Blake Shelton, Atlantic City, Free-To-Play Gaming, and What They All Have To Do With Each Other

Neverwinter, auction house, Free-To-Play

A big warning to all of you out there: MMO Free-To-Play monetary tactics have left the gaming space.

“Well, duh,” I hear a few of you saying (those of you who still say ‘duh‘… people still say ‘duh‘, right?). New psychological tactics to separate people from their money are being developed all the time. When one part of the business world happens upon a strategy that works it’s only natural that it will be picked up and modified for others. Very true, but rarely do you see it done in so spectacular a fashion as happened recently on the Atlantic City beach.

On July 31st, 2014, Blake Shelton, one of the reality-show judges on “The Voice” and a decorated country music singer, performed a concert in Atlantic City, New Jersey free to any passer-by and those lucky enough to grab complimentary passes. The concert was held on the beach near the The Piers at Caesars, a large shopping complex on a pier extending out into the Atlantic Ocean, and presented by the Atlantic City Alliance and it’s “Do AC” promotional campaign. In other words, free concerts with big names to draw people to come down to Atlantic City. Jimmy Buffet had a concert last year and  Lady Antebellum just performed this past Sunday. Good music, ocean backdrop, a cool drink. Good stuff.

For the 60,000 attending, though, good luck on the “free” part. This show was far from “free”. In fact, it very heavily resembles the “free” we see in Free-To-Play games. Sure, listening to the music is free, but if you want anything else, and we mean anything, you will pay for it and at levels taking your “free” music price tag into account.

The news reports for this show are extensive, but lets be real. Blake wasn’t doing this out of the kindness of his heart, he was being paid. Well. Without ticket sales to back up the initial cost, how did they make the money? Why, on literally everything else they could.

A coworker of mine whose relative attended the concert came back and told her all about it. When she relayed the story onto us, I asked her to clarify some specific details on what some of these other prices were.

Get this.

  • Parking: Anywhere from $50 per car to as high as $75 were seen.
  • A 10 oz bottle of water: $8.
  • 10 hot chicken wings: $22.

Parking usually: $5-$10 at most during peak season, off times you can find it free. I was also told that the vendors that were selling these high-price wares were vendors specifically brought in by Atlantic City and they positioned themselves between the huge crowd and the struggling Atlantic City Boardwalk vendors. This is just an example of some of the prices, but I heard they all were around the same level of up-charge.

Star Trek Online, lockboxes, Free-To-Play

Lockboxes. One of the biggest money makers for Free-To-Play MMOs… similar to gambling.

Now before you get all huffy and throw around the word “entitlement”, yes, we all get it. Nothing in this world is free. Everything comes at a cost. And there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s the backbone of a mixed market capitalist economy. Believe me, Blake Shelton got paid, Atlantic City got paid, Live Nation got paid, and at the expense of the audience, as it’s supposed to be. Sidenote: If anything, Atlantic City is the real jerk here in bringing in their own vendors instead of helping the struggling boardwalk vendors…. but that’s beside the point.

MMO Gamers, though, we’ve seen this for years. The Free-To-Play vs. Subscription vs. Buy-To-Play fight is everlasting. Is it better to be let into a game for free only to then be subjected to a possibly exploitative cash shop, or to pay a blind up-front cost and recurring fee to enjoy a “buffet” style of game, or a combination of both? They all make money and have their good and bad points, certainly.

Just like in gaming, though, the only person seeing this concert for “free” is the person who really went out of their way and inconvenienced themselves to do so. They parked really far away, probably in one of the not-so-safe areas of AC and they didn’t partake of any refreshments while they viewed the concert. In other words, they paid for their convenience in other ways. The same exact way FTP games will often trade convenience for real money, after letting you in for free.

Free-To-Play, Lord of the Rings Online

On the other side, here’s a concert *inside* an MMO.

In my opinion, the best Free-To-Play games are the ones that will offer a fun experience and entice you to open your wallet for fun extras, instead of hinder you by putting up pay walls. It’s a fine tightrope, though, between entice and force, and I’m not sure we’ve seen it walked perfectly yet. It’s certainly a slippery slope leading down into exploitative territory.

So $22 for hot wings and $50-$75 for parking? I’m sorry, Atlantic City. If you were a Free-To-Play game, I’d consider you leaning heavily on the exploitative side of the equation.

// Ocho

P.S. – I do find it funny, though, that not long ago I posted about the tricks casinos use to get your money and Free-To-Play MMOs using very similar tactics. It was only a matter of time before the tricks came back around.

