Thanks for bearing with us as we went through our survey of player preferences. The information you provided was extremely useful.
Why we did this set of polls
The polling we've been doing on conflict-related items is based on the staff's feeling that we have failed to achieve one of the game's core goals — to create sustainable conflict in the game environment that drives change and thus drives story.
We feel like we have done a good job of supporting player vs. environment (PvE) conflict. A lot of players have stepped up to run their own adventures, or NPC villains. And packets provide our GM staff the ability to feed people adventures and information without needing to be constant on-demand support. Unfortunately, PvE conflict is not self-sustainable; it requires someone, whether a player or a member of the GM staff, to keep coming up with stuff for people to do. It's great stuff and we certainly want to see plenty of it, but it's hard to drive broader drama with it, unless the staff is running game-wide story — which is something we explicitly don't want to do, since our goal is to have the game be player-driven.
Knowing that players are often reluctant to engage in conflict, when we designed the game, we set forth a number of measures designed to mitigate that reluctance: We are a consent-based game, not an ICA=ICC one. Consequences are clearly defined in number and scope. Normal consequences explicitly can't punish the player rather than the character (i.e., by damaging their access to play). There are various indirect ways to engage in conflict, such as flags and props. Our theory was that, by creating an environment where we specifically discouraged the various means by which IC conflict tends to become OOC conflict, we would get broader willingness to engage in IC conflict.
However, in practice, while there is certainly plenty of small-scale interpersonal conflict (i.e., between two characters or within playgroups), the game has had limited meaningful broader conflict, and even on an interpersonal scale, people have seemed reluctant to engage in dramatic conflict.
Therefore, we wanted to understand what we could do to foster more dramatic conflict.
Player desire for conflict
The first question we wanted to answer was: Do our players want more conflict? Our working theory to date has been that we'd simply attracted a player base that wasn't into that kind of play, despite it being one of our stated core principles. But, as it turned out, the answer wasn't "no". Quite the opposite. Here are the poll results, representing 68% of the players active since it was posted:
- 60% chose B (I want more conflict in the game, and for myself, and I'm willing to roll with trouble)
- 30% chose A (I am satisfied with the amount of conflict in the game)
- 8% chose C (I want more conflict in the game, but I want pre-negotiation before I participate)
- One person chose D (I want less conflict)
This was result was very interesting to us, and actually something of a surprise, given the fairly limited amount of conflict on the game. That meant the question we had to answer was: Since people want more conflict, why isn't there more conflict already?
In the meantime, though, we recognized that there was something we could do immediately: We need to make it easier for people interested in conflict to find one another. Thus, we instituted the Trouble preference. This, in turn, has given us more interesting data to work with. 53% of characters who have logged in since we made it available have set a Trouble preference, which breaks down as follows:
- 21% are at 5 (I love trouble; start it and I'll roll with it)
- 28% are at 4 (I like trouble, but page first)
- 42% are at 3 (I want my trouble pre-negotiated)
- 6% are at 2 (I don't want uninvited trouble)
- 1 character is at 1 (I am avoiding IC conflict)
We cut this data by player as well as character, to remove alt effects (i.e., players who have lots of characters and all choose high or low settings). When we do a data cut by highest trouble number chosen by a player, that gets us 65% player participation, and the following breakdown:
- 31% are at 5 (I love trouble; start it and I'll roll with it)
- 33% are at 4 (I like trouble, but page first)
- The remainder are at 3 (I want my trouble pre-negotiated), except for 1 person at 2 (no uninvited trouble)
What those settings tell us is that most people feel that they're pretty open to IC conflict. (It's possible that those who haven't set a preference are trouble-averse, of course, but as is, it means a substantial body of characters who are interested in having trouble come their way.)
Cross-tabulating the Trouble preferences against the poll results for "how much conflict do you want?" leads to some interesting results. A crosstab represents 58% of players, using their highest Trouble setting, and the following interesting factoids emerge:
- Of the people who chose B, 39% had a Trouble of 5, 35% had a trouble of 4, and 26% had a Trouble of 3.
- The people who chose A (there's enough conflict) have their Trouble settings almost equally split over 3, 4, and 5, with the exception of one person at 2.
- The people who chose C (I want more conflict but want it tightly pre-negotiated) all had a Trouble of 3, with one exception at 4.
The Trouble preferences are particularly interesting when considered in the light of our follow-up question, which was: Why aren't you engaging in more conflict vs. other players? The results represent 55% of characters who have logged in since the poll:
- 56% chose E (too little IC reward for too much OOC drama)
- 20% chose A (I'm already involved in enough conflict)
- 12% chose C (nothing I want is contested)
- 7% chose B (I want more conflict, but against NPCs)
- 5% chose D (IC rewards are too low compared with the IC risks)
The results above presented an interesting intellectual conundrum: Why, if people claim to want more IC conflict, and most feel they are open to conflict, do they feel like other people don't want conflict, to the point where it's a hassle to engage?
