Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling reports from the front lines* of the Massively Multiplayer Multiverse.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Daily Grind: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation In MMOs

I was reading several blogs posts over the week or so, and an interesting little pattern emerged. Several different people posted varying items regarding doing things fun vs. doing things for a reward. This harks back to a discussion I carried on with MMOGC, Elementalistly, and others not long after Rift came out, regarding what is content vs. what is grind.
So after this I WILL be the sharpest tool in the shed?
Badges, Levels, Achievments, and Points), Scott says,
Points, levels, achievements, and badges are tools. Like any tool, each can be used in positive ways or negative ways. In most cases of gamification, BLAP is being used as an external reward to get players to do something. While this can be effective in the short term, there are long-term consequences to focusing behavioral change around external rewards.
In The Risks of Rewards, Scott notes, "Using rewards to control behavior is how we treat animals. Humans deserve better." Chris Hecker explicitly states, "Tangible, expected, contingent rewards reduce free-choice intrinsic motivation." Beyond the Skinner Box of leveling, many MMOs have jumped on the "Achievement" bandwagon, giving aspects formerly of only intrinsic value (i.e., pet collecting, exploration, or guild membership) extrinsic rewards like titles or even loot. In his most recent entry on the topic Meaningful Gamification, Scott points out, "Rewards used in a controlling manner undermine internal motivation, and thus applications of gamification to create long-term change can do more harm than good in the long term." Reputation grinds and the like keep people playing for now, but eventually they burn out, because what had been fun has become a chore.

Of course, both Scott and Chris are discussing applying game-like rewards to non-gaming situations, but the same hypotheses seem to hold true within game systems, as well. Keen is tired of doing chores in games. "Anything that mimics a checklist of activities that must be done before doing what you would rather be doing is most likely chores." So is Jewel the Laughter Zombie's husband, wanting "to know why WoW punishes him for playing the game."
B.F. Skinner and friend
In a separate post where he encourages Blizzard to remove levels from WoW, Keen notes, "Time to level has been reduced so much that much of the content is now missed/skipped/worthless." This was a problem I encountered while playing through the Cataclysm content with my newly-recruited gaming partner, Sctrz. We skipped entire zones because we had out-leveled them before even arriving. GW2 solves this issue by down-leveling characters to the zone, keeping everything a challenge no matter the level.

In a guest post on Penny Arcade, Jamie Cheng details the pitfalls encountered by the developers of Don't Starve in trying to assist players in playing figuring out how to succeed at the game. Too little structure, and the testers simply did not know what to do next. Too much structure (quests), and players spent too much focusing on those short term goals to the detriment of long term enjoyment. And worst of all, when the quest lines ended, the players assumed the game was over. I'll let you read that article to see what their eventual solution is, the game is currently in closed beta currently available to try here.

A lot of games I have enjoyed—and the ones I enjoy now—involve extrinsic rewards in many ways; that is, rewards unrelated to the task at hand. Not to pick on WoW, but I've heard that many players are not happy with heroic-dungeon/raid gear being placed behind reputation-grind gates in MoP. I recall the TBC era furor over the "of the Shattered Sun" title; at the time purchasable with a 1000-gold "donation" to Anchorite Kairthos. Players who decried that move by Blizzard ignored the time/money equation, and the time-sink/grind for other titles available at the time. I am sure you, Dear Reader, can recall several examples of grind, or fun that turned into a chore, from your own gaming experiences. If I am doing something for fun and relaxation—say, gardening—then it is a hobby. If I am doing it for some other reason—say, to feed my family and keep clothes on my back—then it is farming, and work. Going back to Keen's quote about chores, if I have to do something not exactly pleasant, in order to be able to do something I want to do, then it is a chore and a grind.

17 comments:

  1. I think fears around gamification are misplaced. If the child/participant already has an intrinsic interest or desire around the task, the gamification is icing on the cake. If not, it provides a reason for it. It seems like the hand-wringing is around the assumption that those without interest or desire somehow spontaneously develop it when no extrinsically rewarded through gamification. Such a thing is rare at best.

