Design > Toxicity

One of the forum posts I was reading vis-a-vis community toxicity in hard group content – or any game, for that matter – asserted that toxicity is inevitable. I agree. “Any civilization is just three meals away from anarchy.” There is darkness in all of us, beneath the surface. Indeed, I would suggest that how we manage (and hopefully contain!) that darkness is precisely what makes us human beings in the first place.

However, I arch an eyebrow any time someone throws their hands in the air, claiming nothing can be done about the issue of toxicity in multiplayer games. We may not be able to ensure no one is ever toxic or disruptive to another player, but we sure as hell can mitigate, manipulate, and otherwise manage player behavior through system design.

An example I am still in awe over has been the Blizzard design for Hearthstone. Namely, how there is no chat feature with your opponents. Does this prevent every avenue for trolling and other “BM” (Bad Manners) behavior? Of course not. When you look at the forums though, the BM consists of stalling a full turn-timer’s worth, emoting Well Played right before the killing blow, or playing unnecessary cards before the kill. Oh, and some people get really upset when others concede before allowing them to manually deliver the final hit.

Compare that to, I don’t know, maybe any time you turn on XBox Live.

While there may not be any silver bullets for bad behavior in MMOs given the more freeform experience, I believe design can still mitigate the worst of it. For example, removing the ability to kick someone mid-combat or before loot is distributed entirely removes the ability of guild-groups to arbitrarily remove competition (at least, not after the kickee contributed). Binding BoE loot to people who do Need rolls prevents those “Need to sell on AH” players. Shared resource nodes not only prevents any animosity/misunderstandings about ninja-looted nodes, it has the pleasant byproduct of people being glad to see others, as they direct you to nodes you may have missed, helping you clear the path, etc.

Things not to do? Basically anything Wildstar is currently doing. If you have a quest to kill a certain number of mobs, you might get 8% complete per mob you kill. If some random stranger pops out of a bush and hits that same mob with an attack or two, suddenly you only receive 4% credit. Why? For the love of all that is good and holy WHY? Manually forming a group with these strangers doesn’t work to make things any faster either – the lot of you just have to kill twice as many mobs. This sort of design not only discourages cooperation and enables trolling, it fosters a (correct!) notion that other players are obstacles to your goals. The only “challenging” aspect of most of the Challenges in Wildstar is not giving yourself an aneurysm by the behavior – or very existence! – of other people.

You might be thinking I am exaggerating here. No, my friend. I did not hate perfect strangers more in Darkfall, when they could murder me at any time and full-loot my corpse. Because that was understood; that is what you signed up to do. I did not sign up to Wildstar to unknowingly steal other people’s accomplishments simply by existing in the same zone.

You might have heard that there are a lot of Group quests in Wildstar to kill powerful creatures. It’s true. What’s also true is that if you and a stranger bond in common purpose to attack one, but you tragically end up dying, you get zero credit for the kill. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why. I’m sorry, Carbine developers, for not making my very temporary fellowship with Sizzlebutt “official” by clicking some buttons on your interface. If I hadn’t died, we both would have gotten credit, but nevermind. Clearly there is some wizened, highborn logic behind this deliberate decision I am too simple to understand. Perhaps allowing dead players to receive credit for a mob eventually killed would open an exploit that unraveled your entire, expertly-crafted leveling experience. Or perhaps it never crossed your empty skulls.

Do you see what I mean about toxicity?

In an MMO, every player you meet should be an opportunity. Every aspect of your social game should be geared toward encouraging positive experiences. Every point of social friction should receive ample grease. Seriously, mind boggled at Gold Medals being tied to player deaths in LFG groups.¹ Do you know what they called that in WoW when it was implemented in Naxx? A goddamn mistake.

¹ This post was written before the news on Friday. Still, it is an idea that never should have survived the whiteboard.

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Posted on June 30, 2014, in Philosophy, Wildstar and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Friendly collaboration and good manners are the solution, did we rule that out while I was out the back smoking a cigarette?

    You’re throwing your hands in the air just as much as anyone. Demand more, not less, because you’ll only get half of what you demand.

    Hmm, come to think of it I can’t think of any group of smokers I have known that wouldn’t naturally just team up and get all this stuff done. I’d prefer good manners but I’ll take mandatory smoking as a Plan B. In fact I have an idea for a guild…

    • Good manners aren’t going to keep you from getting kicked from the group with the boss at 5%. It being literally impossible will, however. And none of these sort of fool-resistant measures precludes or diminishes the friendly collaboration that might transpire anyway.

  2. I can’t help but think “Bowel Movement” every time someone mentions BM in a Hearthstone discussion.

  3. Been very fun watching all the posts on this and the decisions they are making. Will be awesome seeing how the community reacts when they actually have to do 30 step attunements for 40 man raids with fast action combat. Anyone who thinks blizzard killed all that stuff to “cater to casuals” wasn’t playing WoW back then.

    • I’ll honestly be surprised if 40m raiding lasts past September. Not because of complaints necessarily, but rather lack of use. It’s “only” been a month, but it’s hard to tell if 34 guilds having killed at least 1 boss in the 20m is a good number at this point or not.

  4. Take-home message: Wildstar is more HARDCORE than Darkfall!

    I wonder how much backpedaling they will be doing, and how much of it will come from them wising up, or getting forced to do so by powers greater than them (their bosses, NCsoft, economics, data & metrics, take your pick.)

  5. I’m watching closely and eagerly to see how their current design pans out by the end of the year. This posts are helping me keep tabs on it :) But from the sidelines it does seem they’ve made some ….aggravating decisions about gameplay. Other players shouldn’t immediately reduce your fun by 50%. That’s just crazy!