Greedy Goblin

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cheap tactics

People keep commenting that I should read Sirlin's Play to win, because it's so great. I've read it long ago and was not amused. I found it another "bone storm and you" class book, that states the obvious truth. To people who live in social lies, simply telling the truth sounds new, liberating and refreshing. However just telling it is useless. If you believe in the "power of the truth", go ahead and approach a homeless with the obvious truth that he shall stop drinking, smoking and start working.

To make difference you should go beyond telling how things are. At the minimum you should tell how things should be. But to really do something, you must also tell, how. "How" can hardly be answered without "why". The "play to win" tells the obvious truth that there are "scrubs" who will never win, and it has nothing to do with in-game knowledge. Everybody (besides "GS+achie" kids) know this. The book also tells that one shall focus on victory and ignore the "cheapness" or the "fun" of the winning strategy. That's also true, however it lacks the explanation why would someone do otherwise. I mean it's obvious for me that any tactic is measured only for success or success/effort ratio and not "beauty", "style" or "coolness". Also, I despised the "lol I play for fun" kids when I was 12 and couldn't imagine what's so fun in losing.

Sirlin says "A scrub is a player who is handicapped by self-imposed rules that the game knows nothing about.". Very accurate and very true. But why would anyone do that and how to fix them? "the scrub labels a wide variety of tactics and situations cheap. ... If you beat a scrub by throwing projectile attacks at him, keeping your distance and preventing him from getting near you—that’s cheap. If you throw him repeatedly, that’s cheap, too." Why? How?

He says "These rules can be staggeringly arbitrary. ... Exploring the reasoning is futile since the notion is ridiculous from the start.". Now, this is not true at all. If the scrubs would just be non-serious mental patients who can function in simple tasks but in a game that needs abstraction (I'm a mage casting spells and not a guy pressing buttons), all scrubs would come up with random, different nonsense. However practically all scrubs find the same things cheap, their "random arbitrary rules" are the same, even if they never met and came from different cultural background. Remember the story of twixt, when practically the whole player community considered twixt "cheap"! There must be order in the madness in the head of the scrubs and must be found if we want to avoid them and if we ever hope to fix them.

The solution is: a "scrub" is a social (who is not under the command of a play-to-win leader). He plays not to win the game but to win the sympathy and or respect of his (real or imaginary) peers. Since the majority of the peers are bad in the game or not even playing, simply winning does not attract respect. If I'd say "I have 314258 gold on my WoW characters" or "once upon a time I won the university tournament on HL-CS" would you respect me? Maybe if you are in the WoW gold game or in the competitive CS community. But if you are a casual player, the best I can get is "if it's fun for you pal, do".

However if I jump on the unsuspecting enemy and distribute 3 headshots in a row, then anyone, even if he never played the game have the impression that "I pwn" (actually I just stolen the kills of my teammates, left my position, broke the line, letting the enemy to our back). Also, if I make a "dragon punch" in Sirlin's Street Fighter, flashing, jumping, rolling, the completely oblivious peer will have the impression that I'm a great player. More common example: guarding the AB flag is "boring" while "pwning" on the bridge is "fun", because a non-player peer would see the first as idling while the second "victory over other players".

Winning the game is secondary to the social. While he'd like to win, especially if rewards are given, his priority is to amuse peers. "Cheap tactics" are effective tactics that would not cause peer amusement, like camping in CS, selling single arrows, reading EJ, blocking for half minute, running away to attack from the back and so on. He hates those who use cheap tactics, simply because he knows that he will lose his secondary objective: winning the game. He feels helpless as he knows that the only way to win would be doing something "cheap" that would cause his peers to say "meh".

The same works perfectly in RL. Putting your money to the bank does not attract envious looks. A new, trendy car does. A week holiday on Tahiti does. A necklace with diamonds does. Investing your money is "no life" or "boring" and "not fun".

The problem is sociality. The social can only be effective, if some leader created an atmosphere where effective behavior is trendy. So go and find a master to serve! Or start acting asocially with peers.

PS: for now, I have no more to say on this topic, I'm back to making gold and to The PuG, bringing the "magic" to action.


Anonymous said...

Loved today's post, mainly because you said one very big truth.

The what doesn't matter if it doesn't a how-to next to it. You are absolutely correct about it.

Anonymous said...

