Monday, October 27, 2008

Could Incentives have Saved the Zombie Plague?

What's going on?
It's pretty hard to miss commentary about WoW's zombie plague invasion. Here are a few of the ones I've read:

- Lume the Mad summarizes the event's griefing potential and discusses the issue of zombie-attacking ones' own guildmates.

- The Big Bear Butt blog liked the rest of the event, but wishes Blizzard hadn't given asshats such ability to force participation.

- Syp discusses whether some broken eggs are the price of innovative world content (and gets an earful of various opinions, including from yours truly, in the comments).

- Scott Jennings, the OTHER "Lum the Mad", points out that the problems should have been predictable, that the Blizzard PR response to the controversy failed (yeesh, they're doing that a lot lately), and offers a quip about the event's early ending.

- Rohan sees the ironic role reversal in a situation where people complained about being cleansed.

- Relmstein was moving this weekend, and missed all the fireworks.

What do I have to contribute to this discussion?
- Personally, I found the event amusing when it was a 10 minute timer. I'd even infect some NPC's if I got zombie'ed, figuring it was good sportsmanship. The point at which it stopped being entertaining was the point at which players started camping the zone in points to major cities, such that you'd be turned into a zombie with a repair bill and a corpse run in your future before you finished zoning in.

- As I said at Syp's place, I was shocked at how heavily the reaction seemed to be against the event. The forums will ALWAYS complain, but usually the "silent majority" that doesn't read forums has better things to do with their time in-game than to gripe. Maybe they were too busy waiting for their crucial NPC's to respawn, but I saw a LOT of in-game reaction, and it was 75% negative, even excluding public channels.

- Speaking of non-public channels, my guild no longer has a website because the officer who used to host it apparently had a disagreement with the management on whether the guild should tolerate members who approve of deliberately killing a guildmate who was trying to avoid the event, inflicting a repair bill and corpse run on them, simply because it was permissible in-game as part of the event. (I don't know that /gquiting and taking down the website represents a proportional response to this issue - in fairness, I've been with this guild for a matter of hours, so I probably shouldn't talk - but he does have a bit of a point. Ninja looting is permitted by the game, and many guilds won't tolerate members who ninja from OTHER people, much less guildies.)

- Tigole swears that they weren't changing the schedule due to "whiners", but I don't buy it. The quest in which players deliver the cure to the plague was live for less than 20 hours (starting late Sun evening) before the plague abruptly came to an end in the middle of the workday. For an event driven on player involvement, you'd think they would have let players actually see that there was a quest before pulling it down, especially since it doesn't appear that they've rolled out the next phase of the world event yet to replace the zombies.

- As always, Lore is crucially important when some Dwarf player wants to be a mage but the lore says that the Dwarves of Ironforge have forsworn arcane magic, but completely dispensable when Blizzard wants to base an event around a plague that no force on Azeroth is able to cure, only to have players dispelling it left and right and respawning as mortals after being killed as a zombie.

Some of which may be amusing, but I know the REAL question you're all reading PVD for is whether a better incentive structure could have helped make this event less of a mess. Well, I'll spare the suspense (as if the answer isn't obvious, given all the other posts on the blog) and say yes - the incentives favored griefing, and so griefing is what we got. Let's break down the two sides.

Why Fight Against the Zombies?
- Role Playing
- Self defense (though, really, the best defense was to leave the area with zombies)
- Competition with a player-run threat
- Feeling good about helping others

Also, one discentive: non-zombies have repair bills. Supposedly zombies didn't benefit from gear, and thus voluntary zombies could go naked to save on costs.

Why Fight For the Zombies?
- Role Playing
- Competition with other players
- Novelty (new skills to try out, plus who hasn't wanted to kill some annoying NPC/player of your own faction at some point?)
- Feeling good about disrupting others' play (i.e. griefing)

How does it add up?
Well, the role playing and competition sides of things essentially balance out. Perhaps early on in the event the altruistic side did win out. After all, it was a lengthy timer, with plenty of time to cure people, so even a single healer might be able to ride to the rescue of a small town. Once the timers got down to a minute (further shortened if a zombie hit you, sorry if you're a melee class and you thought you were going to fight zombies), however, the tide was pretty inexorable. The non-zombies lost most of their NPC healers, while the zombies were able to turn NPC after NPC to their cause. It didn't matter how tough the NPC's were, only that each one caused the mob to turn everything else in their path even faster.

So, the only real incentive to stand and fight got less and less significant as the event on, while the griefing potential increased with increasing numbers. Where did I spend the last night of the event? Farming low level instances for achievements.

How could the incentives have been better?
Personally, I think there is a distinction between players killing important NPC's and players killing un-flagged players on a PVE server. That said, the situation might not have been nearly as bad if there was actually an incentive to fight against the zombies (or for them for that matter). If there was actually something tangible in it for players, we might have gotten the event Blizzard wanted instead of the event almost everyone hated. It's sad, because it was technically well executed, the event just suffered from some combination of lack of testing and the equal lack of incentives.


  1. Especially with the advent of the Achievement system, rewards could have easily been dished out. "Kill 50/250/500 Plague Zombies" and "50/250/500 kills as a Plague Zombie" would have meant a lot of farming and a little exploiting, but with a zombie minipet and a knight's mount or something at the end of it, I bet a lot of people would have been more inclined to participate.

  2. That's actaully a great idea. An achievement for kills of players that would award honor would have single-handedly turned the event into an opt-in of sorts, since it would encourage the zombies to go find high level players willing to stand and fight. There are still some quirks (notably the need to offer melee characters some protection from being instantly plagued) to work out, but that's a lot easier if you're starting from a system that's focused in the right direction.

  3. My main comlaint was the high level nature of the event griefing low level characters. My bank alt is parked in darnassus and was killed 5+ times in a single hit. If they ignored grey people automatically I would have been a lot happier.

  4. Yeah I really didn't think about giving minipets or achievements for participating during the Zombie. Put some checks in there like you won't get credit if you killed a grey level zombie and vice versa.

    zombie mini pet wtb!


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