Inside Video Games: Incentivizing Behavior Part 2

Call of DutyIn part 1, we looked at the problems plaguing Destiny with respect to incentivizing behavior. Now, I want to pick up something I touched on in my discussion of the lack of fun in Call of Duty.

What really matters?

I believe most shooters have lost engagement-longevity and big portions of their communities due to a negative experience that is largely affected by player behavior rather than poor game design. This problem crosses into all PVP shooters, because they all have multiple game modes to choose from. The various modes typically focus on getting players to work together to complete an objective rather than just kill the other team more than they kill you. Yet in the three biggest PVP shooters I have played, Battlefield, Call of Duty, and Titanfall, the objectives are largely ignored. This is because regardless of the title or game mode, there is never enough of an imbalance between points for kills and points for completing the objective. To motivate more teamwork and objective completion, you need to remove almost all points awarded for non-objective-focused-kills. At the end of the game, the player who refused to help his team should be at the bottom of the scoreboard with an embarrassingly low score, regardless of how many kills he bagged. I believe this would motivate players to communicate and work together more which raises the bar for competition and creates a more communal and fun experience. Imagine hopping into a completely new game and joining a team that is telling you where to go and how to help them win because winning is the most rewarding avenue for points, unlocks, and leveling. That would be far more inviting and engrossing than a bunch of non-communicative players going to their favorite spot to snag the most kills. I can’t count how many times games ended with players getting into verbal bouts with their teammates who refused to help with the objective. “I’m just going for kills”, they say. Or sometimes they will say, “I’m just going for achievements.”

Achieving what?

Achievements are another problematic motivator within the realm of PVP shooters. If you are working on achievements, they should only count in game modes where they make sense. Racking up headshots or lean kills (what a joke that was), just manipulates the player choices in a way that breaks down gameplay. One of the biggest problems with Titanfall was once players got to a certain level, the only way to level up was by completing challenges. These challenges broke down gameplay because instead of helping the team, players would be focused on getting a certain number of very specific kills. The game ceases to function as it was intended when it stops being about the game and about something else (ie: kills, achievements, k/d ratio, etc.). Imagine a football player deciding he is going to focus on one stat for an entire season, not caring if his team loses. It would cause significant harm to the function and success of the team. Now imagine if almost the entire football team did it. It would become frustrating chaos and would quickly cease to be football. This is what happens in PVP shooters. The game modes just become a means to an end, used as a playground to work on pet projects and stats. And the sad irony is who really cares if you have a certain stat or achievement when you have done so by losing practically every game you played? Would anyone really care about a football player’s one amazing stat if his team lost every game that season? Player behavior is so individualized and self-focused that clichés of young boys yelling curse words at each other and boasting about their “skill” isn’t just commonplace, it’s the expectation.

The way forward

To conclude this subject, allow me put forth a simple and helpful philosophy about gamer behavior. There are two approaches to directing player behavior: restrictive and incentive. Both approaches are necessary, because you have to restrict where players can go, how far they can jump, and so forth. And you have to provide some level of incentive like points or in-game unlocks to give a certain degree of direction and trajectory. The simple and helpful philosophy that I have is this: incentives drive player behavior far and away more than any restrictions. How many gamers spend hours jumping against walls and map limitations looking for glitches? A very small amount. How many gamers spend hours working on achievements and trying to have good stats? Basically everyone. If there were clearer and more rewarding paths in games like Destiny, Call of Duty, and Titanfall, player behavior would improve, cheaters and exploiters would be less prominent, and both gamers and game companies would enjoy a more symbiotic relationship.

This polarized landscape is becoming exhaustive and toxic, where developers spend more time patching cheats and micromanaging player experience and the communities sound entitled because they demand better rewards and content. The reason for this polarized landscape is that even the players who spend the time working on the achievements or convoluted methods of leveling eventually see the game as vapid and empty, like a mechanical chore rather than a fun and rewarding experience. This is why PVP titles are so quickly ran through and tossed side, and why so many people complain about new titles being “okay” and “not that impressive”. You are losing players on both ends of the spectrum. The players who are tired of a negative experience walk away, and the players who grind through all the strange paths for achievements and new levels eventually burn out, leaving the game with a soured memory of how good it was. Both types of players leave unfulfilled and less likely to purchase your next title. With a larger focus on incentives and rewards, people will continue playing and feeling accomplished and fulfilled, wanting more and more of your world to open up for them. This is when you have a loyal and dedicated fan base, rather than an angry insatiable mob.

Agree, disagree, or have your own ideas? Share in the comments below.


5 thoughts on “Inside Video Games: Incentivizing Behavior Part 2

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