Friday, August 29, 2008

Achievements in WoW patch 3.0 blatantly exploits players

I’ll admit that I was mildly irked at the recent news about WoW patch 3.0. It just felt like nothing more than an attempt to distract WoW players while they wait for Wrath. Tobold thinks of it as a defensive move against WAR. I don’t know if I buy into that 100%, but the fact that many of these features aren’t even fully cooked in the beta certainly support that idea.

Then I read Blizzard is planning on introducing Achievements as part of the 3.0 patch. And I got PISSED OFF. Seriously pissed off. I’m talking “thinking about unsubscribing” pissed off.

My issue is that this whole carrot-on-a-stick incentive program is being introduced with NO OTHER NEW CONTENT. Oh sure, there will be new talents and a new profession – but no new raiding content. No new instances. No new zones. No new monsters. No new quests. No new anything to explore.

In Brent’s now e-famous jumping shark post, he started his discussion with a very valid observation:

“We all have made some serious investments in the MMORPG genre. Those investments are not simply monetary. Many MMO players have devoted their lives, or at least their valuable free time, to these games.”

His article diverges from this topic, but this insight is interesting because it touches upon the ethical nature of MMO design. Jonathan Blow eloquently explained the issue in 2007:

“That kind of reward system is very easily turned into a Pavlovian or Skinnerian scheme[.] It's considered best practice: schedule rewards for your player so that they don't get bored and give up on your game. That's actually exploitation.

[Players will naturally avoid boring tasks but developers] override that by plugging into their pleasure centers and giving them scheduled rewards[.] We convince them to pay us money and waste their lives in front of our game in this exploitative fashion.”
(credits to
Scott for link)

Enter Achievements and Feats of Strength. J. Allen Brack from Blizzard was very revealing in this interview in which he describes how the Achievement system will motivate players:

“There will also be a list of things that players will never have considered doing, more of a to-do list; like you log in to the game and go, ‘I don't know what I want to do today, I'm going to pick a random Achievement and go get it’. [We] don't have hidden Achievements, with the exception of very rare Achievements called Feats of Strength that are worth no points.”

Think about that for a moment: A list of things that players will never have considered doing; a to-do list for points. I don’t make this stuff up, folks. This is a very clear admission that Blizzard wants to exploit players with a task list filled with largely meaningless or impossible tasks.

Of course, we knew all this already. This really isn’t a new topic. MMOs have always been of a questionable ethical nature that encourages compulsive behavior. It’s why they are highly addictive and given labels like EverCrack and World of WarCrack.

I long ago made my own peace with this dilemma and the whole concept of Achievements wouldn’t have even been a blip on my radar screen if not for one very important thing: It’s coming in Patch 3.0.

Bundle up the Achievement system within Wrath and it’s just one new gadget amongst a bunch of gadgets. Introduce it at the tail-end of a loooong period of time with little new stuff to explore and well, it damn well borders on evil.

You see, the Achievement system isn’t new content – it’s a task list with some reward system attached. It’s an incentive to run around doing the same crap you have already done for the 1000th time in order to get an Achievement.

I’m sorry but that just pisses me off. Introducing new content which basically amounts to a task list for me to do all the content that I have already done is so blatantly unethical and wrong that I find myself tempted to quit altogether.

Our free time is precious and as Brent pointed out, it gets more precious as we get older. I already know I spend too much of this time participating in boring tasks for my ultimately meaningless carrot. I’ve come to terms with that because, well – I like my carrot. I’ll continue to play MMOs because I like carrots.

But this Achievement thing in 3.0 – well, that just feels like Blizzard is spitting in my mouth. They are basically saying, “we have nothing new to offer you for now, but in the meantime here is a reward system for doing all the stuff that you have likely already done and for some other things you never even considered doing”.



Warhammer comparison: This isn’t intended to be a WoW vs. WAR entry, but I do feel it’s worth making the comparison to WAR because the Tome of Knowledge is often compared to the new Achievement system.

The first point is that achievements in WAR appeared to be hidden. It didn’t feel like it was a task list because I didn’t even know I had the task. Instead, it just felt like I was rewarded for playing.

Secondly, as I wrote in my previous article, WAR seems purposefully designed to provide rewards for anything you choose to do, so you simply gravitate towards the things you find the most fun rather than the most rewarding.

And lastly, it’s part of the design from the start – it’s not retroactive and it’s not being released with no other content. I would have little to no issue with the Achievement system in WoW if it simply came bundled with Wrath.

