Marc Deforest, Chief Executive Officer of S2, spent time with me at a recent press event chatting about how community-driven design is shaping Strife as a game and what it means for the player. By the end, I decided he wasn't a feeder and Strife is probably one of the most thought-out new additions to the genre in years.
Massively: Why the proactive design in terms of MOBA community?
Mark Deforest: In the early stages of MOBAs, it was difficult to get journalists and the general public to understand what they were. We've kinda moved passed that, but now we see -- and it's prolific -- people saying these communities are terrible. And yet, the major three titles have been able to get through all of that hostility and still reach all these massive player numbers. Still, many of us would say that this isn't ideal. Having a hostile community is not a good thing. From a developer's standpoint, selfishly speaking, we want more new players, and if a new player is met with hostility, then he likely won't stay a player. You could look at it from just that standpoint, but hopefully you look at it from more than that.
The term that I would use is reactive. We have to be reactive. We have no choice but to be reactive because many of the things that designers have to change to address player toxicity are underneath the hood and deep enough into the machine that it would throw everything on top of its head. Existing playerbases would not be accepting of dramatic changes. By starting with a clean sheet design, we get to analyze everything that we've seen from our competitors, from journalists, from communities, and from our own games. Then we must ask, why is it like this? What are people fighting about? Why is it hostile and toxic? What can we do to solve those problems? Then it's not a matter of omitting unwelcome design but designing in a way that gives you all the great things you get from playing these types of games while doing away with the stuff that is unnecessary.
That is, to me, speaking to the community: designing a game in which the community will not be hostile with itself or with people trying to come into the community. You train them that being nice has rewards and being bad doesn't and there are consequences. On top of that, you ask them what they are really getting upset about. If there is not that much to be upset about and not much reason for confrontation, well, humans are mostly friendly.
I think James said it best that even nice people can be jerks when the wrong is being done to them or when their experience is being hindered because of the actions of another individual.
You mentioned not displaying deaths at the end of a game...
We want to provide information that is there for you to consume that will help you get better. We don't want to hinder your capability of learning and improving your performance toward your peak. But there are pieces of information that serve no other purpose than to be ammunition for other people to identify that you're not performing well. Deaths is an easy example of this. How does seeing your deaths help me perform better as a player? It just doesn't. We perform that type of analysis on everything in the game to figure out what we show and what we don't show. At the end of the day, we get a great package that omitted lots of things that just cause confrontation.
Like all chat?
With the design choice to remove all chat, we knew we were sacrificing something. Social functions in the game are extremely important to us. We also realize that inter-team communication isn't necessary for you to perform well. When you really think about it, what do you need to talk to the other team about? In our internal testing for removing it, we found that the number one reason that anyone wanted all chat was to troll the other team. So our answer was thank you, but no, you can't do that.
Is there a method of sharing your stats and information with people? Think Facebook privacy settings with game stats.
There will be a profile page. What's interesting about the profile page is you can choose to pin certain things on your profile page. Maybe you have won certain achievements or awards -- you can pin those things. These things can be seen by all and by friends [depending on your setting] -- that type of stuff. You may want to share your stats. You can be proud of those stats even if they are bad. But in terms of within a given match and being able to have access to that information from a persistent standpoint of your account over what is happening within a match, you have no control over that information. It's just not there.
Tell us about the Karma system.
We basically want the community to rate itself. They are the ones playing with each other and interacting with one another. When they play with other players, they want to be able to mark those players as shining stars they like to play with. They can also abstain from rating. Many players have good matches and don't have an opinion one way or another about an individual. Then sometimes there are the people that you play with and you're like, dude, not only could I not stand playing with you, but I feel bad for anybody else who does. You want to have the opportunity to say, hey, this guy has an issue.
We then feed this information into a complex algorithm that analyzes it and finds outliers like the kind of person who just likes to vote a lot -- we don't give these players as much influence as those people who fall within the standard deviation.
These votes are combined to form a score that shows what type of player you are. Your higher rating reflects to the community the type of player you are, and your rewards are increased along with your rating. Then there is the opposite. You're a player who is disliked more than most people because of behavior, so your score and rewards for playing the game will be reduced. If you continue to move in a negative direction, you'll start to have consequences like the muting of your chat or account suspensions.
What kind of rewards are there for positive players?
You'll have commodities [in-game resources for crafting, pets, and more]. You want those commodities so that you can participate in the external progression. These help create value for your account with resources you've collected, recipes you've unlocked, and pets you've found. You earn them at a predictable rate, but the positive karma rating increases this rate. That is the major value in having a positive karma score.
Thanks for the time, Marc.
When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!