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Incentivizing Prosocial Behavior

May 2, 2012

Dear Reader,

I’ve done it again, and this time after a serious attempt not to.  I’ve read something somewhere that worked as a jumping off point for a post, but now I can’t find it.  I checked the blogroll from Pink Pigtail Inn, I checked MMO Melting Pot, and I checked all my other regulars, but I just don’t know where I got this topic.  If it seems like something you read recently and you can track it down, I’d be much appreciated so I could duly link it here.  If not, I’ll just have to hope I haven’t completely reproduced what I saw elsewhere (I don’t think I have).

Edit: Got it, thanks to Chad.  I had looked at this on my phone as a referrer, which is why I couldn’t find it on my computer!  Thanks, Chad, and for everyone else, here’s the link:  Milady wrote a much more thorough examination of the issue than I’ve provided here that I urge all of you to check out.

What I read was in response to providing rewards for good behavior in games.  If you help someone out, PC or NPC theoretically, you are provided a reward for your behavior.  The blogger was worried about this approach, worried that it might change people from doing good things on their own to only doing good things for rewards, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.  I’ve advocated incentivizing prosocial behavior in the past, but this blogger was suggesting that doing so would actually lower prosocial behavior as a whole, or, perhaps more accurately, would change it from being prosocial to being self serving.

I’m torn on this topic.  Part of me feels that good behavior in an online world, regardless of its motivation, would improve the online world.  This same part thinks that if we can train people to do good things, it’s more likely that those good things would spread, and the environment as a whole would improve.

The other part of me, though, was thinking about the meaning of consistency and motivation.  Classical conditioning – an admittedly limited system – showed that consistency in rewards actually was less effective than a variable reward system in training behaviors.  If you knew you were getting a food pellet for pressing a button, then you only pressed the button when you wanted a food pellet.  If you didn’t know if you were going to get anything or not, it increased the button pressing.  Similarly, if you get a reward for helping a newbie every time you help a newbie, it’s entirely possible that as soon as you “cap” whatever the reward is, whether it be having enough money, a high enough social score, or some social currency, then the behavior will vanish.

On top of that lies the issue of motivation.  If you change prosocial behavior into an incentivized self-serving behavior, then you’re also changing the motivation from internal to external.  You’re no longer being nice just to be nice; now, you’re being nice to get a reward.

Still, all these issues considered… you’re still being nice.

What do you think, dear reader?  Do the ends justify the means when the ends are prosocial behaviors that improve the social environment from a game?  The saying goes that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” and I can see some bad outcomes from this: factionalization of “care bears” and people who refuse to use the prosocial system (kodiak bears?).  I am, for once, very unsure where I stand on this issue.


Stubborn (and unusually divided)

34 Comments leave one →
  1. Chad permalink
    May 2, 2012 10:39 am

    Was this the article?

    I’m torn as well.

  2. May 2, 2012 10:48 am

    That sounds somewhat like the system I vaguely remember from LotRO, back in the SoA/MoM era. If I recall correctly a higher level character could gain a reward for helping other people through difficult story quest instances. Long time ago, but I do seem to remember it being popular until people had what they wanted, then it just stopped.

    And that is the likely outcome in any positive reinforcement system. People who would not be inclined to help anyway will only do so while the rewards are good and they are likely to only do the minimum to get the reward. Need help on a follow-up or have another question? Go ask someone else, I’m capped for the day.

    A better choice would be an actual negative punishment system with teeth. If you don’t want your general chat to be in a state that new players are afraid to ask questions then punish the people who taunt them. It’s not that difficult, conceptually, but it does require that a company empower the GM team. They need to be able to hand out hour, day, and week bans without a long administrative process and the company has to be very quick to publicly call-out people who go on the forums to complain about how unfair it all is.

    For this to work they would also need to enforce the other side. Someone spamming the same questions, insisting on a better answer, or just generally trying to play the ‘newb card’ to span the general or help channel also needs to be held accountable.

    And there’s the rub – we live in an entitled age where accountability is for other people.

