[MUD-Dev] Reward system for social gaming?

Sasha Hart sasha.hart at gmail.com
Wed Oct 26 13:36:27 New Zealand Daylight Time 2005

Paraphrasing Jeff Freeman: "rewarding social play with an
achievement oriented reward is bad because it causes people who are
not social players to game social interactions."

Presumably this is bad, in turn, because anybody who would not be
interacting if socialization didn't "pay" in game goods is no fun to
interact with.

I agree that those poles exist. But this dichotomy between people
who want to be social and are therefore putting their hearts in it,
and people who don't want to be social and can only be compelled to
fake it for game currencies, seems to me much too stark.

What about people who would interact (or interact more), but find
the opportunity cost in terms of game-goods unacceptable? Clearly
there are a lot of things we do although we hate them more than
their alternatives - not at all because we enjoy doing them, but
because the difference in their later consequences matters to
us. You may have some people who really would prefer the social
activity, but do not completely discount the game-goods enough that
they don't make any difference.

You may also have some people who are closer to indifference to the
two activities. Yet this does not mean that they are not going to
like it or take to it. Now, I agree with Jeff that most of the
implementations that occur to me are frankly stupid.

  > emote diddles the elf with a hearty Dwarvish laugh.  You have
  > gained a level!

But I can see a very useful role for telling players that if they do
something, which they might not even know increases the chances that
they will go to some place, or engage in some kind of social
interaction or roleplay or what-have-you - something, in turn, they
might not even know they'd like, or have experience doing. These are
the ones closer to indifference. The ones who hate it, may game this
stuff if they want and then wander off when the watering-hole dries
up. And never forget that people often DO like being "paid" for
doing what they want to do better than they like being on a dole.

Excuses for a player to learn a basic skill or learn the way to a
useful place or explore are not new. Social interaction is just
another application.

Importantly, you don't have to reward social interaction - you can
reward prerequisites or approximations. And you don't have to keep
it up, you can just use it as a way of getting people to
explore. Might infiltrating the guard involve some basic roleplay?
More if the guard is a player-run organization which interviews, and
knows they get some undesirables but don't know who is what? What if
they need to obtain a freely given favor to accomplish the mission?
Might a player find that they enjoy these aspects and come back for
more of them, where they might have before had a more limited
interest? (Especially a younger person...)

Players will find their own equilibria no matter what you do. But
you can offer different equilibria, and (to the point here) you can
sometimes expand their effective experience of alternatives, without
the brute-force approach of CREATING artificial equilibria from
scratch through bribes and punishments.

Second, I want to point out another possible reason for "rewarding"
social play, totally apart from incentives. You may just want to
make sure that the social players are not all poor in game-goods.

The reasons for this depend on what your game-goods are for, but
this isn't exactly a remote hypothetical. Suppose that your level
mechanics define a pecking order in combat, and that combat isn't
completely discretional. By these simple and natural steps, you've
/enshrined/ the tailor problem by designing a mechanism which very
efficiently assigns the players less interested in killing to the
vulnerable caste. If you want to solve that, you can make combat
discretional, or dissociate power from game-goods. But the other
thing you can do is put tailors on the dole, as it were.

Here's another common example. In lots of games high-level
characters are more likely to have some special fictive status, like
leadership of an organization, or involvement in major plots. There
are some things to be said for this, and others against it, but
let's suppose that's how it is. If we're going to effectively assign
tailors low level and scripters high level, we have just
concentrated the responsibility and interesting roleplay opportunity
in the hands of exactly the people who aren't interested.

So that's an argument for level-welfare, if you are going to make
certain things depend on levels.

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