Exit and Voice

A principle sometimes used to contrast economics and politics is that exit is more powerful than voice. That is, the capacity to take your business elsewhere has a stronger influence on most companies than asking them to change things. This is contrasted with politics because your exit options are smaller in political situations: you might leave your town, but things need to get pretty dire before you leave your country. (It is a related truism that you can quickly judge the freedom and prosperity of a society by which way the border guards face. No one was trying to sneak into East Germany.)

Gamers treasure voice. I mean, here we are on an online gaming blog, so we talk at length about what we like and would prefer. The advantage of voice is that you can send a more precise message. “I think it was a bad idea to add the Living World PvE content to the WvW zones. Please remove it.” Exit is a blunt weapon: you leave, and the company can draw its own conclusions. Of course, the discerning company is going to draw its own conclusions anyway, because what people say and what they do often differ (another major economic principle).

This is a common MMO concern and disconnect: activity X is not fun; an incentive is added to activity X; more people do X; the company now believes X is popular, rather than realizing it has pushed itself into a death spiral of teaching players its game is not fun; players exercise voice by explaining that X is bad content, while the company’s internal metrics show that players are spending an increasing amount of time doing X. Most developers think they are discerning, including (especially?) the ones that make bad enough decisions to make exit your preferred choice.

Economist Bryan Caplan recently quoted Peter Gray in an explanation of how exit applies to a single server/match/whatever, rather than my comments about game development as a whole:

Lesson 1: To keep the game going, you have to keep everyone happy. The most fundamental freedom in all true play is the freedom to quit. In an informal game, nobody is forced to stay, and there are no coaches, parents, or other adults to disappoint if you quit. The game can continue only as long as a sufficient number of players choose to continue. Therefore, everyone must do his or her share to keep the other players happy, including the players on the other team.

This means that you show certain restraints in an informal game beyond those dictated by the stated rules…

Some players take driving off others as a point of pride, “qq they ragequit lol.” After all, matchmaking systems are frequently designed to feed new sheep to the wolves; if you drive everyone from your map, new victims will come along. When you do not have an incoming supply, say on a playground or other place where people must actively opt into a particular server/destination, Bryan’s observation applies better, as it might to guilds, events, etc.:

Under normal circumstances, the mere threat to quit is enough to elicit civilized behavior from all participants.

Reference Shadowbane, the PvP game that someone won. The losers left. The game shut down.

: Zubon

9 thoughts on “Exit and Voice

  1. Joseph Skyrim

    Bad winners are usually worse than sore losers. Sure hope that Shadowbane “winner” was one of those who liked driving off other people, if not his victory was certainly a hollow one.

    Reply
  2. kiantremayne

    I think the PvP wolves and sheep is the “Mordred problem” that Scott Jennings described a long time ago – far too many PvP players like winning (as opposed to just liking fighting) so those on the bottom half of the ability curve keep losing and quit, which raises the curve and puts others in the same position. Eventually the best PvPers on the server are the only ones left, and then they quit because they can’t find anyone to fight.

    As you point out, exit also needs somewhere to go to – hence, with a surfeit of fantasy MMOs, it’s easy to quit one and go to another. EVE has a lot of resilience because there isn’t really a comparable “starship captain” MMO for disaffected players to go to. If you’re a PvE player who likes sci-fi rather than fantasy you have to hunker down in high sec and hope your voice doesn’t fall on deaf CCP ears.

    Reply
  3. John Liu (@johnnliu)

    I’ve wanted to say something about Voice. Exit doesn’t mean the end of Voice. A political exile or refugee will, once arriving in the safety of a new country, rant relentlessly over the condition of the previous country.

    Similarly, I find that in MMO, ex-MMO gamers have plenty of Voice when it comes to why their previous favourite MMO is shredding staff or subscription: Of course, they are losing subscription because everyone left that game the same reasons I did. Of course. The developers caved to the Hardcores as well as the Casuals and not enough about Me. That’s why the subscription is on a direct decline. It is afterall, always about me.

    A whiff of news of company X shrinking staff. Heard over the grapevine that company Y lose 5% subscription. Company Z’s meta-critic rating for their game plummets because they didn’t release any halloween content. Suddenly the Exited is back, in full force, Voicing the reasons behind this.

    The Internet is a lovely place for lots of open discussions. And one could never turn a blind eye to critics – they have spent time and energy with your game, that’s why one’s biggest fans are their biggest and best critics.