    • May 2, 2012 5:17 pm

      Penny Arcade recently had one of their “PA TV” shows cover harassment, specifically of the “in-game chat” variety. Whether it’s the global channel or the voice chat, keeping it clean should be a huge focus for every MMO developer out there. Unfortunately, there’s been a long history of “hands off” behavior from the devs, and it’s created the very entitlement you’re talking about: abuses on both sides affecting the vast majority of middle-ground players.

      I would like a system with teeth very much. I’d rather have a system so oppressive that I’m myself scared of getting in trouble than what we have now, which is essentially an unending torrent of meanspiritedness and bilious chatter.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. May 2, 2012 1:54 pm

    Hi! Well, I’m glad that you’re torn, because that means that the issue is worth considering. I am less doubtful regarding this incentivized system, though. It might be because I am one of this people who help under any circumstances, for the pleasure of being helpful to somebody. I like doing it for the sake of it, and to make new online friends.

    In older systems (or as I call it, the pre-LFG era of WoW) you had the tools to “categorize” the people around you as friendly or selfish, and to express yourself in one of these forms. In this newer system, you no longer know what the other player’s intentions are, and thus you have a poorer (less accurate) image of this person. In the former, you would easily form an opinion on somebody based on her attitude in a dungeon or group quest. Of course, it would be similar to the first impression you receive in real life; sometimes unreliable. Nevertheless, it is better than not knowing at all if said person is playing alongside you or just “using you” (as in the example of rimecat’s in LotRO).

    Besides, I don’t want an all-nice world. Light is what produces shadows; shadows are cast by a source of light. There have to be *some* unsocial players, that is how the world is. We’re not all in it together, in a big commune. It would be wonderful, but it is not how it is. It is wishful thinking to believe that everybody who “helps” you with a mob is actually helping you.

    I want to be able to tell apart the people I want to be with from those with whom I don’t want to.

    What I would be “forcing” on the players, though, is not exactly acting socially, but being together for some purpose (group quests, instances, raids). We have this tendency to go alone which carries on to our gaming habits; this is what devs can, and should, incentivize, to group together in a genre which aims at grouping. What a strange thing that nothing in GW2 revolves around the minimal social unit, the group.

    • May 2, 2012 5:44 pm

      My own blog ate my comment. I guess it’s no one’s fault but my own; I trained it to be this way.

      I totally agree about the benefits of forced grouping. Nothing gets people to work together better than a common foe, and group quests and dungeons used to fulfill that role. Now, though, due to several “convenience” decisions, the spirit of the game has changed, and other players are more often viewed as a hindrance than a help. First, you have the ease of the dungeons. When you can three man a heroic – at any point in the gearing of the current xpac – then there’s a problem. Also, LFD, as you pointed out, started as a way to benefit the players but has instead turned other players into plastic utensils: useful for getting what you want, but ultimately disposable.

      I do take issue with one of your words, though (forgive me, I’m an English teacher and prone to overreading). There’s unsocial, which I’m fine with, some people just don’t want to play with others. Then there’s antisocial, which disturbs me, as I feel we’re seeing more and more of that as time passes and convenience becomes king. Then there’s sociopathic, which I feel we’re all seeing more and more of due to the apparent acceptability by devs and the silent majority out there. The devs contribute because their primary response is “ignore them” (I’ve done another blog post on how I feel about that. The silent majority contributes because they both act as an audience and as a tacit conspirator in the mind of the sociopath.

      When I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I’m nowhere near smart nor knowledgeable enough to solve this problem. It’s easy for me to see the flaws in plans proposed by others, but I’m just not sure what would work. I’m an optimistic person, but I simply don’t think you can force people to be nice. Without that capability, I’m not sure what to do. I understand light and shadows, but I don’t think we’re having that conversation any more. I think we’re really talking about how to clean up nuclear fallout: a disgusting, toxic environment.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. May 2, 2012 2:31 pm

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with prosocial mechanics within the gaming world. I think it’s misguided to believe that it promotes honest to goodness helpful behaviors though. It is simply a tool to maintain potential populations. I have observed really that players who are honest to goodnesss helpful folks will stay that way because their reward is less instrinsic. They feel rewarded by seeing another enjoy the game. Not completely altruistic but close enough. The majority of average folks would use the tool as a means of personal or selfish gan. Sure they’ll help for a price. Is this bad? No. It’s real in the pixelated universe. Then of course you got the folks that really don’t care and want to go after everyone just to be cruel and unkind. That’s how they play the game. In the mmo world, there is a misconception that to succeed you must always help others. This isn’t true. As a matter of fact, it’s even more interesting when you have adversarial players. Sure teamwork has a lot of value. But people for the most part are hard wired to compete in one form or another. Some use rule bound methods, others continuously exploit said rules for self fulfillment.

