Want some carrot with that stick?

When someone behaves badly in a game, players want to see some punishment.  This is true anywhere on line, in fact.  We need to clamp down.  We need to punish.

Let me tell you something interesting.

Behavioural psychology identifies three methods of reinforcement that can be used to modify behaviour.  Positive reinforcement (reward), negative reinforcement (removal of something bad) and punishment.  It also tells us, overwhelmingly, that their level of success is in the order above.  An awful lot of literature points out that positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment.  Some more recent work suggests a combination can also be effective in certain circumstances, but that combination still leaves positive reinforcement playing a role.

League of Legends is hugely successful, but is well known for having one of the most toxic playerbases of any game.  LoL has done the whole punishing thing, but that didn’t really clean up their playerbase.  LoL, however, has its own Player Behaviour Team and those experts know their basic psychology.  The solution? The Honor system.  Honor is a currency you earn by being awesome.  After each match, other players can say if they thought you were ‘Friendly’.  Be friendly or helpful enough, and your Honor will accrue to let you buy things such as skins.

Carrots in SWTOR
LoL is not the only game to try this. In PvP in SWTOR, you can vote for the man of the match.  It’s a simple thing.  It gives you a minute bonus to your currency gain, but it makes players feel good.  It also demonstrates the problem, however, with rewarding good behaviour.  If  you are doing your PvP with a friend, you always vote them as man of the match.

What might carrots look like in WoW?
Both of these systems give you a reward.  Actually, you don’t need the reward – the positive reinforcement alone is probably effective.  MMO players, however, like rewards.  They like to collect stuff, they like to get epic gear and pets.  However, any reward would be subject to the problem in SWTOR.  Only in WoW, it would be exaggerated.  People would offer votes for money and gold.  Its hard to see how any reward system in WoW would not be open to abuse.  That isn’t a reason not to introduce some positive reinforcement into the game, however.

Imagine you ran LFR.  At the end you get a list of players and you can give positive (and only positive) feedback to them.  The other day I went out of my way to praise the healers in an LFR.  They were doing a great job and I thought they deserved to hear it.  Make that systematic.  If I want to say ‘tank you were awesome’ I should be able to.  There is no record, no reward, no ‘look at me I have more of this than you’.  Just a moment of positive reinforcement that enhances someones experience of playing the game.


4 thoughts on “Want some carrot with that stick?

Add yours

  1. I am totally conflicted on this issue (shameless self-plug: http://wp.me/p34kY5-g5). I think that it is atrocious that we, as human beings, need incentives to be civil to each other. I also think it’s ridiculous that people are suggesting ‘rewards’ for good behaviour – even if people obviously need to be treated like children.

    I do, however, see the need for something to happen. I’m appalled at the general attitude of WoW (this is the only online game I play so have no comparison to others) and I regularly get myself into trouble by saying something about the language and actions of certain people, especially in LFR. I take a firm stand against these issues – if nothing is said, nothing will change,regardless of the ‘report’ button.

    Perhaps, instead of a carrot, we need to hit them with the stick. Harsher punishments and more stringent consequences? They want to act like children, let’s treat them as such!

    1. The problem with that is that psychologically punishment does not work. It does not produce the desired behaviour anywhere near as effectively as rewards do. Carrots are more effective than sticks. It doesn’t matter how hard you hit people with the stick, the carrot will still work better. That is why LoL has seen such success with their work. It isn’t a matter of treating players like children, but rather of exploiting human psychology.

      1. To be honest? Psychologically or not, I don’t want to be around players that are capable of acting so disgracefully. Bribing people for upvotes will be the next step and I’m not sure I want in on that either.

        As I said, a conflicting issue I’m not sure even has an answer. We shall see how many more people don’t renew subs before a step is made to counter it!

    2. I often wonder about these players and how it is they came to the point of behaving so badly. Trolls don’t spring fully formed from the forehead of Zeus – society makes them somehow. As strange as it seems to me, I am sure that people who behave badly in games believe they are right to do so. When you punish them, this only seeks to reinforce that rightness. Its their way of seeking attention or rebelling or whatever it is that is driving their mindset. I think games can do something to change this by providing positive reinforcement to positive behaviours.

      I do, however, take your point about the upvotes. Which is why such reinforcement can only be provided in that moment. There should be no record, no material reward, nothing that lasts beyond ‘Hey you’re cool’. I think that paying for upvotes then would be ineffective and unlikely.

      I try hard in LFR not to feed the trolls. Instead I try to make a positive contribution to the LFR – helping with reminders of tactics, giving positive feedback, saying thanks at the end (especially after wipes). Not only should it be more effective, but it makes me feel so much better in and of myself! I get to remain positive and not be brought down by other people and thats very important to my gameplay experience (and my sanity).

      I often, like you, wish I didn’t have to be around such people and the WoW community is definitely worse than that in some other games I play. However, I also think that finding ways of dealing with their existance that doesn’t impact negatively on my own mindset is more useful than ignoring them. Every time you get angry at them and let them make you feel bad, they achieve their goals. Its not an approach that will work for everyone, but it does work for me!

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