Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Daily Quests: The Broken Skinner Box

Video games like warcraft live off of people that feel they need to do things to progress, or keep up, and giving them something they feel they need to do helps them craft a pattern of behavior in their players.  Your will is not your own, they attempt to condition you to do repetitive tasks by offering you rewards.  Enter the skinner box, the basic building block of any successful MMO game, or any game that wants to get you addicted and keep you playing.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term skinner box I will give you a basic breakdown of what it is.

B. F. Skinner was a behaviorist who believed that all behavior was a result of conditioning.  So much so that he could even mold or create a predetermined behavior through an effort and reward system.  His first major experiment in the area was named the skinner box for obvious reasons.

He created a box where he would place an animal and it would be rewarded for actions with food.  While many might see this as the animal was just noticing what gave him food and doing it when he wanted food, Skinner took it further with later studies to prove that things could be taught and behavior predicted through the use of his skinner box.  It was not just the animal pressing it for food, it was the animal being conditioned to do what he wanted it to do for food.  Link for more info.

So what does this have to do with video games you might ask?  Everything.

We are given tasks and rewards and made to repeat them over and over if we want to receive our reward.  Warcraft, and all games like it, are one giant skinner box and we are all just rats pressing the button so we can get our food.  The most amazing fact is that even if we know this we still enjoy playing it.  Until we feel as if the box is not giving us our rewards that is.

This is where daily quests are a broken skinner box.  When you first start them with that first character you don't complain because you are getting ample reward for pressing the button.  You are getting some gold, some reputation, some valor and a couple of lesser charms.  When you continue to do them over a long time is when the box starts to fall apart. 

Once you have exalted reputation you are no longer getting reputation, a reward for pressing the button has been removed.  When you are capped on valor you are no longer getting valor, another reward for pressing the button has been removed.  When you are done with exalted on all the factions you will have enough lesser tokens to last you quite a while as well, so there is another reward for pressing the button that just does not seem as rewarding any longer.  Now the gold, which was always just a bonus reward, is now the top reason to do them as the other rewards were all removed or lessened.  Lets face it, if time invested to reward is a consideration, and it is, gold is better earned elsewhere.  This is where the skinner box design is broken.  We kept pressing the button but were not getting our rewards any more.

When people where capped on reputation and getting valor in many other places making it less required to do dailies each day the daily quest skinner box broke.  When we were doing it on our second and third characters it also had the added result of "we already pressed this button, just give us our reward" making it less desirable to do it again for most.  As if in the back of their minds, subconsciously, the players already knew, why should I keep pressing this button, you are only going to take away my reward for doing it like you did last time.  B. F. Skinner could have predicted that would happen.  You can not just take away the reward and expect the button will keep being pressed by the subject, which in this case is us, the playerl.

B. F. Skinner was right.  You can develop a pattern of behavior based on offering rewards for completing simple tasks.  It is why we did the dailies and in the same it is also the reason we revolted against the dailies once we stopped getting our rewards from doing it.  It was not so much that people get tired of doing dailies as it was they got tired of doing dailies they did not feel as if they were getting rightfully rewarded for doing as we were conditioned to expect.

This concept was not lost in Skinner either.  In other tests he noticed that if the reward was not ample the subject would begin to look for something else to get a better reward.  If the reward was removed, the subject would find another way to get the reward.  As shown in the example with the pigeon in the link I posted above where he managed to get it to turn its head in a complete circle to get the reward once it no longer got the reward for turning it only to the left.

Humans, just like rats and pigeons, can fall victim to the treadmill of the skinner box just the same and games count on that.  If they can keep that reward for effort coming we will keep playing it to get our reward just like the animal will keep pressing the button to get its food.

When the reward is no longer there you will look for something else to do that gives you a suitable reward. 

The problem with the daily quest skinner box is not that it is a skinner box, that is what makes it work, the problem with the daily quest skinner box is that it loses its appeal, its reward, once you are capped out in reputation and getting valor in many other ways.  It starts to feel as if it is not giving us our food any more and we have been conditioned by the skinner box that we should get a reward from it.  Without reputation and valor or even charms being needed from it, we are not getting our reward.

Many people may not realize it but the entire design of a video game of this style is a skinner box from the get go. Do something, get a reward.  Over and over from the moment we start to play.  The only time people complain is when they do not feel as if they are getting ample reward for pressing the button.  This is exactly why the dailies are a broken skinner box.

