just ran across these WoW players that went out and proved that the gear one wears is not that important to success. At least, not in that game, on that boss.

Is this true in EQ2? It used to be the case that you could be successful in all aspects of the game with nothing more than Adept I spells and Treasured gear, as long as you shopped a bit for the gear that best suited your role.

I'm not sure this is still the case. The bar for success in the non-raiding game seems to be Adept III (or whatever it's called now) and Legendary items. In fact, while leveling up in Kunark, I would routinely see Legendary drops for my character that provoked lots of yawns.

But the Kunark encounters were still very tough, even with me in that gear. I'm not at all sure that you could handle the shard instances at level 80 with only treasured gear, no matter how good you were, and how well you knew the encounters. The lower mitigation and healing resulting would make defensive play that much more knife edged, and the lower dps would mean every encounter would last longer, allowing more possibilities for mistakes, and increasing fatigue. If the mitigation/avoidance/healing could hold the mobs in the first place.

As to raiding, forget it. Many encounters are dps races.

Now there's a point here. How you spend AA's and equip matters a lot to your good functioning. And the tactics of doing dps (or tanking for that matter) matter a lot too. When I went though this process to enhance my dps, I improved hugely, 2-3x my dps, just by changing my AA's and how I did things in battle. So, it means a lot. But do any of you think you could handle the tough stuff with only legendary gear? (I'll allow you a Fabled epic weapon, but not a mythical.)


Thursday, September 17, 2009

In Praise of Randomness

This was just too choice to not pass on to y'all. Those of you who work in the corporate world, anyway.

The savvier consultants and their clients understand that the basis of the business is not technological but anthropological – and that this is not always a bad thing. Among human beings, it turns out, the perception of expertise, however unfounded, can sometimes be used to good purpose. As the shamans who poison chickens and the soothsayers who read entrails have long demonstrated, sometimes it is more important to build a consensus around a good decision than to make the best possible decision; sometimes it is more useful to believe that a decision is sanctioned by a higher authority than to acknowledge that it rests on mere conjecture; and sometimes it is better to make a truly random choice than to continue to follow the predictable inclinations of one's established prejudices. Consultants, following in the footsteps of their pagan forebears, understand that they must adopt the holy mien of a priestly caste.

Excerpted from The Management Myth: Management Consulting Past, Present and Largely Bogus by Matthew Stewart

Via Good Morning Silicon Valley

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Life Imitates Art

When you've hung around role-playing as long as I have (remember, I'm 3000 years old, for Marr's sake!), and when your interest in theater in high school (EZ, I'm thinking of you right now) found an outlet in creating and playing interesting characters on tabletop and then later in MMORPGs, you end up with a stable of stock characters that end up being reused some. Take for instance, a 3000-year-old red-headed elf who is oh so VERY charming.


Another one of my stock characters started out as a pair, a half-orc sister and a half-elf brother, Allyson and Alfred Sweetvine. At first, I played them together in a 2-characters-each homebrew D&Dish campaign. Their comedy routine had Allyson as the straight arrow fighter, and Alfred as the roguish and good-looking, but willing-to-bend-the-rules little brother, whom Allyson nagged constantly.

The characters took on a life of their own, and my rl spouse took over primary duties for running Alfred. As for Allyson, as I got to know her better, I decided that she was very dark skinned, her father most definitely did NOT rape her mother, it was a love match, and they had settled down in a small cottage in the South Wood, but he died when she was very young. Their mother, being a druid, became the resident witch, healer, and all-around hippie woman to the nearby village.

Alfred is a sweet talker, and in his current incarnation a bard. Allyson is much larger, and prefers the, ahem, direct approach. She's a bit bitter about the amount of prejudice a half-orc is met with in her culture, and especially about what that did to her romantic prospects. While she isn't afraid to speak her mind, and intimidation is definitely a tool in her arsenal, she rejects any hint of "wildness" or "rage". She wants to represent, after all.

After some thought, we chose Michael J. Fox to represent what Alfred looked like, and for Allyson, I thought first of Queen Latifah as personality, and for physical type: Serena Williams. Allyson's theme song is Aretha Franklin's "Respect".

So, I had a very unusual reaction to the recent dust-up at the U.S. Open. If you live under a rock, you might have missed the fact that Williams vented a little fury at a line judge that called her for a foot-fault during a match point in the semifinals.

