Archive for May 20th, 2007

This is a cross-post of something I made on the SWG forums that has long since been deleted, but I thought it was useful enough to preserve.

Basically the history is this: In SWG, there are about 40 professions, about half of which are non-combat. These non-combat professions have received very little content or developer time compared with the combat ones. Esharra and Tralmek and the other correspondents keep saying “Well that is because there are so few of us.” That’s simply false on its face, and this diatribe explains why. And now, to my brilliant post…

I would like to address the whole argument I keep seeing about why the SWG devs never give entertainers (or non-combat classes in general) much in the way of content. I see this argument a great deal from our correspondents. I am not sure whether they are just making stuff up that they think is true, or whether they are hearing this through their own channels and repeating it to us. Either way I am going to assume that along with the correspondents, the developers would also use this argument to justify not bothering to give us any development time, and I think it is a straw man argument, so I’m going to not just knock it down, but put it through the shredder.

The argument goes like this: “We never get any appreciable content/dev time because there are so few of us. It is not economically viable to spend time working on a profession no one plays.”

Now the statement can be taken as literally true, because after all by any measure there are, currently in the game, way more combat than non-combat players, and way more of any single profession you care to name than all the entertainer professions combined. I’ll gladly stipulate that point. HOWEVER, it is not true that this was always the case, which is the implication of that statement. The statement implies a cause (that there are “none of us”) that leads to an effect (“it is therefore not worth dev resources to work on stuff for us”). This is a logical fallacy, because of one fundamental principle.

The Fundamental Principle: Players do what you reward them to do. This is basic psychology. Given a set of reward structures, people will do what they are rewarded for (this is called conditioning). In games, what’s the reward structure? Well, primarily it’s fun, but it is also set up in certain more specific ways: (1) Content, in the form of places to explore/things to do/quests, (2) cool “loot” in the form of clothing/armor/furniture no one else has, or (3) experience/levelling, which allows the character to get better and “unlock” new things (a new dance, a new special move, the ability to wear new armor, whatever).

Early on, SWG didn’t have a lot of rewards. There was no real content and when it was first built the philosophy was “no loot.” So the only real reward structure in SWG was levelling. All professions were equal in that regard, and quite literaly so — do what the profession does, and you get a reward (XP). At this time, people played all the classes pretty evenly, and there were tons of entertainers.

However, after a few months, Holocron and his group moved on and a new Dev Team took over. This new team heard players complain that just gaining XP was not enough of a reward system (and that’s a fair enough complaint). They decided to add the other forms of rewards — “Content” (quests, places to go, etc), and “Loot.” However, either because they had no foresight, or because they did not care, they made it so that all the new rewards were only available through combat. All the new content was “dungeon” type areas (Warren, DWB, Geo Cave). All the loot was obtainable only by killing either some high level stuff, or thousands and thousands of lowbie things. Either way, gaining loot could only be done as a result of significant combat-time investment. Few such rewards were placed into the game for any of the non-combat professions.

So what happened? Players do what you reward them to do. Thus, nearly everyone started doing combat. At first this wasn’t too much of a problem because you could hybridize your character. As a result, lots of people just mastered TKA as their “self defense” discipline and kept their other 160+ SPs in their non-combat skills. But already, because there was no real reward for non-combat play, only people who loved the non-combat profs kept up with them. This was the first mass decline in non-combat population. It did not happen by some act of Divine Providence. It happened because the devs chose to make the reward structure of the game reward solely combat, and players do what you reward them to do.

Later on, because “combat was hopelessly buggy,” the developers created, worked on for a year, and released the “combat upgrade.” The CU was another major revamp for combat-only characters, and on its heels was launched Kashyyyk, an entire planet that is a combat-only area. They changed combat so that professions now overlaped, and made 3/4 of all content require now a double-combat mastery to do (because much of the content is defended by level 60 and above enemies). Here again, they added tons of rewards for being a combatant, and now not just a combatant but a dual-mastered combat character. Here again, zero rewards were available for non-combat characters. So what did the players do? Again… players do what you reward them to do, so they focused on combat.

After 2 years (since Holo’s departure), 99% of the “reward structure” of SWG, is combat oriented and these rewards can only be gotten through hard-core combat play. Again, remember the basic rule: players do what you reward them to do. Since 99% of the reward structure is combat-oriented, it is therefore not only no surprise, but inevitable, that 99% of the players would be doing combat and little else!

The devs pretend like some magic force, some act of Divine Providence, intervened and miraculously converted all the non-combat players into combatants, and in the face of such divine intervention, they have no choice but to support the only playstyle that Providence has allowed. But this is not the case at all. The devs have spent two, solid, long years rewarding players for combat and, quite literally, not just failing to reward non-combat but punishing you for doing it (by making your character unable to gain a high enough level to obtain any of the rewards available to the combatants). They built a game with thousands of rewards and said, “Oh and these rewards can only be gotten by combat characters.” Then they have the unmitigated gall to say, “Well we do that because there are only combat characters in the game!” That is not the cause and effect relationship.

