Rewarding Gameplay Styles Separately

Achievers.  Explorers.  Socializers.  Killers. Everyone gets something different out of the game, and yet we are all rewarded in the same ways. Why?

Over in Weekend of the Rings, a discussion came about as to why players are already burning out on it. Some folks say there’s not enough stuff there for Achiever-types. Other folks say the game is almost entirely for achievers and not for explorers or killers.

I, personally, burned out on LotRO because it was almost exactly like WoW in terms of gameplay.  The one thing that kept me in for the few weeks that it did was the more robust exploration.

I wonder what will happen when some clever game designer realizes that people might want different aspects of the game, but don’t want them to be dependent upon each other?  For example, I like exploration, and will do it for days on end in a new game.  However, I will eventually hit the “this area is too big for you” wall that requires me to tap into my inner achiever if I want to explore anymore without having to do the constant-rez dance.  It’s not that I don’t like both gameplay styles, it’s that I don’t want one inherently tied to the other.  I especially don’t want my explorer rewards to feed into achievement gameplay instead of explorer. Given that I’m not a socializer, and only marginally a killer, I don’t really want those gameplay styles intruding on my time much, either.

I think it would have been great if, instead of giving me +10 hit points or +1% poison resistance or whatever, the early explorer rewards in LotRO had made me less apt to get attacked by certain mobs.  Perhaps a “Diplomat” award to make goblins and orcs less likely to attack me, “Brother of the Road” to reduce the chance that bandits would attack, or “Friend to the Animals” for a similar animal-based effect.  If the player attacked those types, the effect could be broken for 15 minutes or longer, to avoid as much abuse by achievers.  It could still be made entertainingly dangerous by having perhaps one or two rare types of monsters with no “safety” badge, but still reasonably safe and enjoyable for even a level 5 character to explore in a level 40 area.

There’s usually some of this type of thing done for killer players. In WoW, PvP (killer) gear is separated from PvE (achievement) gear by the predominant stats and bonuses on it. Certain powersets in City of Heroes/Villains are much more highly valued in PvE than PvP, and vice versa, but getting to a point where PvP powersets are useful in PvP means engaging in a bunch of PvE achiever-style gameplay. I remember the great joy that the PvP players had when, in order to test the new level 40-50 PvP zone, the devs made it so that players could instantly level characters to 41 on the test server for a few days. There were a lot of players that wanted a dedicated PvP server that was tuned specifically for this, but given that part of the cash cow of CoX is the time to level, the devs said no.

Socializers are perhaps the most difficult player type to directly reward. Anything in-game is likely to be co-opted by achievers that want to improve their character in every possible way. Similarly, killers, at least the worst of them, will use in-game rewards as a way to mess with socializers if at all possible. Socializers are an especially tempting target to killers because they are, by nature, expressive and likely to give the negative attention that a peculiar subset of killers enjoys. I’m not sure if there’s any particular in-game reward that can be given to socializers, but then again, I’m not sure there’s any that needs to be. Socializing is a mini-game with fluid rules that are, possibly, too complex to be easily codified. Perhaps one of our clever readers will come up with something there.

So what say you, Ratkillers? What would you like to see, in terms of rewards for diferent play styles?

15 thoughts on “Rewarding Gameplay Styles Separately”

  1. I remember in WoW, patch 1.11 I believe, was the first time blizzard let you make a premade lvl 60 character on the test realms. It was an enormous hit, especially since the premade characters had exceptionally good gear, huge numbers of people tried it out, and had tons of fun, running random dungeons, pvping their hearts out, on different classes too. One particularly nice thing was that a large number of players tried out a couple of specific classes that at the time were though overpowered… *cough*mages*cough*, and discovered that said classes were, in fact, not overpowered, but actually somewhat gimp if you didn’t know how to play them.

    Damnit, didn’t mean to derail that. >.

  2. I think you can reward socializers, but you have to rethink your basic assumptions. Socializers are into other people and into image and imagination. So for socializers, extra emotes, cool looking clothes and objects, and other customizations are a draw. Take a look at Second Life.

    So, perhaps you build a quest to get a cool looking hat. That quest involves getting people to sign a petition. Or let kinships create a few custom items, they can then sell or trade them. All these items and objects should have minimal practical value, but look really cool.

    Might work. Not hard to implement. Nearly impossible for achievers to break.

  3. To some degree or extent, every MMO studio strives to do this. The problem is that some, like Vanguard set their sights too far and too high, and fail miserably at just about everything. Others do not try hard enough, and what little they do impliment, is periphreal and fluff and serves only to futher alianate those segments that find themselves with less content than the achievers.