When I heard that much, my reaction was to think, "That sounds like something Allyson might have done."

If that's not weird enough, I then heard that Williams offered to stuff the tennis ball down the line-judges throat. My very-warped perspective offered this response: "Wow, did I ever pick well for Allyson's RL model!" Then, I read this, from the Christian Science Monitor:

What Williams unleashed on a lineswoman who called her for a foot fault in the decisive game of her semifinal match was primal. The lineswoman scurried to the chair umpire for safety. Meteorologists might have been inclined to place Flushing Meadows under a severe storm warning for the space of 20 Sunday evening seconds, so raw and powerful were her emotions.

As much as she rejects the rage (she will never take a barbarian level), it's still there. Along with the pressure to always represent while spending most of your life among those with whom you don't quite fit, and who at times seem all too eager to see the worst in you.

I wrote that paragraph about Allyson, mind you.

Recently we talked about recreating Allyson and Alfred for a 1920's Call of Cthulhu setting. We thought it might work well for Allyson to be a barnstorming athlete of some sort, and Alfred her manager. I think maybe she should be a tennis player.

By the way, I don't condone William's behavior, nor do I think it permanently stains her character. She lost it, and she should take her sanction standing tall and proud, and move on. And win. A lot. It will feel real good, I'm sure.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Lessons of Bill the Pony

After taking pretty much the whole month of August off from blogging, I make a couple of posts and Shazzam!, people I read and regard highly are dropping interesting comments on them. I'm feeling humble and grateful to find that there are people I respect who read my blog and are interested enough to comment. It als makes me feel, umm, chatty!

Brian "Psychochild" Green had this to say about "Intrinsic Motivation in MMO's":

I think one of the problems here is that for whatever reason, even though people do better in autonomous situations, a lot of people like structure. Many people want to go into a quest hub, grab a bunch of quests, and then follow the instructions (or Questhelper arrows) and then get the reward. They like building a character in the proscribed way.

I think "Psycho" (Cue Bernard Hermann's violins) is exactly right. People don't like sandboxes, they want something fun to do. At a minimum, they want to know what buttons there are to push.

But I think that structure can be successfully separated from extrinsic rewards. Or mostly so. Last night on LOTRO has a case in point. I rescued Bill the Pony. I feel great about that, and not because of the quest item I got. I vendored it anyway and got maybe 10sp for it. Not exactly something that makes leaves fall off off trees.

I found out that Bill was out roaming around and needed help from a quest node. But dang, the reward at that point was irrelevant, I would have paid to rescue Bill. In a way, I did, in fact, pay.

Once you've found Bill, you need to escort him to safety. And he is pretty much a warg magnet. Classic escort quest, Turbine-style. Bill wanders all around taking nothing even remotely resembling a straight line to the target, all the while popping his own tormenters to add to whatever happens to be spawning at the moment.

I was really glad to be a mezzer, but about 50 feet from "safe" it was too much, and I died. But the quest wasn't over. I sat there and watched one of the mobs run off, and another chew on Bill, who seems to be rather indigestible. The third still had the heavy damage I'd put on him before keeling over.

So I hit the "revive" button to revive on the spot, and mezzed the healthy one immediately, and then killed the damaged one with what little mana I revived with. I sat around a bit, waiting for some mana and health to regen. Damage the remaining warg, then mez. Stun, damage, mez. Repeat until dead. Once the combat ends, resummon my pet. Bill walks the last 50 feet to the road and I'm done. Wow, what a great experience.

Part of what made that great was the structure. The quest pointing to Bill, the actual escort quest itself, the popping mobs as part of that quest, and so on. (By the way, we had a great guild discussion afterward about which was the best escort quest in LOTRO.) Part of the fun was me doing something that's off the beaten track. When LOTRO added the ability to revive on the spot (with a cooldown of 2 hours), I doubt they were thinking that anyone would be able to use it in this way. So, I have the extra satisfaction of knowing I pulled something off that is unusual and kind of hard to do.

So, good times.

Was this an exploit? It's hard to see how, I used the feature to do exactly what its supposed to do. Does it ruin the story? Not really, since in LOTRO terms, I didn't die, I just got afeard. This time, I pulled it back together and saved Bill. Other times, I pull it back together only to die, I mean run away, again. And dying still incurs repair costs. So it isn't exactly a strategy.