17 comments:

Heartless_ said...

You are 100% correct.

Raegn said...

/agree. It's crap, truthfully. WoW is all about getting as much money as they can from players before they release their follow up MMO. It's unfortunate that they conduct themselves in this manner but a reality of the current business environment.

Cameron said...

Sounds like you're starting to feel as burned out as the rest of us. :)

ScytheNoire said...

I agree, it's just more evidence of WoW's lack of any end game content beyond raiding. Even that they have had to tone down, because of the tiny percentage of players who could even do the raiding. WoW is just outdated.

ToK's unlock's are much different. Most are along the lines of "Oh, wow, I didn't know I just did that, cool." I would hope no one is staying in one area just to kill 10,000 boars, it will just happen. It's just a bonus reward, not a goal.

The real goal is to take over enemy cities, ransack them, raid them, kill their king. Or to get a keep and hold onto it. Or to take over someone else's keep. Or to do dungeons. Or scenario's. Damnit, too much to do.

Shalkis said...

Er.. if you look at the list of achievements, the list is filled with things that people are doing right now for no extra reward. The achievements are a bonus, not an end in itself. Unless you make it one, that is.

And the achievements listed are not something that you'd need to spend extra effort on. Dinged 70? Achiement unlocked. Complete a dungeon? Achievement unlocked. Level up a profession? Achievement unlocked. Get Exalted status with a faction? Achievement unlocked. Explore a zone? Achievement unlocked. Complete a seasonal quest? Achievement unlocked. Win a battleground? Achievement unlocked. Reach a certain Arena rating? Achievement unlocked. I'd hardly call that "A list of things that players will never have considered doing".

Also, you have to consider the diminishing returns. You get as much points for getting Exalted with all Outland factions as you get from getting Exalted with a single one. That's hardly "run around doing the same crap you have already done for the 1000th time in order to get an Achievement", that's encouraging them to diversify by offering more rewards for diversification than from specialization. Oh, but that could also be classified as encouraging people to complete "A list of things that players will never have considered doing". Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

I already know I spend too much of this time participating in boring tasks for my ultimately meaningless carrot. I’ve come to terms with that because, well – I like my carrot. I’ll continue to play MMOs because I like carrots.
So.. the real issue is that Blizzard reminds you of this? Sounds like you're not in terms with yourself. If you don't like Blizzard introducing achievements now, don't make any effort to complete them. You can even cancel your account until WotLK. Or hum really loud.

Yes, this is a defensive move by Blizzard. So was the 2.0 patch before TBC, which also consisted of updating the game engine to TBC with no extra content. Yes, they are ringing the Pavlovian bell to retain their customer base before the expansion ships. The question is.. have you been trained enough to respond to just the bell and not the food? Or do you have the willpower to ignore the bell?

The answer to that question reveals more about you than about Blizzard.

sid67 said...

And the achievements listed are not something that you'd need to spend extra effort on.

Hardly. Some are trivial, others incite pure grind, others are just crazy hard (which inspires it's own grind).

Win Arathi Basin 2000 to 0
Win Alterac Valley in 6 minutes
Exalted with Timbermaw Hold
Exalted with all BC dungeon factions

And my personal favorite...

World Explorer

I love that last one because it encourages people to go "visit" obsolete or opposite faction locations simply to get the Achievement.
---

As I wrote Shalkis, I came to terms with the Pavlovian carrots a long time ago. My issue is that Blizzard is introducing a bunch of new carrots with no new content. While some of it will be retro-active, most will not. For many players, this means that I can only get the carrot by repeating content or doing that thing that I never considered. Or more likely, I did consider it but found it trivial, boring, stupid or otherwise unappealing.


The achievements are a bonus, not an end in itself. Unless you make it one, that is.

That might be true if Achievements are private, but I think we can expect them listed on the Armory. Once that happens, it becomes some public record of your ePeen. Right or wrong, you will be judged by the Achievements you have and have not completed.

Shalkis said...

Let's see..

Win Arathi Basin 2000 to 0
Check. Got it without any effort on my part.

Win Alterac Valley in 6 minutes
Check. I captured Stonehearth Bunker and rode straight to Stormpike, where Vanndar was already at half health.

Exalted with Timbermaw Hold
I know.. 5 people who have this. And they did it when the only reward was a novelty trinket.

Exalted with all BC dungeon factions
I know.. 2 people who have this. See my comment about diminishing returns. For the same reward, you could complete the grindtastic and grueling task of.. getting a single vanity pet.

