Does hearing about overachievers demotivate players?

I feel I’m getting way behind all the posts I intended to write this week, time mostly lost between RL and playing GW2 and WoW. As a gaming blogger, it’s not a bad idea per se to spend time in games but I think you’re supposed to pause occasionally (outside meals, work, sleep) to write things up.

I have also been following a course on Coursera on Gamification.  If you are interested in the subject I recommend checking it out, it’s all free. Gamification seems to be a mixture between game design, game criticism, marketing, psychology et al and the syllabus also looks as though it’s going to cover criticisms of gamification and uses for social good.

Anyhow, one of the comments made in a lecture was that players are only really motivated once they get 90% of the way to a goal.

This I suspect is true of a lot of games; it may not hold for a goal you really want  for personal reasons, or if you are just good at motivating yourself. But the idea is that people need to see their goal, see that it is achievable, see what they will need to do to get there, and feel as though they are almost there already. If those things are all in place, chances are you will play ‘just a bit more’. Both WoW and GW2 do a great job with this type of motivation, using stepped achievements and the game environment itself. GW2 is great at tempting the player to explore the expansive game world with the dynamic events, view points, resource nodes and travel points scattered across the landscape.

However, one thing you can guarantee in a new game or new expansion is that  you will quickly hear about players who have reached the level cap, geared themselves up, beaten any raids, and generally zipped through the content while you are still noodling around in the newbie area wondering how to get to that potato patch or access your bank. I wonder if has a demotivating effect by reminding new players that despite the game’s attempts to lead you through in terms of small steps and reachable goals, there are people who are quantum leaps ahead.

I don’t personally find it demotivating when random people I don’t know inform that they are already max level, maxed crafts,  fully kitted out in exotic gear and just working on their legendaries.  Or that they’ve made tons of gold already and exchanged a load for gems while I am still figuring out how to achieve that first gold piece. I made my peace long ago with the fact that I’m not hardcore, not much of an achiever in games, and probably not that good at them either**. But it doesn’t make me engage more with the game either. As well as highlighting all the goals that are far away, it’s tempting to compare yourself with other players in a way that isn’t encouraging.

This may be connected to the 90%, above,  because hearing about overachievers can make a goal feel less attainable rather than more, or the player feel “I am a bad player compared to X, Y and Z, maybe I shouldn’t bother with this game.” This is all in the mind. In the long run everyone who keeps playing will be max level and will probably have as much gold as they can be bothered to grind out. But emotions are powerful, and the feeling of disengaging from a game is powerful too.

Do you enjoy hearing about people who have zipped through a game, or only if they give some useful hints and tips for how you can do the same thing? What about guildies exercising bragging rights? Or have you ever been turned off a game because someone else made you feel that you were falling behind and would never reach your goals?


** I know there will be people who I make feel like that too ;/ These things are all relative.

Thoughts on Motivation, Achievements, and MMOs

There is an idea in psychology that people are motivated by two different routes:

  • Intrinsic Motivation: driven from within, driven by intrinsic fun, enjoyment, creativity, opportunity to use signature strengths (e.g. if you’re smart, you may enjoy playing games where you get to show off your smarts). Also includes the drive to master a topic, just for the sake of it.
  • Extrinsic Motivation: motivated by shinies, competition, or external threats.

Interestingly, the people with better intrinsic motivation tend to be happier. (This is debatable, incidentally, but probably depends on how you define happiness.)

In MMO terms, it’s easy to see how game designers try to design in gameplay to fit both of these moulds. Fun gameplay itself, and complex and interesting skills to master, expansive worlds and creatures to explore, and vibrant online communities to join give the intrinsically motivated guy plenty to chew over.

And for everyone else, there’s always achievements and PvP titles.

An interesting experimental result showed also that if you offer extrinsic rewards for something that an intrinsically motivated person was doing anyway, they’ll tend to do less of it. So having a reward actually negatively affects fun for some people.