The daily quests and their decreased rewards over time have broken the skinner box design.  Skinner box rewards are supposed to get better or at least stay the same.  That is what makes them work.  Do this and get that.  It trains you that is how it works.  The daily quests have broken the skinner box by not having enough of a reward once you have done it long enough.

Perhaps if blizzard had designed something that made them more rewarding to keep doing later when reputation was no longer needed, or more rewarding to do on alts so it would not have felt like doing the same thing all over for the same reward that you knew would be useless like it was on your main after a few weeks, then the daily design would have not been the victim of all the rage of the community over them. 

The daily quest design was a broken skinner box because the reward just wasn't worth pressing the button for after a while.  In the end, we were conditioned, by blizzard, that doing the dailies had great rewards, outstanding even, and once that was gone, the community revolted.  Because blizzard conditioned us to do just that with their daily design.


  1. I agree with you and actually, I would take it a step further - one does not need to be capped on Valor or reputations for the skinner box to be broken. One has to think or believe (much different than an animal or bird) that the rewards or lack of rewards justify the doing or not doing of the dailies.

    For example, I now have 3 lvl 90's. I have yet to do the lotus dailies or any others outside of the tillers. The rewards of valor and less than 20 gold (actually an odd number of 19g and some silver) per daily is not worth spending what little time I have in WOW to do. Even though doing the tillers would give me about 150g, with the way prices have risen in the AH (reminds me of the real world the artificial high cost of ammo and firearms right now do to the scare the governemnt has helped produced) it has become something I could care less about. It is not enough to induce me to do them. Heck, I don't even plant anything on the farms anymore because of the time needed to fight wigglies, hawks, bad weeds, etc. (I have it written down for 30 days, what I had to do each time to harvest and to plant - there is way too much of fighting rodents (x2), hawks (x1), various weeds(x1) with no gold or rep or valor for me spending 30 minutes.

    The cloud serpents never required me to do much and I am not sure if it was buffed to cut down on the time, but only the first one required 3 days. The other 2 was actually 2.5 hours each.)

    and I have lost my train of thought here. I don't want to delete what I have written, but i will add more later, if I can find that caboose. :(

    I am pretty sure that is what you said, so I will leave right now. Sorry.

    1. You are right there. As long as we "believe" the reward is not worth the effort we will find something else we consider rewarding.

      If and when we do not find anything to be rewarding enough, we, the players, might just move on to another game that will satisfy our desire to feel rewarded.

      The dailies, while I do like them, all have that feeling to them for alts. Myself, like you, only do the tillers on my alts because even if I know the rewards for the others are worth it, I do not consider it a worthy time investment based on reward.

      And just like you, I have all but stopped doing my farm on any of my characters. Just does not seem worth it.

      Quite frankly, blizzard is pushing me more and more to think that buying gold would be the easier alternative if I need anything. All because the grind is not worth it.

      To keep myself stocked on golden lotus for example, I would need to run at least 3 farms daily and need to have a decent bit of luck. In the time it takes me to do that I could spend 20 bucks and buy enough gold to get me 10 times as many lotus.

      I doubt that was their intention and I have never purchased gold before but I must admit I am beginning to believe it is a better alternative.

      Reward does not equal effort. The 1 hour I read about wow online while at work I make enough money that I could buy gold and turn that into 200 golden lotus most likely. So why bust my ass for hours on end farming them, when there is no fun to be had in it, when there are better ways to get it. Not saying that is right, but that is how it feels.

  2. Agreed.

    I only have one lvl 90 but it's fully exalted with all the Mist factions. I hardly do dailies anymore. I do tillers sometimes and the apprentice cook whenever I log in. The others I only do while I wait for the LFR queue (45+ minute queues really suck).

    I'm sick of hitting the LFR button as well because I don't get a worthy food pellet out of it anymore. The only LFR loot I need now is the gun off Lei Shi and it just seems impossible to get. I've killed Lei Shi 14 times in LFR and I use all of my charms each week on her. I've had the legendary gem in my bank for weeks but can't use it... And the measly 27g bags are just insulting. Keep the gold and just remove the need for repairs and we'll call it even... Or give me flasks/pots/food instead. Something I can use...