    Prosocial mechanics can increase the number of helpful people, but you won’t be able to train people to think differently than what they really are. Players in general are highly intelligent. The reward system will go only so far before greed induced folks get bored with the concept.

    Those who would exploit the system or ignore it outright to do digital harm…well they won’t change I promise you that. AoC attempted to get pvp’ers to stop the massive gank fests by putting on murder points etc for killing lowbies. It actually created a detrimental environment where many high level pvpers would seek to max out thier murder points and keep it that way as a badge of dubious honor. Why not, they usually had thier own guild city so murder points meant nothing accept avoiding the hub city guards. In the end, cruel people will still do cruel things regardless of what prosocial mechanics are emplaced.

    But, if there are no pro social mechanics at all. You will at least know one thing, those willing to help you are doing so because they are simply good folks. You may get less help, but you can be assured that the few that do help are definitely good folks to hang with.

    • May 2, 2012 5:53 pm

      I wonder if the fallacy here has to do with realism in a fantasy world. In the real world, you can’t do anything with yourself without a large web of dependencies. No one makes their own clothes, grows their own food, butchers their own meat, bikes to work, works a good-paying job, etc, all alone. Everyone has an intricate web of socialization going on around them all the time, and I wonder if there’s not a subconscious belief that the same sort of system should show up in MMOs as well, since they represent other, persistent worlds. That might make a good topic for Friday, in fact.

      A fair share of what you say is why I’m torn. I’m not sure that nothing is better than something; I’m not sure having no prosocial mechanics builds a better or worse environment – or even a different one. I suppose only time and experimentation on the part of the devs of various games will tell.

      Thanks for the comment, and the AoC story was a great illustration of unintended consequences, as we saw with our old friend, LFD.

    • May 3, 2012 8:38 am

      And with all that, I ask you forgive my deplorable typing skills Stubborn. I reread my posts and think how damnably atrocious my spelling is. Often, when I am corrosponding I am on a break during the day so its a mad minute of typing out ideas. As always, I enjoy the conversations and topics you bring up. The reason is, most of the time these topics can relate to just about any MMO on the market. Thank you for providing a forum for people to share and express ideas.

  5. sam permalink
    May 2, 2012 2:35 pm

    This is the same as the real world argument do we have laws that punish bad behavior and systems that reward good behavior. I think too many people get tied up in the ethical argument of whether it’s really a good thing if you do it for benefit.

    Think of it like this. Do doctors do good things? of course they do. Do we sit around berating them because they do it for money? No. If you properly incentivize the behavior you desire, and penalize the ones you dont’ (again properly) then the behavior becomes the norm.

    For real world successes look at the US and Europe. For examples of what happens when you don’t do it or dont’ do it right look at African countries like Somolia.

    I find it odd that people who think tickets for speeding or driving drunk, or who believe tax deductions for donating to charity are good, often go spastic about in game systems to punish bad behavior or reward good behavior. It’s the same thing.

    • May 2, 2012 6:48 pm

      But, but… we don’t have “systems to reward good behavior.” “Working” isn’t inherently good or bad; there’s plenty of people who work to do bad things, like pollute, protect obviously guilty felons from jail time, and so forth. And a lot of people do berate doctors for the amount of money they make.

      Also, I’m not sure looking at Europe or the US gives a particularly pleasant picture of incentivizing behaviors, considering the plethora of problems that exist in both.

      Still, I think your main point is simply that there’s plenty of these systems that exist in the real world, and I wholeheartedly agree with that. I wonder, though, about the scope of some of them. Your example of the tax break for charity is the largest one I can think of. It seems (this is Gladwell talking) that once you get above a certain size in a community, it becomes harder and harder for everyone to get along well, and I wonder if incentives and punishment don’t work in the same way. The larger the scope, the less useful the system. That’s just off the top of my head, though, and could be totally backwards.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • sam permalink
      May 3, 2012 8:44 am

      What would you call tax credits for donating to charity? Lower tax rates for investing in the stock market?

