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Monday, July 2, 2012

"Professionalism" in gaming Part 2, or, "How intensely do you play?"

A week or so ago when I first thought to write this entry and claimed I would I had some ideas in mind about how each player is devoting a different level of time to the game and views their responsibility towards other players differently. Then the other night I was reading a thread on the World of Tanks forum about XVM (a mod that displays player stats in game, letting you see who on your team has a high win rate and a calculated "efficiency rating") and spotted a comment in there about playing to win. It dawned upon me that in a sense everyone (with few exceptions) IS in fact playing to win, but their criteria for winning and the INTENSITY in which they try to win differs and is one of the prime causes of friction between players of differing levels.

I'll start with the concession that certainly there are players who will login to WoW or World of Tanks with no interest in actual success...maybe they want to grief, or maybe they are too young to appreciate what they are doing, but I won't deny that some people out there exist who's criteria for "winning" is diametrically opposed to the goals of the game. The former, those wanting to grief, are in fact usually violating the ToS and really aren't what we're talking about here. Griefers will always be around and the best that can be done is designing systems to mitigate their ability to ruin other people's play.

What I'm focusing on are the players who all are putting in what they consider a "good faith" effort to their play. What differs between the high-end player and the person who logs in for a half hour after a long day at work. We're looking at mental state here; certain players surely may think they are doing the right thing and yet can't out-damage a pet or are essentially pressing W + Mouse1...and yet they are still trying.

Success means...

In any game there are dozens of factors that can contribute to success, dozens of things a player can do both in and out of game to improve their chances of success. Lets take WoW for example, a character has dozens of ways to tweak their power: talent trees, reforging, gemming, enchanting, buff food, flasks, steroid potions (short duration large buffs), purchasing better gear w/valor points. Those are only the things they can do in game, outside of game they can: read raid strategies; visit places like Elitist Jerks to see the optimum priority rotation, stats and talent build; watch videos of high-end players to learn their tricks....I am sure the list goes on and on.

I discovered another instance while writing this when I came across a thread on the Mass Effect 3 Co-Op forums regarding using equipment in public games. In Mass Effect 3 a person gets both temporary and permanent gear from buying "packs" which operate a little like a Booster pack in a Collectable Card Game. One of the items in these packs there are "Equipment" items which are essentially minor single-round buffs. They make a specific type of gun do more damage, add a special ammo component or increase your armor temporarily. So anyhow, the poster in question basically was claiming that people who did not use equipment when they had it available were being rude to their team by not making every effort to 'win'. You can probably see by now where this is going; once more it is an intensity argument. To some players that extra bonus means success, others have the skill to win without it and seek the challenge.

In my last example game, World of Tanks, you have the difference between the person who logs in, equips his tank using his XP and buys regular shells, then gets into the game and shoots at enemies he encounters. A more high-end player might be using consumables, gold ammo, has studied each map and strategy, watches videos of how best to play his chosen tank...and so on.

The Spectrum

So what these three examples hopefully illuminate is that "playing to win" is something most players are indeed doing, but what changes is the intensity in which they are playing to win. Even the player who just logs in and jumps into a game/dungeon/whatever but who in his own mind is genuinely seeking success is in fact "playing to win".

I view it as a spectrum, everyone, even the most hardcore falls somewhere in there. The arguments and common disputes emerge from the same area...lets look at a few.

"Your $15 v.s. the party's $90." - I don't think anyone is going to argue that the single $15 is somehow more important than the $90, but what is actually happening is that the average "level" on the intensity spectrum of the group is higher than that of the "$15" player.

"I play for fun." - What really the player is saying is that they are not putting in the same intensity...they are logging in and playing with a modicum of effort but far below what the audience to the argument is expecting.

"I'm carrying you..." - This may be true, your extra intensity may be what is causing success when added to that of the other player(s), yet you took on this intensity voluntarily, and that voluntary assumption did not create a duty in others to achieve that level, especially if it is much higher than what is needed to succeed.

The Issue

Suddenly the root of all the issues emerges: the community of a game sets that expected level, but for most games a player does not have to necessarily perform at that level. All Blizzard cares about is that you agreed to a ToS and EULA...beyond that you can join into any dungeon the game allows you to provided you aren't actively sabotaging other players. The community creates that duty to improve or the duty to use external resources. The game does create "some" duty; for example if a minimum amount of DPS is not achieved against a WoW boss then the group likely wipes. There is one example: League of Legends does have the "Summoner's Code" which is like a ToS but does relate a little more towards gameplay, allowing punishment for going against the "standard" expectation of how the game is played.

Oddly enough, often those players who are above or near the majority expectation of that bar would be just as guilty themselves in other settings. A player who does all the in-game preparation but doesn't watch replays or study strategies outside of a game might be called a "scrub" or "weight" in the highest end circles....even though most of the time he is probably better prepared than most.

We gamers often expect OUR level of intensity from other players, when we have no real right to expect them to have it; they did not agree to it by joining the game, hitting the "Battle" button or joining a dungeon. They never agreed to it. We can argue that morality would demand that a player holds a duty to try and perform as well as those around him, especially with whom he shares rewards. Sometimes we have the capability to enforce our level; we can vote to kick people who are drastically below that bar, but we aren't guaranteed to succeed and assuming they are present for a boss kill they still get to roll.

Everyone playing at a higher level on the spectrum expects that level (or something very near to it) from the people they play with. Ironically, in a PvP, random team game like World of Tanks, after enough games it will average out that the times YOU had the "I play for fun!" (read, low end of the spectrum) people versus the number of times your opponents had them.

So going forward, the question communities have to ask is WHERE the average line should be, where they expectation ought be and I guarantee you that the "vocal" forum crowd and even us bloggers are probably the minority which frequently expects a higher level. One must remember that this line often draws towards the "reasonable" level, it rarely is vastly higher than what is needed to consistently succeed at said activity (though PvP games throw this all out of whack).

Lastly, as I write this I realize that as a thought experiment I think I will see if I can come up with "arguments" for the lower end of the spectrum to use that aren't just "I play for fun..." but I fear that might open up a whole can of worms all its own.

To my readers, if you got this far, where do you think YOUR bar is set? What do you think is the "reasonable" expectation from others?

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