Ok, can this be packaged in a way that will revitalize MMO's and make millions of dollars, and have people talking about wanting to copy your game instead of WoW? I kind of doubt that. One phrase I use a lot is, "I'm not normal". And I mean it. Stuff I like isn't necessarily mainstream. Game companies have got so good at evoking a Pavlovian response they know which kind of bell goes with which breed of dog. It gets them the big surge of cash, too.

People might start playing because its fun, but they keep playing for other reasons: social connections, social status, and simple force of habit. A good raid loot grind can keep people subscribed for months after they've figured out and beat all the raid encounters. That's money in the bank, under the subscription model, I don't really expect people to walk away from it.

The fundamental issue is this: It takes a game designer a lot longer to come up with interesting and fun things to do than it takes a player to play through it. When you can get a million or so people to all play it, then you're getting a good payback, but any reasonable investment is going to have a years worth of game design played out in about 3-4 months.

A lot of the fun of saving Bill the Pony comes from the fact that I know who Bill is, because of the licensing tie-in. LOTRO game devs didn't have to first explain to me who Bill the Pony is, then let me rescue him.

The other trouble with a very open design is that this is the internet age. Anything that one person is successful with will get imitated 10 million times. We used to call imitation "aping", but I'm convinced it ought to be called "humaning". We do it a lot more than monkeys. So what starts out as a clever strategy becomes a killing tsunami.

But the point is that intrinsic motivation (rescuing Bill!) was far more important than extrinsic (the reward that I couldn't use and wasn't probably any better than what I have). Here's a question to ponder. Was Mario64 more tilted to extrinsic or intrinsic motivation? What you got for finishing levels were stars. And satisfaction. Lots of satisfaction. Jumping stuff, sliding down slides. Fun. I'm thinking it weighted heavily to intrinsic. What do you think?

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Monday, September 14, 2009

You Know You Were Clueless When...

Tipa has uncovered, in a secret trove in a location only known to her, an 8.5"(!!!) floppy disk with a blog roundup from 2001 on our favorite topic, MMO's.

The whole thing is well worth reading, but this really made me spit my Diet Coke at the monitor:

It wouldn’t be a Glitchless game unless it featured permadeath. As GM Jeff said in a Stratics debate last January, permadeath is a way to ensure that the people who aren’t SERIOUS about roleplaying quit the game, so everyone wins:

*GL-Jeff* Well the anti-perm death crowd has already stated that permdeath would “shorten” the lifespan of the PERSISTANT world. I believe they are already admitting that yes, the players that are not serious about playing for RP purposes will leave the game early.

Well, in reality, groups of PKs would just band up and completely ruin the game for everyone else at no risk to themselves. Jeff has apparently never played Ultima Online. Didn’t we just have this debate with Sierra’s Middle-Earth Online? It’s just weird seeing people seriously argue that EverQuest’s death penalty is not severe enough.

Rumor has it, btw, that the EverQuest devs are considering upping the three hours before your corpse and all your possessions decay to something a little longer. About time.

There's some things that are better off forgotten, because you are happier that way. I played Everquest. I must have been playing it in 2001. I had to. I have no recollection of a three hour decay time. I remember them increasing it, so that it depended on level. I remember the horrible hassle of trying to get Lobilya's (my spouse in RL) corpse back from a campfire surrounded by ogres and finally giving up, start her over again. Wasn't the limit pushed to 7 days or something at one point?

I guess the point was, if I died, I did the corpse run immediately, regardless of time of night, or fatigue or whatever.

Furthermore, at the time I was no stranger to the internet, but I had barely heard of blogs, and didn't spend much time surfing forums. Except for Slashdot, that is. One look at that site cost me 90 minutes. Every single time. I am that kind of geek, I'm afraid. But for my gaming time, well, I logged on and played.

I find the discussion of permadeath and bigger death penalties to be amusing, and so very, VERY human. And it's akin to trying to order the tides to stop. Honestly, do you expect a commercial company to be successful and grow if it bases its business plan around being meaner to its customers than the other guys? This is what made me feel Vanguard is doomed, all the rhetoric about "back to what made EQ great..." or at least that's how it seemed to me.

And still, the permadeath crowd has a kind of point. I did pickup groups in EQ in 2001 all the time. Just join a group at a bandit camp, or in Highpass or whatever. And you would get a reasonable amount of experience and loot, though probably not the fat drop, the group leader had that earmarked for himself or someone else, but really that didn't matter. You broke the spawn, killed stuff as it popped, and had a conversation in between. There was sort of a floor on how bad it could be, and how dumb your group members would be.

