Friday, September 23, 2011

The Joys of Meaningless Rewards

Today we talk about filling bars. The meaningless rewards that games give you to make you keep playing the game. I'm even going to go one step further than that. Your standard fantasy RPG, you get experience points until you level up, and when you level up you gain new abilities and get more powerful and all that. That's your traditional leveling structure. The thing about that is that it actually lets you play the game more efficiently. I'm going one step less useful. The Cheevos.

World of Warcraft rolled out achievements late in the Burning Crusade expansion. When you get your first honorable (read PvP) kill, you get an achievement. Then for 25, and 100, and 500, and 1000, I forget all the increments but it goes up to at least 100,000. So if you keep playing the game you move up the achievement scale. The further up you get, the more achievement points you have, and you can compare these things to the other players. You look at that link? That's Zerg_Rush's primary WoW character, clocking in at 8165 achievement points. You know what those points do for him? Nothing. They might earn him the respect of other players, but they might also earn their pity. If you check his Feats of Strength (pretty long list, actually) he's got "Insane in the Membrane" (and, I hasten to add, the hard version from before that also required Shen'dralar rep before they removed it from the game), which took him approximately eight hours a day for three months to manage. Impressive yeah, but it doesn't let him kill things any faster.

That's not to say that WoW is the only one that does achievements. Far from it. Pretty much everybody is dipping their toes into the field as "gamification" becomes the new marketing buzzword. Three minutes into that presentation and you learn that looking at three lolcats gets you a badge, and that the icanhascheezburger group awards achievements now. Frightening stuff.

This tends to make me unhappy, because I've got two conflicting desires on this front. On the one hand, I like completing things; I like getting trophies or badges or whatnot, and if I know that there's one for doing X task, then you'd better believe I'm going to be doing X task. 5000 damage from a single Hadouken? I'm on it. But I really don't like getting caught in these things with everybody. Lolcats? I'll stay away. Even in games I enjoy playing (Half Life 2 springs to mind) the achievements make me want to go back and make sure I checked every nook and cranny for the solution, but I don't always want that pressure. I've got time constraints like everybody else, and not every game is worth a second or third or nth playthrough.

This was mostly brought to mind by Magic's new rating system. I'm a level 31 Invoker! Have yet to see how that has any real world consequence at all. Even so, I'll probably check back from time to time to see when I hit level 31

I can't deny the motivational effects. If you've got a game worth playing I usually end up trying to max out the cheevos. As careful as I am to avoid this sort of thing I can exploit it myself if I find a good enough reason. Enter Mindhack. In the game of life I apparently made Will my dump stat (and Charisma, and Strength... you know what? let's move on.) To fortify a low score, I'm trying one of these reward systems. I wrote a calculator program with a simple experience and level system, and I award myself experience for doing things that ought to be done. Yesterday, I hit level two. And I was happy.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to award myself 100 exp for completing a blogpost.

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