[MUD-Dev] Re: PK and my "Mobless MUD" idea

Dr. Cat cat at bga.com
Sat May 2 16:33:24 New Zealand Standard Time 1998


Raph Koster wrote:
> On Friday, May 01, 1998 2:30 PM Dr. Cat [SMTP:cat at bga.com] said:
> >I think making a game that accentuates the difference between 
> old-timers
> >and newcomers strongly is a bad idea commercially.  It makes it so 
> that
> >your customers from your first few months are the most likely to be
> >satistisfied, and so it's a lot harder to grow your customer base 
> with
> >new players after that.  Artistically I think it's a bad idea too.
> 
> I agree with that too. We went to great lengths in UO to minimize 
> this, but we faced the competing pull of "advancement" which is of 
> course a very valuable part of any game framework. We pushed 
> "alternative forms of advancement" such as ownership and access to 
> greater range of activities, but nonetheless retained enough 
> traditional advancement and acquisition of power that it still is 
> somewhat of a problem.

I remember in my early days as a designer identifying the "hooks" that 
drew me into games like Wizardry, Ultima, Bard's Tale, etc.  The gaining 
of power, money, and magic items was a very obvious one to spot, and it's 
very effective.  It ties in to the sorts of desires people have in real 
life, only in the fantasy world they can achieve them far more easily, 
rapidly, and to a greater extent.  I would argue that this is such a 
powerful "hook" for a game, that if you want a large percentage of player 
attention to be focused on other things, you almost have to omit some or 
all of that hook, because it will overshadow all else.  Of course leaving 
out such a strong hook isn't necessarily a sound business decision - 
especially when you're developing a franchise that has a well established 
audience that likes and expects that type of play.  I'm out on a limb 
hoping I can perhaps tap into a different and bigger hook - the same one 
that draws people into talking to each other on the phone (a highly 
popular activity that has spawned a monstrously huge industry).  Time 
will tell.

> >The "influence trees" mechanism I plan to put in later
> >should do a lot in service of this.
> 
> I'd be curious to hear more of this. Is it akin to the setup that 
> Asheron's Call intends to use?

I really don't know.  I haven't read very much about the game and their 
plans for it.  (quick peek)  I don't see anything about it on their web 
site, either.  Our mechanism is basically going to be that everyone has 
the ability to "assign" their influence to another person, be it the head 
of their household, a guildmaster, baron, king, etc.  We'd expect a tree 
to develop, where the head of a particular dukes might be worth 137 
"influence points" because of all the people pledging to him (or to one 
of his followers), and he'd in turn pledge to a king, who'd have several 
other nobles also in his court.  Influence can be reassigned at any time, 
so the defection of a major noble to a different kingdom could be a 
pretty big deal - giving the king some incentive to listen to the duke's 
opinions before making decisions, and take them seriously!  There will 
likely be some kind of "voting" mechanism that can be invoked to decide 
things in the game, also.  Apart from any game-global votes there might 
be, any group within the game could call a local vote for any issue of 
interest or concern to their members.  My current thinking is that 
there'd be a set date/time at which the influence totals would be 
counted, but you could probably view the running totals of 
"yea/nay/undecided" prior to that to add some interest to the lobbying 
and debating.  And that if someone high-up on the tree votes, that sets 
the voting choice for anyone below them that doesn't cast any vote of 
their own, but if an individual (or a sub-leader) casts a contrary vote, 
then that takes precedence.

