Contributor? I hardly know ‘or!

There are rumblings in the MMOG-o-blog-o-sphere over the “contribution” system in Warhammer’s Public Quests and keep capture. I really don’t know what actually happens in the depths of the code; having run through pretty much all the public quests in a zone with a guild group before I can’t say I noticed everyone having the same contribution time after time, though I wasn’t really paying that much attention. Keep sieges, on the other hand, there does seem to be a weight of anecdotal evidence of people arriving just as keep lords are killed, or guarding postern gates or similar, and getting top five contribution scores, suggesting it’s either horribly broken or random. Is random a problem, though?

I think it’s a brilliant idea. As discussed previously, in an incentive scheme based on measuring performance “what you measure is inevitably a proxy for the outcome you want”; as widely observed, how can you put a numerical figure on the relative contributions of someone tanking the keep lord, someone guarding the doors to stop the enemy crashing the party, someone who’s had to go AFK, someone who’s really trying their best but is getting a 0.1fps lagfest and the keep lord doesn’t even turn up on their screen ’til it’s at 25% health? So instead have an illusory “incentive” scheme, everyone will play as best they can in an attempt to influence their score upwards, and the final result is all random anyway. Perfect!

Well, no, obviously it’s horribly flawed; apart from anything else, wherever numbers exist in an MMO, players will pick away until they expose the mechanics. The best case scenario is the numbers are laid bare, more likely there’ll be a period of half-developed theories and suggestions, violent argument, and those weird urban game myths that pop up (“if you re-map your abilities so you only push prime numbered hot-keys during a keep siege you’ll *definitely* get top contribution!!1!”) It’s also quite hard to disguise an entirely random system when the top-contributing loot winner pipes up with “LOL I was AFK the whole time!!1!”, and puts a bit of a crimp on the next siege when a massed force turns up, stands poised ready to launch the assault, then go AFK en masse as that’s the way to top the chart. If you’re totally open and stick the precise formula up on the web, though, whether it’s random or whether it’s an incredibly intricate formula involving the phase of the moon and average rainfall of the past three days in Swindon (if you arrived here via a Google search for “average rainfall of the past three days in Swindon”, I’m awfully sorry but you’re probably going to be very disappointed), you’re back to the problem of a system open to exploitation (if random, just standing near a quest/keep and naffing off for coffee) or manipulation, and players being angry that you’re screwing over tanks/healers/melee/DPS/everyone. Damned either way, as per usual. My solution: I think they should’ve shipped a set of USB scales in the box with a built-in feather of Ma’at, and when rewards are to be determined all eligible players place their souls on the device and upload the results. Simple! Never let it be said I don’t offer practical suggestions…