Spoilers, and Why They Affect Us The Way They Do

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Spoilers. They’re everywhere. It feels like you can’t avoid them, and society won’t really let you. Not unless you want to remove yourself from society. Is that right, though? I mean, why do we care so much about a simple TV show’s plot, and how did we get to the point where they have become such a polarizing issue? Some people will defend their want to post spoilers till the end, saying stuff like “Well, it’s been long enough. I shouldn’t have to wait to post spoilers!” and “Well, if you don’t like it, maybe you shouldn’t read it.” I think it’s larger that that, though, an issue that delves into how society has evolved and adapted with changes in media and social media, and how we’re still clinging onto the past.

How It Use To Be

The want to schedule my time around the airing of a TV show always felt alien. I grew up without TV being a central focus in our household. I did have a few favorites, though, like Friends or The Simpsons. When it was on, though, if you missed an episode, you were out of luck. Reading about it and discussing it with friends was pretty much the only way to catch up. It was that or wait months for re-runs. If someone told you about what went on that you missed, they were being helpful and doing you a service.

Today is a whole different story, though. The internet and video streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. make it so that it’s not possible to miss anything unless you want to. If you miss a show, if you miss an episode, it’s remarkably easy to catch up on your own time. Even if that time is a couple months later with the DVD releases, or catching up on an entire show after it has long been off the air (I’m looking at you Twin Peaks… I will watch you yet).

That want to discuss it, though, that want to share the experience is still there. It always will be. It’s human nature to want to belong to social groups and prove we are members of said group by adhering to the social mores, in this case sharing plot points of TV shows and movies. We think it helps the person we are telling, and it makes us look good. If we hold TV and these programs as a part of our cultural identity, then we will discuss it with anyone who we thought was interested.

It’s Not How It Use To Be

Social media is the equivalence of standing on a soapbox, shouting to yourself, and hoping other people join in.

Times have changed. Communication has changed. Social media has exploded, and so instead of telling one person, we can tell everyone simultaneously. Multiple birds, one stone. It’s efficient, which is why people have flocked to it. You can send a message out to hundreds or thousands of people with a single click. But as the hackneyed saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

It’s too easy to make it known to all that we are huge fans of the latest TV shows, that we follow the zeitgeist, that we should be admired because after watching an episode we now know information that is socially valuable. However, it is only valuable for a limited time. So therefore, in order to prove our social worth, we must share that information to all as soon as possible! This drive to prove we belong is very strong. Our social circles are a significant part of our identities, after all.

But that information isn’t really that valuable anymore. As I explained above, it use to be before digital media. How we digest entertainment has changed from being communal to being personal. If I miss an episode, due to life, I can catch up at any time. I didn’t really miss anything. Those plot twists the latest show held is only truly valuable, then, to the person holding it. Those who want to be vested in a show or movie simply will be. Those who don’t, they don’t really care that you happen to love, say, Big Bang Theory, and want to tell of the latest “geeky” thing Sheldon did. But that doesn’t mean they won’t care in the future. Information these days is sought out personally. If I wanted to know what happened on the last episode of Walking Dead, I can find out very easily on my own. Review sites exist for a reason.

Social Belonging

That drive to prove social belonging, though, still very much exists. And mixed with social media just makes it too tempting to restrain oneself. People who are more susceptible to prove their value, then, won’t think twice and will shout spoilers from the rooftops, to inform the world. Only now it’s to an audience that doesn’t really want to hear it, and might feel angered that these spoilers are being forced upon them.

It’s turned 100% around from being a valuable service to being a selfish one. Who really enjoys these spoilers? The person saying them obviously doesn’t mind them, but their target audience is for those that most likely already know it. Other members of the TV show’s social group, they’re trying to preach to the choir. They’re saying it to prove that they are followers, too.  However, they’re simultaneously telling those who don’t care or really don’t want to hear it. To those outside their social group, well, who cares about them?

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Those Who Don’t Want To Be Spoiled

And so what of the feelings of others? So what if someone who may want to watch this show on their own time and schedule, as modern technology now allows, so what if I tell them everything that happens in the show ahead of time? These people are not part of the social group. Who cares what they think? They shouldn’t care in the first place.

These people are the people we call friends any other day of the week. These are the people we allow into our private lives, and then, what, we disrespect them? That is how it feels. Posting spoilers shows someone’s colors, that they care so much about their social standing they don’t really care who is affected, which then forces the spoiler’s followers to make a choice. Do we keep listening to this person, whom we call friend, despite the affront, or do we stop listening to prevent the possible spoiling of something we may want to enjoy? It’s terrible we even have to make the choice at all.

However, We Might Enjoy Being Spoiled

This is a valid point. Why do we care or not if our entertainment is spoiled ahead of time? In the long run, it’s not that important. Aren’t there plenty of people who turn to the last page in a novel first? Heck, one of the big issues I have with MMOs nowadays is just this. In order to be a “good group member”, you must have already read up and watched the videos on every fight and encounter ahead of time. It’s expected.