World Explorer
Check. During the leveling process, the quests will lead you to most of the subzones in each zone.

My issue is that Blizzard is introducing a bunch of new carrots with no new content.
Like with 2.0 and cheap PvP rewards?

Or more likely, I did consider it but found it trivial, boring, stupid or otherwise unappealing.
Well, you could always not do it. Unless, of course..

That might be true if Achievements are private, but I think we can expect them listed on the Armory. Once that happens, it becomes some public record of your ePeen. Right or wrong, you will be judged by the Achievements you have and have not completed.
..you care about your epeen or associate yourself with people who do and are suspectible to peer pressure. It's the same thing with (player-collected) PvE progress lists. Those that care (Achiever archetypes) can check them. Those that don't can ignore them and continue to have fun progressing (or not progressing) at their own pace.

Some people climb mountains because they're there. Some people climb mountains for the fame and fortune. Some people climb mountains to look down on people. No matter how and why they do it, they can only affect you thousands of miles away if you admire, imitate or loathe them. The rest of the world will go about their business as usual.

sid67 said...

Like with 2.0 and cheap PvP rewards?

The 2.0 comparison is meaningless. Remarking that they have done it before is not absolution for doing it again.

..you care about your epeen or associate yourself with people who do and are suspectible to peer pressure.

Asshats will always exist and making Achievements viewable by other players simply arm other players to use such knowledge to mock you.

Your perspective is very noble and wholly unrealistic for the large majority of WoW players. Unfortunately, there is very little truth in the saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."
--

All that aside, the simple truth is best illustrated in J. Allen Brack's quote:

a to-do list; like you log in to the game and go, ‘I don't know what I want to do today, I'm going to pick a random Achievement and go get it’.

His words, not mine. It's a to-do list that's been added with nothing new to do. That's why it is wrong.

Shalkis said...

The 2.0 comparison is meaningless. Remarking that they have done it before is not absolution for doing it again.
I'm simply wondering why it's such a big issue now.

Asshats will always exist and making Achievements viewable by other players simply arm other players to use such knowledge to mock you.
As opposed to gear that's visible on your character? Or your class, race or faction? Asshats will mock you because you're there. The reason to mock is wholly irrelevant, and they'll invent one if none exists. Achievements aren't going to change that.


a to-do list; like you log in to the game and go, ‘I don't know what I want to do today, I'm going to pick a random Achievement and go get it’

If you log on, you by definition want to play for one reason or another. If that reason is to avoid being mocked by asshats, then I do agree that continuing to play is unhealthy. But is that Blizzard's fault? How far should Blizzard go in removing excuses from asshats?

sid67 said...

If you log on, you by definition want to play for one reason or another. If that reason is to avoid being mocked by asshats, then I do agree that continuing to play is unhealthy. But is that Blizzard's fault? How far should Blizzard go in removing excuses from asshats?

Two different issues. The first issue (and the most irritating one) is that Blizzard is introducing a to-do list with no new things to do. The second (far less important one) is that making Achievements publically viewable simply arms people with information to make judgments about you.

You seemingly want to explain my dislike of the first issue (the to-do list) with peer pressure or some associated dislike I have for Pavlovian treats. The peer pressure one is inaccurate; I simply don’t care but do recognize that a great many players will care. The dislike of Pavlovian treats is more accurate, but why now?

Because the things we are being asked to do for the treat are not new things. It’s the same things we already did. They are purposefully designed to have players exhaust current content even if they have already exhausted it. It’s a completely transparent attempt to get players to experience everything on the list.

Worse, this list is being introduced as the something “new” at a time when there hasn’t been anything significantly new added to the game in almost two years. A feature that might have been ho-hum to a lot of people if released with Wrath suddenly becomes the popular thing to do. It doesn’t really matter if YOU care to participate if your guild and friends are busy doing things on the to-do list.

All of a sudden, you are working on your Onxyia attunement (which you did on another character) in order to Defeat Onxyia on your way to achieving Classic Raider.

Shalkis said...

It’s a completely transparent attempt to get players to experience everything on the list.
It is indeed. But why is it a bad thing to remind people who are waiting for new content that there's plenty of old content that they haven't experienced?

I realize that not everyone is interested in everything in the game. I'm one of those people. I have only minimal interest in the PvP content. Which is why I spend no effort in achieving anything PvP-related that I don't need in PvE. And if there isn't enough PvE content to keep me interested until WotLK, I'll keep my account cancelled. Achievements or not.

