Thursday, August 21, 2014

4.3. The Karma Initiative

Kaleu, DoD's hunter officer during Vanilla,
stands atop the bank for an evening pic,

A Most Appropriate Phobia

Waiting solved nothing. The greatest of intentions weren't enough of a guarantee that Blizzard would backpedal on their 10/25 decision as readily as they had with Real ID. I posted what I could, trying to keep my emotions in check, providing a rational explanation as to why dolling out the same rewards for two different levels of difficulty completely undermined the entire raid game, then put it behind me.

Next came the hard part: finding ways to keep from hemorrhaging players.

I rewound the tape of our events and deeds, back to the very beginning, to see what it might reveal. We'd done things well in Wrath of the Lich King, perhaps buried somewhere in the recesses of my extraordinarily selective memory, a hint existed -- something to strengthen the bonds of the guild. When the tape of the mind came to a stop, I had just come face-to-face with one of my newest guildies.


"The infamous Kaleu!"

He gave a firm handshake while shielding his eyes from the sun. Behind him stood the Anaheim Convention Center, a grand building of never-ending glass. I twisted my neck to the side to take in the enormous banner draped above us: BlizzCon.

"Kerulak, right?"

"Kerulak, Hanzo, Shawn...whatever gets the job done."

He was a bit shorter than I, perhaps 5'9" or 5'10", but like nearly every person on the planet, had me beat in the weight dept. As the expression goes, I'm 140lbs soaking wet; any and all attempts to increase the load are met with abject failure. The side-effects of a gaming lifestyle are rarely observed when I enter the room, but I expect that I intimidate very few people as a result. When your qualifying metric is could he take me a fight?, you quickly learn your place -- and it isn't often at the front of the line.

"Are there any others?"

"I believe Kadrok said he'd be here as well. We'll keep a look out for him."

Kaleu came along as part of the package deal that was The Final Cut. Weeks earlier, one of Kaleu's partners-in-crime, a fellow by the name of Darange, emailed me. They had the 40-Man flu, they needed their drugs. At best, they were 12-15 strong. They were considering a merge with another top notch raiding guild, to push them over the hump and get into Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, etc. The meeting of the minds discussed everything from loot rules and ranks to guild ideologies. Both parties agreed to the terms and, with a virtual handshake, we absorbed The Final Cut. Part of those terms dictated a few promotions, and Kaleu was my new Hunter officer as a result.

We wandered through the convention center, meandering towards the massive lab of computers to the right of the entrance. The darkened room was easy on gamer eyes. Above us hung enormous posters from the roof, decorated with Blizzard's various franchisees. Podiums of artwork, books, and unrelated merchandise were a formidable distraction, but Kaleu and I would not be deterred. There was plenty of time for those trivialities; we were on a mission. We navigated through the crowd, circling around to the back of the computer lab. The entrance was roped off, a line of nerds quickly forming that wrapped around the lab's perimeter.

"God, where does this thing even start?"

"I see it now, back this way," Kaleu motioned to the side of the room back near the entrance. All other BlizzCon festivities would come later. For now, the #1 priority was to get our hands on a playable demo of the Blood Elf starting area in The Burning Crusade. It would be more than a year before we would see the next expansion.

We found the tail and joined the line, while I waited for the paranoia to set in.
BlizzCon: great for cosplayers, bad
for people with Cosplayophobia

Panic at the BlizzCon

The line moved slowly, so Kaleu and I got to know one another. He'd been a long time gamer, had known a good chunk of the folks in The Final Cut from before World of Warcraft, formed in a little game known as Star Wars Galaxies. He described the game as being innovative for its time, relying on customer created content. The casuals of the SWG crowd grew irritated at this design, and more vocal in their outrage. A patch eventually came to appease those casuals, but change was significant; the magic was gone. TFC exited. Kaleu also confirmed my suspicions as to the origin of their guild name: the Pink Floyd album that marked the end of Roger Waters' overzealous grip over the band's direction. Every song, every lyric, even the album's art bore Waters' name -- two years later, he walked away, leaving the band he created to fend for themselves.

"It's sort of a Catch 22 with the community aspect of running a guild. You want them to be on the forums, talking, chatting, but nobody wants to do that. They just want to play. The players you need the most participation from...those are the ones least likely to show up."

I agreed, commenting on the sad state of our guild's out-of-game activity, "Our forums could use a little stickiness."

"Forum involvement isn't going to make good players. It builds community, but it's not necessary."

We know what makes good players. Keep the tape rolling. What was it that he said about community?

"I've seen all kinds of gimmicks, too. Things like a certain amount of required reading over x amount of time. If you don't keep it up, you lose your posting privileges, and those are tied to your ability to sign up for guild events."

You’re already doing that now. Keep it rolling.

"Most of the time, people just post shit. Trying to sift through that is a pain in the ass. So when quality posts finally show up, they're buried in a mess, and..." Kaleu added with a sigh, "you have a handful of people with all this knowledge, but you don't know who they are. Nobody has a reason to contribute."


