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Nicholas Lovell谈斯金纳机制及其替代方法

发布时间:2013-12-27 08:56:10 Tags:,,,

作者:Matthew Diener

与F2P的批评者交谈,你会发现他们许多人认为该模式令游戏降格至斯金纳箱,此类游戏设计就是为了引诱玩家为赢得奖励而掏钱。

所谓的斯金纳箱,就是新行为主义心理学的创始人之一的斯金纳为研究操作性条件反射而设计的实验设备。箱内放进一只白鼠,当它压杠杆时,就会有一道亮光或者声音响起,此时会有一团食物掉进箱子的盘中,动物就能吃到食物。实验发现,动物的学习行为是随着一个起强化作用的刺激而发生的。

在此我们将“食物”更换为“宝石”,而“杠杆”则是“触屏”,就很容易看出这一模式为何适用于许多热门F2P游戏了。但是,仅仅是这个模式能够带来成功,并不意味着它就是唯一选择。

在此,我们采访了GAMESbrief网站创办者Nicholas Lovell,与之探讨了F2P游戏未来走向等问题。

skinner_box(from blog.douglas.ca)

skinner_box(from blog.douglas.ca)

让我们先从行为主义入手吧。让开发者将游戏视为斯金纳箱的传统思路是什么呢?

首先我得声明一下,我并不是心理学家,也只能以门外汉的角度理解斯金纳箱。

斯金纳箱——更准确地应该称为操作性条件反射箱,起源于心理学家B.F. 斯金纳为了调查测试对象(通常是老鼠和鸽子)在得到特定奖励时会表现出哪种行为的实验。

老鼠可能按压一次杠杆就能得到奖励,也可能按压10次才有奖励,或者每隔10秒就按压一次。

斯金纳发这一过程中引入奖励大小,以及测试样本所需完成活动的随机性时,这些动物就会反复地重复操作,甚至不惜为此而导致自我损伤。

由此得到的一个结论就是,我们也有可能使用不同奖励结构去鼓励受试动物——甚至是人类,去采取有违自身利益的行为。

早期的Facebook游戏,尤其是那些出自Zynga之手的产品,在某些人看来就是斯金纳箱:你出现了,做了某事,因此而获得奖励,然后又重复这一操作。

对有些玩家来说,这是个令人愉快的体验,对另一些人来说,则是缺乏创意的表现。我认为,因此他们对游戏创新性有一定的期望,所以看到《FarmVille》不合自己预期时就会产生挫败感。

Ville类型的游戏中确有一些心理操控元素,但这些操控几乎在所有游戏设计中都有出现。

在你的GDC Next演讲中,你指出斯金纳箱最终会不可行,因为受试对象会意识到结果并没有什么不同。我们能不能说许多富有“粘性”的游戏之所以能成功,主要得益于玩家还没有这个意识?

我不确定情况是否如此。我喜欢《FarmVille》和《CityVille》,并在其中玩了很久,但我开始玩《CastleVille》时,就发现它与之前的游戏很相似。

我原本计划像之前两款游戏一样,刷三个月的任务,完成升级和相关任务。

但不到一会儿我就发现自己已经可以知道游戏所能提供的所有元素。我没必要在《CastleVille》中继续玩下去了,当然我也未必就是正确的——也许《CastleVille》确实具有我未曾预料的创新。

你也可以以此来指责AAA游戏,虽然这类游戏是以更多资产、场景和更大的预算来实现这种重复。我玩完了《神秘海域2》,但却发现已经没有再玩《神秘海域3》的热情了。

我认为它只是一个披着故事外衣的相同操作。如果它的重心在于故事而非玩法,那我情愿去看书。

对我来说,斯金纳箱结论的重要之处在于,你可以介绍某个之前从未接触这类玩法的人去体验《FarmVille》,这种“做事得奖励”的机制在他们看来可能颇为新鲜而值当。

但当这些人习惯了这一理念后,再向另一款换皮的游戏重复相同操作时,感觉就没这么新鲜了,因为玩家已经开始理解这个系统。

斯金纳箱是关于学习的事物,当你觉得自己已经掌握时,其奖励在本质上已经没有那么强的回报感了。坦白说,我很高兴看到不少用户说“我们厌烦了,来点新鲜的吧。”这是一个好现象。

你是否认为游戏中的“操作性条件反射”——例如基本的老虎机模式是持续可行的?

