Pulling for Attention

A  year ago I wrote "Language is power in MMOs" (MMO Language as a Power-up).  Recently Ross Mayfield (Many2Many) extended this with ideas on Social Verbs.  He concludes a pull model of attention management is better than a push-based model as such would be based on interruptions that won't scale in social software.  Furthermore, asynchronous interaction empowers users with choice and ability to control their pace.  Kaye Vivian (Dove Lane, Nov. 23) suggests that social verbs provide low-risk means of exploring social contact.

Another thought here involves the value of protocol to establish the structure by which we can push back and take action while minimizing social risk (e.g. in turn-based systems, ref. Is Love and War Turn-based).  Dramatically, "Sorry, I really had to invade..."  Or more opportunistically, how the expectation of a "thank you" after a gift exposes another moment for conversation.

I also found myself the other night musing upon the "Need vs. Greed" dialog window in WoW...

This pop-up dialog interrupts.  In so doing, however, it establishes a process by which party members can gently assert their interest in treasure that comes the party's way.  Each and every member is asked whether they want the item at all.  If so they are asked if their want is driven by Need or Greed.  The golden rule for loot allocation is: "need before greed."

This dialog window - by way of its annoying claim to screen real-estate - compels an answer: players must choose.   It also provides a fig-leaf behind which the individual can assert their interest at the expense of others but without having to make strong claims to the group.  Push for pull.

It seems we need those spaces created by structure to minimize our risk (as individual) for action within the group.  Sometimes that /wave or /dance (in emote terms) may be just the break required to open up new contact.  More often not.  Yet because there were few risks (or costs), we /jump at it.


Comments on Pulling for Attention:

Chris Bateman says:

My first thought is, can I see a screenshot of the Need versus Greed dialogue box? This is an interesting take on the treasure allocation problem... I didn't think modern MUDs believed in asynchronous interactions.

I know, I should play World of Warcraft and check it for myself, but seriously, my time is short enough as it is - I'm not going to pay someone else a monthly fee to waste it for me. :)

If there's any chance you could add a screenshot to this post I'd be most grateful.

The trouble with pull models, I think, is that you have to advertise to the player to get their attention for every thing you wish them to pull at. A game literate player may be okay, but one with low game literacy needs a helping hand - and may not know how to ask for help. I believe they may need a certain amount of help to be pushed upon them.

Thanks,

Chris.

Posted Nov 24, 2005 7:44:48 AM | link

Capt_Poco says:

I don't know how to post screenshots, but the dialog box is actually quite simple, much simpler than most of WoW's interface.

It's a black box that contains a picture of the item (mouse over to see name/stats) a picture of a coin (mouse over to see word "Greed") and a picture of dice (mouse over to see word "Need"), as well as the small red X in the top right corner common to all Windows... windows. It doesn't explain what Need or Greed actually mean, if that's what you wanted to know. However, this is explained quite adequatly in the chat box, but most people tend not to look there. So, ya, a newbie probably won't get this attempt at "pull".
Also, the dialog box uses up a relatively small amount of real estate, but it is, as you said, quite annoying.

Many times, I struggled with the choice of Need/Greed/Close because the significance of each choice is entirely dependant on what everyone else does. For example, if everyone picked Close, then picking Need or Greed automatically gets you the item. But this is not true if, say, everyone picks Need. The question of Need/Greed is complicated because it not only asks you if you want the item or not, but at the same time, it asks if you want the item a little or a lot. Most game-choices are binary.

Posted Nov 24, 2005 9:45:19 PM | link

Chris Bateman says:

Thanks for the description - that answers all my questions. This is a definite curiousity. Treasure distribution is a long running problem in multi-player "dungeon bash" style RPGs, and I'm curious to see new solutions - and in particular, how those solutions are communicated to the player.

Posted Nov 25, 2005 4:05:16 AM | link

Sam Kelly says:

The 'need vs greed' mechanism seems to be almost the exact opposite of the one Guild Wars uses (not that I know whether they invented it, or where they got it from) which could be characterised as 'bind till pickup'. The game assigns each drop to a party member, and only they can pick it up, but they're then free to trade it or give it away as they like. Being mostly an antisocial player myself, I don't know offhand if it's a random assignment or not - but it does let the game make a gentle assertion, a social pull (prestructuring the discourse, if you'll excuse the jargon), and then allows the players to decide what happens.

Posted Nov 25, 2005 7:26:19 AM | link

Thabor says:


It may be relevant to note that the actual "rules" for need vs greed are considerably more complicated than expressed by the dialog.

In the case of bind of equip it works pretty much as described, with the side note that there are expectations on what constitutes a legitimate need. The item is still transferable if a mistake happens, so negative repercussions of a bad choice are minimal.

In the case of bind on pickup the social rules are more complicated. Everyone is expected to pass, and a more careful assessment of need is made, and then a manual roll takes place. If the item is still not useful to anyone it will often be disenchanted with everyone rolling on the resulting materials. Rolling on such an item using the normal system rules will generally get you branded as a "ninja" in WoW.

Some group will try to avoid the chance for intentional and accidental issues by switching to "master looter" for major bosses. Using need vs greed only for less significant rewards.

Posted Nov 26, 2005 1:28:15 PM | link

Jamie McCarthy says:

"Or more opportunistically, how the expectation of a 'thank you' after a gift exposes another moment for conversation."

I recall playing Return to Castle Wolfenstein multiplayer and being continually amused at how the game provides a way to say, in-game, "thank you" -- usually to a teammate for healing you or whatever. Not only that, but there is a separate key combination for "you're welcome."

This is in a first-person shooter, mind you, so there is rarely a moment when you can sit back and do nothing, and the social relationships are pretty simple (everyone on our side heals our side and shoots the other side). So the opportunity cost of saying "thank you"/"you're welcome" is never zero, and you would think the benefit is about as small as possible. But people said it anyway. I never got used to the German reply to "Danke" being, not "Bitte," but "You're velcome."

I wonder how many of the teenagers I was playing against said "thank you" in-game more than in real life. Do any of the social habits we acquire virtually carry over?

And yes, the need-vs-greed rules are *extremely* complicated, and spelling them out in full would take several paragraphs, or even pages. The exceptions have exceptions. At the highest levels of gameplay, taking an object in violation of the commonly understood rules, "ninjaing," is the most serious crime. Repeated ninjas will get the character you have invested months on shunned from the guilds and groups that are essential to most of the high-end gameplay. So high-level gameplay usually sidesteps the "need vs. greed" dialog, by picking a trusted Master Looter who is able to quickly decide who can bid to gain which items, and hand them out within seconds.

The entire need-vs-greed system is only necessary because Blizzard wants many of the most powerful items to only be obtainable by actual gameplay, not purchases from other players. That's a smart decision, but the consequences are highly complex. Note that the need-vs-greed dialog box came out as a code implementation of the "N or G" system that players had evolved and implemented using the in-game messaging system. The dialog box is a sidewalk built over the most popular path worn in the grass.

Posted Nov 29, 2005 10:19:35 AM | link