Kaleu gave a single chuckle, arms folded across his chest, "Yeah, I don't envy you at all. Trying to come up with solutions is a full time job."

We inched towards the front of the line, and watched a Blizzard employee routing eight more players to machines. I glanced at the floor a moment, contemplating Kaleu's thoughts on community building, and caught a glimpse of fuzzy white feet. Behind us stood a female cosplayer, armored completely in The Earthfury. It was an impressive representation of its virtual counterpart, immaculately detailed from horns to hooves. Hooves. I glanced up at her face, obscured by paint and a prosthetic bovine snout.

First came the beads of sweat, that sudden coolness that rushes over you as hysteria sets in. Next was the rapid pounding from deep in the chest, the twitching of muscles as they tense for flight. I couldn't explain it, yet there it was, just as it had been my entire life: the irrational fear of being around adults in costumes and face paint. I was the missing verse in an Alanis Morissette song.

"Nice!" Kaleu said, glancing over his shoulder.

"Thanks!" came her reply.

...and just like that, the panic was gone. I stared back at Kaleu, stunned by the sudden absence of anxiety. He gave me a puzzled look.


An early design of Stack Overflow

The Gamification

I snapped out of the trip down mammary lane and focused on my monitor, while Kaleu's words faded away. Builds Community. No Reason to Contribute. Full-time job. How could I increase the guild's involvement on our forums? A better question: what was the right kind of involvement? And how could I do it without increasing my administrative load? Mangetsu had the right idea with his recent forum topic, U RAFF U RUSE, DoD version, a game encouraging the guild to withstand his 4chan-esque sense of humor, with the losers posting their own comedy in return. It was a self perpetuating machine of contribution, the likes of which couldn't compare to any other thread the DoD forums had seen since creation. His forum game knew no ranks or titles. Present or past guildies, elites, raiders, officers and n00bs, they all participated. How could I build on that? The mechanism eluded me until I zeroed in on the website staring back from the monitor.

Stack Overflow was now two years old. I scrolled down the list of programming questions on the homepage. "Why doesn't SetInterval work properly in JavaScript?" "OnMouseDown vs. OnMouseClick problems." "Can't align my image correctly within an embedded!" Next to each question, numbers marked how many times each question had been viewed, how many answers had been offered up, and whether or not an official answer had been deemed 'correct'. It was a surprisingly addictive experiment fashioned to solve programming problems...and it was working. Complete strangers were coming together for a common good, and no money changed hands. Instead, answers buried in the minds of geeks around the globe came forth by challenging each other to rack up reputation points, like a Counter-Strike squad member racking up kills.

It was no surprise to me that this game-like website came from the mind of a gamer who once set his computer up in my home for a LAN party. If you get the chance, be sure to ask him about the guinea pig cage.

That gamer mentality. What better way to draw out the introverted hacker than by the lure of badges and awards? Those reputation points were like a trail of breadcrumbs leading to a trap, and programmers slowly emerged from their digital caves, expertly exchanging their knowledge for a rolling score. The real power of the system came from how these anonymous peers evaluated each other, decentralizing its own governance. The highest quality questions and answers floated to the top in a flurry of votes, as these nerds battled each other for supremacy of their trade. The result: a self-moderated community producing exceptional content as a result of their primal instincts to climb a virtual ladder.

That was it: the ladder. Stack Overflow's scoreboard was front-and-center. Where was ours?

I scoured the interwebs looking for such a thing, if it existed. My search ended on a page within the phpBB support forums; a plugin called "Karma MOD". It worked like this: users would be granted the option of issuing virtual points to one another, assigning comments for their reasoning. I began to see examples in my mind, "Great strategy guide!", "Thanks for filling in on last night's raid", and "Appreciate the help on adjusting my healing spec."

I read on. Karma could also be taken away, inspiring thoughts of long-term veterans assisting in the education of the newer recruits -- subtle hints to point new people in the right direction, keeping them from flying those red flags. The self-moderating capabilities of this tool appeared to have far reaching effects.

How exactly Karma would play into the grand scheme of my guild's administration in Cataclysm I wasn't quite sure...but I suspected it was a step in the right direction. I cracked open the phpBB code, reviewed the docs, and began to implement.


Sellys said...

Mammary lane? *giggle*

Why were you thinking about boobs?

Shawn Holmes said...



Anonymous said...



Karma? Well, let's see how this explodes. XD

- Catelina, blahblahblah KT blah

Aedilhild said...

These flashbacks are great — we're allowed to learn more from Parts I, II and the like before continuing on to the end.

Also, your pedagogy goes so much further than the historical events. Since the story of WoW is still being told, it helps to know the why that goes with the what of DoD's.

Shawn Holmes said...


Glad you approve! More flashbacks planned. Perhaps they'll answer a few questions.