Monday, May 16, 2011

On grouping, community, mutual respect and ratings

     A big problem in online games ,especially MMO ones is player grouping. There is massive pool of players all of different skill levels and attitudes  .And all of them anonymous. The. G.I.F.T. syndrome. is one of the biggest problems. But  how do you  group players together effectively?  How you make them care about each other instead of being 100% selfish?

For start lets analyze player communities, there are few stages, from the least cohesive to most:

  1. Random anonymous pugs
  2. Random pugs with some locality (same server for example)
  3. Clans/Guilds for "fun"
  4. Competitive clans/guilds
  5. Tourney/Arena teams
    In first two its basically up to chance. And since people in general are so different from each other - you get junk 90% of time.  Case #1 is the  worst. Cross server WoW LFD is shining example of this.  #2 Is actually a noticeable improvement - and  smaller the community  the better experience is.  I for example never bothered joining communities for FPS or niche RTS because server wide community is small enough and moderated enough (cheaters,spammers etc are banned by local admins on regular basis)

#3 is example which removes anonymity. You join guild/clan and you are accountable  inside it.While you may not know all people inside it  , there is strict moderation and controls to keep  disruptive elements out . It filters a lot of problems with random spammers, ninja looters ,tkers, afkers, botters and so on.

Now by disruptive elements I mean those who are not within a spirit of community. There could be guilds of "elitist jerks" ,asshats, griefers , etc. They keep scrubs out. There are communities of "nice people" who keep the former out , and so on. The point is there is already several layers of filtering present. 

But #3 while is plenty for most people is still not enough. See the problem is that while community attracts same minded people there are still considerable discrepancy between skill levels and dedication to game among members. You maybe same guild and you wont ninja loot or team kill each other, but some do not like playing with others . for the reason of "carrying them".   So intra guild cliques form. Its most common phenomenon in large guilds when there are same few players who group with each other and wont accept outsiders aside rare exceptions.

       Now when we move to stage #4 and #5  then we start seeing truly organized players. Working as a unit. Trained to work as a team. The training is just like in military or sports team - be reliable and be on time. Listen to orders. Participate in drills. Strict hierarchy and chain of commands is a given. As is the baseline skill levels. Familiarity with all members of group is very high due to voice chat and lots of time spent playing together. They are not random people anymore. They are part of your team.
       Level of commitment is on entirely different level than that in previous 3 groups. For #4 and #5 its not a casual game  for fun anymore. Its a game you play to win , fun is winning, gameplay is secondary.

     Now if you been a part of #4 and #5 the most starking contrast you see in #1,#2 and #3 and is absence of any sort of respect and organized teamwork between members. Having pondering on this aspect for a while I think much of it relies on 2 things:

1) Possibility of playing with same players again
2) Unknown skill of other players (and our monkey brains automatically assume its inferior to ours)

       If you playing with more skilled player  for a while you start seeing the pattern. You start noticing things he does better than you. You start trying to imitate what he does and listen to his advice. If you play with player of similar skill you are more likely to play as  a team. As you know you can rely on them . Playing under same leader  teaches you to respect authority and follow orders, as you know success is a lot more than sum of individual skill and your tactical insights  are not replacement for whole strategy however brilliant they might be.

Being part of #4 and #5 is a great experience.  Only if only we could replicate same level of cohesion and mutual respect for all players it would be so much better for their experience. Unfortunately it requires a noticeable time investment and level of commitment out of reach of most players.

So what is the solution?  First lets make a fair rating which would fairly approximate players skill on an individual level. Put it into brackets and display it.  If you know your rating and know its fair you would appreciate and have more respect for other players displaying similiar or higher skill levels. You do not need to player hundreds of matches with player before you decide whether he is good to team with or not. Players will be able to initially gauge it right away

Second - lets make our game group players together based on their skill and "like"ness networks.If they like each other they could tag so. and next time there is grouping it would try to group them together first before. 

When players will start being grouped with players who are very much like them they will stop being anonymous assholes. Because they will know the other guy is worthy of respect and cooperation. The culture of playing as team will arise in each community  , of course in each community it would be different- its likely on lowest skill levels tactics would be no different than random pugs, but above that we would start seeing more and more elaborate tactics. More following direction and orders. More cohesion and cooperation and as a result much better gameplay  for all

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