A study conducted by the University of California, San Diego suggests that we do indeed enjoy a story more when the twists are revealed to us ahead of time. According to their studies, which took 30 people and measured their enjoyment after reading 12 spoiled/unspoiled short stories, it was found that participants across the board enjoyed a story more when the ending was told to them first, whether mystery, “ironic-twist”, or literary stories.

Their conclusion was that the plot of a story is, simply, overrated. That we read stories for a lot more than just what happens. Also, it’s just mentally easier to process.

“that once you know how it turns out, it’s cognitively easier – you’re more comfortable processing the information – and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story.”

So, easier to process, and we get to enjoy other aspects besides the plot. I can see this. It’s like if you go to the latest Marvel movies. Do you really expect the bad guys to win and Iron Man to lose? No, of course not. You already know what is going to happen, the experience is in how Stark wins. It also explains why book-to-movie conversions are so successful. A lot of people have already read the books, they want to see the visual translation on the big screen.

Or… Maybe Not. Anticipation and Suspension of Disbelief Count, Too.

But others have pointed out some major flaws in the study. Namely, that these weren’t stories that anyone was particularly vested in in the first place. They had just been told that they would be reading these short stories that day. If anything, the study just proves that this is the case with only short stories you didn’t know you were reading ahead of time.

Other avenues suggest to going to the root of why we enjoy stories in the first place. As this Atlantic article suggests, it basically comes down to the suspension of disbelief and how much we enjoy suspending it. We want to feel like we are with those characters, like we are a part of that world, and a part of us is viscerally there. So spoilers really kill our buzz, then. They remind us that a story really is just a story.

Also, it kills the anticipation of enjoyment. And don’t tell me that you don’t like anticipation. Don’t tell me that you’ll make months worth of plans for your vacation, and then literally count down the days or hours until it happens. That you’ll make reservations long in advance to a fantastic restaurant an then pour over the menu online. Of course we like anticipation! That’s why the first kiss means something. Sure, the 200th kiss means something, too, but it’s not held on such a high pedestal as the first. If someone comes along and spoils our anticipation, we feel cheated!

A Statute of Limitations on Spoilers

So how long does one have to wait, then, to post spoilers? What is socially acceptable? This post suggests that they can start being discussed almost immediately after. However, the post seems to be aimed specifically at authors writing articles and headlines, not to individual conversations or mass posts. I can see that. It’s really easy to ignore an article spoiling a show if you don’t want to be spoiled. Simply, don’t read it. They are considerate enough to give you that choice, so the time period doesn’t have to be that long.

But what about a movie like Citizen Kane? *SPOILER ALERT* The sled is named Rosebud. I’ve never seen the movie, though, but I know this. That plot twist is a part of our collective consciousness over time and has been rehashed time and again. The Titanic? It sinks. Darth Vader? Luke’s father. I can go on. These aren’t spoilers anymore… or are they?

How much do I want to watch Citizen Kane now? Well, it’s Orson Welles first feature film and is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time. I would absolutely still watch it, even knowing the twist. But, I won’t lie, still knowing it possibly kills some of the potential enjoyment, and I can’t say how much enjoyment was lost. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. Either way, knowing some enjoyment was lost makes me less likely to pick it up. I’d pick it up for every other reason than the plot, but I like plot. Plot is one of my favorite things!

Another article a friend of mine wrote posits simply, there is no statute of limitations. None, and I happen to agree with a lot of his points. Who is it that determines, about someone else’s personal entertainment, when it is finally okay to ruin a story for them? Game of Thrones is going to be around for a LONG time, both the books and the TV shows. What, really, is the rush? Why is it so important to watch it the second that it airs, and why am I then considered deserving of spoilers if I don’t? People work. We have lives. Commitments. Other hobbies. If I want to watch it 10 years from now, who are you to make the choice to spoil any of it for me? Whether to spoil or not should be a personal choice and not be forced upon you.

Spoiler Alert Banner

Avoiding All Media

I hear one of the greatest arguments for pro-spoiling is simply that if you don’t want to be spoiled, just avoid social media. Really. That’s the best argument? In this age of social media, the main argument to avoid spoilers is to avoid social media completely. Can we talk about how lame of a sentiment that is?

If you don’t want to hear me, maybe you should stop listening. … Right.

Maybe you should care less about what I have to say. … Really?

By coming on social media, you’re just asking to be spoiled. … Wow.

