Why we need killers to show us how to have fun

Sara Pickell wrote a brilliant post about MMOs, and the struggle between companies trying to sell them to us as goods vs services. I’ve tried to come at this from a different angle before, but she does it far more eloquently than I did.

But there was one paragraph that made me stop and think (and she’s referring to the Bartle player types here – achiever, explorer, socialiser, killer):

The primary audience of any product will always be the achievers, those who want it for it’s own use and to excel within it’s use. The secondary target would be explorers, those who are interested in seeing it in it’s entirety. You may still want some socialites to build buzz for you, but they are more likely to strain your system without seeing very much content so their presence is more a marketing investment than anything. Killers are last place, to one extent catering to another audience is always a good thing, on the other, killers are more likely to drive away other players or cause harassment issues. Killers are probably only given serious representation now because they simply make up one of the largest minorities in MMOs.

I think it is commonly held (by non-killers) that the ‘killers’ (ie. players whose primary way to have fun is by attacking other players) are a negative influence on the genre. They’re the griefers, the min-maxers, the trouble-makers, the forum whiners. They’re the ones who will drive other players away by corpse camping them for hours and then flooding forums with illegible leet smacktalk. They’re the kiddies, the guys who just don’t know how to play nice with others.

But all virtual worlds involve competition

When you get more than one person into a room, in real life as well as in a game, they will compete with each other. It may be subtle, it may be non-serious, but they will compete for any resource available.

The idea that a virtual social world utopia would be completely free of negative vibes is ridiculous. Social competition is some of the most bitter, vicious, cut-throat gaming that it is possible to have. And it’s largely based on trying to be popular. Being bitter about not getting enough attention from ‘the right people’. Networking. Trying to make yourself useful. Cybering for extra perks (it happens a lot).

You know what guild drama can be like? You know how people fret if they feel left out of a clique? Imagine an entire virtual world which is all about guild drama. I’m not saying that it can’t be fun – people are extremely fun. They will surprise and entertain you in ways that no mechanical NPC ever can. But we don’t have a good ruleset for social competition.

If the killers know one thing, it is how to compete

And this is where the killers come in. The way they compete is far simpler. You kill someone. Or you get killed. You exchange some smack talk. You go back to base and start again. At the end of the session, they leave the game on the table.

Compare that to the extended guild drama bitchfests which can leave people in tears or depressed for hours. Which is the most healthy form of competition, really?

For all that devs and other players complain about the killers in our games, I wonder if we need them there to teach us how to play the things.

11 thoughts on “Why we need killers to show us how to have fun

  1. I can’t imagine how can someone be depressed just because other people told something. They have little effect on your play (bosskills, loot, achivements) and zero effect on your real life. It’s simply noise. Annoying, but not more than a tap dipping water or that moron motorcyclist on the road who thinks leaky exhaust system is cool.

  2. They can have some effect on your play if they exclude you from their groups because they don’t like you? (Or, more likely, if someone feels that this is the case, whether or not it is true.) I have seen people in tears because they felt useless.

    Yes, you could just grow a pair and learn to deal with it but people seem to take these things so much more personally online. Online drama is just crazy sometimes, the way it blows up from nothing. I think it’s something to do with not being able to see the other person.

    (Also because looking to random people in a game to validate you in real life is just not a good idea anyway. But people do it.)

  3. “Imagine an entire virtual world which is all about guild drama.” I imagined it and it’s called the Real World 😀

    You can ignore guild drama and but you’re right, Spinks, it can start to effect gameplay if players choose it to. I’ve been in raids where players have camped out right in the middle of it and quit because of some sort of drama and thus scuppering the entire raid for everyone else.

    IMO the best way to deal with guild drama is to avoid getting drawn into it. I’m a pretty easy going player so I find it quite easy to avoid it – I don’t lose my temper because someone rolled on an item I need, for example.

    And this is were socialising is important and why it can’t be ignored as when you group or raid you are at the mercy of the person distributing the loot or others rolling on it. There’s nothing stopping them from screwing you over apart from social morals.

  4. You are at the mercy of nobody. There are loot systems. If you ACCEPT to be in a guild without one, it’s you being stupid. Morals have nothing to do with DKP.

    • Of course morals have something to do with DKP. DKP isn’t a mechanical system and thus there is still nothing preventing the guild leader from refusing an item to someone. The only thing that stops him is peer pressure and social morals.

      Ironically you’re putting faith in society without even realising it.

  5. I think the majority of players have a little bit of all of Bartle’s 4 archetypes, and so excluding any type of content from the mix is going to make your game less appealing generally, and not just to those that favour that content to the exclusion of everything else. I usually opt out of PvP, but I certainly like to have the option.

    Also, I’m not sure I can agree with your statement that killer types can ‘leave the game on the table’. I’m sure you must have dropped in on official PvP forums before!

  6. Do griefers really leave the game on the table? Or are they the way they are because they are the ones MOST emotionally affected by what happens in the game, and the result of the competition?

    Most people of that type that I have known routinely lose all RL competition (including for status and other resources) so they are highly emotionally invested in winning in-game competition. They act so offensively precisely because they are so afraid of being a virtual loser on top of being a RL loser. Honestly, I think the griefed player is leaving the game on the table more than the griefer.

    Guild drama, if you are close and actual friends, can be much more depressing because you have a lot more invested. Griefers can’t hurt you much because you aren’t nearly as invested in beating them or doing the task they are blocking you from as you are invested in your guid friendships or even your guild’s ability to progress or do activities.

