GW2: Social Dilemmas in the Ruins of Lion’s Arch

To take this screenshot, I had to be a bad person and not rescue any citizens...

I wonder if Guild Wars 2 players ever feel that they’re just taking part in one grand ol’ economics experiment?

Be it by accident or design, the devs who created the Escape from Lion’s Arch activity of this latest update seem to have stumbled into another one:

The Public Goods Dilemma

The Public Good Game has the same properties as the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game but involving more than two individuals. A public good is a resource from which all may benefit regardless of whether they contributed to the good. For instance, people can enjoy the city parks regardless of whether they contributed to their upkeep through local taxes. Public goods are non-excludable: Once these goods are provided nobody can be excluded from using them. As a result, there is a temptation to enjoy the good without making a contribution. Those who do so are called free-riders, and while it is rational to free-ride, if all do so the public good is not provided and all are worse off.

— From “Social Dilemma” on Wikipedia

Citizens rescued are the public good in this case.

Selfless individuals who choose to lower their personal reward (of bags collected, and potential rare/exotic drops) in favor of reviving and escorting citizens to safety contribute to a collective counter of citizens saved.

A communal reward is given to all in the map at 100, 300, 600, 1000 and 1,500 citizens saved.

The arguably best reward is at 1,500, where one received an Ultimate citizen’s bag that has a chance of producing items from a previous Living Story update.

So far, I’ve managed to get a Recipe: Superior Rune of Antitoxin (valued at 14 gold if anyone ever buys it off the TP) once, and 4 pieces of Salvageable Aetherized Metal Scraps (worth pretty much nothing) another time, plus all the extra goodies of the current update (found heirlooms, children’s drawings, dragonite ore, yadda yadda.)

Meanwhile, thoughtless individuals who act in rational self-interest are liable to glom onto zergs, seeking the highest reward achievable for the least effort and risk, spamming 1 to win the standard flow of bags and loot, while benefiting from whatever level the citizen counter happens to hit.

Or they’re running around by themselves, skipping past mobs they either can’t kill (elites) or can’t be bothered to kill (everything else), rummaging around in rubble piles for found heirlooms, creating a stunningly realistic simulation of looters profiting from disasters.

This is the problem of the free rider.

I played for over 2 years in A Tale in the Desert. Social dilemmas fascinate me.

It’s been interesting to observe how devs and players are responding to this turn of events in GW2, though I have a distinct feeling that the casual time-starved are the group of players losing out in this particular situation.

For instance, the update launched with what appeared to be a bug for citizen count reward as opposed to what was released in the patch notes. Rewards were being given out at 100, 500, ? (probably 1000), 1,500 and 2000 citizens.

Players managed to rescue 100 and got a small reward that didn’t seem worth it. Zerging around never got past 300-400 rescued, and thus 500 seemed impossible, prompting pretty much the entire populace to drop citizen rescue like a hot potato and spam 1 to win instead.

I’m sure it didn’t help that the standard scaling for events was creating a wealth of veterans and champions with their standard loot drops, while unintended bugs were doing odd things to the citizen counters in main maps (first never resetting per attempt, and then resetting completely unpredictably.)

With the immediate feedback of immediate loot, and completely unreliable feedback of what one might achieve by hitting 1,500 citizens, the bulk of players responded appropriately.

ZERG ZERG ZERG 11!111111!11 ZERG ZERG !1111!111

Okay, so this is a lousy screenshot of a not very big zerg. I'm carrying a loot stick (guardian staff) though! In my defence, too busy spamming 1 during the really good mob spawns to worry about screenshots.
Okay, so this is a lousy screenshot of a not very big zerg. I’m carrying a loot stick (guardian staff) though! In my defence, too busy spamming 1 during the really good mob spawns to worry about screenshots. This was merely downtime between dolyaks.

Probably to the immense horror of the less cynical designers involved in the effort.

Oh, it’s not that other players couldn’t see the intent.

It’s just that the long-term reward was too slight and far-off a chance of gaining something really good, versus the larger chance you’ll get nothing worth mentioning, plus the attractiveness of the short term reward.

Stealth tweaks were made as patches popped in to fix the more egregious bugs.

