Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Psychology of Losing

I recently read a few blue post summaries over at that gave me pause, and really made me think twice about why I'm not very fond of organized PvP. In the end, I don't find it to be very enjoyable, but when asked why I don't find it enjoyable, I may have drawn a blank until just recently.

These posts are both remarks made by Ghostcrawler, who is the best "blue" Blizzard has ever had, in my oh so humb--- ugh, stop. God, I hate that phrase. It basically gives you free reign to ignore whatever sentence it's attached to, so I'll just cut it short right there.

Anyway, Ghostcrawler descends from the heavens pulled by Chariots of Fire (dun dun dun dun dunnnnn dunnnnn --- queue the clip of running in slow motion on a beach, etc), and pops into what would otherwise be total flame bait threads and answers the questions in a manner that just makes the trolls shrivel up and die inside.

A typical "OMG WTF PRIESTS DIE IN ARENA TO EAZY, WAY TO SUCK, GG BLIZZ" thread which has the poster saying how it's fun to be beat on mobs -- because you eventually win, but no fun to be two shot (which makes sense, but yeah) gets followed up with:

You are going to defeat, by a huge order of magnitude, most of the mobs you meet. In many examples it won't even be a challenge -- you will two shot them. If the PvP matchmaking is working well, however, you will lose 50% of every match (and that assumes classes are perfectly balanced, which I won't pretend to claim). It is much harder to feel like a hero in an Arena because we aren't trying to make you feel like a hero. Psychologically, I think that is a bigger deal than a lot of players realize.

That little gem really made me stop and think back on my arena experiences. While the devs have acknowledged that burst damage is a little out of control right now (they're waiting for people so stack more level 80 resil gear to see how it pans out), it's horrifically frustrating for me to step into an arena on my lock wearing the blue Frostsavage set because A) the Frostsavage set is pretty much garbage, and I'm better off just wearing my T7 and hoping to get a few casts off and B) with Proximo, I can see that every member of the opposing team is targeting me when we look across the bridge in Nagrand at each other before the initial clash. Like all of them. Even the healer.

Training isn't fun for the person getting trained. It feels awesome when you're the rogue, and you Cheapshot the clothie, then your warrior friend charges over and mashes them in the face with an axe the size of Shaq, while you're still backstabbing, and your healer even chucks a Moonfire in there for shits, but when you're the one being defiled by a walking corpse and two large cows it must be frustrating.

No wait... it IS frustrating. Let's say you're superman, and you trinket the CS, plow out a Shadowfury, and Deathcoil with perfect precision... there go like all three of your get out of jail free cards, and they probably just blew one of theirs to nullify yours.

I'm not complaining about arenas, especially not in relation to warlocks. I'm just not very good at them, and so I don't like them, but it finally dawned on me WHY. It seems so ridiculously basic, but in the heat of the moment, I'm not really evaluating my emotions, I'm just busy feeling them, and being pissed that I never live longer than 5 seconds when the shit goes down.

It is much harder to feel like a hero in an Arena because we aren't trying to make you feel like a hero. Psychologically, I think that is a bigger deal than a lot of players realize.

Another thread has the same sentiment echoed in a similar fashion:

What I was actually getting at though was a loftier sentiment that players run through quests or an instance and one-shot everything and then go into PvP and can lose a lot. It's a very different experience, and psychologically I think it affects players more than they give it credit for. (If you are highly-ranked or don't even play PvE much then it likely affects you a lot less.)

I read a book recently (that I really wouldn't recommend) called Fooled by Randomness. I bought it on a whim thinkng it would be a look into probability or something. I like reading kooky books about particle physics, so sue me. This ended being about the stock market instead, and the whole thing was basically the author patting himself on the back the whole time for being so clever for realizing that market fluctuations can't be predicted, and that sometimes successful people are just lucky, but rarely will they realize this, and instead attribute their success to some 'innate skill' they had.

One of the interesting things in the book regarded the psychological effect people have towards winning and losing. Say you have a stock portfolio, and you're online checking it every second of the day. You will see the tiniest fluctuations in value, and these will bring you either joy or misery, depending on if your stocks are up or down. When you look at the bigger picture (say, checking your stocks once a month), you'll feel the same joy or misery, but it's once a month, instead of 100 times a day. It's the healthier thing to do, generally speaking. If the stock is down down down, but then ends up being up in the end, you're still emotionally fatigued from experiencing the downs, and the up isn't very rewarding. If you only checked once --whether up or down, it's only one trigger, and your life is simpler.

Scientists have analyzed these receptors in our brains, and found that for an equal event (say, winning $100 at a casino, or losing $100), the negative impact is greater than the positive, to a degree of about being double. You would need to win $200 (or win $100 twice) in order to 'feel' the same magnitude of emotion as you felt over losing the $100. They go on to hypothesize that this is hard wired into our brains to prevent us from making mistakes over and over. We learn more quickly (and are affected more readily) from the 'bad'. When I think back personally on my youth, it's easier to drum up a memory of me saying something stupid, or getting into trouble, than it is to find one where I said something nice, or did a 'good deed'.

