Monday, 24 February 2014

The Toxicity of Multiplayer

Multiplayer games make up a sizable chunk of our industry, with the biggest games coming out each year being based majorly on the mechanic. unfortunately however a bunch of the multiplayer games out there aren't designed with player community in mind, and hence cause a toxic atmosphere in their communities. This can be seen in a number of games, but probably the most notable are "MOBAs" (multiplayer online battle arenas).

What causes toxic atmospheres? Well there is a number of things but in MOBAs like league of legends, the most prominent is the fact that the teams can be dragged down by one player playing badly. Normally this isn't a problem in a game where a good player can counterbalance a bad player, but its not really possible in these games as the games mechanics are all based on snowballing effects.

Let me explain, MOBAs are based on the idea that you play as a character that has to build up their abilities and equipment as fast as possible, and then use your upgraded character to destroy the enemy teams structures. The games act like gigantic tug of wars with all players trying to push their way to victory against the enemy team. These mechanics would be fine if the game acted like a real tug of war, using momentum as the teams greatest asset instead of snowballing. The issue is that single players can "feed" the other team, dieing a bunch to opponents attacks and giving the opposing players extra gold. This doesn't only mean that the bad player is under equipped, as they lose time to farm gold and experience, it also means that the opponents have been given a advantage against the entire team, so even a mediocre player can beat a good player if they have been fed my a bad player. This causes teams to blame their worst player, as it end up with them causing their team to fail. This blame game causes a toxic atmosphere for the general community, however teams of friends usually are more willing to accept the shortcomings of their friends, and help them learn to get better.

How would I solve this problem? I would remove bonuses for killing players, I know it sounds daft, but if there was no bonus for killing players apart from setting back the player you killed, then you would would then have to kill every opponent on the opposing team before you got the outright advantage over all the opposing players. You would have to be the best player to be able to one up the entire enemy team, or you would have to work with your other team mates to get the best of each of the opponents team. It may not seem like the most existing solution, but with it good players cant be dragged down by bad ones through feeding, and hence remove part of the blame game. This still means that bad teams will still lose, but it removes the fact that the team is only as good as its worst player and averages it out the skill of the team amongst all the players, as long as they work as a team.

Lets jump to a different genre now, the first person shooter. I have expressed my distaste for call of duty's game design before, but here is probably the biggest sin. Because players can shoot and kill each other in a few bullets, a single player can rush into a room and kill four or five enemies before they even know what I going on. The game is mostly about instant awareness instead of strategy or team work, a type of information that is very hard to communicate to people you don't know over a microphone, so most players don't bother and play the game solo instead. A game where you play in a team but its better to play solo has a different problem compared to MOBAs. Players start see their team mates like they would NPCs, expecting them to fulfill a role, and then get annoyed when they don't fulfill that role adequately. Not seeing team mates as people, makes players more willing to insult other players, as they don't think about social consequence, (This is a general problem with online play, but its especially bad in FPSs). The other problem with the game is the fact that it is very much luck based. Being in the right place at the right time is what makes you able to easily kill other players, which in general pisses them off as it wasn't skill that killed them, just luck. This is also the reason why the aspect of camping is usually frowned upon. Camping is the act of staying in a good position for players to come into your cross-hairs. Basically finding the right place and then waiting for the right time. Its a generally good strategy, but one that annoys people as they don't believe it to be skillful, and just unfair instead. Lastly players are only awarded for getting kills in a row and hence getting more toys to play with, and not for completing the objective. Players feel accomplishment from not being a team player as the kill death ratio is more important than leading your team to victory. All these factors mean that in general its more fun to be on your own rather than in a team, as well as the fact that players feel cheated when they die, giving players resentment for the other players on both teams. The community hence descends into a lot of insults and bickering, and does not form bonds with players at all.

