I recently started experimenting with Red Orchestra: Osfront 41-45, a first-person-shooter. There I wondered anew the old question of the meaning of heroism in online gaming experiences...
Joel Spolsky recently (re-)posted his perspective of software development management. See The Command and Control Management Method, The Econ 101 Management Method, and finally The Identity Management Method. There (Econ 101), he makes the following claim:
Extrinsic motivation is a motivation that comes from outside, like when you’re paid to achieve something specific.
Intrinsic motivation is much stronger than extrinsic motivation. People work much harder at things that they actually want to do. That’s not very controversial.
But when you offer people money to do things that they wanted to do, anyway, they suffer from something called the Overjustification Effect. “I must be writing bug-free code because I like the money I get for it,” they think, and the extrinsic motivation displaces the intrinsic motivation. Since extrinsic motivation is a much weaker effect, the net result is that you’ve actually reduced their desire to do a good job. When you stop paying the bonus, or when they decide they don’t care that much about the money, they no longer think that they care about bug free code.
Another big problem with Econ 101 management is the tendency for people to find local maxima. They’ll find some way to optimize for the specific thing you’re paying them, without actually achieving the thing you really want.
This may not seem novel, however, it bears mentioning here because of the reflection of ourselves within MMOGs. The grind may be (or not) praiseworthy, but it is also not hard to see how within the scaffolding of its reward system motivation is extrinsic to the backstory.
...to store and exchange computer-based mathematical models. CellML allows scientists to share models even if they are using different model-building software. It also enables them to reuse components from one model in another, thus accelerating model building.
Yes, this may seem a bit of modeling arcana relevant mostly to those in the biological sciences. But the larger point made by these sorts of efforts is in their intent to provide visibility and verifiability (via reuse) of the components of systems. To do so faciliates the sharing of meaning about that system. It is hard to extract insight into a simulation of the cardiovascular system, say, if you don't know or have much confidence in how the components are defined.
System = inspectable (and interchangable) components = shared meaning.
This is where the mainstream MMOG paradigm, in my opinion, has gone wrong. To a large extent it has learned the wrong lesson from Computer Games (CG).
By and large the single player CG seems more adept at insisting the player buy into the game world without having to reveal (much less confirm) the behaviors of the components of the system. In fact, we all understand and accept it is smoke and mirrors - scripted bots and what not. But because of a magic circle, or at least a circle of some sort, it seems to work often. Players seem to be more willing to try to believe. Perhaps they know that to be cynical will diminish the $39.99 investment of software they just made!
The MMOG game world experience, for the most part, is still smoke and mirrors. It is just that there are a lot of you and it is okay to not buy into anything at all except what you feel like doing -subject to the user agreement, and the constraints of whatever norms you think apply and those imposed by the Law of Code.
In other words, The Horde is (Not) Evil to noone in the same way or even at all. The lack of a convincing world system beyond an online social one staged against vast (and yes engaging) artwork seems to provide few hooks to intrinsically motivate players in terms of the intended world design (e.g. Role-Playing versus Meta-Gaming - auction house, griefing etc).
Thus, what places like Azeroth do is to extrinsically reward folks to participate by grinding. We are paid to kill trolls (in experience points, loot). Yet, it seems to me that (using Joel's words, above) - (s)ince extrinsic motivation is a much weaker effect... the extrinsic motivation displaces the intrinsic motivation. Does it follow that the reward diminishes the desire of players to kill trolls for any other purpose but for the reward?
A very long time ago we talked about heroism in virtual worlds (Where are the Heroes). One conclusion seemed that a world where everyone believes (and expects) they can grind their way into a 'hero' is a poor simulation of a heroic process. Interestingly, first person shooters seem to be able to provide (IMO) richer 'heroic' moments. It is just that one needs to endure a longer train of missteps to reach them. [BTW, I apologize for use of quotes and 'simulated' disclaimers around heroism here, but as I explained in The Fallacy of War - I have my reasons]. As I describe somewhere else my recent Red Orchestra Osfront experience:
[Red Orchestra's] ‘resource pool’ model is interesting in that it seemed after a while as if they have designed for a smaller number of real players to effectively play over the course of a battle a larger number of nominal/virtual characters. This then dovetails into that old bane (IMO) of arena FPSing – the subject of casualties and how easy it is to distracted by the constant requirement to spawn.
On the other hand there were a handful of incredible (did I say awesome?) moments in the evening whose pattern would entail unexpectedly surviving a long time holed up in a hedge, running out of ammo as swarms of enemy infantry swirled about, finding a panzerfaust, then an incredible shot at the closing moments – [talk about a] tank boom.
A statistical view towards simulated heroics, perhaps.
The interesting quality about a statistical view towards heroics in online games - for all its other faults in terms of player goals and entertainment - is that it may provide a more intrinsic framework for motivating players to engage the world (in this case PvP). As Will Rogers once wrote - “we can't all be heroes, because somebody has to sit on the curb and applaud when they go by.”
Perhaps in online spaces we can, but we just have to take turns and endure the long half-hours first for those brief moments.