Promoting Better Play

“We’re not above bribing you to be nice to each other. And frankly, neither are you.”

They said this at the BlizzCon they announced Warlords of Draenor at. And I remember thinking… That will be a neat trick. In the words of our tank Xxiv, “You can grief someone at anything, says the guy who was griefed in Journey.” (Journey has no chat, matchmaking etc, you just move through the world with another player. But apparently his match didn’t move. They just stood still.)

As a game designer, I spend most of my time trying to figure out how to convince the player to do what I want them to do, without just flat out telling them. And sometimes with just flat out telling them. It’s funny, because it kind of crosses over into being a parent. How do you get the toddler to do what you want, without forcing them to do it.

As all parents and pet owners know, there is positive and negative reinforcement. Positive is rewarding them for doing what you want. Bonuses, treats, special treatment. Negative is punishing them for doing things you don’t want them to do. Spanking, time outs, etc. Blizzard is pretty good at getting a majority of people to “play” the way they want us to play. They want you to quest instead of grind just killing mobs? Make the quests have better rewards, take less time, and give more experience.

Torgo answered the question “Does WoD promote better play?” and he answered the question from his pov. But the game designer reads that question very differently.

This question is asking a lot of things. And play is a very loaded word for a designer. So I wanted to answer it, with my designer cap on. Play is not just about with other people, but everything you do within the game. other people are going to come into it more because it’s a multiplayer game.

Yes. And oh god no.

I am sure you are all surprised at my dichotomy.


– Garrisons do an AMAZING job of promoting play. People logging in at weird hours and staying up late to check missions, discussing buildings endlessly trying to figure out the best ones, helping with invasions, even working together to get achievements to get the guild banners! Further, they provide a very REAL reward in the form of bonuses, extra gear, extra materials. Very much a positive reinforcement to get us to play and play with all the parts.

– Flexible raid size. Our team of raiders is 15, just within our guild and real life social group. Now 2-3 of those might drop or wander away, but that would still leave us with 12. 12 is an awful number of raiders in the old system. In WoD – no worries. Even so, if you add our partners in crime, we are at potentially 32 raiders. THIRTY.TWO. That’s a ton of players and far beyond what I ever expected us to be at. So many people to play and have fun with. No man or woman left behind!


– Items in dungeons not dropping from the final boss. Oh man… do you know how many times I have gotten into a Shadowmoon Burial Grounds run, the tank has been just terrible… we get to the first quest item and bam – he’s gone? Only to realize he was a dps, who had a tank offspec and used it just to rush to the item? It’s in the double digits already. Even worse – I had to run Grimrail Depot TWICE because I forgot to pick up the quest item off the ground, and even though I had a lockout where I had killed all the bosses, it wouldn’t let me back to that spot. So far actually none of the rumored “incentives” to keep playing together have been clearly communicated. And furthermore I have actually found it MORE difficult to succeed in a group of friends because we don’t get the luck of the draw buff.

– Proving Grounds. These were flawed to begin with. Players don’t really learn about their class in them. They don’t learn how to raid. They don’t learn how to move out of the stupid. All it does it gate the content. And what if my friend I want to drag along on heroics can’t do it? That doesn’t promote play, it promotes frustrated and upset people. This is a heavily negative reinforcer. It’s not good at all in that it makes players feel like crap and like they shouldn’t even be trying to play.

– No Flying. I haven’t done one bit of archeology or farming because oy is it HARD to get around Draenor. It’s very clear they wanted to gate and limit the player’s movement, but did they have to make it SO MUCH in every zone? It’s a very strong reason for why I don’t want to do these parts of the game. I don’t want to use a glider, I want to fly. Fiddly one off mechanics over a system wide ability I paid a great deal of gold for… yeah.

– Melee unfriendly fights. I already know one casualty to the melee unfriendly encounters of Slag Mines and Shadowmoon Burial Grounds. It is only a matter of time before we get into raids and find them there. Too often Blizzard seems to think the answer to making a fight “difficult” or complex is to make it insanely busy. There are a dozen different things to keep track of. And poor melee have to worry about huge swaths of downtime as they move. They have done this to a lesser extent to ranged, by taking away our ability to have some spells cast while moving. This is so negative. Especially for my guild groups, which are melee heavy. We would queue for a dungeon, get halfway through and be unable to complete it, despite having all done it singularly with pugs. The luck of the draw seems to be the deciding factor here, and we all miss it by playing with our friends. Bad choice.

In the end, I think WoD is just as good and just as bad as most expansions at promoting play both alone and in groups.

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