The CAUSE in this case is devs refused to reward non-combat from day 1. The EFFECT was that, there being no viable reward for playing a non-combat character, people stopped doing that and started doing the thing that was being rewarded — combat. What happened first was the lack of support; lack of non-combat players is the result of that low support, not the cause of it!

This is not rocket science. It has always been known that players do what you reward them to do. Let me give a few examples of how this works.

Years ago I GMed a Champions campaign. I used “adventure feedback forms.” These were multiple choice forms with a comment section, that players could use to tell me what they liked and didn’t like about my adventures. I could then tailor the later ones to their tastes. Of the four players I had, only one did them. The others appreciated my desire to have their feedback but just couldn’t be bothered to take 15 minutes to fill out the form. After months of wheedling and pleading without success, what was I to do? Well, SOE LOGIC would say, “Players don’t use feedback forms so stop developing for them” (in this case, stop xeroxing them). But I didn’t use that; I used ACTUAL LOGIC instead, and knowing that players do what you reward them to do, it was easy to solve: I started awarding +1 bonus XP to players who returned their feedback forms to me by the next game session. And guess what? Suddenly everyone was doing them!

You see, players are actually quite simple. In short, they like to have fun, but they also like tin-game rewards. Anything they can do to bump up those rewards, they will do. In fact, you can get players to do just about anything using the “carrot on a stick” of the rewards they want. Don’t think that’s true? SOE has already proved it — look at the Jedi grind. How many people like it? And how many people who hate it, do it anyway because they want the reward? Note, this is not to suggest people should be forced to play Dancers or IDs, but, if there is no reward structure for those classes, even most people who might enjoy them otherwise, will abandon them for the classes that do have reward structures — and that is exactly what has happened.

Still not convinced? Here are some MMORPG ones.

In City of Heroes, there are two ways to play — going through outdoor zones (city streets) fighting random mobs (“street sweeping”), or doing your own private “instanced” missions. However, on the street you could pick your target, and select those that earned you the XP fastest. In missions you were stuck with fewer enemies, and it took longer. You could in some cases gain 5-10x as much XP per hour street sweeping as running missions. Thus, street sweeping had far better rewards than running missions. So what do you think happened? Well knowing that players do what you reward them to do, I’m sure you can guess, and you’d be right: it became “City of Street Sweepers.” Now the COH devs had two choices. The SOE LOGIC method would be, “Well players don’t do missions anyway, so let’s stop doing development of that. Not enough people will use it.” COH would’ve thus stopped making instanced mission content, and started adding more and more “street sweeping” zones. But the COH devs wanted people to do missions, not street sweep. So they used ACTUAL LOGIC instead, and they bumped up mission rewards so that you could earn more experience doing missions than street sweeping. And what do you think happened? Well, because players do what you reward them to do, everyone started doing missions.

And in our own “beloved” SWG, before the CU, there was one prevailing playstyle: the “solo group.” Players would group to bump up mission reward/difficulty, and then go solo the mission. Using SOE’S OWN LOGIC, the SWG devs should have said, “Well nobody groups anymore so let’s take grouping out of the game.” It certainly wouldn’t be seen as being worth it to re-program and improve the grouping UI when nobody is grouping would it? But with the CU, what did SOE do? They did the opposite of their own stated logic! They had a design in mind, which was that people should group to do missions, so, showing that even SOE knows, deep down, that players do what you reward them to do, the SWG devs made actual grouping to do missions (that is, doing them together) far more rewarding than soloing. And guess what? Everyone is grouping now because players do what you reward them to do! Indeed the very same people who incessantly solo grouped before the CU won’t even consider running a mission solo today — their behavior has 100% been changed through, that’s right — changing the reward structure!

This long diatribe should hopefully prove that the argument, “They can’t devote dev time to X because nobody does X” is not only bogus but it’s something even SOE doesn’t behave as if they believe. As I said, players are simple (not stupid, but simple in their motivations). In case anyone’s missed it, players do what you reward them to do. If SOE had bothered to reward the non-combat classes with the same quality and amount of content, loot, and other non-XP rewards that the combat classes get, tons and tons of people would still be playing those classes. But they didn’t do that. SOE MADE A CHOICE, before the players could, and that choice was to reward only combat. And given that players do what you reward them to do, and that only combat was rewarded, then we can see why the population now is almost entirely filled with people who are doing combat. There is no reward structure set up for non-combatants, so nobody does it.

So, let’s have an end to this insistence that the “devs don’t do any work for us because there are too few of us.” It’s a false premise. Players do what you reward them to do. If the devs actually wanted there to be more dancers, entertainers, socializers, crafters, etc, in the game, they would include appropriate rewards for those classes, in the form of dancer-oriented loot, crafter-oriented quests, and the like. That they have not ever done so, that they have not ever included any substantial rewards for any of the non-combat clases, while adding tons of rewards for combat, means that they deliberately WANT everyone to play a combat class. They are not stupid. They have shown in their own dev cycle that they know players do what you reward them for doing… and they are purposely rewarding them for doing combat, combat, and only combat.

This is no accident. It may not be a “conspiracy”, but it is no accident, and it is not ignorance. The devs have a vision, and it includes ONLY combat. And that is why non-combat classes get no dev effort. It’s got nothing to do with the population sizes of the various classes.

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