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[Column] General: Player Behavior & Fluid Dynamics

SBFordSBFord Associate Editor - News ManagerThe CitadelPosts: 23,361MMORPG.COM Staff Epic

Action for reward is a stock-in-trade with all MMOs. Players want to be rewarded for their time spent but it's a conundrum for developers. See how the issue is viewed and addressed in Matt Miller's latest column. 

Unfortunately, just like fluid dynamics (and electricity for the most part), the playerbase will seek out and exploit the path of least resistance. What actions will take the least amount of effort and the least amount of time to achieve the same goal, and receive the same reward? Given enough time (or enough people) such paths are found in most MMOs, much to the designers chagrin.

Read more of Matt Miller's Player Behavior & Fluid Dynamics.



  • WereLlamaWereLlama Lubbock, TXPosts: 246Member Uncommon

    I believe most players are more motivated to seek these easier paths if their actions play the only role in success.  If you feel your decisions are hurting your progression, you will seek outside help (the web) to find the ideal path.  

    So, if we want players to be less min/maxing, perhaps add a progression/over time cap.  Yes, on the immediate glance its like a parent saying No. Its unwelcome.  But, it allows players less stress to find alternate/less efficient paths to content, and actually stop to smell the roses.

    Ex. In Swtor, they have comm caps a week and raid boss lockouts. You can do whatever you want, as efficiently or inefficiently, and still be on par with the other players. Sure Swtor has other exploits (like using legacy items to pool raid gear to your favorite character bypassing all these caps) but the caps allow freedom to smell the roses.  If you are into roses of course.




  • FrinkiacVIIFrinkiacVII Scranton, PAPosts: 45Member Uncommon
    I think the best thing to do is tweak, revamp, and revise the content often enough that the "old reliable" tactics either don't work anymore or aren't optimal.  CoH did this with the Hamidon raid and maybe a few other things over the course of it's existence.  In other words, replace the wing in the flow diagram with a different one from time to time, or even just tilt the wing at a different angle of attack (to be honest, the circuit diagram approach using resistors would probably be more appropriate, as you end up just adding in and taking out resistors, but whatever analogy floats your airplane I guess).  I don't know how easy or hard this is to do for a game developer though.  I'm told a lot of zoos that have otters will give the otter a plastic puzzle with food inside, the idea being that the otter will figure out how to open the puzzle and get the food.  They eventually have to change the puzzle because the otters remember how to do it after a while.  I think it's the nature of living systems to adapt and optimize, so the only appropriate response to to adapt back, I guess.  This, of course, is basically the worst possible solution for the developers, because it means that once you've rolled out new content, you're still not done with it, because now you have to spend person-hours to maintain it and refresh it from time to time, like mowing the lawn or maintaining the patio etc.  As if it weren't enough work just writing new content, now you have to constantly repair, replaster, and repaint all the old content too.

    "Well sure, the FrinkiacVII looks impressive - DON'T TOUCH IT - but I predict that within 100 years computers will be TWICE as powerful, ten THOUSAND times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe will own them." -Prof. Frink

  • zymurgeistzymurgeist Pittsville, VAPosts: 5,395Member Uncommon
    The ultimate solution is making your content not suck. People rarely bypass what they enjoy. Content that sucks is not challenging, it's boring.

    "Strong and bitter words indicate a weak cause" ~Victor Hugo

  • GrumpyMel2GrumpyMel2 Catskills, NYPosts: 1,832Member

    This is a problem with content that is static and therefore can be infinately repeated until the players find the optimal solution. If you are able to move away from players repeating the same static content, then you avoid the problem because the optimal solution is a moving target.

    P.S. Your scenario is mostly of concern for the achiever/progression type player because they are only concerned with the reward. For the rest of us, the reward is the fun of experiencing the game...not some carrot of orc-slaying +2 that comes at the end.


  • ArglebargleArglebargle Austin, TXPosts: 1,979Member Uncommon

    Some good responses here.  If it's fun, people will just do it. 


    To quote CoH stuff, I did the Imperious Task Force numerous times because it was fun, very well designed.  The end fight with Romulus could be approached a ton of different ways, with use of terrain, creative splitting of the Essences, straight out zerg attacks, etc, all working at one point or another.  A crafty vet on one run told us a trick (probably an exploit) of having no one go onto the plaza before pulling Romulus with a long range attack.   The essences wouldn't spawn, and Romulus went down in one single defeat, instead of the requisate four.  How they figured that out initially I have no idea. 

