Sunday, 18 January 2015

Pecking order games

Last time I blogged, about a brutally competitive strategy involving farming newbies, Carson63000 made the very sensible point:

Not saying it's ethical or unethical, but I must say, after reading this series of blog posts, I would not even consider playing MtG:O. Pay-per-entry tournaments where even the explicitly designated "new player" games involve experienced players farming newbies? No thanks

Human social nature is a balance of cooperation and competition. Games tend towards competition. There are cooperative games but generally if you're playing a game in a risk free no consequences environment it's actually a really good place to compete with people because you don't lose your job/life/front teeth when things don't work out.

I think one of the clearest ways in which this has been shown is the case of the virtual world game. Virtual worlds (MMOs and MUDs) were seen by their pioneers as spaces where both cooperation and competition could thrive in tandem. Ultima Online, Everquest, Star Wars:Galaxies all had mechanics that strongly forced competition. In most of them crafting was so extremely laborious that you couldn't make everything you needed - you were forced to get some items from other people. Auction houses were limited or absent so to get a weapon from a weaponsmith you had to visit that specific player, encouraging social interaction. Both PvE and PvP challenges often forced players to gang up, soloing was somewhat limited. And the difficulty of encounters forced people to discuss tactics to beat them.

Players have consistently fought against and lobbied for change on mechanics that prevent them from advancing alone.

The modern MMO is a streamlined affair where group encounters don't really reward any conversation or working relationship, where solo advancement paths are very viable and where even on group situations people are encouraged to focus on themselves (eg "I topped the damage meter").

Magic is an extreme of competive gaming, the game is built around redistributing assets from unsuccessful players to successful ones.

That's a big part of the fun for me right now, there's a clear and verifiable experience of where you stand. If you're very good you finish with lots of prizes, if you're average you gradually bleed resources away (after all the house always wins) and if you're bad you should probably stop playing and play something else.

So right now I'm still in the learning stages but I'm interested in completing my apprenticeship and seeing where I land. If I'm good at this game then it's a never ending stream of more and more prizes, with entry fees being comfortably paid out of my winnings. If I'm not very good then it would be good to know that.

Of course the thing about pecking order games is that those at the top become very invested while those at the bottom tend to leave so it's always a pool of players that are refining themselves by success. But dog eat dog is kinda fun, nothing like seeing people rage when they lose :)


  1. I started to reply to the post then I hit this... " eat dog is kinda fun, nothing like seeing people rage when they lose.." uhhh... nope, not to me.

    While I am not playing MtG:O I do not like any games where preying on noobs is allowed much less encouraged... and I don't mean EVE type noob griefing, which is bad enough... I mean real spawn-point camping kinda griefing or the "... if you're bad you should probably stop playing and play something else... type of gameplay, meaning if you are not good (IE new, as a new player cannot by definition be GOOD at a game he is learning to play...).

    I had some small interest in the game, until you wrote that post... and "...nothing like seeing people rage when they lose :)" FFS really???

    1. Well the example I had in mind was a game I played yesterday. I played someone and got into a position where I would win next move. He sent me an angry message about how lucky I was that he didn't draw the cards he needed then a few minutes went by without him passing the play to me. So instead of clicking to tell the game he had finished his move he went afk or whatever, leaving it for me to either wait out 20 minutes on the chess clock like timer or end the game by conceding. I just alt tabbed and played something else, but yeah I feel no shame in laughing at him for throwing his toys out of the pram.

      Regarding farming the new people, I am myself new. I started Dec 27th. Sure it's something of a loophole to buy new accounts to farm absolute beginners but it's part of the game as it is designed. If you don't think the functionality should be there then take it up with the game designers but currently it's how the game is built.

      I don't feel bad about doing this. I played a big boy event yesterday and lost every game. This game is full of people who have played it a very long time and who are very good (and also rather brutally shoos newbies away).

  2. You've written the best post I've read in quite awhile that illustrates both the moral bankruptcy and narcissism possible in online play. Well done!

    1. I suspect that doesn't reflect well on me :)

  3. I guess the feeling I was trying to get across was that while I agree there is a place for competitive dog-eat-dog games, and a place for fun casual games, I'm not sure there is a place for games which say "come here if you're new and want to learn to play" and then drop the newbies into a tank of veteran sharks waiting to feed on them.

    Having said that.. if the new player tournies really were restricted to genuinely new players (e.g. couldn't create a new account with the same credit card as an existing one).. would there be enough of an inflow of new players to make them run at all?

    1. Yes there would. I estimate these tournaments are half newbies half veterans. They tend to have 40-80 players each time, they only need 8 to start