      Good samritan laws that protect people that do good things. (effectively protecting them from real life griefers). Prison boards that let prisoners out on parole is a great example of incentivizing good behavior. A B honor rolls, the dean’s list in colleger. HOV lanes that let people who commute together ride in the faster lane. Government programs that invest in clean air technologies.

      The problem is in the real world these things become normal ordinary parts of life and we forget they are there. I think if you instituted such things in game it would be the same thing people would scream and yell and then it would just be the way it is.

  6. May 2, 2012 2:35 pm

    In a sense, we’ve already got a system where good behavior nets rewards. The trouble is, the good behavior in question is usually helping some NPC faction.

    What if there was a community faction? No rewards, per se, other than knowing how the community views you. Players could grants or remove a point of reputation from other players (limit it to one point per player per player – that is, Player 1 can only grant or remove a single point from player 2, player 3, player 4, etc.). Thus, good behavior and positive outreach by a player will result in positive reputation with the community faction, whereas the general douchebaggery in Trade will wind up causing a player to become negative in the community.

    I realize there are more than a few opprotunites for griefing with this idea, but I think with some tweaking, a system like this could really influence the behavior of the people in the game.

    And come to think about it, the people who would be the most outspoken and concerned about being negative-pointed into oblivion are most likely the ones who cause the most trouble on a server.

    • May 2, 2012 2:36 pm

      Actually, instead of no rewards, how about a bump in queue priorities for LFD and such? This DPS has a very good reputation in the community, let’s get him in that dungeon so he can help more people out. That DPS has a very low standing in the community, so he can wait his turn.

    • May 2, 2012 3:42 pm

      The only problem with that is the potential to exploit the mechanic. We saw this in WoW for ratings during LFG and Gkicks. It was too easy simply not to invite due to inferiror equipment or personality conflicts. I assert that there are just plain good and bad folks. Somewhere in between are the ones that will seek reward. But to say that it fixes a social dynamic problem is naive. The tendancy for gamers to exploit mechanics is legendary. This has been done both for good and bad reasons. Remember during WoW there was a few years back where a plague swept across the player base? It was exploited pretty quick as a means to pvp without pvp. Prosocial mechanics are ok, but for those who look to it as a policing mechanism…sorry it wont happen.

    • May 2, 2012 6:51 pm

      The opposite of this, the tribunal system, already exists. “Trusted” players with a certain level and a certain amount of game time can essentially put in a “high priority” ticket in League of Legends. I know it wouldn’t be a perfect transition to WoW, but I feel that a similar system should be implemented, a personal reputation, and that “Trusted” players could be utilized in a beneficial way.

      The current problem with such a system, though, is the ease with which jerks can do away with it. By changing a character name, an account name, a server, using LFD or LFR, or any combination thereof, bad people can get away with being bad over and over, and the only suggestion for dealing with it from our lords and masters is “ignore them.” That frustrates me to no end.

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. May 2, 2012 8:12 pm

    I think you absolutely can incentivise positive and punish negative social behaviour, though there are obviously better and worse ways to do it. I think the bigger problem is that a lot of the time, people don’t necessarily agree what actually constitutes good social interaction in an MMO. I mean, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen people praise the dungeon finder because it “gets them groups” and “allows them to play with other people”, while to me it’s the pinnacle of everything that’s antisocial about WoW.

    • May 3, 2012 6:15 pm

      I agree and don’t agree. Clearly, there’s been positive feedback about LFD and LFR. If there had been enough negative feedback, I don’t think LFR would have been developed and LFD would have been scrapped. What I question is that people disagree on good behavior. I know that’s not entirely fair to the point you were making which was more about the system than behavior, but I think overall we can probably get a pretty strong consensus of what’s right and what’s wrong behavior in a game world. I don’t have my PAX badges on me, but for PAX – a real world event – the rules were only maybe 8 long with stuff like “Don’t be a jerk,” “Don’t steal people’s stuff,” “Don’t hurt others,” “Don’t do things to upset others,” etc.

