Dealing with Dilemmas

Because of the sheer diversity of play motivations and the narrow communication channel, conflicts and misunderstandings happen a lot in MMOs, particularly in pick-up groups. For example, in World of Warcraft, what if the Priest wants to roll on the Warlock set piece? What if that Hunter looked like they just ninja-looted a Paladin plate piece? More often than not, there simply isn't enough time to lay out the issues and talk calmly. In a recent survey, I asked players how they would respond in these kinds of conflicts. In particular, I was interested in whether there were any age or gender differences.

I created three conflict scenarios based in World of Warcraft. I chose scenarios that were plausible and yet did not have standard resolutions. For example, the question of whether the Warrior or Rogue should tank has a standard resolution and wouldn't be an interesting conflict - it would be more of a knowledge test. Because producing such scenarios requires a sufficiently deep understanding of a particular game (and because I was most familiar with WoW at the time of the survey), I limited the scenarios to WoW and asked only WoW players to respond to the question set (1831 respondents altogether).

In the question set, players were asked to assume that the players mentioned were all players they had never played with before. The 3 scenarios were as follow:

You are in a high-level 5-man instance. The first blue BoP item drops about 20% of the way into the instance. It's a plate item with a +healing bonus. Everyone passes except for the Paladin, who rolls need. Surprisingly, the Hunter also rolls need. The Hunter wins the roll, and then apologizes, and claims they didn't mean to ninja. If the group voted at this point, would you vote for 1) removing the Hunter immediately from the group, or 2) keeping the Hunter in the group.

Your 5-man group is at the end of Scholomance. Darkmaster Gandling always drops a random Tier 0 class-specific head piece. In this run, the Dreadmist Mask (warlock set piece) drops - a blue BoP item. The only 2 casters in your group are a Warlock and a Priest, and neither of them has the Dreadmist Mask. The Warlock rolls need. The Priest (a shadowpriest) says that they are also building up the Dreadmist set because it has better bonuses for their build and would like to roll need as well. In your opinion, is it ok for the Priest to also roll need on the Dreadmist Mask?

You are about to start another 5-man Scholomance run. The only healer in your group is a shadowpriest and wants to stay in shadow form and heal via vampiric embrace as much as possible (switching only to normal heals when absolutely necessary). The Priest argues that this is the most efficient way to run through the first half of the instance. The Warrior argues that this is too dangerous. If your group voted at this point, would you vote for allowing the Priest to stay in shadowform, or 2) telling the Priest to switch out of shadowform.


The response pattern across all three dilemmas was similar. Older players were more lenient than younger players. In the ninja-looting dilemma, overall 55% of players voted to remove the Hunter and the remainder (45%) voted to keep the Hunter. As the chart below shows, older players were more lenient - in the teenage range, 50% of players voted to keep the Hunter, while in the over 35 age range, about 70% of players voted to keep the Hunter. But the age difference really only appears in the over 35 age group. The average "keep" rate in the below 35 age group is fairly consistent. The ninja-looting case was also the only dilemma where a gender difference appeared. Women were more lenient than men (p = .007).

In the "set piece" conflict, overall 47% of respondents would have let the Priest roll for the Warlock set piece. Again, there was an age difference, and again, the only difference was in the over 35 age group who were more likely to allow the Priest to roll. There was no difference in gender in this scenario (p = .73).


Overall, 48% of respondents would have let the Priest shadowheal. This dilemma produced the most interesting age effect. While consistent with the previous dilemmas in that older players were more lenient, there was a gradual increase in that leniency this time rather than a sudden spike in the over 35 age group. As the graph below shows, older players were more likely to allow the Priest to shadowheal. There was no gender difference in this scenario (p = .42).

What these three sets of findings show is that older players tend to be much more lenient than younger players when dilemmas arise in the game. Part of this may be because younger players tend to be more competitive and goal-oriented and prefer efficient teams where strict role assignments are kept, while older players are less concerned with pure efficiency. With regard to how men and women deal with conflicts in the game, the gender difference appearing in only one of the three scenarios is interesting. At first glance, it's not immediately clear what is different about that dilemma. One possible explanation is that it was the only dilemma where there was an overt punishment choice. Perhaps this is something that future surveys will help clear up.