To exploit or not to exploit?

Jamie Madigan@The Psychology of Video Games wrote a thoughtful post about how players respond to known glitches/ exploits in a game. He’s using a PvP game as a model, but a PvE game with a lot of competition (ie. between raid guilds) would follow the same flow.

His conclusions aren’t surprising, but they are worth stating.

The game is more fun for everyone if no one abuses the glitches, and all players know this at some level. They’d all privately prefer if no-one glitched, either because the option didn’t exist or because everyone was trustworthy. However, if they aren’t sure whether anyone else is glitching and don’t trust them, most people will decide to use the glitch.

He does also discuss the Prisoner’s Dilemma, zerg rushes in Starcraft,  and a whole slew of history  of thinking on this type of  social problem. So if you find  game theory interesting, give it a read. I am fascinated because it explains why players will sometimes deliberately select a less fun option, knowing full well that it will result in a less fun game.

Interestingly, not everyone in an MMO will use a known glitch or exploit. There’s a lot of social pressure not to do it, both from social players and from competitive raiders/ PvPers. It’s seen as a cheap option and devalued. Jamie’s model can break down under those circumstances.

But don’t feel too cocky yet because MMO players have other pressures on them to select less fun gaming options. A lot of players, especially raiders, feel pushed in MMOs to play more and more frequently, probably more than they would ideally want for a good game/life balance.  And much of the same game theory applies there too.

Still, this leaves a lot of open questions:

  • At the end of the day, whose fault is it really that players flock to less fun options?
  • The designer for allowing that option into the game, or the other players for not being able to agree that some options do not belong on the table?
  • Would we rather have less choice in games if the choices which WERE there guaranteed us fun gaming experiences, rather than pressuring us away from them?

And I wonder if it is a general trend in media at the moment — not just games — to move towards the on-rails guaranteed experience, because we know that players will gravitate towards less fun options if they can.