    I wanted to leave a comment that actually contributes something to this discussion, and I think it’s probably this:

    If you’ve decided to take the high road and decide that this game isn’t for you. Time to Exit. Does that still allow you the platform to keep yelling about the game after you’ve left? Even if the game has also changed and has already addressed the issues that you are now falsely bad-mouthing? I don’t know.

    Consider the old days. Old royalty may be exiled. They aren’t killed because that’d make the Royalists upset. But to prevent them from causing trouble aboard, there’s “hostages” involved. Yes, you can live out the remaining years peacefully in Austria, but if you decide to Voice rebellion, we have your sons who happens to be studying under our care.

    I don’t know. A company doesn’t really have anything that is a hostage. In the Internet where Voice is king, and unhappy customers seem to dog you forever. It feels that a company has so little power to keep the game going and cater to the remainders while keep everyone happy.

    Reply
  4. Astalnar

    It is rare for people to play the game for the sake of the game, no matter what the particular aspect of the game is. From our youth we play game which, in greater part, have clear win-lose conditions. You always try to do your best. What most of those games have as well, is balance. You are rarely pitted against more people. It is always every-man-for-himself, or cooperative game of two teams one against others. You do not see players play football (soccer) in 1 vs 5. Something that in games, particularly in PvP is more of a rule than a simple occurence.

    I love a good fight. In the same manner I love a good argument. But more than that, I know I love to win. I might be a bitter loser, but I never back down or just surrender. I would rather drag the game out than finish it. I realise this could be easily considered a bad sportsmanship, but the other guy is my enemy for the time of the game. And I do not intend to give him an easy pass just because we are friends otherwise.

    Reply
    1. Curuniel

      I did some reading on (old, pre-computers) scholarly theory on games for my thesis, and there’s an argument that games are meant to (ideally) create a controlled playing field in which all things are equal except for the quality being tested – the one which the winner is trying to prove themselves superior in, e.g. ‘skill’. So equal teams, equal play conditions, equal starting time, etc, and all that being equal we should be sure that the winner wins because they are better at whatever it is we’re testing the competitors on. Game balance is like that, and PvP complaints often come when people feel that something other than ‘skill’ is a determining factor in the outcome (e.g. “that class is OP”; “I only lost because of lag”; etc).

      I would argue that in ‘pure’ play (which, like the ‘pure gift’, may not ever exist in social relations), that drive to win and other factors other than enjoyment are not present. The quote in the post highlights the differences between playing sport with friends, informally and for fun, vs. playing a public game with stakes and a risk of shame. Professional sport is not playful in the least, but there is a spectrum of more/less playful on which any instance of a game falls.

      Reply
  5. bhagpuss

    The 1 vs 5 is an interesting observation. We do use the word “game” to cover an awful lot of ground these days. If you take WvW there’s a clear “game” in play in that there are scores and a victory condition, but the entity playing the game is The Server not the player.

    I doubt any game designer would set up instanced battlegrounds in an MMO that pitted one player against five but in the open setting of WvW that happens all the time. The perspective of the one player may well be that the fight is unfair, and indeed it is unevenly matched, but that fight isn’t a game, just an event within a game. It’s comparable to a moment in a rugby match, for example, where the single man carrying the ball is brought to the ground by three or four opponents.

    Some players seem to expect that each individual combat event within WvW should be discrete, complete, balanced and fair. They’re playing a game whose rules they have invented for themselves. It’s not surprising other people don’t play along.

    Reply
    1. Curuniel

      “They’re playing a game whose rules they have invented for themselves. It’s not surprising other people don’t play along.”
      – This was my observation of open world PvP in TERA. Each player had their own idea of what was fair, honourable, or expected of people in PvP, but there was no consensus about these ideas and no guarantee that an opponent would share your view. You might complain that an opponent had been ‘cheap’ or ‘unfair’ but they might think you’d been foolish for expecting an enemy to treat you as anything other than an enemy.

      I think most of us play by rules other than ‘what the software allows is allowed, what the software disallows is disallowed,’ but those are the only hard rules!

      Reply
  6. spinks

    I love that Exit, Voice and Loyalty paper. The Loyalty side is interesting too, what does it show when you are loyal and how can loyal customers display their loyalty (eg. by driving ‘disloyal’ or ‘unhappy’ customers away)

    Reply
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