    Compare that to the Quartermain Task Force, an awful, mind-numbingly boring, terribly designed TF.  I did it once.  Never again.  I think only the badge hunters ever really bothered with it.  Another part of the waste of a good zone.


    And non-static events:  On one final TF battle we were in, you'd normally fight a Super Villain Foe who would call in, one by one, Super Villain allies.  Probably due to a bug, TWO Super Villains got called in at the same time, as well as waves of minions.  It was a mad scramble by the team, with a controller and blaster taking out the minon waves at a choke point, defender and tank holding off the Big Bad, and the other four team members trying to keep the other two Villains from concentrating their attacks until the team could refocus its attention and take out the Super Villains one by one.      Too bad it wasn't designed that way, with at least a chance that that could happen, say.


    Because  that's the run of that TF that I remember vividly.  Surprise action, resourceful team, and absolutely not a simon sez clockwork dance of optimized raid ballet.

    If you are holding out for the perfect game, the only game you play will be the waiting one.

  • NephelaiNephelai SydneyPosts: 185Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by zymurgeist
    The ultimate solution is making your content not suck. People rarely bypass what they enjoy. Content that sucks is not challenging, it's boring.

    Exactly this - people only bypass time sync designed content. If its fun and interesting people will engage with it. If its there only to slow you down until you get to the fun and interesting stuff in a hope of extending your sub or buying something from a store to defeat it then people will do that.

  • DaessarDaessar Chino, CAPosts: 204Member

    I think there are too many arguments presented in the article and not enough definition of design goal. Much of it changes based on what type of game it is, and player behavior can change drastically based on that. 

    Make the content interesting and challenging, and then be prepared to act swiftly if a bug or an exploit is found. If those things are quickly fixed, then I'm for a removal of rewards earned through that means. If the bugs or exploits take a long time to fix, or are put on low priority to fix, then the damage is done. All of this really goes back to design goal and if these things really matter in the game.

  • AmarantharAmaranthar OhioPosts: 2,873Member Uncommon

    I'd rather not have fixed content. I'd rather be the wing seeking lift in the ever changing winds in order to move to the destination I set for myself.


    Once upon a time....

  • jbombardjbombard SapporoPosts: 580Member Uncommon
    I think the real challenge is figuring out how to reward your players for spending time in your game while not simply making the reward fun but also making the time they spend in between fun as well.  Throwing up arbitrary walls for the players to but their heads on and then becoming upset when they find a way to avoid what you have created is kind of missing the point.  If people aren't enjoying the experience they are going to try to avoid it.  If you try and force a certain outcome or behavior, people are going to fight against it.  People don't like feeling forced.  The key is to not force anything but to find ways to apply positive reinformcent to the behaviors and outcomes that are most desirable without beating them a stick everytime they try and color outside the lines.
  • terratricksterratricks Sonora, CAPosts: 2Member

    The rock and river analogy is interesting. The only difference is that I see the rock as developers who refuse to give up the notion that player behavior is guided by simple behavioral principles like...they will find the fastest way to the reward they desire, and the water as players. They move around the rock or wash it away.

    The expectations by some developers are misguided. I don't mean to sound harsh, but if this problem exists in like..every game, then maybe we are looking at human behavior that lies outside of easy labeling like exploits, cheating, laziness, etc.

    Games will never be able to stop the "path of least resistance", but developers can learn to incorporate gaming conditions that guide players towards behaviors the developers would like to see occur. However, 100,000 players will find ways around any challenge that  a development team had any hand in creating.

    Finding the path of least resistance will happen, whether developers like it or not. It is the developers' reactions that set the tone for the player community. Punish or learn. Punish the players via stigma, direct statements or "nerfing" rewards becuse they didn't follow A-B-C, or learn from how players accomplished it, and continue to learn how the player base works so the game can continue develop cooperatively-between developers and the player base. No challenge will ever be player-proof. This is not the fault of the player, but should be a positive learning experience for the development team.

    One last comment. Again, this will sound harsh. I have have never understood the mentality that some developers I have met have when they think they know and understand human behavior. I am a researcher in behavioral psychology and we have about 110 years of systematic research and we still are learning. Why a development team would get frustrated because they failed to predict human behavior is well--weird.

  • Sajman01Sajman01 Rochester, NYPosts: 204Member
    Originally posted by zymurgeist
    The ultimate solution is making your content not suck. People rarely bypass what they enjoy. Content that sucks is not challenging, it's boring.