    There's also hardly any valor gear worth getting/upgrading. I have a spreadsheet for upgrade rank vs valor cost based on AskMrRobot scores to prioritize purchases. I recommend 'against' creating a spreadsheet like that because the upgrades just seem pathetic except for the weapon and I can't buy one of those with valor... So I don't feel compelled to cap valor. Main incentive is for the 6000 vp legendary quest (think I need 2500 more). At least I finally got the LFR Bottle trinket off Elegon so I burned 1500 vp upgrading that.

    I've cut back on the farm too. I have a bunch of golden lotus that I don't know what to do with. They don't sell for much anymore and flasks are just slightly more than the value of the mats. I also have a bunch of SoH that I have no use for... Just hit 800Kg today... working my way up to the 1M mark.

    Really want to do Brawlers but have been putting it off because I can't get a decent weapon and I'm not sure my dps will be good enough for the high ranks.

    Same with going back and soloing old content.

    Really wish there was a crafted 476 gun or something.

    Lvled up some pets. I've got 5 at 15 now. Ran into bugs with the achievs not showing up immediately. Had to change continents to get them to show up.

    Well, this turned into a Random Wednesday thoughts, but anyway, I hadn't commented recently so had a lot of comments piled up... :)

    1. I am right there with you with the LFR thing. I am in the same place, just need the gun and have had the gem for a while. I use a token on it each week, two or three times some weeks. In case you do not know you can use a token multiple times, you just only get loot the first time.

      I am also 100% with you that the gold bag is a complete insult. 28g? I could make more spending 1 minute mining or herb picking or basically doing anything in game. To put me through the hell that the LFR is sometimes and offer me 28g is the biggest insult they can do.

  3. PVP anon here:

    Agree on little point in doing dailies after you hit exalted with the relevant faction.

    Maybe they could double or triple the number of charms you get from a daily once you are exalted? And / or reward faction-specific currency and add pets / mounts / recipes which you could only purchase with that currency?

    One thing that has always bothered me in the game is that I am sometimes doing things just to close an achievement to BE EFFING DONE WITH IT (spoken aloud in an angry tone). In this expansion, dailies are causing that feeling (which I hate) more than anything else. Especially Golden Lotus...

    1. I think doubling the valor would be a step in the right direction. Giving you justice x4 if you are capped on valor would be nice too, and adding something to spend the valor on, like materials in last expansion, so the justice would have some actual value would work as well. Anything to make them worth doing would be nice.

      I have that one achievement in the GL area left, but never get the quest to try and do it. Which means I need to do the GL dailies every day hoping the end quest line will be that one only to be let down. We should be able to choose which hubs we do because at this rate I will be doing the GL dailies forever just to get that quest and the two parts I can't get hit for to get it. Just let me do that one quest every day and I would be happy. Why make me do what feels like 483 quests each day just to find out it is not that daily again. F you blizzard, you suck.

    2. I know what you mean:

      [Champion of Chi-Ji] still incomplete due to bad RNG

      [Getting Around the Shado-Pan] incomplete due to bugs and bad RNG

      [Loner and a Rebel] incomplete because still working on the previous one

      [Know Your Role] incomplete because Cheng-Bo is impossible to do solo

      [Ready for Raiding III] incomplete because the blades part is never up and it seems impossible to do since they nerfed the exploit

      [Spreading the Warmth] incomplete because I've never gotten the quest to even attempt it

      [One Step At A Time] incomplete because of RNG and just utter disgust with all these take no damage achievs...

    3. One step is the only one I need. I got lucky with chi ji, if you can call it that, because I had it 10 days in a row. It was enough to get it mostly done.

      I did ready for raiding III when the exploit was still there and thank god for that. I tried to do it, even if I already had it, just to see if I could. I got it down to only getting hit once one time. So I know it can be done, but damn it is hard. Tip for you. Don't keep moving. Watch where everyone is going and sometimes stop to change direction. Quick turning and decision making is required. I am sure if I tried a little longer I could have got that one to a none. But it would have taken a long time.

      Shado pan was a bitch too because of bugs. Took me forever to get the protector yi part.

      As for cheng-bo, that is simple actually. Just wait until someone ease is beating on him. If they already killed the adds, land, do one attack, run away like a little girl. Ding, done.

      The roll club one was the one that took me forever to get because it was never up. And that is a daily I like, if it were the daily every day I would do it. It is fun.