    In terms of levels - you note GW2's downleveling, which is to be commended. But my question is - why is there not upleveling as well? Why is it that if I want to play with my level 80 friends, I must either be a PvP player, or they must return to content they have already done?

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    1. The article from Penny Arcade included a link to a study about how rewards for drawing affected children who already enjoyed drawing. I don't know how extensive it was. I do know that there have been times when working toward a reward has diminished my enjoyment of an otherwise fun activity. The free month of SWTOR for players who achieved a certain Legacy level comes to mind.

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    2. Perhaps because the reward turns the task into a job, effectively. Maybe it's a fun job, maybe it's not, but it's no longer about doing the task itself, it's about the reward.

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    3. @HZero: One solution I forgot to mention, I just haven't really seen it in any game I've played, is no levels at all. TSW pays lip service to it, bu the truth is you can't take a brand new character straight into Transylvania, or even Savage Coast. You need skills (and abilities), so it's leveling by another name. There are several games that encourage some form of mentoring. I vaguely recall one of the superhero MMOs having "sidekicking," but I don't know if lowbies could join higher level heroes in their areas.

      @Tesh: I think that is the conclusion of the research that's been done. Plus it bears out in anecdotes about people "following their passions" and discovering that hobby isn't so great when you have to make a living from it.

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    4. In terms of the drawing study, I think that becomes and internal problem then right? The reward can hang out there, but you can still work solely for your love at your discretion. That may not be entirely true give peer pressure and authority figures, but its not an automatic. In any case, the way around that is to make the reward dynamic rather than static - in MMO terms, offer a currency rather than an item, and then use the currency to offer a store full of items. I truly believe this is one of the reasons currency conversion in F2P games like GW2 and STO are good and not bad, despite what developers say.

      In terms of level-less gaming, I really want that day to come quickly. I have an idea for how to do it, but I'll save that for a blog post for me. (-:

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    5. I look forward to reading your idea.

      I do think you give too much credit to force of will, here. I'm a pretty willful person, and I find myself falling into the trap of working toward a reward rather than enjoying a game for the gameplay/story. The poor children in that study didn't have the wherewithal to resist the pull of the reward. The article even specifically mentioned that the quality of the children's drawings went down, even as their output increased. Hard to say how this is reflected in an adult workplace environment, after all most people work for the reward of money, not the pleasure of work. And we've already discussed the pitfalls of turning one's hobby into a job.

      Currencies as reward are interesting, I think I may have another blog post on the way.

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    6. I think you are right; I'm giving too much credit to willpower as well, particularly in a research setting. Too soon we forget the lessons of Zimbardo and Milgrim eh? (-:

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  2. I went over that a bit a while back. I wish that the "follow your passions into a career" pop psych would die already. I think it's done immeasurable harm.

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    1. Bah, forgot the link... maybe I'm naturally slightly allergic to shameless self-promotion. ;) http://tishtoshtesh.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/nbi-for-love-or-money/

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    2. Ah yes, I remember reading that now. It does tie indirectly into this idea of reward-based gaming vs. fun-based gaming. Obviously, it's a spectrum. From my first minutes playing WoW to last night's adventures in GW2, there is an element of "reward" XP, leveling). But it's mostly pure fun, at least at first. I've long gotten over continuing to play something after the thrill is gone, again, thanks to lessons learned in WoW.

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    3. This reminds me of an old saying: "If you want to live the dream, you have to give up the fantasy."

      My friend discovered this when he became a dive shop owner. He did it because he thought it would allow him to do what he loved all the time. But in reality it meant less time for him to do what he loved.

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  3. Ah, forgot to mention. I love that the Penny Arcade article on extrinsic/intrinsic motivation is written by a developer whose game is essentially a forced extrinsic motivation for using the Chrome browser. There's an awesome level of fail somewhere in all that. (-:

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    1. Eh, that's like saying HALO is an extrinsic motivation to get an XBox.

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    2. Sure if Xbox were one of three major options in consoles, all of which were free. :-p

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    3. Exactly, no barrier to entry. Cheng mentions in the article that the release version will be available on Steam.

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