"I was 12 and couldn't imagine what's so fun in losing."

You may as well ask a straight kid to find their same gender sexually desireable. You can't. They cannot fathom it. They just don't *see* what you're seeing.

Some people cannot see the joy in disecting a living insect. Some can, and do. You cannot convince people to change innate emtional reactions through reasoned arguments.

You're different. Accept it.

Everblue said...

If we are recommending books for you to read, try "Gamesmanship" by Stephen Potter, if you can find it.

Anonymous said...

I do plenty of Arathi Basin fights and every fight I people rushing to get that first cap (be it stables or farm) only to abandon that node (so the enemy can come and get it without even as much as an "incomming" report)
Yes, defending is not as fancy as fighting in the frontlines, but it's good defending that wins those games, not your LOLIHAZSKILLZJUSTLOOKATMYDAMAGENUB
Same thing happens in all the other battlegrounds and worst of all these M&S expect everybody else to do the "boring" bits for them, so they can go on their X5 and below to do the "fun" bits
like killing Balinda or Galvanger (they can't even hit them, but hey, they were there, having fun, being useless)

nonameform said...

On my server on alliance side we have a rogue that used to spend around 15 hours in Wintergrasp everyday just killing horde players (I believe he got bored of it eventually). Even though it's always annoying to be ambushed by a rogue while you're doing a weekly quest in WG or mining a node, I actually never bothered to log my alliance character to whisper threats or whine.

General chat in WG used to explode with "F***ing [character name]! He is a coward". The reason for the rogue being a "coward" is that most people never managed to kill him. According to Armory, that rogue has pretty high arena rating and various rewards for being in top tier team. Probably my best attempts were the times when I did actually survive the ambush and managed to bring the rogue to around 20% before he escaped with cooldowns and rocket boots. Most of the time I had no chances and died pretty fast even with actual PvP spec and pretty decent PvP gear.

I don't think it's fun to be killed over and over again, but I realize that my skill is insufficient to win such a duel. I'm actually impressed that he can survive for hours in Wintergrasp, ganking horde characters while we control the keep and win 1 vs 2-3 encounters. Even though he ruins the "fun" for most horde players, compared to most rogues that I've encountered over the years, he is a god.

Unknown said...

Gevlon said "Putting your money to [should read "into"] the bank does not attract envious looks"

Made me laugh. So when you live in a rich Country with 60 million people an efficient capitalist economy will find niches and exploit them. Thus banks have found that if they create an "epic" brand, people will want to use that brand card to make purchases, because merely being permitted to bank with the epic brand will get you "envious glances".

Example =

Coutts used to be independent but is now owned by another large bank, and so is merely a brand to dazzle the m&s (pretty profitably for the parent bank).

Nielas said...

Sirlin's Play To Win is based in competive one-on-one games where there is a very precise win condition. It translates fairly badly to MMORPGs. MMORPGs have a ton of different 'win' conditions which vary from player to player and guild to guild. Ensidia has a different 'win' condition than Ungeared and they really are not playing the same raiding game.

In this context a 'scrub' is someone who wants to play by one set of rules and goals and won't accept the fact that others want to play by a different set of rules and goals. Within WoW you have both casual and hardcore scrubs which creates much of the 'drama'.

TheGrumpyElf said...

Interesting post. Made me realize that I am the "boring" person that stays at the flag to defend it and gets more personal satisfaction out of investing my cash then spending it to show off.

The flag thing does bring up something interesting however. If it is all about the fight then why not stay at the flag? I've had some epic battles defending the flag, sometimes 3 or 4 against 1 and I some how got lucky and pulled it out. Sure, those moments are few and far between but I would take the excitement of doing that and helping the team win over beating up someone in the middle of a road where it does not help anything at all. I do hate when I am the only one that thinks to protect the flag and often get called a noob because I am guarding a flag.

Same could be said for the EotS battleground. I forever see people battling for the flag and it confuses me. If you can cap three towers you can let the other team run back and forth with the flag all game long and you will still win never having had touched the flag once. Why do people even stand there and fight when the flag is useless if you have 3 towers?

Nice article.

Duskstorm said...

I don't think you need to codify what constitutes a good player.