So if there seems to be a tension in games between people who love achievements and people who seem to hate them irrationally, it’s because having achievements in place actually does negatively impact some people’s game.

I think these different motivations are interesting in a raid environment because ever since raiding was born, there has been an awareness that some people do it because they love it, and everyone else just wants their shinies. And as MMOs continued, I think designers became aware that whilst intrinsically motivated people may be happier, it’s much easier to keep the extrinsic types grinding/ competing indefinitely.

When I first started playing MMOs, although there were grinds, there were also a lot of elements which were just there (with no special reward) so if you thought they were fun, you focussed on those. We were very much dropped into the world and left to our own devices. Since then, I think there has been a shift towards trying to motivate gameplay totally from outside. Via epic items, titles, achievements, and so on. Bloggers tend to view this as making the games more ‘game-like’ and applaud it. Because heaven forfend any player should play a game just for fun. That would be noobish.

(Until something like Minecraft comes along and people reconnect with the actual fun in a game that has no high scores.)

And I wonder how this is affecting gamers who play these games for several years, especially if they start from a young age. What exactly are we training people to do or to be? Do people even want a multiplayer game where you are expected to do things just because they are fun?

Rewarding team play

Ferrel@Epic Slant and Psychochild have been discussing how best to reward team play in MMOs.

Ferrel is a guild leader. His problem is that people don’t like showing up to progression raids ie. where they meet with limited success, may be frustrated, may wipe a lot, may incur a lot of repair bills and don’t get many rewards. He looks for solutions that will give better rewards to progression raiding than to  less challenging content. He asks why success is the only thing that is rewarded. He also complains that DKP systems are set up to reward players, not guilds.

His observations are correct. Although DKP systems reward players because it’s easy to administer and it works. Even the most basic DKP gives points to people for turning up to raids. These systems are set up to reward constant and consistent attendance which is what most raid leaders want to reward. Not only that but people are rewarded for sticking with the same raid group, they see their DKP total build up.

If players aren’t enjoying progression raids and you are a progression guild, then find other players who do. Maybe progression raiding really isn’t for everyone. Maybe some players just don’t enjoy it and handing out better rewards will only make them more miserable because they feel that they must play in a way they don’t enjoy. Maybe people have a bad day at work and just aren’t in the mood for a stressful progression raid some nights.

One problem with  the whole raiding setup is that after you have beaten the encounter, you have to keep farming it for weeks of boredom so that the rest of the raid can gear up. That’s the real problem. Of course people get bored of farm content, of course people are reluctant to spend every raid night smashing their head against a brick wall of frustration. If your core problem is human nature, then no reward system is going to fix it. Go back to the beginning and look harder for a problem that you can actually solve.

This isn’t a problem that sports teams face — and the semi-professional sports team is one analogy for a raid group. They meet up every week, they have scheduled practice and training sessions, and then they have weekly matches against other teams. This makes me wonder whether the rated battlegrounds that Blizzard plans to implement may yet be the saviour of the raid game.

Guild leaders like Ferrel believe that if only people were more loyal to their guild, they’d happily keep showing up for the frustrating progression raids and boring farm raids. They wouldn’t, they might feel bound to show up more but if they’re really not enjoying it then they’d also burn out and leave the game. You can only nudge people so far. And there will always be some people who enjoy progression raids and some who don’t. Some nights where people are in the mood for it and some where they aren’t. And labelling people as selfish because they stop coming when they’re bored is just ignoring the real problem and asking them to burn themselves out instead. Is that really a good long term solution? Or would it be better if you didn’t have to keep putting together weekly raids to content with which people are already bored?

Or is the problem connected with having so much emphasis on difficult group content? That naturally means that pressure falls on the weaker members of the team to shape up, and that if you have a bad day, your team suffers (and boy will they let you know about it.) And unlike battlegrounds which are over in 20 mins so you get another chance to pull your socks up for next time, a raid will occupy a whole evening.

