[MUD-Dev] Reward system for social gaming?

Sean Howard squidi at squidi.net
Wed Oct 26 05:13:09 New Zealand Daylight Time 2005

"Freeman, Jeff" <jfreeman at soe.sony.com> wrote:

> Rewarding social play isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but the
> reward needs to map to the goals of the social gamer. Rewarding
> social play isn't bad, but rewarding the social player with an
> achievement oriented reward is, for reasons others have mentioned:
> Non-social players will then "play" the social game in order to
> "win" it for the reward, which ruins the style of game play that
> you were, presumably, attempting to encourage.

That's why I'm against rewarding social behavior (or any "behavior"
over another, such as rewarding groups over solos or crafters over
adventurers - what you choose to be should not be innately more
important that what you choose to do with it). However, I think
making social play a focus at all is a mistake. I know people will
say "but it's a massively MULTIPLAYER game". I'm not against social
behavior, but rewarding it in any way, shape, or form.

I don't buy into that whole achievers vs explorers stuff. Take two
steps in any direction and you fall off a cliff. A reward is an
incentive to play in a particular way, achievement orientated or
not. With regards to physical gameplay, this has merit. Going
through a level without dying is a challenge that could be easily
rewarded regardless of whether it is easier for one player than
another, or whether a player finds a loophole to succeed without

However, socializing isn't something you can or should give
incentives for behaving in a particular way. It's a way of imbuing
worth upon something.  Many MMORPGs have nothing but PvP or raids
for the end game, thus saying that once you reach level X, you only
have value to the game and the game only has value to you if you
engage in these particular behaviors.  Designers make the mistake of
thinking that is encourages social behavior - it doesn't. All it
does is weed out the people who don't want to do it, leaving the WoW
endgame with the biggest powergamers on the planet because everybody
else no longer felt welcomed.

> I'm not entirely convinced this leads directly to an online
> holocaust, but it does diminish the game play you wanted to
> support.

My vision of an online holocaust happens when players realize that
the petty rewards for keeping in line aren't as interesting as the
alternative. Rewarding particular social gameplay would only
encourage such things to happen faster. It's like in SWG where
people started hologrinding entertainer. When the people who
honestly found value in being an entertainer couldn't compete with
the people sitting in a corner AFK, they lost gameplay value. Then,
they started going around the galaxy making movies about how sucky
the profession is - they traded immediate gameplay rewards with
non-gameplay activities the second the gameplay lost value.

In all fairness, entertainers were an interesting failure. There is
nothing that can be done to fix the class, but if everyone could be
an entertainer without wasting skillpoints, the rewards, which are
already not enough to sustain a full time player, would be less
important than the social aspect of being able to play instruments
and groups. Just having people hanging out in a cantina together
would have people being entertainers happily, rewards or not. That's
my whole point. You don't have to reward behavior that certain
players will gladly engage in and others would gladly avoid. Then
you are rewarding people for simply being who they are. But that
doesn't mean you can't have more options for particular play styles
to increase variety and the amount of things they can do. Just don't
reward it.

> Social rewards are things that players can use to increase their
> social standing.

No matter how many social rewards I get, my social standing is
cemented by my behavior towards others. I'm an ornery
bastard. That's not going to change regardless of what the game
thinks I've accomplished :)

> A good social reward is, for example, something that I have no
> direct use for myself, but that I can give to another player to
> improve my social standing. Something they want, in order to
> maintain improve their social standing.

See, now you are starting to sound like Machiavelli.

In WoW, I've had people run through town buffing complete strangers.
Somehow, for the life of me, I can't remember their names. It made
no affect on me because the interaction was one way and
immediate. Allow people to be nice to each other and they do it
reward or not. But if you put a reward there to encourage it, some
minmaxer will find a way to be a complete bastard while still
getting the reward. Kind of counterproductive if you ask me.

> As a social player, I want to have a party and get people to come
> to it.  So I need cake. You have no use for cake, but you'd like
> to come to my party. Rewarding you with a cake, which you can use
> to bribe a party-invite out of me, which I want because having a
> party with a cake will result in more people arriving, is a good
> sort of social award.

So... socialization is merely manipulating others to your benefit? I
may not be the most outwardly social person on the planet, but I get
the feeling that you'd have that party, cake or not (perhaps you'd
have a costume party instead), and that the people that would come
to your party would do so regardless of the incentives.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for props. They help the role playing
and increase variety, allowing different people to hold different
types of parties. However, I think considering them to be social
currency is a mistake. You are still a utilitarian problem solver
trying to solve a social dilema through the only way you know how -
manipulating the variables to meet your specified end. Cooperative
problem solves would not only never see social interaction this way,
but they would be fundamentally upset at anyone who obviously did.

> Rewards that are "spent" to increase or maintain social standing
> and "used" to increase or maintain social standing are good
> rewards for social gaming:

You can't minmax social interaction. People are far too complex and
too uniquely different for any one philosophy to even be applicable
to everyone. For instance, you can't buy credibility with me because
the value I place on interaction comes from the depth of
interaction. Things like flattery only offend me. There is nothing
you could "spend" to ever get me to give you the time of day if I
don't feel you aren't worth my time and effort (though obviously,
you are :) Social interaction is far too complex and based far too
heavily on self esteem (which itself can be completely different
between even extremely similar types of people).

> It's hard to think of things like that though, since I'm a pretty
> anti-social player myself.

What can I say? Become a social leader of some community of a
reasonably large size and you'll quickly find yourself either an
expert or even more anti-social... or both...

- Sean
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