That floor dropped lower and lower as the game populations expanded. Most people are pretty averse to pickup groups these days, because the combination of bad play, and rude behavior can be pretty toxic. Though oddly, they seem to be inversely correlated. That is, in my PUG experience, the rudeness has all come from competent, experienced players, while it's the nice ones that don't know what they are doing. Sigh, is it too much to ask for a product that is BOTH a floor-wax AND a dessert topping?

In any case, reading Tipa's blog post reminded me of how clueless I was about the general trend of gaming at the time.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Intrinsic Motivation in MMO's

I watched this video today, and then I ran across Brian Green's extreme makeover of Legendary Items in LOTRO. As I was commenting on his blog that the only other option for random rare drops seemed to be the grind, I realized something. MMO's have been all about extrinsic motivation, and nothing about intrinsic motivation.

If you don't know what that means, watch the talk, it's a good primer. Or, here's another example: Take a set of first graders and divide them into two groups: for the first group, put out a big box of crayons and paper, and just let them go at it. Coloring is fun, after all. That's called intrinsic motivation.

For the second group, put out a reward system for coloring. More coloring, more reward. This is extrinsic motivation.

Ok, now before you read on, try to guess what happens, both initially and over time.

Answer: There's more coloring for about a week or two with extrinsic motivators, also known as "incentives". Then no coloring at all. None. Zip. Nada. Phooey!

Does this seem familiar? Does it remind you of a certain "shard" system in a favorite MMO? It does me... I haven't been playing much over the summer, and I think I just figured out why. I got really tired of grinding shards for armor for my THIRD toon in a row (my defiler is closing in on 80.) Doing the stuff I do has to be fun in and of itself.

I have been known to grind long and hard for very little reward. I can't tell you how many writs I did in Lavastorm mountains killing goblins, just so I could have the word "Exalted" appear in front of my name tag. That was at 150 faction a pop too. (Kids these days have it way too easy now that writs give a lot more faction points, grumble, grumble. I had to earn it the hard way, in the lava, and it was uphill both ways!)

I came to MMO's from tabletop games, and most of my games were with very stingy DM's. We had scorn for "Monte Haul" campaigns with loads of loot. I don't see it as all that bad these days, but really, focusing on intrinsic goals of the players and the characters were much more important.

As Dan Pink describes, there are three aspects to intrinsic motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. MMO's are pretty good at Autonomy. There's no manager standing over you telling you what to do at every turn. There are lots of NPC's with stuff they want you to do, and a full quest journal, but you can always say, "screw it today", and go rearrange furniture in your house and chat with friends.

Mastery can be used, and it's why I play, and why I play an enchanter class. Button mashing is not what we're about. At least it didn't used to be. Locking down an encounter that might end up as a wipe is still very satisfying, because it's about my skill in targeting, prioritizing, and a sort of juggling. Much is possible.

However, gear and dps seems to dominate. Don't get me wrong, I think there probably is a mastery curve to doing dps. But you can't even play unless you have the right gear. And getting that gear means grinding, or getting lucky. I still don't have a Praetor's Guard, but running that zone stopped being fun quite a while ago.

Ok, what about Purpose. Purpose is kind of tricking in a persistent-world MMO. You can do quests and see cutscenes where the bad guy is vanquished and that's pretty satisfying, but you also know that if you start another toon, and run them through, the bad guy will be there waiting for you again.

Here's a really great application of Purpose as a motivator. Long ago, there was a world-wide event where we put up the griffin towers in Loping Plains and Nektulos. You went there, did crafting or gathering quests, and there was a little tally that showed you how far along everyone had got. When we finished, the tower was up. Permanently. We changed the world. That's meaningful. We got little tokens in the mail for participating.

Something like that was done for the spires to the Overrealm, too. Culminating in a fight with dragons. But they had to spoil it with extrinsic rewards: house items and titles. Hence, other people were jealous because they hadn't logged in that weekend and missed it. Honestly, I think the answer is not to have less of these events but to have more, and give out little or no extrinsic rewards for them. The Amish raise barns for basically a big picnic. Purpose, the chance to do something worthwhile and meaningful is powerful. I'd like to see more of it.

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