The basic equation of this is: IC/OOC reward - OOC pain > 0 or people decide to avoid the conflict.
Therefore, there are two things you can tweak — you can increase the reward, or you can reduce the pain. We set out to find out: What reward increases, if any, would increase willingness to engage in conflict?
Our first question was, essentially, what candy could be dispensed to make conflicts feel more rewarding. The responses represent 61% of players logged in since the poll was posted. The results:
- 48% chose A (I want more enjoyable scenes; they're more important than a tangible reward)
- 29% chose B (I want more tangible IC rewards)
- 12% chose E (I'm content with what I get already)
- 7% chose D (the OOC hassle is so great that no reward is enough)
- 5% chose C (I want more RPG system rewards)
Our second question was designed to help us understand if players judged their payout on a conflict based on what their opponent lost — in other words, what would make consequences feel more satisfying and thus increase the feeling of reward. The responses represent 58% of players logged in since the poll was posted. The results:
- 65% chose A (loss doesn't change my satisfaction, and/or I'm fine with the way people lose now)
- 25% chose B (I want my opponent's loss to be more significant IC)
- 8% chose D (I want consequences that can't be shrugged off, including ones that affect access to play)
- One person chose C (I want RPG system consequences)
The cross-tabulation of these two last questions turns out to be interesting. The crosstab represents 58% of the players logged in since the poll was posted. The results:
- 30% chose A and A (I want more enjoyable scenes; I don't care what my opponent loses)
- 15% chose B and B (I want a more significant IC reward; my opponent's loss should be more significant IC)
- 13% chose B and A (I want a more significant IC reward; I don't care what my opponent loses)
- 10% chose A and B (I want more enjoyable scenes; my opponent's loss should be more significant IC)
- 10% chose E and A (I'm content with my winnings and my opponent's losses)
- 8% chose D and A (the OOC hassle is too big; I don't care what my opponent loses)
- 8% chose A and D (I want more enjoyable scenes; I want play-affecting consequences)
- 5% chose C and A (I want an RPG reward; I don't care what my opponent loses)
- One person chose E and C (I'm content with what I get; I want my opponent to take an RPG loss)
What the answer to these questions tell us is that the core issue and solution reside in the process and outcomes of IC play and OOC negotiation, not in the RPG system. It is possible there might be systematic solutions might facilitate more enjoyable play and less painful negotiation, but these are not mechanical issues.
The answers also suggest that better IC stakes would foster more enjoyable conflict. It does not look like mechanical support for those stakes would help much, but the stakes need setting buy-in to feel meaningful from a story perspective.
What causes conflicts to break down in OOC issues?
Given that the results strongly indicated that players are most wary of the OOC drama that can sometimes result from IC conflict, it seemed as if the next key question to explore would be: Where do conflicts break down, OOC?
There are a couple of phases to look at:
- The initiation phase. This is the process of deciding whether to initiate the conflict at all, whether to accept someone's proposal for conflict, and doing the initial negotiation of stakes and outcomes.
- The play phase. This is the process of ongoing negotiations during the conflict.
- The outcome phase. This is the final outcome, and the aftermath.
We began by asking about the initiation phase, because this is where conflicts die on the vine — if there's no initiation (whether in a formal negotiation, or simply taking a nasty IC action that is likely to provoke a conflict), then there's nothing to work with.
Our first question was intended to answer the question of what, in actuality and most frequently, caused people to refrain from initiating a conflict, or from coming to an agreement during the initial negotiation. The results from this were fascinating, and unexpected. 56% of players active since it was posted responded to the poll, and the results were as follows:
- 31% chose B (I don't like my opponent, or don't think he's negotiating in good faith / is trustworthy)
- 19% chose C (I'm worried other people will think poorly of me; or I'm unsure how to negotiate)
- 17% chose A (I don't think my opponent will agree, so I don't even bother to try to negotiate)
- 11% chose E (I don't want an IC rift between my character and the people I like playing with)
- 8% chose G (I'm broadly worried about an unpredictable outcome)
- 8% chose D (I don't want to play my character as unhappy, or play angst)
- 5% chose F (I'm worried it will lead to character death or other things that take me out of play)
Our original guess was that people were afraid to have bad things happen to their characters, and so were avoiding conflict in order to pre-emptively avoid negative IC consequences. But this does not seem to be the case; the overwhelming majority of the responses above come down to: People don't want to risk making someone else play something that they're not sure that the other person would be willing to happily accept. In other words, people don't want to impose conflict on others that they perceive as being unwanted.