      Where these kinds of rules run in to problem is when we give jerks too much opportunity to rules lawyer them. I understand the importance of due process, and I’m not advocating against that, but in a digital world, it’s much safer to bear the cudgel of justice a little heavy-handedly.

      Thanks for the comment!

  8. Keidot permalink
    May 3, 2012 5:39 am

    Letting people judge/rate each other is going to create mor problems than solving them. Anonymous mass rating doesn’t work (anymore): e.g. Mass Effect 3 got terrible user ratings despite being a very well done, astonishing looking and thrilling game, because people were so angry about the few minutes ending. Many of those and I ebt alot of people who haven’t even played the game themselves gave it a horrible low rating – not reflecting the whole package.
    I can see a similar problem with a community giving out reputation points to each other. You get your whole guild mobbing a certain player down; you create tons of alts for rating your friends up etc. In my opinion the risk of exploit and false data is too high to implement such a system.

    It will depend on the reward if people will remain helping each other once they have maxed out their help-o-meter and also if the reward is a cosmetic or long term game influencing one.
    I rather tend for the first, because in the current min-max gamermind it will be mandatory to have this social-achievement if it improves your gameplay. A title like “Saviour of the Dead” once you helped ressurect X players is nice to show. If you make X big enough maybe by then the player is so used to interact with a corpse that its in their subconscious, so they do it anyway. Or you could let the active count decrease over time so you are forced to behave good to keep your shiny title (account wide counting so you don’t loose out when you play on alts). Of course, this brings us back to Myladys discussion if its that what we want.

    Another option would be getting a buff like +1 health regeneration back from helping someone. It’s almost like TBC WoW where as a priest I was constantly dishing out free fortitudes on players, getting many Intellects, MotW etc back in return. Small buffs for a short amount of time should keep players helping each other out without changing gameplay to a point where you pray for the death of your companions so you can increase your help-o-meter count.

    • May 3, 2012 6:02 pm

      There’s definitely more talk of punitive measures when it comes to social behaviors than we see about meritorious rewards. I think your ideas about particular titles could be a great incentive. A developer could even model these titles after old WoW PvP leaderboards, having people compete to be the most helpful and wear the title for the next week, month, or whatever.

      I agree about the dangers of player rep points, but I think it could be done better in WoW than elsewhere thanks to the / Real ID system, making it hard for a single person to unfairly change someone else’s behavior. A Post-dungeon or LFR survey could help, and ratings could be measured against previous information as well as others in the same raid’s ratings to see that extremely skewed viewpoints weren’t counted. Tt’d take time and energy on the dev’s part and time on the player’s part, but with all the complaints about other player’s behavior, perhaps the use of this system could be an award.

      Thanks for the post!

  9. Syl permalink
    May 3, 2012 8:13 am

    As a social critic, I would say that 99% of all so-called social behavior, is in fact also always self-serving. yes, even the grandest gestures of social virtues usually have some self-interest in there (socialism too is not in fact about being selfless, but about a society that works around an equal share of both giving and receiving). does that make them less ‘worthy’ though?
    all that GW2 does is make this more apparent by handing out hard reward (on top of whatever else may occur). does it mean nobody would rez another player without this? I don’t think so. I STILL rez others because to me it is fun and makes sense tactically (in a BG I am better off with a comrade rezzed than one down).

    Where I agree with Milady is that the seamless cooperation in GW2 does not inspire social bonding (or well, chatting) – the way forced grouping would in WoW. on the other hand, this is only true as long as encounters are easy and simple enough; there are ways to enforce group communication in GW2 and I expect these to show more at upper levels.

    what should be considered too in this context, is the advantages created by the dynamic grouping of Guild Wars: you don’t group up with roles anymore, you group up with people. you don’t group up with levels anymore, you group up with people.
    how social was it truly, to invite the mage for being a mage (with needed CC) in WoW or the level 85 tank first and foremost for needing a level 85? it wasn’t social – although in the process there was the opportunity to bond socially.
    GW2 let’s you play with ‘people’, removing traditional restrictions. whether that will impact negatively on bonding opportunities remains to be seen. In the end, the big majority of my social interaction in MMOs in the past was guild-based anyway, and I expect it to be the same for GW (which has a very liberal view on guilding).