The most obvious is that the citizen counter went back to rewarding 100, 300, 600, 1000 and 1,500 citizens saved. A zergy overflow map now has a better chance of hitting the level 2 or level 3 group effort communal reward, though the later two rewards are still pegged at a level that requires cooperation and coordination and organization from at least half to a majority of players on the map.

Less obvious is that the number of mobs produced in response to scaling has dropped on particular dynamic events. The Black Lion Dolyaks used to produce an incredibly insane number of veteran aetherblades in response to a big population gathered in the vicinity, and spawned quite often. That has now dropped a tad.

It’s still been interesting to note that a percentage of players are simply quite blind to these subtle tweaks. They gather together because numbers = safety in their mind, and because big bright orange circles on the minimap called them to the area, regardless of what is actually happening.

Only 10 mobs spawn? Nevermind, we’ll try to tag them anyway! Some will win, others will lose out.

30 Elites have spawned and are pwning the zerg together with extra anti-zerg AoE effects? Obviously, we need to throw MORE bodies at it to defeat them! Meanwhile, I’ll just lay here dead and beg for a rez from people busy struggling to stay alive themselves, and whine that no one cares about me.

Of course, it’s been interesting as well to note the other side of the equation.

For whatever reason moves them internally, a few people are choosing to act altruistically, rezzing players and citizens alike, either doing their best in whatever zerg they find themselves in, or seeking out an immersive solo or small group experience in the disaster zone that is Lion’s Arch.

Others, driven to frustration by the rapacious hordes, and most likely motivated by greed for a potential big payoff, respond by seeking out their own organized collectives and communicating for better coordination.

Most notable is a lovely map created by Rainwhisper and posted on Reddit, which clarifies visually for those who are willing, but running around lost looking for citizens, as to where the largest groupings are.

I snuck in my party of five strategy in that thread, formulated by many instances of fighting to build continous citizen chains at the Crow’s Nest Tavern/Coriolis Plaza and White Crane Terrace, where one or two people could be overwhelmed by stray elites, but five can easily clear mobs (thus still maximizing personal loot) and rescue swiftly.

Someone else also made a grouping map that covers the obvious areas, though folks haven’t really taken to using it yet.

TTS has made their own forays onto the map. The first few attempts got close at 1200 citizens twice, another scraped close at 1451 citizens (with 1/4 of TTS stuck outside the overflow griping at those noncontributers taking up space within), and the last three rounds have cleared 1500, albeit on a less populated server map at off hours.

1535 citizens
1535 citizens and counting, my group stationing themselves at the Crow’s Nest Tavern
1544
1544 citizens and counting, this time in another group at the White Crane Terrace

I find it quite intriguing to read Reddit reports that the EU equivalent of TTS, TxS, has apparently gotten more closed off as time passes. It seems to imply what I’ve always maintained about game difficulty rising to ‘raid’ level. When the coordination and organization required rises beyond casual levels, it’s super easy to slip into an elitist and exclusionary attitude.

Personally, I have been guilty of it in this update.

Stuck outside on one TTS attempt, I spent much of my rising blood pressure alternately cursing out the damned noncontributing PUGs and PUGmander trying to zerg on an overflow going for a 1500 citizen attempt, spamming my mouse button to death to try and get in, wishing one of the free riders would crash the hell out of the game, and wishing for a private overflow that only our megaguild could access.

While being as much use as a block of wood in the overflow I was sitting in, spam clicking “Join Party Member in Overflow” by the entrance.

Me, the champion of inclusion.

If this isn’t an example of slippery slope, I dunno what is.

An even more interesting development has been the formation of a new guild, MEDx, dedicated to saving 1500 citizens. Their success rate has been improving as their ranks start to fill, enabling them to squeeze more of their number onto one overflow…

…despite a seriously broken overflow accessing system.

It’s hard to know the proper solution for these dilemmas.

Give us the private instances we want, and you’ll never see us again interacting with the hoi polloi.

People would end up feeling forced to join up to progress their goals, as opposed to the current system which allows for chance encounters and the instilled desire to join up based on a good experience with the guild.

Yet if we go without, the designers are limited to only creating encounters for the lowest common denominator, zergfests of loot pinatas that crumble to 1 spamming, fun in their own way, but whose novelty wears off fast.