基于操作性条件反射的游戏将一直存在。而喜欢基本老虎机游戏的群体也同样如此。这里有相对较低的认知负荷,它是一种逃避现实的体验。

最后,如果这种游戏是持续可行的,开发者就需要在三个不同的领域增加游戏体验。

第一,你可以扩大场景——这种情况已经发生了。如果你可以看到一些非常壮观的景象,也就无所谓是不是能从游戏中学到新东西了。这正是为何当今的F2P游戏预算不断高升的原因。

第二,你可以增加奖励水平。如果玩家不再回应这些行为操作性条件反射的东西,开发者可以考虑“提高奖励水平”。真钱赌博运用的就是这个原理。

另一个是日本的complete gacha现象。也就是你提高奖励水平,但如果玩家想获得奖励,就要完成很多任务才行。

你可以三次重复这一循环,它有可能奏效,也有可能无效,如果无效那就重新开始循环。

从操作性条件反射观点来看,嵌入式随机性极具吸引力,以至于日本政府不得不出面禁止这一机制。

最后,你的第三个选择就是进行创新。如果你是基于数据分析的开发者,那就会比以上两者更难实现创新,所以你要不就扩大场景,要不是提高奖励。

日本最近宣布取缔“kompu gacha”这种极端利用操作性条件反射的盈利方法。这一禁令背后的原因在于该机制在赚取玩家金钱方面极为成功。这种机制对于操作性条件反射型的游戏来说难道不是很有意义吗?

如果我早期的结论是它并不可行,那么他们还有必要取缔这个机制吗?

没错,它确实很可行,但它是在极端情况下可行,或者说它会对社会的脆弱群体带来影响。我认为日本发现这种双重随机性如此盛行,以至于需要政府介入保护某些用户的利益。

我并非政府干预的死忠粉丝,但有些情况下确实需要保护人们的利益不受损害,同理,我也不主张这类游戏瞄准意志薄弱的群体。因为这是道德上的错误,也并非什么长久之计。

所以,我并不是说游戏中的操作性条件反射就是完全无用的,或者说它完全不可行。我只是认为在一个拥有1亿人的大众市场中,简单地重复某件事在吸引玩家这一点上将日渐失效,因为我们并没有由此学到或体验到新事物。

如果开发者想最大化高消费用户的终身价值,那么应该采取哪种可替代斯金纳箱机制的方法呢?

我不认为斯金纳箱机制催生了高消费玩家。我对高消费玩家或者“超级粉丝”的看法是,你得让这些人先喜欢上你的游戏,然后让他们为自己真正在乎的东西掏钱。

那么,究竟有什么方法可取代操作性条件反射呢?那就是让人们爱上你的游戏。

有一个方法是让人们对你的游戏上瘾,但实际上,如果能够让人们自愿回到游戏中的,那么你的游戏就会更为成功和令人快乐。

最近EEDAR调查显示,人们并不会为自己认为物有所值的东西花钱而后悔。如果他们真的喜欢游戏,想付钱给你,那就向他们出售一些能够之与产生情感共鸣的物品。

玩家通常会因情感和价值感而购买虚拟商品。玩家希望成为某个群体中的一员,或者与他人保持距离。他们重视自我表达,重视好友以及成为团队的一员,他们重视自己的时间甚于金钱,他们重视的事情有所不同。

这种方法与纯斯金纳箱机制(操纵人们的大脑,让他们去重视实际上并不重要的东西)的区别在于,它的目的在于创建一个让人们乐于花钱的社交环境。

所以,开发者不应该操纵玩家大脑让他们去重视某物,而应该让玩家自己去重视某物?

