[Problem Players] What if games didn’t make people angry?

So I talked a bit in the last post about problem behaviour. I haven’t tried to define yet what it is. Before I try to do that,  I want to talk about what triggers problem behaviour – because we assume that people are not like this all the time. (If they are, then they probably are problem players.)

The reasons that players act up or rage out are basically down to: rage/ frustration, boredom, and/ or peer pressure/ local culture. Maybe another way for games to tackle this issue is to address those directly.

 

Gaming and Frustration

Things that (can) cause frustration while gaming:

  • Losing in a competitive game
  • Team members playing badly
  • You playing badly
  • Waiting around
  • Playing a game you don’t really want to play because you want the rewards
  • Being taunted by other players
  • Facing a barrier to an in-game goal
  • Feeling let down by other players
  • Being excluded socially by other players
  • Learning new content
  • Guild drama
  • Having to miss an in game event due to RL
  • Playing with people who don’t speak your language
  • Playing with people of very different skill levels to yourself
  • Playing with other people
  • Bugs
  • Staying up too late
  • Having a bad day (anything else outside the game)

 

Yup, a game that tried to eliminate frustration would lose most of its gaming aspects. It would have no competition, probably no multi-player, minimal challenge, and might start playing calming music at you and telling to relax if the time was getting late. It might still be fun. There are games like Journey that are designed to be as calming for the player as possible – and I love Journey — but it wouldn’t be an MMO as we’d know it. It is debatable how far it would really even be a game, and no game can really stop you from having had a  bad day at work or an argument with your partner.

Some of these areas could be addressed in games, though. You can reduce the frustration of team members playing badly by making team events easier, or making the matching better so you are always playing with or against people of similar skill ratings to yourself. You can stop people staying up late by having the server close down at night. You can reduce the frustration of people feeling excluded by having random group finders (most MMOs these days). You can reduce guild drama by not having guilds. You can reduce the frustration of not understanding people by not allowing players to communicate using free text (Hearthstone, Free Realms (RIP)). Learning new content can be less frustrating by making it more obvious what the player needs to do, or making the new content easier. Different games can and do experiment with these kinds of mechanics.

Not all of those things will make a game more fun for all players. That is the payoff for less frustrating games.

The elephant in the room is the trigger that I have marked in red in the list – it is frustrating to feel forced to do content you don’t enjoy because you feel you need the reward. The reward doesn’t need to be big or important to lure people into this play style. People who feel they need to min-max (for whatever reason – being an elite gamer, playing ‘properly’ etc.) will feel pressured to pick up as many of the rewards as they can.  This has been an ongoing issue with Themepark games. Warcraft for example has made a lot of tweaks to their raiding schemas due to players feeling they need to maximise their loot options. And every tweak reduces options for those players who don’t feel the need to min-max. The players who are mature enough to manage their gaming do suffer for the sake of those who claim they are being forced to run content. HINT: No one is forcing you.

Not all of those things will make a game more fun for all players. That is the payoff for less frustrating games.

On a more futuristic level, games could try to measure when a player is becoming frustrated. Maybe the player’s avatar jumps around more, for example. Maybe some day authenticators will be worn and will have blood pressure or heart rate monitors built in.  Or the game could ask if the player is feeling stressed, or give them a button to press (“press this button if you wish you could slap your opponent”). If so, maybe they could be directed to less stressful content. “Go pick some flowers, deathknightxxx, you need to chill out!” At the cost of removing some player choice, bad behaviour could be reduced. (Would it be a fun game? Who knows?)

Perhaps we don’t need to reduce player choice. Maybe when there is some calmer paced content available, players will choose to do that instead when they don’t feel up for the hassle of grouping. “Yeah right,” you may  think, but actually this is one of the appeals of big MMOs. If you log in and want to do something non-stressful, you can opt for gathering or redesigning the interior of your guild house.

 

Boredom: For the Lulz

Bored players are both the joy and the pain of MMOs. This is because boredom is a trigger for player initiated activity. Some people use it to devise really cool ways to entertain themselves and each other. Plenty of social guilds run really fun events, for example – quiz nights, scavenger hunts, wide ranging RP events, server-wide markets.

Boredom triggers players to sit around talking to each other. When people talk about modern MMOs being less social due to lack of downtime, this is what they mean.

Boredom triggers players to go and explore, or think up new challenges for themselves and each other.

Boredom has probably been the source of most of the best MMO player stories we’ve ever had. And it definitely is the source of most of the good stories you have ever read about sandbox games (in which the player is expected to be bored a lot of the time, that’s part of the appeal, and is why people say you have to make your own fun in these games).

But boredom also means the cat starts to play with the box. It can trigger people to go off and try to mess around with other players, for the lulz. And that means it can trigger problem behaviour also. Granted, in some games, the difference between problem behaviour and productive behaviour is very small – that is where the game culture comes in.

So this leaves a couple of questions.

  1. How to encourage players to start thinking about whether it’s time for them to take a break from the game?
  2. How to help boredom trigger good outcomes?

With (1), MMOs often try to keep people as long as possible which means a committed player will be encouraged to stay in the game long after they are actually burned out and bored. It doesn’t have to be this way. They could be more proactive with a call and return approach. To do this, the game needs to give benefits for the players who keep playing but also make it quick and easy for players who have taken a break to catch up and be able to play with their friends again. I think Blizzard has transferred smoothly to this type of model with Warcraft. There seems to be an understanding now that many players will not stay for an entire expansion. But at the same time, the game needs to stay fun for the players who don’t dip in and out. They need to feel their commitment was worthwhile.

Again, it’s a payoff. Making it easier for players to come and go will reduce the number of bored players hanging around, it will also reduce dev income and may make the game less fun for the committed core players. That’s a big risk. We also hope people will be able to decide for themselves when a break is warrented.