Taking that mindset into the Arena of WoW, it's easy to become exasperated after 5 losses in a row, and not even want to finish out the required ten games for points. We've 'learned our lesson' for the week, and don't want to continue punishing ourselves, psychologically.

Then again, maybe I'm reading WAY too far into this whole thing, and I just suck at playing my lock. At any rate, this weekend, I intend to play some matches, and go into them with the expectation that I will lose. I'll queue up, but not in an effort to win or lose per se, but to gain experience in the Arena. That way, maybe I can turn the loss into a conscious win, as I've gained what I set out to do. The end result will have little meaning.

Whether or not I can fool my more base emotions into believing that remains to be seen, but this same situation applies to PvE as well. Perhaps this is why people are so quick to dissolve a guild right after a night full of wipes. People need to go into the raid with the expectation that they're 'learning the encounters'. Once you have the place on farm, then it's fine to be frustrated by individual mistakes, but this early into endgame, I think it's a good time to lighten up and just take the wins and losses as they come.

Don't let it ruin your day ;)

Originally posted 1/5/09


Danshir said...

Probably the most interesting article I've seen in some time. A lot of people that I know that absolutely hate PVP are because they are "Not good at it", not that they don't enjoy the actual experience of fighting a somewhat living human being.

With WoW being so much easier than older games*Actually, generally most new games are a lot easier than their older cousins...but that's another comment*, suddenly losing over and over breeds maybe sometype of psychological negative reinforcement.(I may be talking out of my ass...which is an interesting concept all by itself)

Again I say, a great article. And that blue you mentioned is now my hero. Keep up the work Ixo

Melf_Himself said...

To begin with, the PvP in most MMO's, such as WoW, is incredibly item based such that actual skill at the game can often be irrelevant. This makes things frustrating for newer players.

However even for non item-centric games, such as Guild Wars, players are still required to learn a new language in order to be competitive, aka 500 new 'skills' that fairly much do the same thing as they do in other games, but just have different names.

This is why I think MMO's need to be made a lot more simple. The skill at the game should be based on the appropriate use of a small number of skills at strategical times, to reduce the number of bad combinations that people can choose.

Note that this "I always lose" mentality doesn't set in as quickly for PvP as it does in PvE. In PvE if you lose 50% of the time, you will soon ragequit. However in PvP, losing only 50% of the time will actually make you feel moderately successful.

Ixobelle said...

One other issue that i'm distinctly aware of in arena is my UI.

I focus primarily on PvE myself, and have a hard time trimming down my 'toolbox' for PvP. When the inevitable cheapshot goes off, I need to know at a moment's notice what button to push. With each raid fight, I lifetap (4/5 t7 set bonus), put up corruption, doom, immolate, and start my incinerate rotations.

With very few exceptions, this is the way fights begin. It's a pretty limited number of buttons, but my screen is cluttered with omen, recount, buttons to summon healthstones, summon raid members, summon demons, banish demons, soulshatter, blah blah blah. It irks me, inside, when 'everything is not going according to plan'. In a battleground, I can pretend people running around are PvE mobs, and corruption, CoA, Immolate, and start my rotation (they obviously die much faster).

But honestly, most of that isn't even needed. maybe a corruption and CoA, since they're both instant casts (and corruption ticks proc insta-shadowbolts), but Searing Pain is the main PvP nuke, and my keybindings have that buried under a CTRL modifier, since I only use it on Zombie Chows for Gluth in PvE.

Part of it is just getting into a routine, and designing a layout for PvP specifically. I used to have two copies of wow on my HD, and would launch one for PVE and one for PVP. Eventually, i grew accustomed to the clean layout and lack of clutter in the pvp UI, and scrapped the other install. Maybe it's time to just overhaul again from scratch. I should make a 'designing a comfortable UI' article sometime ;P

oshin said...

I hate pvp too, the only time I enjoyed it was when I did arena with some good friends in the room and we screamed at each other like loons. Apart from that it feels like a grind, much like leveling. But while leveling is nice and easy, pvp tends to involve dieing alot, as its balanced that way.

If you add to that the fact if your class isnt flavour of them month, or you dont have just the right spec, and most importantly you dont have the gear your probably well above that dieing 50% of the time statistic.

The amount of whine in the guild about paladins, rogues and dks is mind numbing, its the same topic again and again.

The biggest annoyance to me though, is the gear. When Blizzard added rating requirements to weapons and sholders I thought it was fair enough. But now in wrath pratically everything has rating. I thought one of the points of the tbc pvp system was to stop pvpers being mashed by the elite few with ashkandis. Now the only differnce is that its arena teams mashing the commoners in there crap gear.

To top it all off they then decided to put it on an ez mode boss, taunting anybody who wont get the 2k+ rating with a RNG shot at it.