  7. Fair points. The reason I say that about leaving the game on the table is that I remember advice I was given by a fairly hardcore PvP nut about playing on a PvP server. And it boils down to not caring about being killed. Don’t let it get to you. And I think sometimes that’s a useful lesson.

    There’s a line to be drawn between caring about the game and being engaged by your character and the virtual world, and caring too much and letting it affect your real life more than it should. People do often over-react online. But sometimes it’s just a game. Killer types play that way and it’s not a bad thing to balance out playing styles, is all.

    Not all killer types are griefers. But even the griefers often do it just to get a rise out of people. It gives more of a sense of being able to affect the game world than just killing NPCs ad infinitum.

  8. I’m sorry to say this but I thought Sara’s post was terrible.

    First off I really don’t like blog posts that think WoW was successful because it just happened to get lucky. There’s far too many of these in the blogosphere. If we want to see great games develop as a result of people learning from the WoW model we need to drop the “Blizzard got lucky” or “WoW sells because people are dumb” memes so prevalent in the blogosphere.

    Next I think she misses that WoW is actually a series of products. Each new content patch and new expansion substantially changes the game. For many people it replaces the game they had before (eg raiding Kara) with a completely different game (raiding Naxx). WoW isn’t just a service.

    She says “your most effective line of sales are things that increase the player’s enjoyment of the place” and concludes that means you should aim your RMT at socialisers.

    Now we know that’s not true.

    We know it’s not true because there is an illegal RMT market that has thrived for years and it’s not made billions because people want furniture. People want power, gold, levelling, epics.

    RMT particularly spikes when there is content that you can’t play if you don’t buy gold/items. You can always socialise. You could only raid Naxx 40 if you were fully buffed with about 7 different elixirs and a flask and able to spend long hours wiping incurring horrific repair bills. Virtually every Naxx 40 guild had some or most of its members buying illicit gold. The only alternative was to raid for 20+ hours per week, grind gold for 20 hours per week and pick flowers for 20 hours per week.

    Her article is full of places where she makes illogical leaps of thought (such as you want to make money therefore sell virtual plant pots not legendary swords), wishful thinking (“you need socialisers”), or factually incorrect statements (“Free Realms RMT is about decorative items”).

    As for killers this argument was very well stated on both sides by Diablo 2 player Sirian and Blizzard VP Max Schaeffer several years ago. Basically Blizzard’s attitude then was that killers give you that frisson of fear that increases the game’s interest even though you don’t specifically like being in danger.


    • Interesting comment here. I wonder how much this is still the case (I’m looking at Free Realms for an example of a game that seems to have been focussed grouped to death):

      “Diablo II and the expansion are the games that we at Blizzard want to play. That is our formula for success. Companies that design games based on focus groups, marketing opinions, and even fan input do not succeed.”

    • I don’t remember saying WoW “jut got lucky”. If you could quote that for me I’d like to fix it. I believe the point I was trying to make around WoW was that they built a better core product and improved their general quality of service as the reasons for their success. On the other hand, I don’t think there are any major successes that can be wholly divorced from luck. Not having taken an in-depth study of where and when WoW won all of it’s players though, I can only speak to what I’ve observed across the stories of many companies and developers.

      I also seem to remember making the point that right now almost all North American based MMOs are almost entirely products. The basic reasoning for even pointing this out is that I believe the dichotomy of product creators attempting to create services is the main thing holding us back. A larger audience is out there, but not for those trying to compete with the current market leader’s products.

      As to RMT, there is certainly a market for +4 great swords of 25 damage soak, but it’s also a painful market. What I mean is, you will have to walk some very fine lines between giving people what they want to buy, and what will drive away players or create exceptionally bad marketing. It’s profit vs. risk and while the social profit is possibly lower, I can’t know that for certain, the social item risk is exceptionally low. I tend to consider low risk propositions to be superior, especially when we don’t have any hard or fast numbers for how much people are willing to pay in either case.

      I’m not sure I want to get into the debates over developer RMT vs. black/grey market RMT here. And I didn’t want to get into it as part of that post, either.

      I’m not sure “you need socialites” is wishful thinking. But I’m not sure the two of us could have a debate as to what is wishful thinking. Raiders see the world as it relates to raiding, socialites the world as it relates to society. As to Free Realms RMT being about decorative items, I can say for certain, I didn’t say that. From what I’ve played of Free Realms though, it seems to be very much so built off the concept of a service. Getting the player in and showing them interesting things, getting them to purchase pieces of content or a longer term subscription or cards for the card game, etc…

      It’s also important to note that right now all of the MMOs are a service, they can’t not be. However that doesn’t mean that the people creating them expend their time and energy on improving the service side over the product side. Which segues into my next point… I’m not anti-killer, I am one.

      However, the attitude I largely see is that killers are “bad”. And for a true product, they really might be, after all what effect does an audience of killers have on an iPhone? Or relating to games how about Mass Effect? They’ve extended the lifetime of Half-Life through mods, but probably aren’t the intended audience of Half-Life 2… A one shot product tends to have significantly less room for them. Of course there is also the question of what exactly divides the killer who kills for griefing from the killer who kills for the challenge, which is a large part of why I try not to use the Bartle Types too often. That and the fact that the test is designed to return a type regardless of nearness or farness. In other words people outside of all four types will still return a result even though they may honestly not be strongly identified with any of the types or any combination of the types.

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