With 2, it is all about the in-game culture and the player’s social circle. Most people don’t do things for the lulz without an appreciative audience. And they can’t recruit a group to do it with them if no one is interested. It is also harder to recruit people to the cause if the majority of the players shun that type of activity. In any case, this brings me to … guild culture, game culture, gamer culture – which is a subject for the next post.

5 thoughts on “[Problem Players] What if games didn’t make people angry?

  1. In regards to frustration, perhaps the biggest source of frustration in gaming is the perception of unfairness.

    I say perception, because that covers both real and imagined cases of unfairness.

    This might be caused by some of the other issues you raise, like bugs. If I had 20 cents for all the times I shouted that’s not fair when killed by the lag monster, I’d have a lot of 20 cent coins.

    But it can also be caused when the games matching system, puts a weak player up against a much stronger player, or when a player takes advantage of a legal exploit to beat another player.

    Or, even in the case of single player games, the AI having an advantage like seeing the whole map. Done correctly this can make the game legitimately tougher. Done badly, it can make the game seem unfair and very very frustrating.

    In a single player game, this might just result in some ranting (online) and quitting. Multiplayer, this perception of unfairness could cause all sorts of bad behaviour. “If those other players are cheating, why shouldn’t I?”

    As for boredom. Not sure it is as big a problem re behaviour. Sure, you’ll get the lulzgriefers, but most bored players will simply drift away to something more fun.

  2. This is a really interesting discussion you’ve started. Far too wide-ranging to address in depth in a comment thread. Just to focus on one issue raised here, one that’s puzzled me for as long as I’ve played MMOs, boredom while gaming mystifies me.

    The only times I can remember experiencing an emotion I would categorically describe as “boredom” are all times when I was constrained by forces stronger than myself to be in a place not of my choosing, doing something not of my choosing – in other words, at school, at work and at obligatory social functions.

    Only the third of those coercive factors would normally be present in gaming – the much-discussed loyalty to friends/guildmates who are still playing a game that you yourself would no longer play were it not for the social ties. It seems less likely that players in that situation would become problem players, though. More likely to be disengaged, inactive players, I’d have thought – the kind of players who log in and stand around in the capital city not doing much of anything.

    As long as I’ve played MMOs, though, there have been players complaining vociferously and repeatedly in chat channels that they are “bored”. It’s not uncommon for players to feel such an intense need to express their boredom that they create characters with the word in the name. Only last week I was in a zerg in GW2 with a player named “Im Bored”.

    I’d be genuinely interested to hear from players who self-identify as “bored” while playing an MMO. Other than the aforementioned social ties and perceived obligations, what motivates or drives someone to continue with a voluntary, non-essential, leisure activity that actively bores them? Why don’t they just stop? I would.

    The movement from “being bored” to “finding something interesting to do” is interesting. Do you need to be bored to become creative? If you don’t feel bored by the game but you still choose to create your own content within it (I do that, often) are you actually bored but in denial?

    I don’t know. I think I’d have to have both a better understanding and a more flexible definition of “boredom” to make sense of what players mean when they claim to be bored.

  3. This is a really interesting discussion you’ve started. Far too wide-ranging to address in depth in a comment thread. Just to focus on one issue raised here, one that’s puzzled me for as long as I’ve played MMOs, boredom while gaming mystifies me.

    The only times I can remember experiencing an emotion I would categorically describe as “boredom” are all times when I was constrained by forces stronger than myself to be in a place not of my choosing, doing something not of my choosing – in other words, at school, at work and at obligatory social functions.

    Only the third of those coercive factors would normally be present in gaming – the much-discussed loyalty to friends/guildmates who are still playing a game that you yourself would no longer play were it not for the social ties. It seems less likely that players in that situation would become problem players, though. More likely to be disengaged, inactive players, I’d have thought – the kind of players who log in and stand around in the capital city not doing much of anything.

    As long as I’ve played MMOs, though, there have been players complaining vociferously and repeatedly in chat channels that they are “bored”. It’s not uncommon for players to feel such an intense need to express their boredom that they create characters with the word in the name. Only last week I was in a zerg in GW2 with a player named “Im Bored”.

    I’d be genuinely interested to hear from players who self-identify as “bored” while playing an MMO. Other than the aforementioned social ties and perceived obligations, what motivates or drives someone to continue with a voluntary, non-essential, leisure activity that actively bores them? Why don’t they just stop? I would.

    The movement from “being bored” to “finding something interesting to do” is interesting. Do you need to be bored to become creative? If you don’t feel bored by the game but you still choose to create your own content within it (I do that, often) are you actually bored but in denial?

    I don’t know. I think I’d have to have both a better understanding and a more flexible definition of “boredom” to make sense of what players mean when they claim to be bored.

  4. I think I know what bored people are talking about. It’s when you log in to your current MMO but you don’t really have a strong desire to play it or achieve some specific goal, it’s just habit/routine. Or maybe there’s daily rewards for running a dungeon or a pvp arena and so you log in because it’s a waste to let them just pass by. It’ll only take 15-30 minutes, right?

    So there you are, not really into playing the game, but you’re playing it anyways. You want to make it as efficient as possible because this is not really fun for you, it’s routine work to achieve a goal. People who are suboptimal are wasting your time. Waiting in a queue is totally boring so you’re more likely to engage in general chat and air your opinions about everything to everyone. Especially how the game sucks because you, right now, are not having fun and all these noobs, they don’t know what it’s like!

    I think this is what the whole ‘let them go’ thing was about. Making daily quests and shiny rewards to keep people coming back against their better judgement may give you one more month of their subscription, but it’s costing you by having toxic, unhappy veterans lounging around and spreading their discontent.

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