    • May 3, 2012 6:42 pm

      From Avenue Q:

      When you help others,
      You can’t help helping yourself!
      When you help others,
      You can’t help helping yourself!
      Every time you
      Do good deeds
      You’re also serving
      Your own needs.
      When you help others,
      You can’t help helping yourself!
      When you give
      To a worthy cause
      You’ll feel as jolly
      As Santa Clause.
      When you help others,
      You can’t
      Helping yourself!

      I’d sing it for effect, but unfortunately (or fortunately for you) I’ve also not lost my mind and thus won’t be singing anything.
      I agree with your main point here, that helping people is also self-serving but also is still helping people, but I think the fear – justified or not – is that by replacing the internal motivators that make you feel good just for doing something good with external motivators of which there will be a top limit, you jeopardize people feeling that it’s worthy to do without the external rewards.

      I tend to agree that there’s people who’ll always just help no matter what, and I don’t think those people will be affected. However, if you create a culture that promises that kind of interaction, and the interaction exists for a few months, then vanishes, people are going to feel like you didn’t deliver what you promised. Consider WoW leveling versus end game and how people have complained for years now how the leveling is misleadingly easy; it’s a similar concept.

      I am looking forward to seeing how it all works, and I truly hope that GW2 delivers on its promise to break the holy trinity. I want to “bring the player, not the class,” and I’m looking forward to that in GW2.

      Thanks for the comment!

  10. May 3, 2012 8:53 am

    On a personal note. I am usually pretty helpful to new players in AoC when they ask realistic questions in open global. I do this to attempt keeping new players interested in the game and possibly get new recruits in my guild. I don’t mind raising new folks up as it makes our guild more successful, This is in part a selfish design as part of my hobby is creating a successful guild that is lively and continues to grow with the game. I do set pretty strict rules about fair play whether with guildees or without. Since the AoC Community is pretty small, word gets around fast if you aren’t a team player. So the actions of my guildees are a direct reflection of the Leadership which I provide as a guild. Selfish yes, but it does go along with the prosocial behavior. Since Im fairly well known on my server, people tend to allow my guildees in thier raids based upon my word. If I tell a raid leader one of mine is not ready or needs to work on skills more, that person doesnt get invited till they can deal with the requirements. If I give a good to go rate, those raid leaders can be rest assured that they have quality “mercenary” troops to fit into thier event. But my reputation is always at stake and I have to constantly remind my guildees that thier actions reflect upon us as a whole. This part actually does help with prosocial behavior.

    On the opposite hand, there are guilds on the pvp servers that relish in being “the bad guy” They relish in being hated for thier ways of handling open world pvp. Do I hate them? Depends, I know they are playing the role of the hell bent brigands and they do it well. If I get to know them personally when they are doing group orientated stuff, I can judge the person themselves. Then it’s simply game advasaries and I have no problem with that.

    So in a sense, everything is gotten for something. The question is…for what? My rewards arent in currency. I gain reward by seeing others enjoy the game and be able to work with different personalities on a regular basis. Thier reward is a solid Guild that owns a pretty decent guild city which they benefit from in items which are guild city specific without having to prove thier eliteness in game play. The guild is based on working with new folks and helping them learn and enjoy the game. While we raid, we arent hardcore raiders. While we pvp it isnt our sole focus. Reputation is it’s own reward as well. To be fairly respected in the community as a whole is something that I enjoy. It’s a tangible result and I dare say quantifiable by the relations I build with my own memebrs as well as those leaders from different guilds.

    ok, my wall of text, your game 🙂

  11. sam permalink
    May 3, 2012 8:53 am

    You are correct syl that most behavior is self serving. But don’t confuse that with people not wanting to help other people. It’s basic evolutionary wiring. You have to help yourself to survive, then you can help the group which increases your survivablity even more.

    I’d love to see something simple like taking the average faction system and setting certain behaviors to take it negative. Like say if you kill a lowbie character with your high level toon . If you do enough of those things then you hit negative faction. If griefers eventually couldn’t talk to vendors, repair or buy things I think most griefers would fade away. There would be a few that would love being the bad guy.

