As an amuse-bouche, here’s a fun article about a guy who set out to be the worst player in Overwatch– “I Hanjo”.
Now, playing to lose is pretty much a dick move. But the fascinating thing is the sociology he unearths along the way. Players in the 40s– just south of average– are on the whole good players, know the game, they just happen to lose more than they win. People in the 30s are “the angriest people in the world”. They think they should be doing much better, and they’re eager to blame their teammates, the game, anything but themselves.
In the 20s, he’d run into people who just couldn’t play– Pharahs who couldn’t fly, Junkrats who blew themselves up– but they were all incredibly serious. This was competitive mode, after all. It was full Dunning-Kruger: these were people who had little skill, but thought they were pretty good. And even in the single-digits, among the world’s worst players, the game was full of people incredibly mad at him for not playing well.
This all reminds me of my friend Ash’s comment about League of Legends– that a lot of people don’t adjust well to the game, because they don’t like losing. They expect to win more than 50% of their games, and that rarely happens. (If you’re good at a competitive game, the game will raise your rank and send you harder opponents.)
In single-player games, you never really lose. You can die, but that just means cursing a little and then respawning. You always win the game, unless you get bored or it gets too hard (which most of us will rationalize as it being “unfair”).
Also worth reading: this post on MMR (matchmaking rating) in Overwatch by an informed player, followed by Jeff Kaplan, actual development head of the game, adding more information. At one point Kaplan divides matches into four types:
- My team won. We beat the other team by a long shot.
- My team barely won.
- My team barely lost.
- My team lost. We lost by a long shot. It wasn’t even close
He comments that most players, if asked, will say they prefer 2 and 3– close matches that could have gone either way. But most players act as if their real preference was 1 or 2– i.e., only winning. A series of losses is psychologically difficult, even if they’re close.
I’d add that rolls (case 1) almost never feel like rolls to the winning team. They still feel close. You just feel like you’re playing really well, that your teammates are doing the right thing, that you’re just staying ahead of the enemy. If you talk to your opponents later (e.g. because they’re your friends), you may be surprised to hear that it was a frustrating match where they felt like they couldn’t get anything done.
(A complete walkover, where you win without expending much effort, is rare and not satisfying. Last week in one of my placement matches for competitive, half the enemy team quit. We had to play out the game to get credit for it, but we felt bad about it.)
You can’t play a lot of PvP games without realizing that a lot of gamers are, well, insecure and nasty. It would be interesting to get real research on this, but my experience is that the Dunning-Kruger effect applies in spades to the saltiest people. That is, whenever someone goes off in chat, berating their teammates or complaining about the game, they’re likely to be the least skilled. Really good players don’t waste their time on verbal attacks; they do their best, and even if the team loses they’ll bring devastation upon the enemy.
Now, you can’t make a PvP game where everyone wins, but Overwatch has a lot of clever little design bits to emphasize the team nature of the game, and to reduce the psychological toll of not doing well:
- The game doesn’t distinguish kills and assists: everyone who helped kill an opponent share the “elimination”. (It does display your share percentage, but only momentarily.)
- You can’t see your teammates’ stats for the match, eliminating a lot of intra-team rivalry. (You do see if you’re leading in a statistic, but not who’s losing.)
- Nor do you see stats after the match, except for highlights. The emphasis is on who did well; who did poorly is glossed over.
- Losing treats you to a killcam movie of your death– which sounds like it could be humiliating, but a) it keeps you entertained during the respawn time, and b) it often teaches you how to do better. E.g. you can see when you were extremely exposed when you thought you weren’t.
- In the new season of competitive, you never lose a tier once you’ve achieved it, even if your skill rating goes down. Plus, the game makes a big deal of the skill rating increasing, and not of it decreasing.
- The game keeps a little showreel of your best moments in that play session. Again, losses are quietly ignored.
- If you lose to the same team too many times, the game will find a new set of enemies for you.
- This one might take it too far: if you look at your Statistics for Quickplay, you can’t even see how many games you’ve lost.
Even the character design fits the overall goal: though there are a lot of characters, each one has a limited skillset. Mastering Soldier in TF2 requires, now, knowing a bunch of weapons; Pharah has just one.
Also, so far as I can see, it’s quite possible to play and have a good time with friends who are higher in level than you. In League, it’s almost impossible, because they’ll drag in opponents you can’t handle and it’ll be a pretty miserable experience.
Anyway, Blizzard hasn’t made losing painless, but they’ve done a lot to make the game fun as a whole whether you win or lose.
Curiously, I had a pretty bad experience with Competitive last season, and have had a pretty good one this season. I feel like I play better, of course, but in both cases the game should have been matching me with people of the same level. (And my initial skill rating was about the same.) Maybe it just has more data on me, I don’t know.