Saturday, August 16, 2008

Baseless Speculation: Will Warhammer Reward Bad Behavior?

I've tried to resist the urge to comment on Warhammer as much as possible as the game is still in beta, the NDA still in force (with the one month mark on the game's retail launch looming, and many pre-order customers set to be admitted into the beta in the next week or so), etc. There was a tidbit in Massively's authorized pre-NDA-drop coverage, however, that has me concerned.

Reflecting on WoW's Honor System
As I discussed last week, WoW places the incentives for its PVP system in the wrong place. The goal of any given battleground is for the team to win, which generally requires capturing and defending strategic destinations. The problem is that the very same honor points that you get for winning the battleground are ALSO available for being alive and present for honorable kills (HK's) of enemy players. Now sure, it's nice to get the honor bonus for winning, but it's even better to be where the action is during a battle your side eventually wins so that you get BOTH the bonus honor points AND the HK honor points.

The system still work in an organized group of your friends, where you've got camaraderie with your teammates, confidence that your strategy will be rewarded with victory (or at least that your guildies will kick you out of the group if you won't follow orders), and security knowing that you're eventually going to get a turn on the front lines to soak up the extra honor. For those of us not lucky enough to be in a guild that likes to PVP, however, the only alternative is the dreaded "pick up group" (PUG).

Unfortunately, your typical PUG tends to fare pretty poorly in battle. The problem isn't hard to identify; if you watch the battleground chat, you will see a lot of complaints that the team isn't defending various locations that need to be defended. The people making these complaints typically are NOT actually guarding some remote but essential location to make sure that any lone enemy that wanders by can't seize it unmolested. Instead, they're running around following the action in order to soak up the HK honor. But they feel very adamant that somebody (who isn't them) should be doing this job for the good of the team.

In short, the system rewards players for behavior that isn't in the team's best interest. And, shockingly, people do what's in their best interest rather than sacrificing their best interest for the good of a team of strangers. Losing because you lost can be hard, but losing because most of your team wasn't even making an effort to win is very frustrating.

Is Warhammer's Public Quest System Walking The Same Road?
Warhammer has a much touted "public quest" system that is intended to encourage players to team up. Massively has been writing up some examples; in one typical quest, there's an initial stage where players have to kill 30 soloable mobs, followed by a second stage where players have to kill 15 mobs that are hard to solo, and finally a third stage with a boss that is intended to require a group. Unlike a traditional quest, you don't get an entry in your quest log etc, you simply pitch in when you're in the area and your chances of obtaining loot when the dust settles are based on how much you contributed to the victory. It's not exactly like a WoW battleground (for example, battlegrounds are instanced), but there are parallels; your success is ultimately going to depend on the cooperation and competence of others.

And here's where I get very very worried. In a writeup of the Archmage class, Massively offers the following advice to players:
"You see, in PQ's you get rewarded at the end of it based on how much you contributed. As an Archmage with instacast DoTs, you are going to be on the top of the charts. Just drop a DoT (or two) on every single mob in the PQ area. If there are enough people there, all mobs will die too quickly to even take a swipe at you. With your ability to DoT multiple mobs, your total damage output for the PQ will at or near the top."

Yes, that's correct, they just advised players to throw a bunch of damage over time effects on a greater number of mobs than they could possibly handle in order to leech damage contribution from the players who actually kill those mobs. This is almost certainly not in the team's interest in terms of everyone beating the public quest. It is, however, in the best interest of the individual player who is running around slapping DoT's on everything and reaping the rewards. If this is actually the case, you can bet that players will do it.

Will this bring down the Public Quest system?
It's hard to say. Warhammer's NDA is still in place due to one major issue that the devs believe they can fix in the immediate future. Massively's information could be out of date. It's also possible that social consequences may be able to rein in player behavior; WoW battlegrounds are pretty anonymous (most of your teammates may not even play on your server, a change instituted to reduce queue times, and it's not like you can keep unhelpful players from appearing in your next PUG match), but there are potentially more times in a heavily PVP game in which getting a bad reputation for leeching public quest rewards might burn players down the road. (Whether would-be offenders will realize this BEFORE they do it is a separate question.)

Either way, I'm very concerned to see the incentives in a place that may end up repeating WoW's mistakes. Public Quests are a major feature of Warhammer (/random argues that they will play a major role in building faction community), and I would hate to see them fail.


Larísa said...

I'm such a PvP noob that I didn't realize that people are "soaking up" hp by ignoring tactics and killing whoever they like.

This idea is totally new to me. I'm so naïve...

arbitrary said...

Yeah, it's a shame we can't yet comment on how contribution works and whether Massively is right.

Let's hope in general people play more to help the group!

Green Armadillo said...

@ Larisa: Well, in fairness, some people also don't have the attention span to guard a capping flag for four minutes, even it it is the difference between victory and defeat. But it's bad design that the players who DO stay to defend the flag also get less honor.

@Arbitrary: Yes, that's exactly why there shouldn't still be an NDA on this game a month out from its launch. As to hoping for good behavior, well, I'm less optimistic. People will generally do what the devs provided the best rewards for. This might not be something you're experiencing in beta either, generally players will spend more effort to advance characters that they actually get to keep, and beta/test realms rarely manage to capture the same spirit.

Anonymous said...

So the Archmage dotting the enemy is "leeching", but you who are beating on it are not?


Anonymous said...

So the Archmage dotting the enemy is "leeching", but you who are beating on it are not?


