Fixing Online Gaming Idiocy: A Psychological Approach
April 2, 2008 Page 4 of 4
Multiplayer shooters often have "vote-kick" systems that allow the majority of players to kick an annoying player out of the game. While a good idea in principle, more often than not, the vote-kick system itself becomes a social annoyance rather than social boon.
Griefers often call votes to kick innocent people out of the game; or two players will get into a feud and will repeatedly call votes to kick the other player out. Often, no one is kicked because many people choose not to vote -- they don’t want to be judges, they just want to play.
Another example from Shadowrun is how we empowered the players in a game to protect themselves against griefers. Shadowrun's solution to these two social problems with vote-kick systems was to decrease vote calling in all but the most serious of situations (i.e., when the majority of players are likely to vote to kick). Two specific changes we made to the typical vote-kick system:
- We made calling a vote a risky behavior. Typically, voters have two choices: abstain or kick the target of the vote. The wrinkle we added was to give voters a third choice: kick the vote caller. This change meant that if a griefer called a random vote, there was a chance they themselves could end up out of the game.
- We stopped feuds at the
second vote. We changed the typical vote-kick system to understand
the concept of a feud. After one player calls a vote on another player,
the server considers the pair to be in a "feud" state.
If either of the feuding pair calls a vote against the other, the vote is handled differently than with non-feuding pairs -- instead of the possibility that neither feuder gets kicked, a vote between a feuding pair always results in one player getting kicked. This change meant that players learned to not to call a vote in a feud -- unless they're willing to leave the game session rather than continue playing with the other person.
These two changes to the typical vote-kick system resulted in a dramatically better social environment -- a majority of players could still get rid of annoying players, but griefers couldn't simply pervert the vote-kick system to become another means for griefing.
Furthermore, if two players got into a feud, the feud would end quickly (at the second vote), thus sparing the other players from having to tolerate the toxic environment of two players who are more intent on personal attacks than playing the game. Once bad blood happens, it's just best to separate the parties.
I gave these examples of social design -- of feature designed to enhance the social fun of playing multiplayer -- in order to point out that multiplayer gaming already has some social features and social design (not that they call it that).
But much more investment in social design is needed. Most of the features are targeted towards hardcore gamers and not toward creating a community that is welcoming to new players.
The games and gaming platforms that create satisfying social environments for non-hardcore players will reap the rewards of a larger and more loyal customer base. Again, much of the enviable success of WoW is attributable to Blizzard's ability to create a social environment that is friendly to newbs while catering to the hardcore. They've shown it is possible to do both.
You don't have to let fuckwadism hurt your multiplayer game’s popularity or sales. Social environments can be designed to minimize bad behavior. Social conflict is inevitable in online gaming -- but it doesn't have to be as frequent or severe as it is.
But if you don’t design the social environment, your game will probably end up feeling like most do right now -- like the lawless territories of the Wild West.
Despite our romantic imagery, it was the desperate, the poor, the misfits and criminals who went west; the majority of the people stayed back east where there were paved roads, doctors, nice restaurants and little chance of getting gunned down in what passes for a street. If we want multiplayer gaming to grow, we have to start designing the social environment(s) to appeal to people other than trash-talking, hardcore gamer.
Gaming is finally starting to broaden -- The Sims, WoW, the Wii, Harmonix, casual games, and more are introducing gaming to new kinds of people. But how many of those newbie gamers will be mocked instead of welcomed to their first multiplayer game? In your multiplayer game? Without careful social design, the answer is "almost all of them".
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