没错。

在很大程度上讲,这意味着提供一种社交情境。这未必是像《军团要塞》中的同步多人环境,它可以是像《Candy Crush Saga》中的地图,让玩家看到好友的进程,以便玩家加快速度赶上对方的进度。(本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译,拒绝任何不保留版权的转载,如需转载请联系:游戏邦

Nicholas Lovell: Free-to-play gamers are tired of Skinner Boxes, and that’s a good thing

by Matthew Diener

Speak to free-to-play detractors, and many will argue that the model reduces games to mere Skinner Boxes, with titles designed to trick players into parting with their cash after being treated to enticing rewards.

For those unfamiliar with Skinner Boxes, they work by rewarding subjects (in B.F. Skinner’s time, lab rats) with food for pressing the correct lever when stimulated by a bright light or loud noise.

Replace ‘food’ with ‘gems’, and ‘lever’ with ‘touchscreen’ and it’s easy to see why the model can be applied to many high profile free-to-play games. However, just because the model fits – and, for a time at least, offers success – doesn’t mean it’s the only option.

Indeed, for GAMESbrief founder and author of The Curve: From Freeloaders into Superfans Nicholas Lovell, many players are eager for developers to move on.

We caught up with Lovell at GDC Next in Los Angeles for his take on free-to-play’s next steps.

Pocket Gamer: Let’s start by talk behaviourism. What’s the traditional line of thought that convinces developers to view games as Skinner Boxes?

Nicholas Lovell: Firstly, a disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, and have a layman’s understanding of Skinner Boxes.

Skinner boxes – more accurately called Operant Conditioning Chambers – originated as an experiment by psychologist B.F. Skinner to investigate how test subjects, typically rats and pigeons, could be encouraged to display certain behaviours if they are given suitable rewards.

A rat might press a lever and get a reward, or have to press that same lever ten times to get a reward, or press it once with a 10 second period and so on.

Skinner found that introducing randomness into the process, both in terms of the size of the reward offered and the activities that the test subject was required to complete, led to the creature to repeat the action over and over again, to the extent of injuring themselves.

One conclusion is that it is possible to use a variable reward structure to encourage test animals – and by extension, humans – to act against their own best interests.

Early Facebook games, particularly those created by Zynga, had the look of Skinner Boxes to some people: you turned up, you did a thing, you got a reward for that thing, and you repeated it.

For some players, this was satisfying and enjoyable; to others, it lacked creativity and agency – partly, I think, because they expected a particular type of creativity and agency in their gaming and were frustrated that FarmVille didn’t match their expectations.

There are clearly elements of psychological manipulation in Ville type games, but then again, those same manipulations exist in nearly all game designs.

In your talk at GDC Next, you noted that Skinner Boxes eventually stop working because subjects learn there isn’t a different possible outcome. Is it fair to say that the success of many ‘sticky’ games lies in players not coming to this realisation?

I’m not sure that is true. Sure, sometimes a repetitive thing can get, well, repetitive. I enjoyed FarmVille and CityVille and progressed far in them, but when I started CastleVille, it felt very familiar.

In my mind, I projected forward the next three months of grinding and upgrading and mission-completing that I had enjoyed in the previous two games.

That projection took all of five seconds and I concluded I’d already seen all that the game had to offer. I didn’t bother carrying on with CastleVille, although of course I might have been wrong – maybe CastleVille innovated in ways that I didn’t anticipate.

You can level the same accusation at the triple-A approach though, although it does its repetition with more assets, spectacle and unhealthy budget. I finished Uncharted 2, but found it hard to muster the enthusiasm for Uncharted 3.

I expected it to be basically the same action, with a story tacked on top. If it is just about the story, not the gameplay too, then I would rather read a book.

For me, the important bit about Skinner Boxes coming to the end is that you can introduce somebody – in the case of FarmVille – from a population that’s never been exposed to this type of gameplay before, and the “Do something, get reward” thing feels new and rewarding.

Then, when the population is used to this type of idea, just repeating it in the next reskinned game doesn’t feel so new and rewarding because the players have started to understand this system.