I was even told something like this a few days ago in a discussion I was having about spoilers. It was a group of friends who always change their profile picture to the latest character who died on Game of Thrones. I called them out on it, and got the reply:

“Mike, you have to have been paying attention to my profile pictures and the show to be spoilered…” 

This harkens back to my main points above. Why do I have to be paying attention to the show? I may in the future decide that I really want to watch it. The media isn’t going anywhere and I’m not actively searching out sites that tell me anything about the latest storylines, just in case I may want to.

Then paying attention to my friends profile pictures? That’s one of the major parts of social media! The images that you use to represent yourself digitally to the world. You post it to your social media, and then expect those who are your friends… to just not pay attention? To just un-see what you’ve already shown them?

As I said, I grew up without cable television and I’ve lived my whole life without it, but I am definitely a creature of the computer age. As such, social media is important to me. I have embraced it fully, having a Facebook account, Twitter, and many other smaller networks and online social groups. So, if I want to avoid being spoiled, I should give up a large part of my own social identity? Sacrifice my own life on the off chance you feel like talking about your favorite shows? Not happening. If social media was such a fringe element to the social spectrum, it might be easy to avoid, but this is a new age and it’s not a small part anymore.

No, I’m sorry. The answer isn’t to avoid social media entirely. It’s sadly to hide or unfollow those individuals who feel the need to spoil. As I said above, it’s terrible that this choice would have to be made at all, as these are our friends, but it’s much easier to avoid one person than avoid social media entirely.

Spoiler Alert!

But what else can someone wanting to post spoilers really do? How about, simply, think before you post! Think about what effect your post may have on others, and if you think it may possibly affect them negatively, either post a warning or maybe not post it at all. I have seen plenty of people posting their “reviews” of just-seen movies, but most are generally very aware of the possible spoilings and make a note of that. It helps them look good as they can still show belonging to the social group, but then it also shows that they care about those around them and know that not everyone wants to see it. Best of both worlds, really.  I have skipped many a post or article due to these warnings, and I’m appreciative that they’re there.

So, What Are We To Do About Spoilers?

I try to be happy person, I really do. In the end, it’s never about the individual spoil itself. It could be a character death, it could be a huge plot twist, the ending of Lost, or the Sopranos, a Harry Potter book, or even your favorite Broadway play.

But I’m just going to come out and say this: If you post spoilers, without giving others the option to avoid them, if you essentially force them upon others, with the only choice being to avoid you entirely… Stop.

It’s inconsiderate, socially unacceptable, and just rude.

The age old saying truly comes into play. Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. If you don’t want to have your favorite shows, movies, or games ruined, then maybe you shouldn’t ruin them for others.

But hey, we all aren’t perfect. I use to *be* a spoiler, and didn’t realize the damage I was doing until *I* was called out on it. Posting spoilers, unless it’s purposeful and malicious, is a minor offense at best. If these people are truly your friends, it’s very easy to forgive and forget. Live and learn.

As always, thank you for reading.

// Ocho

Twitch Plays Pokemon: A Social Experiment

Pokemon, Twitch Plays Pokemon

Do you want to look into the eye of madness? See the inextricable fabric of humanity’s desires mashed together into a never ending stream of consciousness? If so, then you need to head on over to Twitch and start watching Twitch Plays Pokemon right now.

Twitch Plays Pokemon is a social experiment that has absolutely fascinated me over the past couple days. In a nutshell, it’s a stream of an emulation of the Gameboy version of Pokemon Red that is being played by the entire viewing community. According to the page’s FAQ, an IRC bot translates the community’s chat into keyboard commands, and performs them in real time to the best of the emulator’s ability. Watching right now there are currently ~85000 viewers, and many of them are participating simultaneously in a glorious cacophony of text .

As my Twitter compatriot @Dunny0 so aptly pointed out, the concept of this experiment seems to be based on the infinite monkey theorum. An infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters with infinite time will eventually create the complete works of William Shakespeare… or something like that. Out of chaos, order. This seems to be rooted in a similar theory but Pokemon is, at it’s core, a very linear game. So there is a path that the community must tread in order to make progress.

Well, against all common sense and odds, progress is definitely being made.

Twitch Plays Pokemon, Pokemon

Red was trapped in the corner by the NPC girl talking about Revives for about 7 minutes. To attempt making the situation less awkward, Red ended up buying 2 Great Balls.

Even though the times I have played Pokemon I can’t get past the second or third badge without getting bored, the Twitch community has already progressed farther than I ever have and have achieved, at the time of this writing, FOUR BADGES!! FOUR!!!

What is this… I can’t even… FOUR?!!!

How” is the immediate question that comes to mind, and the only answer I can really give is “guided chaos“. Every entry, if the emulator acknowledges it, is completed. Menus open and close instantly, items are moved around at random. Pokemons have names like “CCC” (sadly, CCC, the Hitmonlee received from the Saffron City Fighting Dojo, was accidentally released into the wild the first time Red stepped up to get it out of PC storage), other names like “AAJST (????”, or my personal favorite, a Zubat named “JJSSSSS-“. Small menus, the community is just not skilled enough to navigate easily. Every time the menu opens, there’s the chance of deleting items or sending caught pokemon into the wild.