    I have always been an achiever first and a blend of the others secondly. I still see the disparity as a problem, and when a studio figures out a way to design meaningful content that doesnt involve “Ding! Grats!” then we may see a paradigm shift in the industry.

    Unfourtunalty, not too many are going to be willing to forge that path after the warcraft success model, designed almost excusivly around an achiever reard structure.

  4. I’m not sure how many people here have played ATITD, and I’ve been absent since midway through the first run, but as far as social rewards and challenges go, I’m reminded of the ‘Test of the Acrobat’. Players are each taught one of the twenty-eight stunts, and learn the other emotes by traveling to find other people and teaching each other facets at a time of those they’ve mastered.

  5. The main design problem with a reward path for socializers in the vein we’re talking about is very close (amazingly enough) to the main design problem with raiding: Logistics.

    Two points to understand this:

    – The more things you take away from a player’s sphere of control, the less empowered s/he will be.
    – The more random elements you include in any equation that needs to be balanced, the bigger the chance for it not to be balanced.

    It’s very, very attractive and tempting to think of this kind of reward path for socializers because it strikes the iron right there at the very core of their interest. Their need to meet people. It’s very tempting.

    The dark side of this, just like raiding, is that if we lock player progress on others, and make it dependant on other people’s presence, time or skill, you’re essentially unempowering players, one by one. Without even meaning to. When my progress, as a player, is dependant on others, that’s a lot of variables injected into the equation of my ultimate fun and rewarding experience. When the course and speed of my progress, as a player, is taken from me and put on others, for others to manipulate, I’m essentially being nerfed by design.

    Designing a ‘quest’ for socializers that requires them to, say, get 100 signatures to get a cool item is trivial. The code is meaningless. However, no one does it because the design cannot guarantee a path to success. The success of the quest depends on 100 people. Have you ever tried to coordinate something as simple as a lunch with 3 or 4 people? How much of a pain in the butt would be for that player to touch on 100 others? What if the player logs in in the middle of the night and it’s all dead? What if the player only seems to find unwilling players?

    Certainty is everything in design. Without it, it all fails. Why aren’t there quests to kill mobs that may or may not be there? I’m not talking about timed, or rare mobs. Just *random* mobs. Should we spend hours tearing through a dungeon to reach the end and find the boss is not there? Should we attempt to craft an item only to find that something else is produced, or nothing at all is produced?

    And you can’t put the determination of a player’s progress in other people’s hands either. At least not too much. What if people could effectively challenge kills in a pvp game? “I killed you” – “No you didn’t”.

    Hell is other people. I think socializing is at it best when it has its own place – as far away from progress as you can put it.

  6. @ Hexedian: It is indeed true that LotRO goes further than most other MMOs to provide content for every play style, but in the end the ‘advancement’ available in that emote and social deed system are trivial.

    The player recieves a bauble for something, and in the end the people with those traits and emotes are the achiever types who hotkeyed the emotes needed, got five friends togetehr in a remote location and spammed the emotes in succession over the required amount of days.

    I think Turbine recognized the need to provide roughly the same amount of content to all segments, but simply wasn’t willing to bet the farm on that concept selling well or retaining players. So in the end you get a lot of great content for the explorer in the exploration deeds and the “Find Ten Rat Statue” quests, and with the social elements of the game, /music, emotes, pie-eating and other fun but not remarkibly challengeing gameplay elements etc., then they added Monster Play for the Killers and Raids and Armor Sets for the bored achievers.

  7. Hexedian, I think the achievers appreciate titles more than the socializers. The socializers are probably happier about the emotes themselves than the titles. I bet they also like the music system and will be ecstatic when player housing is implemented. I am, of course, speaking for myself. ;)

  8. Yeah the titles are weird: you’d think they’d appeal to socializers, but I also notice mainly the achievers make the effort to get them. I ask my kinship to /scold Yunkgar and /confused Yunkor, but I am still a long way off from getting the Naughty and Beffudled titles.

    Similarly in CoX the people going after Badges seem to be achievers. The socializers seem to make alts and argue that wings should be given free as part of startup costumes, while others like them being a “premium” item.

    Maybe that’s because these systems all implement the acquiring of titles as a grindfest which achievers are more willing to finish than others?

    To the point can you reward people or have the same systems? Looking outside of computer games at sports leagues: casual or non-competative volleyball and softball leagues exist mainly for socializers (or maybe they’re socializer/killers because they are pvp :)) These leagues have the same rules as the killer or achiever/killer enjoys, but socializers participate. No changes to the rules are made but the socializers still have fun. Maybe the only “changes” are organizers try to get people to go out for drinks afterward or something, this would be akin titles and player housing. Not really rewards but extra things added you don’t really need to work towards to enjoy.