What you can do is make farm raids more fun, and either turn them into more social events or invent some fun challenges to keep people’s interest. It won’t work for everyone but there are worse ways to spend a night in game than chatting to friends while running through some cool encounters that people like even though they aren’t especially challenging. Particularly if rewards are structured to help your guild or alts or friends.  And even then, devising a system that locks people into the same farm raids for months on end is going to run dry eventually.

Psychochild tackles a different problem altogether: how can game designers reward the actual learning process? Is it possible to reward people for not chasing loot single mindedly, and to de-emphasise individual reward?

If I have learned anything from raiding casually, it’s that the learning curve is still just as fun when it is slower. That it’s OK to take a night off from progression raiding and come back to it later. That you don’t always have to be on the cutting edge or racing the rest of the server to feel a sense of achievement from your first kills. I wish I could think up a good reward scheme to show other people the same thing. I think it would make for a much happier raid experience all round, and less stressed out guild leaders too.

In any case, it was a fascinating set of posts to read, if only to see how two people come at an issue from very different perspectives.

Best ever lead-in to an instance quest

I’m planning to write some more later this week about my favourite zone in Wrath and why I think it’s such a masterpiece of design. So I was getting some screenshots (for ‘research’ purposes, naturally) on an alt and was reminded of one of my favourite cut-piece scenes in any game ever.

This one is … well Horde should recognise where this is coming from. And it leads into one of the bosses in Utgarde Keep. Bear in mind that your character has recently arrived in Northrend. You are probably asking yourself: Why am I here? Who am I fighting? Why is this my fight? And … dammit, where’s the NPC with the quest symbol?

hfjord1Ah, there he is! It’s the leader of the forsaken settlement, you can tell he’s the leader because he’s the one on the horse. (This has been a theme in Warcraft ever since level 1 – leaders get mounts.)

So this is quite likely the first piece of text that you read from an NPC in Northrend if you come in on the zeppelin to Howling Fjord.

But later on, after you’ve done some quests and smacked the local alliance around a  bit (note: some things never change), he gets some visitors.





In case anyone hadn’t figured this one out yet, the forsaken as a faction were killed and then turned undead by Arthas. They were enslaved. And then they followed Sylvanas to freedom. Now they’ve come to Northrend for payback and it’s just a bit more personal than ‘Yeah, he’s this evil guy’.

And just to prove it, the local scourge ambassador has come to remind Anselm and the forsaken that he considers them no more than escaped slaves. Well, maybe just a bit more since he’s trying to lure the leader to his side.



He’s introducing some thuggish allies too. Don’t worry, you’ll get to slaughter lots of these guys soon enough, but at least now you know why.


Horde has a strong theme of opposing slavery – orcs also were enslaved (by humans) in the backstory before regaining their freedom. This doesn’t stop some of the forsaken from keeping ‘mind slaves’ in the Undercity.

In any case, say what you like about the forsaken, but they’ve always been a faction who didn’t mess around.


So they’re not going to be friends. Piss off, evil zombies! Err, present company  excepted.

hfjord10The forsaken, in addition to their other qualities, are also decent shots.

All that remains is for the evil elf dude to make sure we know where he’s staying.


And then after he’s magically vanished to go and sulk or plot, Anselm locates some expendable local adventurers to make sure that The Lich King really does get the message.

What I love is that you can totally understand the motivation. What you are being asked to do makes sense.

It also directly impacts on the Big Bad of the entire expansion. And it begins right there in the starting settlement. You were there.

Scheduling the PvE Week

I think that raid schedules are both the best and the worst thing about raiding.

On the good side: You can slot your hobby neatly into your leisure time. All you have to do is pick a raid guild which raids whatever hours you want to play, make sure you have a bit of spare time to sort out any associated activities (like farming up gold for repair bills and enchants, sorting out consumables etc) and you’re good to go.

Not only that, but when you do log in, you have activities already organised. You know there will be other people around, and what sort of fun you can expect to have. It is predictable.

