Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rewards, Time, and Skill

jrodman, in a comment to the previous post, remarks:
You seem against systems that measure time instead of skill, but the whole honor-marks system measures time instead of skill. The old peak-system *also* measured time instead of skill but measured how much time you spent in a single week instead of cumulatively.

I am not necessarily against systems that measure time. For example, Reputation is a very good system for rewarding time spent. What I am against is reward systems which encourage "incorrect" behavior.

If time is the behavior you want to reward, then reward time. But in Battlegrounds we don't want to reward time, we want to reward people participating in PvP. The hard part is defining participation in PvP. In particular, it's very hard to tell if a person is defending a vital node, or is merely slacking. It's very easy to over-reward attacking, which leads to all offense, no defense games.

So we use time as a proxy metric for participation. But it's not a perfect match, and the AFK'ers exploit the difference between time and participation.

Imagine if AV had zero rewards. No honor, no reputation rewards. How would people play? Most people who actually bothered to go to AV would go there to win. There would be no point to being afk (unless you're a weird passive-aggressive griefer). People who need to go afk because of real-life concerns, would still go afk.

People only go AFK in AV because of the way the reward system is structured. Multiple quick losses can be worth more than a drawn-out win. You don't lose anything for indulging in negative behavior.

Secondly, when it comes to PvP, I believe that rewards should bias to the skilled. I think the Arena system is a fairly well done system (with the exception of being able to "sell" high-ranked teams). It rewards the highly skilled, but is still attractive to the less skilled.

Arena rewards victory, and time spent. But the reward for time spent is not linear, you don't get more arena points if you put in more games. You just need to do a minimum amount of time, and then victories determine the scale of your reward.


  1. Interesting topic!

    Some comments...

    - Every reward in a MMO boils down to a time-based reward
    There are any number of ways I can spend time in WoW, but whether I choose raiding or Arena or BGs or daily quests or farming or playing the AH, the reward, in the end, is scaled to time spent. I don't think that people really want skill-based rewards anyway; for example, for months people complained that "even one D/C in Kara is a wipe", as if there was some design problem with making a 10-person raid actually need 10 persons...

    - Battlegrounds also have scaled rewards
    Just as Arena rewards both victory and defeat, but victory rewards more, so too BG honor and marks are increased for the victorious. Participation is tougher to define; I've seen people in general chat looking for an Arena team and saying, "I don't care about your skill or gear, you get stuff even if you lose".

    - Skill is not measured in WoW
    Put another way, WoW is entertainment, not a test of skill. The point is not to develop skill, but to enjoy an increase in power through time spent leveling or improving gear. Skill probably is (or at least should be) improved through play, but improved play-skill is not required to advance. One of the beautiful things about WoW is that it does a great job of fooling us into thinking that it is a game of skill, when it really isn't.

    Just my 2 cents...

  2. I would agree to a certain point with you doeg . . . WoW boils down to a time-based reward system. But that's not the whole picture; I would say there is a degree of skill involved in successful progression.

    Maybe your point is that it only takes minimal skill to perform the physical actions involved in the gameplay (clicking lots of buttons in the right order). But I can't overlook the skills of time management and communication that play a big role in successful progression, either. Sure, a person can advance in the game with poor mangement/communication skills (Blizzard wants their money, too) but those people probably take much more time to progress.

  3. I guess I should have given a working definition of "skill".

    I'm using "skill" in the sense of motor skills / "twitch" skills, and in the sense of consistently-accurate and precise timing and character control.

    I would assert some general rules:
    - Time gets gear, not skill gets gear
    - Gear trumps skill
    - When gear is equal, skill wins out

    I would agree that time management skill can most definitely speed progression.
    Luck plays a role in the case of instances and raids: You will mark an instance or raid off your list if you get the drop(s) you want and win the roll; but that could happen on your first run, or never...
    And raiding can reward social and time-management skills. But on the other hand (on the negative, IMO), raiding can result in a "second job" mentality, too.

    In my own case, my time at 70 has been more in farming and BG-PvP because those can fit into a flexible schedule. If I could commit to a raid schedule, then my time would have resulted in raid gear rather than crafted and PvP gear.

    After TBC release, some people literally cleared their calendars to play WoW. I know people who took the week off just to play TBC at release for a week, and I won't deny that I was tempted to do so myself. But that arguably stretched the social fabric of guilds, because those who invested much more time progressed much faster - not necessarily because of skill, but because of time investment. Kara was often raided first by the first ten who could form a good raid, not by skill or seniority. Likely-as-not groups that failed in Kara figured not that they were under-skilled, but under-geared. Toons who live in the BGs and Arena get good PvP gear, not just based upon skill, but based upon number of BG visits and being sure to get in enough Arena to get points every week - and as their gear accumulates, their gear gets better than that of teams that might be more skilled, but with less time dedicated.

    Maybe that's somewhat clearer.

  4. I can agree with that, and your point about a second-job mentality speaks to a big flaw in my suggestion that WoW rewards time management skills: if I clear my schedule for the next expansion, am I really being rewarded for a good call in time management?

    You could even argue that the truly skilled ones never even get to level 70 . . . their time management skills are so developed that they realized during their free trial that WoW would be a time sinkhole and dropped the game to persue neurology. Or rocket science.

  5. The pnly point when skill becomes an obstacle is when reaching the top tiers in arena for example.

    The thing is also that skill is a bit tied to time. You will get better at what you do over time. No matter if you are PvPing or raiding.
    Well, I have met exceptions though ;D

    The gear trumphs skill is very true. I came a cross an full merciless warrior in AV that was afk. Sweet kill I thought. (My gear on the PvP side is a bit weak due to the fact that I have been tanking up to amonth a go, but it is still all top of the line quest/craft blues)
    The thing is that just hacking away at this warrior took ages. At 50% hp he came back and kicked my ass in 20 sec.
    That would be equal too me being able to land all my sweet moves in a duel for a min and not getting hit - but still being unable to win...

  6. Great blog, just found it recently while searching for a talent spec for my Pally alt who's going to grow up as a tank.

    On the time/difficulty discussion...there seems to be a mix in the game. Take the Netherwing exalted reputation grind. There's nothing hard about the daily quests, they just take time. You spend days and days doing a pretty tedious task, getting your fixed quantity of rep each day. At the end? A purely cosmetic reward that you can fly around on with pride, showing everyone around you that you have the intestinal fortitude to devote weeks or months towards something. Takes time and discipline, and you're rewarded with something cosmetic.

    Then you have other stuff, such as loot that bosses drop in tough dungeons. Sure, these take time, as nobody really just walks into 10 or 25 man content for the first time and gets phat loot in an hour with pure skill. So these things take time. But they are more difficult. It takes more than time. It takes skill on the part of the leaders to overcome the social and organizational issues of getting a team focused. It takes skill on the part of each of the players to learn her role in the fight, and learn the style of the other players. Takes time and discipline, and also skill, and you're rewarded with functional rewards like stat-enhancing loot.

    The netherwing quests become no easier on the 28th day you do them than they were on the 1st day you did them, because they're really not skill based. Defeating bosses in instances does become easier as you repeat it, because there is more than just time involved, there's skill as well, and it improves with experience and better gear.

    I think you need to have a mix of the two in a game not just to appeal to a wide audience of players, but also to satisfy the different moods that any given player might be in at a point in time.