    Of course this breaks down when one team “twinks” or violates the gentleman’s agreement that no one tries very hard. In gear-based sports like auto racing this is solved by having classes of competition. In arena pvp gear matching can solve this. Pve is where it’s harder. People that aren’t achievers hit a limit, and so…well perhaps the answer would be putting difficulty settings on all instances. non achievement minded players can still go in and see Illidan and fight him, but get none or a nominal reward. (Certainly I and many people interested in the lore would love to see Illidan and Hyjal, but don’t want to bother struggling through the non lore dungeons that we don’t care about. Why those were put at the end I don’t understand). This would allow more people to actually see the hard work of the devs, while not taking away the specialness and uniqueness of rewards given to players wanting to work hard for them.

    You don’t want only easy things, since sometimes sports leagues (schools especially) will change the rules to do things like not keep score at all. This is usually met with resistance as a bastardized game that doesn’t give anyone anything they want. This might be due to cross-cutting cleavage (no one is truly only a socializer, only an explorer, only an achiever etc but a mix of several). People, even socializers and explorers, still enjoy challenge.

    So I think giving socializers are best served by giving some things for free (usually emotes) or a nominal cost (customization of appearance). Special events and titles are apreciated from a socializing and achievement standpoint. But they get enjoyment from other players – so a game can’t really give rewards for them, only help them facilitate interaction and presentation.

    Other things like multiple guild membership would be great, or maybe one “base guild” and other “social groups”, or a more robust friend and ignore functionality that would allow us to add a category column, for instance. or notes.

  9. I think my long rambling meant the same thing as Julian said: Socializers do their socializing *while* performing other progression-minded actions. They don’t see the point of a huge effort towards a socialization goal. As people point out with titles and things like wings in CoX: making a grind to get a social item only benefits achievers, not socializers.

    So I’d say besides helping their avatars interact with emotes and titles and customizing appearance – help players interact with better tools like more robust friends,ingores list, better LFG, and mutliple-group membership. (though I still like the idea of difficulty settings on instances with rewards based on difficulty – this would help explorers).

    I have to write out things several times before figuring out what I’m trying to say :)

  10. In my eyes, the problem with reward structures in mmo’s is that they are all based around one main play mechanic, that being combat.

    Combat has no real benefit to socializers or explorers. Yes, there are crafting systems in some games, but no one can stand up and honestly say the crafting systems receive as much attention during design as combat does. The only exception to this rule might be ATITD, though that’s a more indie MMO and is on the fringes of our community.

    The suggested way of rewarding explorers is a step in the right direction, however, as an explorer myself, I get the most enjoyment out of going places others have yet to be. Or memorizing my way around areas that don’t have maps yet. I’m not content to just see it, I want to be the go to person for that area, claim it as my own and then move on to something else.
    I have no idea what kind of system would make me feel like my efforts were worth it. But that wasn’t the goal of my comment here.

    Socializers… I don’t completely agree that making the socializer’s rewards based on other players somehow “unempowers” them. In fact, the socializer’s whole goal is usually based on what others think of them, not what NPC’s think. Socializers would be my ideal candidate for player based governments in an MMO.
    They could easily be granted powers by other players and have influence on the world.

    One of the biggest counters to this is that achievers will seek to propel themselves through the same government system. But I ask you this, why should they be allowed to? Why could a game not lock the features you are allowed to partake in based on your account / subscription plan? Is it so outrageous to limit a player to a “socializer/government” account that can only create characters of that skillset? Of course the pricing could be tuned up or down compared to other methods of play to make it sensible, so let’s not argue the in’s and out’s of that.
    This leads back to my main point that combat is given too much of a focus in current MMO’s. Just because that is what was done in the past. Its time to give proper time and attention to the other aspects of an online world and give us more games than just “kill that to take it’s stuff.”

    Aside from this, Asheron’s Call did a fairly decent job of rewarding socializers with their Monarchy system. (let’s leave the xp chain nonsense out of this since it has no bearing on the discussion) But the simple fact that you could attain a title based on your rank in the pyramid (monarchy) was reason enough to get players out there recruiting other players and working on relationships both above and below their rank.
    This was a very small reward, and didn’t offer much, but it was a start that has been abandoned by the wayside in favor of the guilds seen in most current MMO’s. I have never felt the same bond with an officer above me in a guild as I did with my patrons/vassals in AC.

    That’s all I have for now

  11. I should go check out ATITD, every time people talk about it it seems to have a lot of the features I like.

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