(I remember how I ultimately got bored of City of Heroes’ standard mob distribution: 2 mobs 1 lt. or 3 mobs per solo spawn, big clumpy mass of 2-4 bosses and lt./minion mix for 8 in a team. No variance = yawnfest.)

I suppose it’s never a dichotomy.

In a way, it’s nice that the two can exist alongside each other. Coordinated attempt giving a different type of payoff as compared to a more zergy casual style. The trick is making sure neither side feels like they’re losing out or being affected overly much by each others’ choice of playstyle co-existing on the same map.

I mean, I play both ways as and when I feel like it. Some days, you just want to zerg. Or spend an overflow hunting rubble locations for the once daily heirlooms. Some days, you want to make a serious attempt at 1500 citizens. But it would be way too stressful to HAVE to play that way all the time, in order to get any reward whatsoever.

With some irony, I note that in between my first drafting this post and going off for a nice extended weekend breakfast/lunch outing, a patch has apparently been released to once again ratchet down the number of civilians required to: 100, 300, 600, 900 and 1200.

Is anyone else getting the feeling that they started with the goalposts at a very hopeful and optimistic distance, and are now adjusting it incrementally downward until they hit a sweet spot?

Still, time will tell whether this lowered number will prompt more people to step up on their own, and seek out and rescue citizens by themselves as the counter creeps closer to a good reward, or whether it encourages more folks to sit back and engage in social loafing, presuming that someone else will do it and they can reap the extra rewards from farming and the group reward to boot.

I suppose part of the problem is random overflows. All the servers are mixed together as strangers, who may never meet again, and thus owe no allegiance towards each other. Iterated prisoner’s dilemmas can never happen, since no one might encounter each other again, and the rational choice becomes to defect all the time.

Within an organized guild, or with familiar people, more people are inclined to cooperate, as there is a larger guarantee that the group will be working together as a collective towards the big payoff, rather than being the one poor sap taken advantage of by free riders.

Perhaps a nice first step before any more “social coordination” challenges are made might be the introduction of better tools for organizing a map of random people.

Different colored commander tags… Ways to see and assign various parties, or see and direct different squads of people to certain areas… A district system a la Guild Wars 1 where specific numbers are assigned to overflows and people can queue up in orderly fashion like in the new and improved WvW maps of today… Less fanatical map channel suppression for people actually trying to give directions to a map…

…Alliances and alliance chat…

… maybe the ability to ACTUALLY SEE CHAT FROM ALL THE GUILDS YOU’RE IN, AT THE SAME TIME?

…Stuff like that.

A Guild Odyssey – Part 3 (NBI Talkback Challenge)

“The universe is driven by the complex interaction between three ingredients: matter, energy, and enlightened self-interest.”

— G’Kar, Babylon 5

I believe Dunbar was on to something when he proposed that there is a limit to the number of people a single person can maintain social relationships with.

I don’t know if he got that number exactly correct, but certainly, it’s easier to remember 10-20 familiar names in a guild (my memory is very very bad) and the games in which I felt the strongest connections were games where less than 300 people tended to be online at any one time.

A Tale in the Desert is notable for being one of the few MMOs that allow people to be in multiple guilds at one time.

In my opinion, it’s pioneered a number of innovative guild features that other MMOs would benefit from adopting. The game also highlights the interesting push-and-pull between public community interest and self-interest for personal benefit via many design aspects.

Guilds, first and foremost, in ATITD are a means to control ownership and access rights to the property and items that players build.

If you’re a solo player on a single character, you might be able to get away with just having all the stuff you build be in your name and accessed via those, but if you play two or more characters, it becomes convenient to create a guild and give all your characters equivalent high access to everything.

Also, spouses or best friends that play one or two characters each will also favor creating their own guild so that they can share access rights that way.

Evolving up from there, we have the friends and family guilds where groups of friends may want to share communal resources, or come together to build big ticket items that are infrequently used but expensive for a lone player to build.

The nice thing about being allowed to join multiple guild is that you can have the best of both worlds. You can have a personal guild for yourself to keep your personal items safe, while being part of a larger guild, possibly with more limited access privileges, but still contribute to that community and benefit from the shared resources.