Twitch Plays Pokemon, Pokemon

But yet the game has very specific goals. Get to the next trainer, earn the next badge, get a key, an item, teach a move to a Pokemon, etc. If you know the game, then you know where and what to do next, which the community obviously does. The hard part, then, is simply in getting the community to do it. I do wonder if there will come a time when an in-game obstacle is simply insurmountable with the chaotic nature of this experiment, and what will happen then? And if not, CAN 85000 people Really beat the game, all working in a maelstrom of digital noise?

Twitch Plays Pokemon, Pokemon

Of course, aside from the anarchy there is also a “democracy” setting, where only the most popular option in a brief timespan is the accepted entry. This would help in menus and the PC where more adroit keypresses are needed, but that still ends up being a slow process. And even when democracy mode is achieved, just like our own US government, efforts are made to block all progress during the democracy until anarchy is once again established. Instead of filibusters and refusals to pass funding measures, though, the dreaded “start9” is used, which tells the emulator to press the ‘start’ button 9 times in a row, hindering progress. As you can see from the screenshot above and the multiple people saying “democracy”, the way to get to that mode is by a majority vote from the community.

To be fair, though, as a spectator “anarchy” is a lot more entertaining to watch.

//Ocho

P.S. – If you want a recap of what is going on, or want to get caught up on what you missed, the Reddit community has a Twitch Plays Pokemon page up that gives a play-by-play in real time. I highly suggest watching that as well, as watching the actual feed can drive you mad if you watch it too long. You know the saying: “If you gaze into the Twitch Plays Pokemon, the Twitch Plays Pokemon gazes also into you.”

The Noob-Elitist Bell Curve

I have been having issues lately with the communities that are in these MMOs that we all play. Namely, it’s been very hard for me to avoid the creme de-la-creme, the bullies, those that consider themselves the saviors of gaming: the elitists. In general, I tend to avoid them like the plague, but lately it seems I can’t avoid them, and I seem to be encountering them at every turn, even to the point where I find myself reticent to post an update for fear of elitist retribution. Fear.

Fun fact: I don’t accept fear. I approach fear as just another obstacle to overcome. I had a fear of heights once. To get over it, I went skydiving. Is there a better way to deal with a fear, any fear, then bringing it out into the light and squashing it where it stands? I don’t think there is, so instead of running away, I want to shine a big spotlight and delve into this issue: namely, dealing with the elitism we find in MMOs.

First, lets define this gaming elitism. A good starting definition of Elitism:

The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.

Now, let’s think about the different types of gamers that we debate about constantly, the “casual” vs the “hardcore”. In my opinion, casual gamers are loosely defined as those that are more relaxed in nature, those that enjoy the journey, that are willing to stop and smell the roses, are more striving self-improvement, and are not necessarily striving to be the best, but just to have a good time. Hardcore gamers, on the other hand, are competitive in nature. They play these games so that they can be the best, they take the most efficient paths to obtain the most power, even if it entails rather sterile methods of getting there, like repeating the same content ad nauseum, power leveling, farming, and skipping any annoying story. Of course, it’s not just black and white, we are all some combination of the two, but generally lean one way or the other. I, if my blog’s title isn’t evident, identify more with the former.

Casual and Hardcore gamers factor heavily in this discussion because we both occupy the same gaming space and or motivations often clash. MMOs are one of the best forms of gaming entertainment out there because, no matter your tastes, there is something for you. Want to be told a story? It’s there. Want a challenge? It’s there. Want to dominate others in PvP? You can. Want to cooperate and strive toward group-oriented goals? It’s there. Want to play the game solo? You can. Having multiple types of players, all playing for different reasons, and all jockeying for the attention of the developers, creates conflict.

Finally, let’s look at the third most important factor: player skill. Player skill is hard to quantify. Skill is a combination of many factors including past game-playing experience, knowledge of the game’s mechanics, and application of those mechanics to achieve the best results. Skill is easy to graph, though, as it is assumed it resembles a normal probability distribution. In other words, a bell curve.

Players with very little skill (who still play, and usually stand in fire for the majority of it), represent the far left portion of the curve, and gamers with a significant amount of skill, those that are famous and whose names are revered and known, are on the right. For those in the center, some are better than others, but in the great scheme of things, a great percentage of us fall within this region.