How would I solve this? well this problem has many facets so ill explain some fixes to some of them. I would add Items and weapons that are more useful to your entire team than just you, like cameras and trip wires that when triggered provide the information to your whole team. Targeting lasers which other players can use when calling down airstrikes and such (I know some of these things already exist but they weren't very well implemented and were generally useless). Just have a slot in the load-outs specifically for team based items. Have kill-streaks be based around completing the objective instead of just killing the opposing team, and have each of the kill-streaks require another player to use, so you need your team mates in order to do the cool stuff. For example, and air strike requires you to fly the plane over the right place while your team mate drops the bomb at the right time. How about giving players more health so they get a chance to take cover from gunfire and have the regenerating health act slower, this would mean players will still get an advantage from getting the jump on the opponent, but there is still a gunfight. What if one shot kill weapons are notoriously hard to use but for those who mastered them it felt like a skill. finally glorify the player who did the most for the team and not the one who got the last kill of the game.

I have ragged about what makes a community toxic, but what makes a good community? Staying on FPSs there is Team Fortress 2. TF2 has a bunch of the ideas stated above implemented in their most basic form, and although it could do more, it does enough to make the community enjoyable to interact with. In TF2 there is entire classes based on helping and working with team mates. These classes are the engineer and medic, and although they can be used as normal to kill other players on the other team, they are much better when used in conjunction with other players playing other classes. Engineers can make structures that teleport other players to better locations and heal other players, while medics can heal, buff and make other players invincible for a short amount of time. Other classes also have team effects as well, the soldier for example has ways of buffing other team mates in the area with large bonuses when they gather enough fury. Next all players have a decent amount of health, meaning they can always get into a gunfight with people shooting at them, so players don't feel cheated. One shot kills are only available for two classes, the sniper and the spy and causing the one shot kills are really hard to pull off, and so happen rarely and truly feel skillful when they are pulled off. Finally there is no glorification of people with a good kill death ratio, and instead focuses on objectives to be taken, and when an objective is taken, the entire team is given a reward for accomplishing an objective by getting a critical boost for a short time. Finally the general game attitude is about enjoying the game win or lose, as there is no ongoing scoreboards except your personal accomplishments. You get the same rewards for playing whether win or lose, its the amount of time you play and not how well you did which is what your rewarded for.

 Dark souls has a very accomplished PVP community even though it is very much a single player game. Their community has golden rules and each player is usually honorable enough to allow their opponent to get ready before a fight. Here is an idea, how about a high score board based on the players who have lost their battles, voting for their opponent? Well its a thing in dark souls, indictments are a way of scoring yourself and getting more appropriate opponents, but you have to be indited by an opponent you have killed. Its a weird system but it works for the high scoreboard. Some players even give indictments, humanity (what it costs to be human), and souls (what you lose when you die) to their opponents before attacking. There is also the golden rules, which are only in place because the game is unbalanced and players get more enjoyment out of fair fights than unfair ones. The golden rules include, no healing in a battle, if you enter a world of a player already in a battle wait untill its over before you attack, allow your opponent time to buff their weapons and use items and heal to full health before you start. These are pretty much enforced by most players, as its just more fun to be fair. Also things like healing during a battle is already a bad idea as the animation is long and your opponent can punish you with a back-stab, and then do the exact same action while you get to your feet. Finally you are rewarded for being nice to others through handy hints and helping others through boss fights already, so these ideals of being friendly carry over to the PVP as well. 

To summarize, for a good community you game should have these aspects. If you have team based game play, have players be required to work together for the best results. Make sure the worst player isn't the most important part of your team, and your teams skill is based around the average skill of the team. Have bonuses for players who do work together, and also bonuses for players who are friendly or helpful (make sure the bonuses actually matter to the players). Finally make sure players are put up against those of an appropriate skill level so that players feel like they have had a good battle and respect their opponent.

The readers challenge this week is about game community's, choose a multiplayer game you enjoy playing and try interacting with some other players, or you could just watch or listen to the conversation going on. Figure out whether you think the community is friendly or not, and then think about what the game has done to create that kind of game community.

I will be posting the missing post from last Friday, next Friday, sorry for the delay. Next week I will be having a look into something a bit less depressing, so join me for next weeks post "A World of Possibility".

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