No one needs to be "pointed to the right direction" or given "literature" to read in order to be a successful raider; the ones that take initiative to learn to play their best will use google. They'll find resources to consume, and they will keep on consuming until they are satisfied that their performance level is more than sufficient for the content they're trying to clear.

The ones who don't take that initiative are not worth the time to try and coach up. It's pointless to try. They just don't care.

The cause of 95%+ of the failed raids I've been in over the course of the last four years lay in some combination of one or both of these two problems:

1. An inability to determine who underperformed or otherwise failed
2. Unwillingness to remove people who underperform or fail

It really is that simple.

Anonymous said...

"Unwillingness to remove people who underperform or fail"

Wow's current raid lockout system encourages that. Say you just did 4/12 ICC25, with people pulling consistent DPS and fights happening without a hitch.

Of course, those are fairly static and faceroll battles. As soon as the doomed raid reaches Rotface, they will fail because 5-or-so members can't run to tank when with the slime debuff, or wipe in Festergut because 1 ranged died to the explosion due to lack of spores.

If you kick those, however, you will be hard pressed to get replacements, since few would want to get into a 4/12 done ICC that has probably failed a fair bit already, knowing they would lose the more certain 4/12 of that week. Thus, since 1 DPS is better than 0 DPS, the M&S stay, until the raid fall apart due to repeated failures...

Duskstorm said...


I know that all too well. The lockout system gives too much power to individual players.

Now, the best time to kick people for being bad is during Marrowgar. If you have the Gearscore and Recount addons, you can use the DPS/Gearscore list to red flag any DPS that appears to be underperforming relative to their gear level.

Also, there are times when going down to 8 people from 10 makes the fights easier. Rotface is a good example. Festergut is the opposite, but festergut is an exception.

Anonymous said...

@Duskstorm: not sure about DPS/Gearscore - I thought the Op was about winning. And unjust as it is, 6000 DPS from a 6000 GS is still more DPS than 5400 DPS from a 4400 GS.

Yes, people should defend resource nodes. But I suspect that the bad players who go to fight in the middle get more HK than the guards. If that's whats important to them, then isn't that the proper strategy for them?

Eric-Wubbo said...

First of all, I suspect that the people who loudly announce they 'play for fun' are just armoring their ego for their possible loss. Prof. Carol Dweck would have some interesting things to say on such 'fixed' mindsets.

Second, those who promote 'fair play' may just (subconsciously) use the game to announce their evolutionary fitness. After all, 'playing fair' and winning shows that you're great, if you cheat (like Hamlet's uncle poisoning the king in his sleep) you're a crook. So I suppose they indeed play to 'look good', though cheaters annoy them because it's hard to look good while losing. To be fair though, a society in which most people are 'reliable' and obey the rules (however random the rules may be) can work much more efficiently than one where one has to continually look over one's shoulder since everyone can use exploits against you.

Third, your remarks that winners have the primary objective to win, and 'socials' have the primary objective to look good, for some reason seems to tie in reasonably well with the conclusions the psychologist Norman Dixon made on effective versus ineffective generals in his book on the psychology of military incompetence (reviewed it in my blog at, though he blames it on authoritarianism rather than on socialness in general.

Duskstorm said...


Sure, DPS/GS is not a perfect tool. It's a good way to quickly glance to see any horrid underperformers.

Not sure what you mean about "winning" -- the goal is to create an environment where two conditions are met:

1. The M&S don't last long; they are either kicked or leave on their own accord
2. The guys that could become good players, but aren't yet, understand that performance matters towards winning.

Anonymous said...

Gevlon, I love this post because it accurately sums up your misunderstanding of "socials."

The socials you describe are people who are playing WoW for one thing, and one thing only: fun.

And yes, it is actually much more fun (IMHO) to go boomkin spec and farm HK's on a bridge than it is to go resto spec and guard flags, even if we lose the BG. Initially in BG's I go resto, until I get my daily done. Then I don't worry about winning so much.

Likewise, my arena ranking was a lot higher back when I was resto and played with a skilled lock and warrior. But I'm having more fun now then I ever did before doing an all 5's boomkin team.

If WoW was real life, and my arena ranking translated into something other than virtual achievments, then I'd have stuck with my high ranked arena team who used to nerd rage after each loss. But WoW is just a pointless game. Us socials play it just have fun and relax, and we dont' get upset if we lose b/c we don't care all that much about "success" in WoW.