Bell Curve, Skill vs # of Players

# of Players v Skill Level

But let’s go back to that earlier definition. There is a big key phrase in there that sums up a lot of the conflict: perceived superiority. We see it time and again. Those generally with an above average amount of skill, and those that identify themselves with the more hardcore spectrum of players, feel that they are the ones who know how to play, and if you’re not playing their way, or by their standards, then you’re playing wrong. What are you doing in their game, anyway? Just wasting space and developer resources. If the game wasn’t targeted to the dirty casual players, it might actually be a challenge! All they have to do is just play better! Damn noobs ruining the game for everyone!

Sound familiar? Elitism is primarily a trait of hardcore players, but I don’t believe it falls in the same normal distribution that skill does. I believe it to be variable depending on a players skill. Bad hardcore players will think that they’re good, and will have a negative attitude toward others to compensate. Okay and average hardcore players know their standing, and know what they need to do to get what they want, they generally show less elitist behavior.

Good hardcore players is where the problem lies. Good players will start demanding obscene levels of others above what is called for. They’re the ones you see demanding ridiculous gear levels just to run a dungeon with them. I saw a post in the Looking For Group channel of The Secret World the other day where someone said that if they didn’t like the looks of your gear from the character website, they wouldn’t even acknowledge your request to join up. They’re good, but they’re not good enough to assure success, without a perfectly optimal group around them. They’re insecure, and so compensate by acting superior.

Bell Curve, Skill vs Players

Good Hardcore players will tend to have the “I’m better than you, so you need to listen to what I say” attitudes, whether it’s justified or not.

The truly skilled, excellent players, though, their level of elitism is much lower. They don’t need a perfect group to still achieve success, and they don’t demean others who don’t live up to their ability, as they would hate everyone. Their excellence is shown in their actions, not in their demands. A great saying I once read was “A rich man doesn’t have to tell you he’s rich.” They just are, and it shows in their demeanor and lack of insecurities.

Casual players, though, their levels of elitism, though still there, is by far not as pronounced. Bad, okay, and average players know their skill, but they enjoy the game for other reasons. Good and excellent players may demand a little more from others, but it feels more in the realm of assisting those around them to be better. A failure here and there isn’t going to affect them, as their end goal is more about self-improvement and having fun rather than being competitive.

Bell Curve, Skill vs Players

Casual players, overall, tend to be less demanding of the other gamers around them.

So that conflict: it lies in the space between elitism levels and crosses the hardcore/casual behaviors. Over time, those of us who are veterans of the MMO genre, who have seen this same pattern play out many time before, are use to it by now. We adapt by finding groups of players who think like we do, hardcore or casual. We don’t love the games we play less because the other groups exist, we can coexist as we’ve done for years now. We do sometimes feel the conflict when we see special developer attention paid to the opposing groups, and if a game opens that plays more to our own nature, we might gravitate toward it more. It’s just human nature.

Bell Curve, Skill vs Casual vs Hardcore

The shaded area represents the conflict between those who demand others play their way, and those that just want to enjoy the game.

But the next time you feel compelled to tell some noob how they should be playing the game, or you are at the receiving end  of some vitriol aimed at you because you’re not in full epic gear and feel depressed or angry, I hope you take the time to think about why you’re feeling that way. Look at how it might not make a difference in the long run, and how the end-goal for all of us should be striving to be a better community.

We live in a civilized society, after all. We may as well act like it.

// Ocho

Guilds: What For?

Secret World, Headstand

This is a “Talk Back Challenge” post, created for the Newbie Blogger Initiative. This sort of post is designed to encourage conversation about a broad topic and to entice conversation about the topic. One of the New Blogs on the Block (NBOTB), Away From Game, has been tasked with writing about the same topic. So, once you are done with my post, please go check theirs out. Or now. Whatever works for you. I’m easy. If you are coming from the NBI pages, feel free to comment, or write a piece of your own and link back. As always, thank you for reading! 🙂

First, a universal truth: The shortest distance between any two points is a straight line.

The reason this truth is so universal is it not only applies to Euclidean geometry, but to the world at large. The easiest answer is most likely the correct one. When walking, our collective feet naturally create the pathways that make the most sense, even if it’s not on the pavement. Scientists look at patterns found in nature, and they resemble patterns we use or could use in our lives. In other words, we will always take the easiest path to achieve our goals. Keep this in mind.

Guilds are the primary social structure of these MMOs that we play. We use them to chat with others, to share resources, and to run group-oriented content. But what is our motivation for joining them? Is it because we are social creatures and that we feel that our addition to a guild can make the overall guild better? Or, really, do we join them for purely selfish reasons?

Star Trek Online, Need, Greed

Except Damianus, and whoever that Ambrose fool is, it’s all about the Need!

