On the $100k/year Doll Factory Worker

Cynwulf_-_great_sea_-_long_journey

In the context of dailies, Bashiok writes:

It’s not going to be a revolution or anything, don’t get me wrong, but I think it’ll at least feel better. No one likes being the guy on the assembly line putting the left index finger on the doll 250 times a day, 5 days a week. They might not mind it as much though if they’re paid $100k a year. Right?

Wow. I entirely get what Bashiok is saying here, don’t get me wrong, but since I’ve been talking about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation this is too good a topic to pass up.

One of the topics that I don’t think I hit hard enough in my piece On Merit Badges, Achievements, and Accomplishment is a curious psychological dichotomy: predictable extrinsic rewards reduce intrinsic motivation for performing interesting tasks, yet are pretty much the only way to get people to do really dull tasks.

I’m going to point people over to Chris Heckler’s presentation, Achievements Considered Harmful?that Pradzha linked in the comments of my post, because it’s really topical and asks a lot of questions of the game industry that I don’t think there are good answers for yet. It’s full of a lot of warnings against pop behavioralism, which is generally good advice, and against drawing conclusions when there isn’t real solid data to support the theories proposed. If you can spare an hour for the actual presentation, do so, but if not at least look over the page and slides.

As you do so, think about that well-paid doll factory worker. It feels almost like a short story out of Russian literature, written by Chekov or Gogol – a worker is paid extremely well for the task of attaching the left index finger to the dolls, they are overjoyed at first, their family rises out of poverty. But as the months and then the years drag by, the worker becomes a shell of a human being, increasingly bitter and frustrated by the monotony of their role. The payment they receive becomes a trap. They have dreams about the right hand, about being able to attach the thumb instead of the index finger. The world changes around them, but still they go on, attaching doll fingers. This is important work, they are told, and the salary they receive indicates its importance. After years of toil, they finally rebel, only to find that putting the thumb on the right hand isn’t that much better after all.

Then they die in the snow in a doorway in St. Petersburg.

I’m pretty sure that’s how it ends.

Right. Moving on.

I’ll point out one last thing Heckler said, and then leave you to consider the doll factory worker, dailies, and your own motivations in peace.

In one of the funnier slides, he asks:

Why are you making games?

If you’re intentionally making dull games with variable ratio extrinsic motivators to separate people from their money, you have my pity.

If you’re making intrinsically interesting games and want to make them even better, be very careful with extrinsic motivators.

Is Blizzard making an interesting or a dull game when they focus on dailies to extend content? That’s the context of Bashiok’s response, by the way, I should have mentioned that:

It’s easy to design a better system than dailies, pump out infinite amounts of content, it’s just not feasible to pull off. Some people want to spend more time in the game than others, maybe even every day, and we want to make sure they have something to do. While we’d love for that to be fresh and unique content every time, it’s simply not feasible. Thus, dailies. Give people something to do each time they log in (if they choose to do so every day).

Dailies, as a way of extending content by providing something for people to do if they choose to log in every day, are by their nature repetitive and somewhat dull. They provide tangible, expected rewards for particpation, providing extrinsic motivation to log in. If that’s the case, however, then they also work against the intrisinc motivations we have for playing the game, which is needed for long-term enjoyment and fulfilment.

So, in light of all this, I think this question needs to be asked:

Should daiies be considered harmful?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “On the $100k/year Doll Factory Worker

  1. EnvoyOfTheEnd

    Dailies are harmful if they are the only way to earn rewards which are deemed mandatory or too good to pass up for a given type of content.Dailies should be, and are in many cases entirely optional.However the particular example of Moonwell Chalice proving far too good an item shows my point.It can still compete with, if not be be superior to raid items from not only its own tier but with a tier above.

  2. Redbeard

    If a game relies upon dailies as the primary method of advancing the endgame –not necessarily the end story, as endgame often means getting raid ready– then dailies can be harmful. Of course, if dailies are configured that you’re not stuck doing the same damn thing over and over and over, then the burnout may come less frequently.When I logged in tonight I thought about doing some of the Winter Veil events, and then the thought hit me: why should I? Do I really want to chase down the achievements running back and forth for a few days, just to get a title and a pet? Or worse, work on the achievements and come up just short of completing them? It’s that extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivator again, only with a gift wrapped present as the lure.

  3. Erinys

    I feel any activity which makes you feel you have to log every single day or fall behind is harmful. I would rather you could do X number of weekly quests per week whenever you felt like rather than 25 per day.

  4. Shintar

    I think dailies in WoW have become harmful over time because the rewards are too good already. They were fine back when they were just “something to do” at endgame, one of multiple ways to earn money and waste some time. There was an extrinsic reward, but it was never meant to be enough of a lure to keep everyone coming back every single day. By making the extrinsic rewards better and better, the devs are building pressure to “keep up” until it starts to feel more like work than fun. Not to mention that the $100k a year aren’t going to do that factory worker much good if every other factory worker earns the same amount – it will just cause crazy inflation and nobody is any better off than before. :/