It doesn’t really matter if YOU care to participate if your guild and friends are busy doing things on the to-do list.

All of a sudden, you are working on your Onxyia attunement (which you did on another character) in order to Defeat Onxyia on your way to achieving Classic Raider.

That sounds like succumbing to peer pressure. If peer pressure is not the issue, why do you keep bringing it up?

Because if peer pressure is not an issue, then the exploitation part of your argument falls flat.

I ask again: How far should Blizzard go in removing excuses from asshats? What should Blizzard do to protect people from themselves? How much of the responsibility, if any, is on the shoulders of the individual?

sid67 said...

Because if peer pressure is not an issue, then the exploitation part of your argument falls flat.

It’s blatant exploitation because it is a transparent attempt to get players to do everything on a to-do list for a Pavlovian reward. That’s bad enough when it’s new content, but when it’s for obsolete or undesired content, it’s downright criminal. It’s entirely unethical and motivated entirely by greed. It’s like getting a woman hooked on drugs, then not giving her the drugs unless she sleeps with you. Her addiction is not YOUR excuse for behaving unethically. A person looking on the situation from the outside is sickened not only by her behavior and addiction, but your unethical coercion and exploitation.

That sounds like succumbing to peer pressure. If peer pressure is not the issue, why do you keep bringing it up?

Because I feel like the guy looking on from the outside as I see Blizzard trying to hook all my friends on drugs in order to sleep with them. It doesn’t really matter if Blizzard doesn’t hook me as long as he hooks my friends. So the alternative is either get hooked with them or play alone. Either way, it’s not an entirely great choice and it’s entirely brought about by Blizzard’s attempted exploitation.

How far should Blizzard go in removing excuses from asshats? What should Blizzard do to protect people from themselves? How much of the responsibility, if any, is on the shoulders of the individual?

There is a big difference between providing protection from one’s own self and purposefully feeding addiction for financial gain. It’s not about asshats, but about Blizzard conducting themselves in an ethical manner.

Shalkis said...

That’s bad enough when it’s new content, but when it’s for obsolete or undesired content, it’s downright criminal.
At first you said:
I would have little to no issue with the Achievement system in WoW if it simply came bundled with Wrath.
But now it would be bad if it would have been bundled with new content? So in your opinion it's the rewards that are the most addictive part? If so, are functional rewards (such as gear) better, worse or equal to non-functional rewards (such as titles, tabards, and non-combat pets)? Because it's the latter that you're getting with achievements.

And even though I think that the drug metaphor is wildly inaccurate, let's stay with it for a moment to get a "soundbite". Do you see the role of new content being akin to the various pleasure-inducing substances in drugs? If so, would it be fair to characterize your position as being angry because you got crack instead of cocaine?

Justsayin said...

It's a game Blizzard is giving us what we pay for, entertainment. If this upsets you guys so much log out, shutdown the comp, go outside.I for one think I am getting my 15.00 bucks a month worth of entertainment. I like playing the game anything added on if I choose to participate or not is a bonus. It's not like they give you a barbershop and say now you pay 18.00 a month for extra content. If this pisses you off so much maybe you need to take some time off or quit completely. I am sure Blizzard will miss your huge monetary contribution to the bank accounts.

kaegeo said...

Achievements in WoW is nothing that hasn't already been there. "Here, have a title if you go grind a few thousand gold and then give it to me." Seriously, have the loot farming in the game is just carrot on a stick exploitation. Achievements are just less sugar-coated. At least their being more upfront and honest about what their game is really about now. It's just funny that people don't realize that their exploiting you with minor rewards until Blizzard comes out and says "We're exploiting you with minor rewards." Welcome to the cult of MMOs.

Shawn said...

Achievements in WoW is nothing that hasn't already been there. "Here, have a title if you go grind a few thousand gold and then give it to me." Seriously, have the loot farming in the game is just carrot on a stick exploitation. Achievements are just less sugar-coated. At least their being more upfront and honest about what their game is really about now. It's just funny that people don't realize that their exploiting you with minor rewards until Blizzard comes out and says "We're exploiting you with minor rewards." Welcome to the cult of MMOs. Vouch.

Jesse Jones said...

All you people act high and mighty on your self-disciplined immunity horse, but the fact as we are all humans and we can easily be manipulated by peer pressure and Pavlovian rewards.

What's worse is you sit on this immunity horse with absolutely no empathy for the teenagers playing this game that couldn't possibly have the opportunity to understand these concepts and overcome their natural human urges with the self-discipline of a God...

Jesus, for example.