Time and time again, I’ve seen that MMO gamers have proven themselves to be selfish. I mean, just take a look at the picture on the left there. I took that in Star Trek Online just a couple of days ago. In a random group with random strangers, for an event that lasts less than a few minutes, almost every single person, on every piece of loot dropped, when given a choice of whether to “Greed” it or “Need” the item, chose “Need”. Did they really need it? No, of course they didn’t! In a random group, hitting “Greed” on a drop, in this case, was literally handing the loot to someone else.

With loot being one of the primary paths to success, having more loot is the straightest path to our goals, even if that involves skirting the social mores of fairness. If our goal is to reach the top level fastest, we will take Experience Boosters, or only do the missions that reward the most Experience points. If our goal is to make the most money, we will farm the most profitable materials we can sell to others, we will manipulate the in-game auction house to corner the market on goods, and we will essentially spend our gaming time eeking out the highest Gold/hour ratio we possibly can. And if our goal is to get all the best end-game gear, only obtainable through grouping and raids, we will join guilds that make this process easier.

So if our collective gaming goal is one of selfishness, that we are just trying to improve our own characters, why do we form guilds at all? In my opinion, we form guilds paradoxically because it raises our individual success. If, in a dungeon, you join a PUG with random players, they are more likely to exhibit behaviors found in the above Need/Greed example. A random group is less likely to complete the dungeon in the first place than an organized group, and then when loot drops, they are less likely to be fair about it’s distribution. An organized group is significantly more likely to be fair in it’s loot distribution as well as it’s competency, thus improving individual progression chances.

This is even more evident when players drop a guild they are in and move to a big raiding guild. On an example I have made previously, once guild members reach the upper echelons, and the current guild they’re in isn’t giving them any more progression, they will generally seek greener pastures that will.

Secret World, TSW, Polaris

This should be no surprise, though, as it is also found in nature:

We’re used to thinking of social groups as fundamentally cooperative entities, but with some kinds of groups, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the best-known biological theory of herding, William Hamilton’s “selfish herd” idea, proposes that herds are the result of individuals trying to ensure that other members of their species, rather than themselves, will get eaten by predators.Michael Price, From Darwin to Eternity

“Get eaten by predators” may be extreme, none of us are eaten by a predator when we lose a loot roll, but the execution is similar. At the end of a boss fight, a piece of loot can only be distributed to one individual. That individual significantly improves, but the group only improves if that one individual continues to play with them. The choice, ultimately, is in the hands of the player.

Now, I could just have this stance because I haven’t had the best of luck with guilds in the past. They would either demand ridiculous amounts of time, or have almost zero activity that made staying in them the same as not being in a guild at all. And now? With my transitive nature, the best guild I’m in is one with players in multiple games, with Twitter our primary contact. So it goes.

I know this isn’t the most efficient manner of getting loot, but then not all of us join guilds just for the loot alone.

// Ocho

For Love of the Grind: 5 Reasons Why We Grind

Ugh. Grind. Just saying the word conjures up images of boredom, slogging through the same content over and over again, just for the same small reward. There are many different names we gamers use for grind; the gear treadmill and farming are two general ones that come to mind. But does anyone really enjoy farming, or running those same dungeons and same bosses until you’re blue in the face? Anyone?!

Actually, the answer may (or may not) surprise you. In doing research for this post, I’ve uncovered lots of research that suggests that, yes, we as humans and gamers really do love to grind.

But why do we do it? Isn’t “the grind” what we encounter on a day-to-day basis by going to work in the first place? We “grind” at our jobs, usually performing the same tasks over and over to get that paycheck. You’d think we’d be sick of it.

Maybe not. Imagine you just won a nice fat $10 million lottery. Sweet. Would you go back to work? According to a Gallup poll performed last month, 68% of people would continue to work. 68%! And a poll of 34 national lottery winners showed that 48% of winners stayed in their current job. If you take the financial stress completely off the table, half of them would return to work the next day and continue the work grind. In fact, according to that same poll, 68% of lottery winners still played the lottery on a weekly basis!

Well, damn.

So to those who enjoy the treadmill, or enjoy the piles and piles of centaurs left in your wake, here are five reasons showing why we enjoy the grind, despite our frequent objections to it:

Grinding Levels The Playing Field

Lets face it, anyone can get to the top levels in the MMO’s that we play simply by putting in the effort to get there. Even with very little time, anyone potentially can acquire, through purchase or play, the gear necessary to hit the next level. Grinding is the key to leveling the playing field for everyone, and is the one big part of making a game “fair”. If that Giganto Sword costs 50 tokens, but you only get 1 token per hour-long run, is it worth it? Certainly not to everyone, but there will be players that will get it, because they can. But you are not excluded from getting it, too. It’s not a Superbowl ring, where ones 5’6″, 175 lb frame (for example, of course 😉 )  isn’t humanly capable of competing to get one. Anyone can work toward that Giganto Sword. The more grind a game has, arguably the more fair it is.