So what's behind this? Well, the obvious possibility is that people are spending a lot of time playing with others who don't share their preferences. We can use Trouble as a proxy for this, and combine this with our activity data to see the time-weighted average delta between a character's trouble preferences and those he plays with.
Taken as a whole for the characters who have it set, the average is a delta of 0.8558 — so the people that most players are spending time with have moderately different average trouble preferences. 32% of characters have an average Trouble spread of 1.0+ between them and the people they play with. In other words, for the average player, the people they are playing with have, on the whole, a Trouble setting that is one off from them — either wanting more or less trouble.
This means that most players spend quite a bit of time with people who have somewhat different attitudes towards the desirability and pre-negotiation necessity of IC conflict. Consequently, we hope that as use of the Trouble preference becomes increasingly widespread, people will begin to gravitate to those with similar preferences when they contemplate conflict.
(Trouble deltas would probably be interesting if cross-tabulated against the data about where conflict negotiations break down, but there doesn't seem to be an elegant way to do so.)
However, it seems likely that IC conflict is probably not a big OOC issue with the people that you play with regularly — it's a problem when you're dealing with people that you don't often play with, i.e., the people with whom you don't already have some kind of affinity for, either IC or OOC. In such cases, you don't have a trust basis from which to negotiate.
So what's the bottom line?
Given the poll results, the staff believes that there can and should be greater vibrancy to the game's IC conflict environment. However, because the barriers to conflict are primarily social in nature, rather than mechanical in nature, the measures we can take are largely limited to trying to find ways to encourage people to take down some social barriers.
So here's what we're going to do:
- Everyone is going to be strongly encouraged to set a Trouble preference; over time, it will be required. This will let you all see, at a glance, a player's preferences, and treat them accordingly. We hope that this will encourage those of you who love to start trouble to aim your trouble cannons at the appropriate targets, and thus get more things going.
- We are going to give some thought to how we can create better-defined and more interesting IC stakes. This is something we have been wanting to do for a while, and we're happy to work with propcos to help them do this in their areas, as well.
- We are likely to write a lot more documentation on how to negotiate a conflict, together with suggestions on how to make such conflicts just as cool for the eventual loser as for the eventual winner.
But the blunt truth is: For those of you who want more conflict, you need to put your money where your mouth is. Talk to the people who want trouble, and start something up. Have the courage to start up trouble; if you're not sure how to negotiate it or make it fun for the other people involved, please petition the GMs for help, and we'd be happy to offer some guidance.
We recognize that there's a strong, natural tendency to only start major conflicts where you think you're going to win, or where your IC indignation at something has spilled over into enough OOC passion that someone is (IC or OOC) being "stupid" or "wrong" or "unfair" that you feel compelled to take action. When you initiate conflict in this way, there is a strong likelihood you are going to be perceived as OOCly hostile. Yet, these are the conflicts that grow organically — or get played out whether you desire them or not, because IC actions sometimes lead to unexpected IC consequences. We want to foster these conflicts, but we are also aware that third-party facilitation and arbitration may be necessary when OOC emotions run high.
We'd like everyone to keep a few things in mind:
- If you are OOCly indignant over someone else's IC actions, the vast time and energy you pour into your OOC indignation would be much better taken IC. Think something is stupid, wrong, unfair, or out of character for someone else? Tell people that IC. Debate it IC. It is much more productive, play-generating, and palate-cleansing than complaining about it OOC.
- When confronted with an IC situation, don't assume that you have the full OOC picture of what is going on. In particular, if you are basing your OOC opinion on IC information, remember: This is Amber. People lie. Also, people connive. The only way to get an explanation on what someone else is thinking or doing is to go investigate, or go talk to them. These are IC activities. They are play-generating and worth pursuing.
- Don't bring things from an IC level to an OOC level. Don't take things personally. Just because someone is doing something against your character does not mean they hate you. Importantly, don't assume that the way a character acts reflects the player. Smart players sometimes have their characters do dumb things. Players who love you may torment your character. For everyone's sake, avoid some OOC melodrama by assuming things are all IC until proven otherwise.
- No one has an incentive to let you just beat on them, whether it's poking someone in the eye or sticking it to the man. You need to offer something that is dramatically cool, as well. We recognize that this can be hard, especially when your IC dislike of something has turned into OOC dislike, or you are focused on the logic of the situation rather than the drama of the situation. But it's a necessity if both of you are going to get great IC scenes out of it.
Conflict is necessary for meaningful change. We are wholly supportive of dramatic conflict, and we want to do everything we can to support it, but in the end, this depends on all of you.