Veteran players tend to develop close relationships with each other and naturally want to stay in contact with each other and chat, so such clique guilds are common. Depending on the group, they may be open and inclusive to newbies joining them as some don’t mind or enjoy teaching newbies, and more players contributing resources tend to make the guild stronger as well.

A Tale in the Desert has one interesting spin on guild chat. (All chat tabs, really.) It’s persistent. As in, the guild chat can be set to be time-stamped and left up for hours if no one scrolls it off the screen.

What this means is that in smaller guilds, or even individual whispers to a player, you can essentially leave messages for each other even when both parties aren’t logged on at the same time. You could conduct a conversation message-board style 8 hours apart, and have the benefit of it speeding up to real-time when both of you are logged in together.

ATITD allows for as many chat tabs as you want to be up at once, so depending on the player, they could choose to leave chat tabs for 10 or 20 or 70 player names up at once to always stay in contact with them, or be in multiple guilds and keep track of all the chat going on in each channel.

This gives rise to functional guilds.

Interested in an aspect of ATITD? Say, wine-making? Beer-brewing? Growing thistles? An expert and want to talk shop with other experts? A newbie and want to pick the experts’ brains while asking questions? Join a functional guild and be included in a small community of other enthusiasts, sort of a hobbyist guild within a hobby, where most chat will be related to the subject of interest.

Regional guilds are also commonplace, often doubilng up as either ‘public facilities’ or ‘research’ guilds.

You see, it’s not easy to travel in A Tale in the Desert. The map is LARGE, the runspeed is SLOW, and so people tend to spontaneously clump together in regions and form local communities, with buildings close by that resemble a village.

Again, for big ticket items, people have found it most convenient to construct shared facilities, that are often placed in a central location of a region – next to a chariot stop – and designated as for public-use.

Ditto for research contribution, which are basically Egypt-wide projects to unlock a technology for all, including future players of that Telling, to use. Guilds are used to indicate interest in contributing to those projects, with the bonus of having a separate chat tab to keep track of everything.

One common mistake newbie players make is to simply join one guild, which is often a public or research guild as those have the widest reach and give their all for that guild. The effort is always appreciated, but sometimes the new players expect a reciprocation (such as increased guild rank promotion) that may not arrive. (Depending on the guild’s leader, permissions for various ranks may be set differently, to restrict certain items from being broken by over-use or abuse.)

Often, it is sensible to keep some resources for oneself and one’s individual progress through the game to gain levels, and contribute only what you can spare. Different people arrive at slightly different balances between self-interest and community good, but extremes at either end tend to be rare, and don’t usually end well.

Which brings us back to MMO guilds in general: are they merely comprised of selfish individuals looking out for number 1?

I doubt it.

But I don’t think it is wrong to say that most people are self-interested.

(Not selfish, not self-centered, because those words come loaded with negative connotations. Even self-interest is used in semantically confusing fashion when one does a casual search on the web. I find this man’s take on the words a decently nice way of differentiating them though – Gerhard Adams on individual self-interest that can lead to selfish, cooperative or altruistic behavior on interaction with another.)

It is survival. Self-preservation. Natural selection favors a self-interested mind.

But what we find is that when circumstances dictate that cooperation and/or organization yields bigger or equally decent returns for self-interested individuals working together, they come together.

Zergs spontaneously form. Leaders create guilds. Humans have a long history of coming together.

At least, for a while.

Until going one’s own separate ways benefits the individuals more, and stuff breaks apart. The age-old cycle repeats itself.

P.S. As for Puzzle Pirates, I’ve decided to talk about that another time. Suffice to say that it’s a game that also has guilds designed -into- the game itself, giving players a need to ‘join a crew’ for better privileges and unlock access to some activities, and a way for newbies to flow into and be introduced to various guilds. Suffice to say that it is -also- an aging game that is past its prime in terms of guilds that are still alive rather than historical artifacts that have seen better times.

P.P.S. I’d like to come full circle soon and talk about guilds in my current game of Guild Wars 2, but I’m finding it a little hard to write about at the moment. Suffice to say that a number of guilds I know are… cycling right now and that’s correspondingly getting me a little bit down as well.

Change is inevitable, but sometimes, it’s a little hard to accept while it’s happening.