Skinner Boxes are all about learning stuff, and when you feel like you’ve already learned that thing the reward is intrinsically less rewarding. Honestly, I’m delighted that the audience is saying “we’re bored, give us something new”. That’s a good thing.

Would you say that ‘operant conditioning’ in games – e.g. the basic slot machine model – is sustainable?

There will always be operant conditioning driven games that will work. There will always be a population who likes basic slot machine games, for example. It has a relatively low cognitive load and is an escapist experience.

Ultimately, if it is going to be sustainable, developers need to look at increasing the game experience in three different areas.

Firstly, you can up the spectacle – and we’re seeing that happening. It doesn’t matter so much if you’re not learning something new, if you are seeing something spectacular. That’s why we’re seeing budgets in free-to-play games going up.

Secondly, you can increase the reward level. If players are no longer responding to this behavioural operant conditioning stuff, developers can think “let’s ratchet up the rewards.” Real money gaming is way of doing that.

Another is the Japanese phenomenon of complete gacha. That’s where you ratchet up the rewards but in order to gain the rewards you have to do a bunch of tasks to gain an item.

You repeat this cycle three times again to get four quarters of a lottery ticket just to submit it. And maybe you win, maybe you don’t, and if you don’t, you start the cycle again.

The nested randomness is very compelling from an operant conditioning standpoint, so much so that the Japanese government has essentially banned it.

Finally, your third option is to do something new and creative. If you are, by background, an analytics-led suit, it’s harder to imagine how to do the new and creative than the other two options above, so you’ll up the spectacle or up the reward.

Japan recently outlawed the “kompu gacha” practice, which is an extreme example of operant conditioning applied to monetisation. The apparent reason behind the ban was its overwhelming success in parting players from their money. Isn’t this a point in favour of operant conditioning for games?

So, okay, you might ask ‘why did they bother outlawing it if in my argument earlier it doesn’t work?’

Well, it does work, but it works either when it’s extreme or it works on a vulnerable section of society. What, I think, the Japanese found was that this double-tier of randomness become so compelling to a subset that it was time for the state to step in and protect some people from themselves.

I’m not a massive fan of state intervention, but there are some cases where people being protected from themselves is important and, by the same token, I don’t like the idea of targeting people who are vulnerable. That’s morally wrong, as well as being a bad long-term strategy.

So, I’m not arguing that operant conditioning [in games] is totally useless, or that it doesn’t work. I’m arguing that at the mass market of 100 million players, simply repeating the same stuff again and again becomes less effective at engaging players because we’re not learning or experiencing anything new.

What alternatives does a developer have to the Skinner Box approach if they want to maximise the life-time value of a heavy spender?

I don’t think Skinner Boxes drive heavy spenders. My view of heavy spenders, or ‘superfans’, is that you’ve got to allow those people who love what you do to spend lots of money on things that they really value.

So, what are the alternatives to operant conditioning? Make people love your game.

One proxy for that is to make people Skinner Box-y addicted to your game, but in actuality, you will have a more successful, satisfying game if people are coming back to it because they want to.

There is recent EEDAR research which says people don’t regret spending money if they feel that they’ve got good value. If they’re really enjoying the game, and they want to give you money, give them things to spend on which have emotional resonance for them in the context of the game.

In context of virtual goods, it’s emotions that drive spending and a player’s sense of value. Players value being a part of something, or standing apart from everyone else. They value self-expression, they value friends and being part of a team, they value their time more than their money, they value any number of different things.

The difference in this approach to a pure Skinner Box which – at its most cynical – aims to trick the brain into valuing something it doesn’t, is that it’s about building a social context in which people want to spend money.

So, basically, instead of tricking the brain into valuing something, developers should work on getting players to value something?

Yes, exactly.

And that, to a large extent, means providing a social context. Not necessarily a synchronous multiplayer environment like Team Fortress but in, say, Candy Crush Saga where there’s a map where you can see the progress of your friends and you might want to progress faster or catch up to be part of the crowd.

You may enjoy sending lives to each other, which means you understand the value of lives and are happy to spend on them, and so on.(source:pocketgamer


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