    Have to agree. Whether the content is boring from overuse, boring because of over tuned mechanics, or boring because it doesn't present a challenge, boring is boring. People will skip boring.

  • mysticalunamysticaluna Scotia, NYPosts: 265Member Uncommon

    Players won't even read quest dialogue anymore and want to be shown through cinematics instead of text. Yet, some of us are still perfectly okay with choosing the unique slower path that others avoid and will still read dialogue text. We need to be able to go back and read everything in a journal, so that we can keep up with the zerg players in our group/raids. 

    Give the impatient content locuts their stuff, but please give us laid back lore hungry players lots of reading material journals to read all quest dialogue in later! 

  • moguy2moguy2 Saint Peters, MOPosts: 337Member
    This is a double edge sword. Because what sucks to one person might be awesome to the next. And you will NEVER satisfy everyone.
  • RemianenRemianen Brooklyn, NYPosts: 38Member Uncommon

    Matt, I'm curious about something. This column is apropos because I can think of several examples of this occurring, one of which you presided over. Remember the Mission Architect? Now, those "exploits" you called out, who determined the assets that were usable in that system? The players? Who gave, for example, Rikti Communications Officers their xp value? Was that the players too? Prior to the Mission Architect, who gave underlings and NPC summoned pets their XP value? Guess that was the players also.

    My issue is with designers, like terratricks alluded to, who have zero knowledge, understanding, or experience with behavioral psychology, trying to use that as a basis for the design of content. It has been proven, for two decades, that a collective playerbase is infinitely more resourceful than the people creating the game in question. When you're creating the mountain impeding the progress of the river, you also have the opportunity to determine where the river will flow. But here's the unique part. You also have a hand in how the river flows because you can turn it into a creek (slowing the rate at which it can erode the mountain) or even a lake (stopping its flow and trapping it in its location until it can find suitable downslopes to use gravity to make it flow). In other words, all the power is in the hands of the designer. Pulling the 'exploit' card simply because players found a way to defeat your creation that you never considered is a copout. Here's an example: You never intended arcane salvage to be an order of magnitude more valuable than tech salvage. Yet, you made seven of the Power 10 enhancements, the most used enhancement types in the game, along with a few extremely popular non-Power 10 enhancements (like endurance modification which nearly every character needed at least 3 of for Stamina), require arcane salvage. That's the power of a designer to influence player behavior.

    Perhaps I'm sensitive to the 'exploit' thing because it's thrown around so much. I remember early in EverQuest's life, things like kiting and feign death pulling and pet pulling were considered exploits. It got to the point where the developers actively tried to do away with these practices (like making snare cancel on damage exactly like root did), to their own detriment (that snare change was reverted QUICK). Charm killing (especially for enchanters in Planes of Power and Bards in general, using the swarm offshoot) is another valid tactic that comes to mind. Nowadays, kiting is a bedrock feature/ability in almost all MMOs (even EVE ffs!) just like tank & spank (which was probably the only 'acceptable' tactic those early designers thought of). The designer has the ability to shape player behavior. If they relinquish that power, it's not the fault of the players. Not deciding is still a decision, after all.

  • SpeelySpeely Seattle, WAPosts: 861Member Common

    Interesting read. Games that rely on progression through static content are of course going to face design challenges in regard to how players experience it. Even well-designed, engaging content will become mundane and commonplace over time, and as playerbases mature, this landscape of static content blocks will become a roadmap with clearly marked routes of easiest progression. 

    I know it's easier said than done, but dynamic content is less prone to facilitate such cartography. Since playerbases are both very capable at navigating content and the most dynamic part of any online game, a greater focus on providing them with content generation tools becomes an attractive potentiality. 

    Note that these tools need not necessarily be literal content generation methods ala EQL, for example (though these tools can certainly be effective as well.) A modular, almost language-based design of content that allows for several variables (like location, participating npcs, time, area layout, etc) to change based on player actions could also provide a dynamic element. Quests that were built from multiple "blocks" could differ in as many ways as there are permutations of said block combinations. The magnitude of divergence would of course be limited by a number of things, but could conceivably be of use in limiting formulaic approaches to content existing in the game world.

    This approach could extend to every element of the game, potentially; dungeons, bosses, building, etc.

    Generally, since players are so adept at being creative when navigating content, a smart approach to providing content might be attempting to involve said players' actions. Maybe?


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