Of course, things don’t always go according to plan. Maybe half the raid falls sick and can’t make it. Maybe you log in to find that you’re benched that night. But that’s life.

On the down side: You’re working to someone else’s schedule. You can fake a dreadful illness if you really aren’t in the mood one night, but the whole deal can seem awfully like work. You have hours that you need to keep and other people rely on you being there to do your job.

If you can’t find a raid guild that raids on your preferred times, but still want to raid, then you’ll either be relying on PUG raids or feeling forced to log in when you would have preferred not to. The former is unpredictable (although a dedicated raid leader can build a fairly predictable raid up from PUGs if they don’t mind running them every week at the same time) and less likely to result in success. The latter is going to make you miserable and mess up your work/life/gaming balance.

Predictability per se is not always a good thing, but IF you want to fit a  hobby neatly into your leisure time, it’ll increase your chances of not sitting around all night feeling bored and waiting for something to happen.

In fact, I think the predictability of the PvE raiding week is one of the factors that has made WoW so very successful. People with limited time, who needed to be able to organise their fun in advance were able to turn it into exactly this kind of hobby. Doesn’t work so well in a non-instanced raid model where everyone turns up only to find that some other raid sniped the boss. Doesn’t work so well in a sandbox PvP model when everyone turns up to find that some other guys from your realm already took every keep a few hours earlier.

Don’t get me wrong, unpredictability is tons of fun and will always keep you on your toes. It probably even staves off burnout. But it also makes it way more difficult to control your online experience and schedule it in advance.

So – how do you organise the raid week?

OK, so let’s assume that you have enough raiding for several nights of entertainment for your guild. At least one encounter is still on progression, you haven’t yet completed it so you want to make enough time for several learning attempts. Some of your guys can still use upgrades from the raids that you do have on farm. You know which nights you raid on. So which nights do you schedule in for which raids?

The traditional (logical) approach:  Fit in the farm raids at the beginning of your raiding week. That way, people have the chance of picking up some gear upgrades from old bosses which may help when you do the progression raids. And in a new fight, any edge that you can get can help.

By this logic, you’d schedule your progression raids as late as possible in the week as you can. It gives raiders more time to improve their gear by any means possible before you throw them at the hardest encounter.

Progression is King approach: Focus people on the progression raid and  get them in there while they are still fresh (and not tired or bored). You also want plenty of time for learning wipes. So schedule the new stuff in right at the beginning, and keep going until it’s done. If that means taking more than one night, then you do it. And if that means that there isn’t time to fit in the farming raids too, then so be it.

It’s not ideal to lose a week’s worth of gear upgrades but if people’s gear is basically good enough then some of the more hardcore raid leaders figure that easy laid back runs can be a reward for completing harder content, not a statutory right.

The casual raid approach: Another take on scheduling is that in some casual raid groups, different people can only make specific week nights. So one goal of the raid leaders is to try to let everyone get a chance to fight and kill every boss. That means raids will get switched around in the schedule from week to week. It’s not always easy to do this. It’s an extra complexity that more hardcore guilds don’t have to deal with. But it should mean that even though progress may be slower, more people get to learn the fights and you can schedule the progression raids in whenenever you like.

The motivational approach: Late in the raid cycle when people are getting bored and have most of the gear they want from raids, it’s harder to get them to turn up. In some casual guilds, it’s also harder to get people to turn up to progression raids because a lot of players prefer the guaranteed loot and easy ride of the farmable instances.

So the schedule may not always be announced in advance. Raid nights will be given but the raid leaders might decide which raid to do on the night itself.

I’m never sure how successful it really is to not announce destinations in advance. I think people do like to be able to plan their week around the content they actually wanted to do.

We tend to the more casual approach and raid leaders tie themselves in knots to try to make sure that raids get swapped around so that everyone gets a chance to kill the bosses they need AND see the new content. I honestly can’t imagine how complex a scheduling job that really is. It’s a nightmare and we’re honestly lucky that they’re so dedicated.

How are your raids scheduled?