    • May 3, 2012 10:02 am

      They tried that in Age of Conan with Muder points to stop the tide of Griefers. Not only did it fail, but the griefers worked twice as hard to gain more muderpoints as a badge of honor. The consequence of not being able to enter a city without being attacked by every uber city guard meant nothing to them. It was a running joke. So…negative faction really had the opposite effect in the pvp side of Age of Conan. With the pvp community, you will see people do that sort of thing just because they can. It doesnt matter which MMO, AoC was simply the one that illustrated the futility of such game mechanics.

    • Syl permalink
      May 3, 2012 12:33 pm

      I didn’t really draw the conclusion that you accuse me of. I never said people don’t like helping each other – but that we need to look into what lies beneath social behavior. I said too, that being social and self-serving isn’t mutually exclusive or somehow of ‘lesser quality’.
      Mhorgrim gave an insightful example about himself as a player; it is important to realize that helping others is still always tied to some personal reward or gain that maybe only the individual himself is capable of defining (and is often not actually aware of). and from that PoV you cannot criticize GW2 for incentivizing social behavior because social behavior is already incentivized that way.

  12. May 3, 2012 9:01 am

    I think a good prosocial mechanic needs to consider what the barriers are that prevent people from being more social, assuming that they’re not innately opposed to socialising.

    Is it fear of being mocked? Is it reluctance to make attachments? is it laziness? Is it a preference for being independent? Is it just not being in a talking mood?

    The guys who made Journey thought quite hard about this, and set their game up carefully so that when you do meet another player, you’re very likely to see them as a potential friend. It isn’t possible to grief. Communication is limited to chiming at each other and dancing around. Everyone looks the same. And what that did in practical terms was lower the barriers to people being willing to /play/ with strangers. But you still didn’t get to talk to them or get to know them, it wasn’t even possible to do this. And so there’s no draw to try to meet the same person again. All the ‘friends’ you meet in Journey are interchangable anonymous beings, even though they may play differently.

    But to me, no game can be truly social if I don’t actually communicate with other players. I don’t mean get on with what I was doing alongside, I mean stop and chat. Exchange words. Maybe a joke or two. And that’s the mechanic I don’t see in modern games.

  13. May 3, 2012 1:22 pm

    Funny how gaming becomes very personal to the players who love thier specific mmo genre. I think a lot of valid points have been raised on all sides of the spectrum for this topic. In the end, I believe prosocial mechanics are a tool. They can be useful, but the true human nature will still take presidence. They certainly don’t do any real harm and in fact may help alleviate certain activities the intrude on other’s game play. As long as the mechanic isn’t giving an edge to a particluar group of people or allowing a group to slide by giving rewards for little to no effort then it shouldn’t be seen as detrimental. I do believe that players can be the biggest influence on rposocial behaviors though. If the community polices it’s own, the games become more successful. This doesn’t mean handouts or gimme’s. It just means that be helpful, openly discourage crappy attitudes, and be vigilant over all. It’s easier to identify in smaller gaming communities but still viable in larger ones.

  14. sam permalink
    May 3, 2012 2:54 pm

    @syl sorry it sounds like we are in agreement that human nature needs to be better understood by the develoopers. I’ve been saying for years game companies should hire psychologists to help them with building thier virtual worlds.

    @ mhorgrim the problem with players being the biggest social influence is if you don’t have a proper framework set up to punish and reward the appropriate behaviors you run the risk of bad apples becomeing the leaders. Humans have a disturbing tendency to follow the leader even when common sense should tell them not too. Read up on Milgrim and some of the later studies that followed his work.

    • May 3, 2012 4:39 pm

      I have no doubt you are correct. But even with laws or prosocial mechanics….people break rules and they always will. Yes, in the MMO industry there are people who become digital leaders who are bad apples. I see it all the time lol. Understand that unless you stick with solo games, any interaction with other humans will have both positive and negative experiences. The only way to stem that really is obtain a private server.

    • sam permalink
      May 4, 2012 8:56 am

      sure but the argument isn’t that some will always break the rules. The argument is properly designed social systems should work better than the wild wild west type systems we have now.