The biggest problem for me though is that while pve is like a lottery (where you win pretty damn often these days) pvp is pretty much saving up honor and points, usually playing far past the point of it actualy being fun.

Tesh said...

In my mind, PvP is the whole point of playing online with other people. PvE is really just a single player game a lot of the time, and when it isn't, it's AH trolling or small group raiding (or early game dungeon prowling).

I want my PvP to be completely skill based. Gear based PvP and level-based ganking are huge wastes of time.

If PvP is going to be a fair sport, it needs to be based completely on player skill. Maybe that means normalizing gear and levels, maybe it means a separate area like GW. Whatever the case, WoW's PvP is a huge waste of time, and that's on top of the very basic psychology that Ghostcrawler mentions.

If I go into PvP thinking it's fair and a sport, I don't mind if I lose, since I do make that basic assumption that matching should give 50/50, and losses are because I need to boost my personal skills at playing. When it's a gear/level check or a paper rock scissors guessing game, the baseline 50/50 isn't the case, and I'm wasting my time.

Danshir said...

Skill based PvP truly is the only way to enjoy fighting a fellow human being. Nothing beats the rush of doing something insane , killing several people, and escaping with (barely) your virtual life.

Shame no MMO really has this type of scenario. I've had it happen RARELY but on a smaller scale(2 Really bad Rogues Vs my Rogue..Blade flurry killed them.)

WoW said...

So learning that you go to batllegrounds... then you pull your hair out because everyone runs off in random directions and don't display a speck of team work.

Ixobelle said...

speaking of skill based arenas, i think it was pretty enlightening that when blizzard DID do the big 3v3 worldwide championships, guess what players were given?

premade 70s of ANY CLASS, ANY RACE, with premade loadouts of FULL ARENA AND FULL TIER WHATEVER. plus free gems and free enchant mats.

at that point, it could be argued that the intelligent person can make better use of mixing and matching PVE and PVP gear, and choosing STA enchants over +AP or whatever. that's fine.

it's also funny that they didn't 'open the arena server, and have everyone go level'. big shock, right? of course they aren't going to do that, it's a huge waste of time.

the MORE interesting aspect, is that they didn't force anyone to xfer over an existing toon... when you think about it, they eliminated the need to level at ALL. if you wanted a frost mage troll, just take one. no matter if you only had ever leveld a gnome rogue.

that's a HUGE implication, that I don't think anyone really pays attention to. the fact is that PvPers are more inclined to buy an account of the race / class they want to use than a PVEer, who becomes more attached to their toon, emotionally.

there were a ton of people that got banned from a previous tournament beforehand, because their account name and actual name didn't line up. blizzard realized this was keeping the 'top players' out of the competition, and adjusted accordingly.

ggwtf, i baut the rogue, wat u meen i can't plae?

Caleb said...

As to your original post, I think that is a very interesting point. PvP is designed so that equal skilled players, the supposed best possible situation, lose 50% of the time to equal competition. But as for the doubling thing, you won't start "Feeling" like a success until you win 66% of your matches. Having a 50% record in ANYTHING isn't satisfactory. Look at any professional sports, 50% is a mediocre to bad record. The chargers are in the playoffs with an 8-8 but that feels like a fluke to many.

The implication? To have a fun competition, you can't have it between a complete group of equally skilled competitors. Being good means absolutely nothing, being better is all that matters. You need an uneven playing field, where some competitors are better than others, otherwise it isn't going to last long.

I disagree with your final comment though. It has nothing to do with buying accounts or connection to characters. It is designed that way so ONLY skill matters. Gear is a big influence in PvP, a better geared opponent can defeat someone of better skill. In addition, leveling a character is an investment that is hard to make. Few have the dedication to reroll a specific class and race and level it all over and then get gear all over again to simply be optimal. The way they do things is allow you pick what you feel is the optimal character custom tailored to you. You can't blame race or class differences because you choose those. You can't blame gear because it is a 100% equal playing field. The only thing that matters at all is knowledge and skill

Ixobelle said...

well yeah, i wasn't implying that buying an account meant anything... just that a PvPer is more apt to see 'will of the forsaken' than any attachment to an undead toon that started in Deathknell.

the point was that Blizzard *did* level the playing field by offering premades stacked in equal sets of gear. my posts tend to ramble, and i never actually got the point out there at the end ;)

Fitz said...

I enjoyed the GW pvp for the non-gear base but I am comfortable with wow idea.

What if they did it the other way and made Pve all skill base with pre-made gear and the pvp gear was the only items to grind.

In my arena experience it is easy to get upset and want to quit, i purposly advertised for partner with "Patience" anytime i have to find a new one, and I tell them off the bat, we cant "lose" a match as long as we learned something. each season we seem to get higher starting from the 1550ish mark, and now at the 2k mark it seems to be working.

last week we lost 7 in a row right off the bat but then came back to go 21-15 to finish the week. I think Patience is key for getting good at arenas.