Green Armadillo said...

@Anonymous: That's a fair question, so consider the following two scenarios.

A: There are two players and two mobs. Each player kills a single mob without interfering with the other. The public quest ends. Each player "contributed" equally and has an equal chance at the reward loot.

B: Again, two mobs and two players, but this time the Archmage waits until the second player attacks one of the mobs and then puts a DOT on the other player's mob. The Archmage then proceeds to kill the other mob. When the public quest ends, the Archmage has done more total damage and therefore has better odds at the roll for loot. However, the other player did not require the help to kill their mob, and undertook most of the risk involved (since they were the one being attacked).

Further, consider scenario C, officially endorsed by Massively (though, again, this may or may not be reflective of how PQ's will work when the game launches due to changes in Beta), in which there are lots of players, lots of mobs, and the Archmage tops all the players by "helpfully" dotting all the mobs in sight but never has to tank any of them. Should the Archmage receive the best shot at the rewards in this situation?

You'll note that I carefully avoided using the word "unfair" in the above comment. The other players also have the opportunity to jump in and damage a mob someone else (including the Archmage) is tanking. If the Archmage in question is making a habit of doing this, the other players might be able to manage their aggro/detaunts in such a way that encourages all the mobs to go kill the greedy mage. My point in bringing this up in the first place was that the game should structure the incentives in such a way that we don't have to deliberately help the mobs kill our supposed teammates to stop their antisocial behavior.

Of course, it remains possible that Massively simply misunderstood something about how the system works in the first place, we can't know for sure until the NDA comes down.

Richard said...

Also consider option d) The second player uses an aggro dump ability on the mob, it runs off and starts beating on the Archmage who is now in serious trouble. He dies, the second player finishes off two damaged mobs and gets more contribution.

Now scale that to an Archmage dotting a dozen mobs, the chances that more than a few players will try to drop aggro is pretty decent... bye bye Archmage. I don't think the problem will be terribly prevalent at all tbh, but i'm not in the Beta so who knows if I'm right or not.

Morrigdu said...

Hey hey,

Being in beta and uncertain about the current NDA status, I don't want to say too much either. But...

I don't think it's a systemic problem with public questing or pvp per se, but that there's no system you can put in place that will mitigate poor behavior by people reveling in online anonymity.

I do think it will have an effect upon later game issues (rvr specifically) as online communities are usually rather good at self-policing jerks.

We'll have to see, betas usually have a much more mature player base. The jack-a-napes come along at release.

Anonymous said...

I sort of agree with this, but not for the reason you stated. I've done the DoT everyone thing, along with lots of healing in later phases on a zealot, and it does work -- but at least later on, I was contributing via healing which is a team effort. My understanding is that threat, damage, and healing all get factored into the calculation, and I've seen tanks, dps, and healers all top the contribution charts.

Regardless, my concern is that several public quests go along the lines of "Kill 20 mobs," "Get 15 items," "Kill boss." In the second phase, it takes a few seconds to claim an item, and if you're attacked during that time, then you're interrupted. There are also several champion mobs (similar to elites in WoW) that spawn at that time. As a tank, I feel I need to help take on the mobs, rather than run around claiming the items. Regardless, instead of helping me, I'll see people grab items right next to me, and then scurry off to get another one, rather than help kill the champions. I honestly don't know if claiming them factors into contribution or just grants influence (similar to reputation in WoW), but it's very annoying nonetheless.

slashrandom said...

I played an archmage quite a bit in beta. If the type of scenario you're describing was true (mobs dying so fast that they don't have time to get angry at you), your DoTs aren't actually doing all that much damage. If your dots do count down all the way through their cooldown, the mob is probably going to be on you.

Also, in the tougher portions of PQ's (second and third stage), you better be healing, or your tanks are going to die, and then you're going to die.

Still, it is something to watch. If not the Archmage, than perhaps other classes. There may be ways to beat the system, but there's also a lot of incentive to work together, especially in the second and third stages.

And honestly, in the first stage, which is usually killing a large number of equal strength non-elite mobs, everyone has the ability to do damage, and there are so many mobs to fight that there's time for damage to balance out.

I also agree with Richard; if you find someone tagging mobs and leaving you alone with them, switch mobs and let the Archmage take 'em on their own. It'd be pretty easy to circumvent that kind of stuff.

Time will tell, though!

Green Armadillo said...

Keen just wrote up his Shaman Impressions (if anyone reading this doesn't know, the Shaman and Archmage are carbon copies of each other on the opposite factions) and some folks in the comments there reported that they were able to get respectable spots on BOTH the damage and healing meters by throwing around DoT's. Whether this becomes an issue when the game launches is a separate question; you might be looking at a substantially different playerbase than the current beta crowd.

Also, you (Richard and /random) may be taking this post a little bit literally. The broader question I'm interested in here is whether the game is rewarding players for doing things they should be doing and not rewarding players for doing things they should not be doing.

For example, does buffing/debuffing/cleansing get you any credit, or is it a raw DPS/HPS number? If groups are really far more likely to need healing than DPS contributions, does the game weight healing more highly than DPS when determining the rankings to encourage that, or does it expect healers to accept a lower contribution score than they're capable of earning on their own for the good of the "team"? (If you need to start handing out separate top rewards to the best tank, DPS, and healer in each PQ then maybe that's what has to happen.)

The point is that rewards should encourage "good" behavior (however we're defining that) because players will do whatever they're being rewarded for first and foremost.