The idea of a Carrot and Stick mechanic is a simple incentive process. Should you be baited with a reward you may be willing to do something you may have no done before. With this mechanic the conflict between monotony and reward can easily be subdued. The satisfaction of gain no matter how meager the reward in relation to the task can be blinding. At what point are Carrot and Stick mechanics conducive to fun an interesting game play, and at what point is it detrimental.
In any of your ‘Theme-Park’ MMOs the leveling process is entirely Carrot and Stick. Achieving the next level brings you the next skill, the next zone, the next instance, in some cases even the ever wanted mount. From the instant you enter the world you are charged with advancing the tiers/levels of the game in your attempt to reach God status. Upon approaching ‘end-game’ the incentive for you to continue playing does not lose its steam, in fact, many argue that is where the real game begins. Now you are faced with raids of ‘epic’ proportion, or even the task of picking flowers to receive that oh so reverent title of Master Gardner.
There are major problems that arise from these mechanics, mainly which is the separation of the ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’ crowd. Carrot and Stick mechanics reward time spent in game which in many MMO’s results in a - those who have and those who don’t in regards to gear. When gear becomes an issue progression becomes and issue for your ‘casual’ player. They are left behind and are simply not able to experience the content they pay for. However, there are two sides of this argument; how is subscription retention effected when you do not put out adequate content for the proclaimed ‘hardcore’ crowd.
Amongst all the negatives of these mechanics there are most certainly positives. The same tier separation of gear that is capable of destroying the balance of power between the ‘casual’ and the ‘hardcore’ also creates a competitive environment amongst raiders. Creates a linear progression system that makes ease of use and allows for new comers to quickly learn. It keeps you looking for the next best thing which further encourages exploration. Simply put, the desired product of the Carrot and Stick mechanic is realized at the end when you have a feeling, sometimes fleeting at best, but nevertheless the feeling of accomplishment.
In MMOs the Carrot and Stick mechanic has been long entrenched in game play development. It has become the backbone, the driving force, behind the ‘entertainment’ of an MMO. The reason I challenge as to whether we are being entertained or not is for the multitude of downfalls to this Carrot and Stick system. Are the rewards honestly rewards, is there true enjoyment behind doing the repetition?
To close I again petition you to answer a few question:
Do you notice the Carrot and Stick mechanic at work in the MMO that you frequent?
Do you enjoy this mechanic?
Is it over-used?
Are there better alternatives?