This would explain why you constantly see a demand for more sandbox-oriented subscription-only MMOs. In the minds of some people, the more grind a game has and the less items you can exchange for real money, the more overall “fair” the game becomes. In this scenario, though, I personally think that most people misattribute the payment model as the source of “unfair” gameplay, when really it comes down to the amount of grind.

Repetition is Relaxing

According to Everyday Health, repetition is one of the best ways to help with stress. We spend all day in stressful situations, all of our responsibilities and activities, when crammed together, can cause us to want to shout at the world. I know that’s how it is for me. Being more an introvert, even being around people for too long can trigger such stress that I just need to be alone to recharge.

Sitting back, playing a game, listening to music or podcasts, and just farming the same mobs over and over again to help progress towards that Giganto Sword is actually, in a sense, therapeutic. I’m no doctor, of course, and the method of stress relief that works for you may be different, but for me, gaming is my relaxation. Although I say I’m not a fan of grinding, maybe I secretly am a fan. It would help explain why I am drawn to MMOs over any other genre.

Cognitive Efficiency Enables a Path of Least Resistance

This is the bane of game design, and why I feel empathy toward game designers. You give too many options on how to build your character and someone will theorycraft the absolute best builds. Playing anything else, then, is sub-optimal. We, as humans, always seek the path of least resistance and so will play with the most optimal equipment and builds, and take the path that’ll lead us most quickly to our goal.

If getting that Armor of Awesomeness takes either running the same dungeon 10 times or slaughtering 10,000 Borgfish, most will pick the dungeon as it’ll take less time and effort. Taking the long way is not the most efficient, and is more the path of most resistance, but I am glad it’s still there as an option. Options are good.

The Practice from Grinding Makes Us Better Players

What better way to become better at running a tricky dungeon than to run it time and time again. We run it again as we are really looking to get the “phat lootz”, but the practice gained from doing so is a side-effect that is tangible and substantial.

I consider myself a terrible player, sometimes. I tend to shy away from group dungeons and group activities as they cause me some stress and playing games is how I reduce my stress in the first place. But there’s the rub. If I ran dungeons more, got over the dungeons learning curve, and fell into a steady routine, the stress that comes with running them in the first place would drop. It’s getting over that activation energy in the first place that is the hard part.

The Endowed Progress Effect

Finally, this point I’ve spent the most research on, but seems to be the biggest factor as to why we are addicted to the grind. In a nutshell, Endowed Progress is the idea that when people make progress towards a goal, that they will become more committed toward continued effort of achieving that goal.

If you get 15 tokens toward that Giganto Sword, the likelihood of you continuing on to finish getting the other 35 tokens towards it are more likely. If you have 3 out of 4 pieces of a set, the odds of you giving up are slim. There is usually nothing that will stop you from attaining the 4th piece.

Here is an example of Endowed Progress in action: In Study 1 of the Nunes and Dreze paper, they hand out loyalty cards to a car wash. Half of the cards (A) require 8 washes to earn a free wash, the other half (B) require 10 washes, but the first two washes have already been supplied. So, both cards need 8 washes to get the free wash, but (B) appears to have a head start. Of the 300 cards given out, 80 were redeemed. The redemption rate for those that needed 10 washes, but were endowed with 2 washes (B) was 34% over a 19% redemption for the control cards (A). Furthermore, the amount of time it took to redeem the cards was 2.9 days less, on average, for those using the endowed cards.

The more invested you are to your goals, the more likely you are to see it through.

My guess, though, is that you’re not that surprised by all of these reasons. Look at all the games we have around us today, MMO and non-MMO. Is there a single one that doesn’t have SOME form of grind associated with it? “Facebook” style games like Farmville, cell-phone games like Candy Crush are literally nothing BUT grind. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that the games are designed to be an addiction 1st and a game 2nd.

Overall, In writing this post, I’ve learned a lot about my own habits any playstyles. I, usually, am not a fan of grinding. When faced with a grind, I usually go play another game that doesn’t have one. Or so I think. Am what I really doing is just replacing one grind for another grind that I like better? A rose by any other name…

I really like the leveling in games and MMOs, I like that feeling of improvement with each session, the big improvements over the marginal ones. But a leveling grind, even if it has varied content, is still a grind.

So next time, don’t just dismiss a game you’re playing for being too “grindy”. The grind may be the reason you’re playing in the first place.

// Ocho

P.S.  – So the Super Adventure Box in Guild Wars 2… is that really just a Skinner Box INSIDE a Skinner Box?! Woah… Skinnerception… #mindblown