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Behavior Modification and Training in MMOs

January 30, 2009

The Psychology of WAR/The Art of Motivation

A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.  ~Napoleon

An interesting quote.   Inaccurate in regards to what motivates a soldier to fight hard, but accurate in regards to the respect given to said bit of ribbon after the dust settles.  WAR, on the surface, subscribes to this type of tangible reward system to motivate the Order/Destruction troops.

RvR
-RvR Boots from player kills
-RvR Armor from Keep/Fortress Bags
-Reward Gear from gaining Influence in RvR zones

PvE
-Armor sets from Public Quest(PQ) Gold Bags
-Reward Gear from gaining Influence in PQs
-Gear drops from NPCs/Mobs
-Gear rewards from quests
-Armor sets from dungeon bosses
-Gear from lair bosses
-Gear from live events

They’ve even recently announced that they’re going to add more of these types of tangible rewards in upcoming patches, including a dungeon that is gated by RvR zone control. I myself have always been what one would call a collector when it comes to hard-to-obtain items in MMOs.  I was even an avid decorator in Star Wars Galaxies utilizing the rare odds-and-ends I found in my years in the game.  So items like these are all well and good in a perfect world where war rages on and things like these are the much-enjoyed spoils of said war.

The problem lies in the fact that this is not a perfect world.  Items do motivate, but they are not the spoils of war as they should be.  They are, instead, the spoils of avoiding war.  The troops march through the RvR zones in search of the path of least resistance.  Unguarded keeps and battlefield objectives are what they seek, and they are rewarded by the system when they find them.  War is avoided as much as possible as it slows down the attainment of the desired items.  Adding more rewards only provides more reason to continue this pattern, it does nothing to change it.

However, despite these problems, the system is a sound one.  From the moment you log into the game, there are tools built-in that are supposed to train you to be a good soldier (Quests).  Train you to work with others that you may not know for a common goal (Open Groups/Public Quests).  Train you to work in small, coordinated teams (Scenarios/Dungeons).  Build lesson upon lesson as you progress up in rank so that when you reach the top tier, you’re ready to join the war that rages endlessly (Tiered Open RvR).  These tools, some of them revolutionary for an MMO, are the perfect foundation for the end-game war that the players want.  The problem lies not in the tools, nor the items used as tangible rewards.

The problem lies in the non-tangible rewards and the behaviors they are reinforcing.

Non-tangible rewards in MMOs tend to be non-items that help your character progress or help to make them unique.  WAR has many such items built in, from Tome of Knowledge unlocks to Titles.  However, the most influential currently are the basics:  Experience, Renown, and Influence.  This three-headed hydra of motivation is currently wreaking havoc on the battlegrounds of WAR.  Properly tamed, however, it could be the perfect tool to modify the current negative behaviors resulting in war avoidance instead of war initiation.  Currently, the two largest areas of impact currently are Scenarios and Open RvR.

Scenarios are set up to teach people to work together in groups, either pre-made groups or system-generated ones.  Each scenario has a goal and points are awarded based on that goal.  The side with the most points wins, in theory.  In reality, scenarios are used not to learn to work together, but instead to farm as much Experience and Renown as possible, regardless of what the score is at the end.  The current system doesn’t reward teamwork, exactly the opposite.  People are rewarded for doing what is best for themself and not for the team.  Players leave groups and fight by themselves because the system rewards them for doing so.  While the tool is broken, it can be fixed.

One way would be creating a pool of Experience and Renown based on all the players’ actions as opposed to each group and holding off the reward until the scenario is finished.  This type of system is already used in Open RvR in certain situations.  By pooling these motivators and witholding them, you create something that can be manipulated as a whole once the winner/loser has been determined.  The winning side’s pool can be multiplied to reward success before being divided amongst the participants while the losing sides can be reduced before division to encourage teamwork in the future.  Stats for each player can still be tracked and used to determine how much of the pool goes to each individual upon completion.

Open RvR in its tiered forms is set up to slowly teach players the methods for taking objectives and keeps.  At its core is the basic tenet that players will wage war over these locations so as to gain control of the zone for their side.  Victory Points are earned for your side via player kills, scenario wins and owning objectives and keeps, when present.  Open RvR should be the best place to spend one’s time in WAR, as it rewards Renown, Influence and Experience for kills and taking objectives.  However, currently one gains more of these motivating factors by skipping the killing of players entirely and moving on to unguarded objectives and keeps which reward large amounts of these things regardless of whether any war was waged over them or not.  Keeps even have the added benefit of tangible rewards in the form of RvR Gear found in their precious Gold Bags.  As with Scenarios, the tools are broken but can be fixed.

Assuming the core tenet of WAR is players fighting other players (I know, assumptions are bad, but this one is based on quotes from Mythic, not random theory-crafting), then the solution becomes easy to see.  A part of it is even in place already: the award pool.  Currently, the amount of these motivators scales in objectives based on the amount of war that rages over their taking or defense.  This type of pool is the perfect tool to use to create the desired behavior: endless war.  However, it needs to be adjusted.  The current amount of Renown, Influence and Experience for taking an unguarded and undefended objective or keep is far too large.  It reinforces the negative behavior of avoiding conflict instead of discouraging it.  The base amounts for both objectives and keeps should be next to nothing.  The purpose of objective capturing should be zone control and bonuses, keeping in line with the overall goals of zone capture.  And while keeps take actual effort to capture, their rewards for these things should still be low due to the fact that they also contain tangible, much-needed rewards in terms of RvR Gear.

By focusing the motivational rewards inherent in the game onto the core tenet of the game, PvP, the war will rage on as promised.  As long as negative behaviors are the most heavily rewarded, they will continue to flourish, to the dismay of all who wish to see WAR succeed.

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