Friday, September 6, 2019

Pavlov's Capsuleer

Classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian or respondent conditioning) refers to a learning procedure in which a biologically potent stimulus (e.g. food) is paired with a previously neutral stimulus (e.g. a bell). It also refers to the learning process that results from this pairing, through which the neutral stimulus comes to elicit a response (e.g. salivation) that is usually similar to the one elicited by the potent stimulus.
- Wikipedia

By this time in my gaming history, I have played quite a few MMOPRGs to the level cap: Vanilla WoW, Everquest 2 (The Shadow Odyssey), Star Wars: The Old Republic (original), Guild Wars 2 (original), and Elder Scrolls Online (Morrowind). Currently, when I'm not taking online classes or digging through EVE Online data, I'm playing Final Fantasy XIV. All of the games have one thing in common, besides being themepark MMORPGs. They all have an impressive visual and audio effect when a character reaches a new level.

I'm particularly taken with what I see in FFXIV, Square Enix definitely gives new players plenty of opportunities to enjoy the experience. Currently, my conjurer is level 26, my three gathering professions (botanist, mining, fishing) are between levels 16 and 21, and my eight crafting professions (carpenter, blacksmith, armorer, goldsmith, leatherworker, weaver, alchemist and culinarian) are between levels 12 and 18. If I let myself, I would just keep playing FFXIV.

With the audio and visual stimulus comes rewards. At first the rewards come fast and furious. New spells/abilities and access to new gear and content. As players progress through the games, the effects still kick off, but the rewards come farther and farther apart. Pretty soon, a player is hooked and only needs the occasional experience. Classical conditioning at its finest.

Out of all the MMORPGs I've played over the last 15 years, EVE Online is unique in that CCP really didn't put in all the bells and whistles that games like World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 deployed. First, a game without character levels doesn't really lend itself to flashy leveling experiences. CCP created a rather subdued game, and Aura announcing, "Skill training complete," when a character finishes training a new skill isn't the biggest dopamine hit. Yes, I did enjoy the experience when I heard Aura's voice. But in today's game, much of the training experience disappears and veteran players encourage new players to use skill injectors to quickly join them.

For players who enjoy PvP, the kill report, frequently referred to as kill mails by older players, seems to serve as the reward that keeps players happy. These players will do the most boring things, such as gate camping and POS bashing, if they know they will get their names on a kill report.

From listening to null sec players, one of the problems with the current Aegis sovereignty system is how boring the entosis system is. If the mechanic is anything like capturing plex in factional warfare, I don't know why people engage in sov warfare. One of the fixes I've seen throughout the past few years is to allow players to shoot the control points and generate kill reports for succeeding. There are those kill reports popping up again.

Until the last few years, PvE players had no comparable mechanic. Some would say, EVE still doesn't, as the Opportunites system was meant to replace the tutorial, not supplement it. I think the Opportunities system has a greater effect on new players than us old-timers. But even then, in FFXIV, I have a hunting log that provides me experience points. EVE players only receive ISK. I guess I can't blame CCP for not offering experience points, though. With the advent of skill extractors and injectors, players would figure out how to game the system if CCP offered a big enough skill point award.

If CCP's classical conditioning consists of "explode enemy player ship, receive kill report," then CCP has a problem. New players are most likely found floating around high sec with no chance to kill another player. Back at Fanfest 2015, CCP Rise famously gave a presentation in which he stated players who die in their first two weeks stick around longer. The questions I have are:

1. Is the retention rate higher for those who receive kill reports (or show up as a killer) vs those who only receive loss mails?

2. How do those two groups compare to those who don't receive loss mails at all?

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