      No consequences for behavior, good or bad, means no reason to behave.

  15. kaleedity permalink*
    May 4, 2012 8:54 am

    One thing I’d like to see experimented with is not simply awards for pro-social behavior, but especially long term awards. Where running, say, a dungeon in wow’s LFG/R doesn’t simply affect your current run and perhaps your gear, but it affects you 10 runs later. The issue would be in determining how exactly this could be accomplished. You can use player ratings — but there are immediate issues. Not only do you have players that will be generally caustic, and those that would prefer to behave as badly as possible on principle while only needing to rely on a few close friends, but you’d also have generally good but incompatible players bringing each other down. I know, for instance, that there are good, careful, steady, minimalist players in games that absolutely hate playing with people that utilize a reckless, uncaring, powergaming style, even if both are successful. I know this all too well.

    A reddit-like karma system? Other than having the previous issues, you’d have people farming for karma — perhaps running people through instances — which is now problematic because the newer players aren’t getting the experience they’re supposed to be getting. You’d have flavor of the day, or other maligned classes or characters that instantaneously reap bad karma for not playing the role a community expects them to play. Perhaps you could manage a kind of a player-run help desk, where people put in questions or requests for other players, and some entity decides if long term rewards are merited. I mean, if a new player is running their very first group content in an MMO, and an unknown max-level player runs them through it, what did they learn? On the other hand, what if they teach the new players everything they need to know to get through it on their own? It’s going to be difficult to automate long term rewards for a while yet, and I doubt anyone is going to be able to do it successfully in a new system or game.

  16. May 5, 2012 10:18 am

    These are all interesting ideas, but really MMOs are conflict based, unless you play Second Life I guess. Conflicting goals and interests will always be there. The question is how we as players deal with it. Not everyone agrees with me especially on the AoC Forums about I believe we need to police our own to regrow game population. They always want to pass the responsibility to the game designers. Look, we have laws in the Real world. They still get broken regardless of the punishment threatened or induced. In the digital world where there is no REAL consequence for anti social behavior you will still have bad people do bad things. More so I think in the Digital world because it will NEVER have a REAL impact on the player behind the keyboard. Understand that when I say this, I say it from the perspective of being a helpful and amiable person to deal with in game. But for all the MMO mobs that are…evil, true cruelty comes from the players. How do deal with them? I have seen tremendous sessions where one person shot their mouth off in a very crude and heartless way and then 6 others just blast him for it. All of a sudden, peer pressure had an effect. The offender shut up and grumbled off into the darkness.

    Those who take issue with the cruelty on pvp servers, I have to say welcome to the wild wild west. It is heartless in that genre and realm. Kindness is not an option. In AoC, there isnt faction vs faction on the pvp servers with the exception of the fellow guild members. Other than that, its a free for all, everyone you cross is a potential threat. There is no being nice. Hyboria isn’t a nice place. It isn’t the leafy glades of Evermoor. It is harsh unrelenting and very cruel. For some, they thrive in this. But others are not prepared and do not have the kill or be killed mentality. For them, I say either join a huge guild that will protect you or don’t play on that server. I akin it to me deciding to go down into say The Barrio in National City which has large amounts of open gang activity and trying to be nice and friendly as a Caucasian. It doesn’t work. Noit alone anyhow. If with friends it will work, but not alone. Nor am I stupid enough to attempt to make it work. I know better. Go back to the digital game on a pvp server, same thing. There is no prosocial dynamic there accept a bigger axe or faster blade. That’s it. Is this bad? To me no. Because you are warned ahead of time, this will happen. It’s not meant for everyone.

    For PvE Raiders that are ass hats, well be proactive as players and dEAL with them. You can’t expect Mommy Blizz to come and settle stuff all the time. I know I sound a little harsh on this and I don’t expect to make many friends but it’s a reality. The Digital universe is a reflection of our own real world. Short of putting electrodes to people’s temples when they log on and using shock therapy, I don’t foresee any game mechanic solving the issue. All mechanics are easily exploited. So you are elft with the player base to pick up the slack and peer pressure other players to do the right thing…just like in the real world. The only other answer is to play games that are solo, and not get involved into social play.


  1. Hypercriticism – Assessing morals through games

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