The simplest system would be that each person is worth one point.  But 
I'm thinking about requiring half an hour of play per week to reduce the 
amount of cheating by logging on alts and pledging them to yourself.  Or 
even boosting the amount above one point based on total hours per week 
online.  Possibly giving people one extra point if they buy a $20 a year 
"deluxe membership" - though people who don't buy it will complain 
endlessly at us that it's unfair.  (We're planning to try to make the 
game advertising supported, so it will be free for players normally.)
There's also the thought of weighting influence based on your income, 
since the income is going to be totally attention-economy based.  And the 
people getting the most attention having the most influence is sort of 
"in tune" with the way things work.  I'm concerned though that it might 
be redundant, just accelerating things and giving us an "n-squared" 
effect if the most popular people are also the best at recruiting, which 
is likely.  I also want to have "high score" boards with things like 
"family/barony/kingdom with highest average income per capita, highest 
total income, etc."  That has more interest if income is kept a totally 
seperate metric - then Clan A can brag "we have the most influence" and 
Clan B can brag "we have the most income".  Giving people more 
alternatives to succeed in and feel good about means a higher percentage 
of people feel satisfied and a lower percentage feel left out.  The real 
hope there is the multiple layers, though.  Instead of only 10 people out 
of thousands seeing their name in the top 10, if a kingdom is highly 
ranked than many people can take pride, even if their results and their 
family's results and their districts results are feeble, in saying "I'm 
part of the best kingdom, we're so cool!"  Kind of like millions of 
people revel in the successes of their area's sports teams - only here 
they even have some tiny percentage of the accomplishments that are 
literally their doing, contributing to the collective whole.

Oh I might note in passing here that this is the kind of question that 
many people concerned about "keeping secrets from the competition" would 
have responded to with an "I'm not telling" because they don't want to 
"have their ideas stolen".  To those people, though none of them are 
probably reading here anyway, I just want to say "get a life", "get a 
clue", "figure out how things really work in this industry and what's not 
worth time spent worrying about it", and various crude and childish 
comments not suitable for reproducing here.

> a) the server wasn't designed with making a no-PK environment from the 
> get-go, so a conversion task would be hideous
> b) maintaining two code bases would also be nasty
> c) we think it's a pointless experiment.
> 
> The reason I say the latter deserves some expansion.
> 
> Yes, there is considerable demand for a "safe" virtual environment. I 
> just don't think it is feasible. As we all know, "playerkilling" 
> exists on servers that don't even support combat. There's only two 
> ways I know of to handle this. One is to try to empower players to 
> handle it. The other is to ban it, attempt to handle the problem via 
> administration, and suffer the PR hit of not being able to do so. 
> (Yes, I am cynical about this).
> 
> I regard it as axiomatic that the more sophisticated the environment, 
> the more ways players will find to screw each other over. And the less 
> possible it is to actually block said methods. A glance at most all 
> the projects of listmembers reveals an environment which is malleable 
> enough by players that they can cause harm to others via extremely 
> indirect means. Your choice is to either constrain your feature set, 
> or accept that you can't possibly trap all the indirect means of doing 
> harm. And we don't want to constrain our feature set to prevent Bubba 
> from taming a dragon and then releasing it near Buffy, whom he hates, 
> and letting nature take over.

I'd contend a lack of willingness to make drastic changes or take radical 
solutions, like seriously constraining your feature set, or adding some 
"weird and unrealistic" rules modifications.  Taking the serious 
constraints approach, one could dig into the code and find where damage 
is applied to players, and just disable it, so everyone is effectively 
immortal all the time.  Most players would find this game to suck, but 
they could easily be reminded "nine out of ten shards work the way you 
prefer" and people could see what happens.  If you want to spend a little 
more time and effort you could define regions where all players are 
immortal, and regions where they're not.  "All non-dungeons are 100% 
safe", or "all places not within X distance of a monster spawn point", or 
"all towns and roads are safe and noplace else", or "towns only" or whatever.
Frankly, even the flawed approach of "a direct attack by one player on 
another player doesn't work anywhere, buy every other trick in the book 
does, dragon-taming or anything else" has some level of value, in my 
opinion.  The frequency of players killing other players wouldn't go to 
zero, but it would change.  Players of the game might find the new, 
presumably lower frequency of being killed by players to be preferable.

And most importantly, I think it would be a really positive PR move.  
Origin is faced with the problem that if (to pick some random, made up 
numbers out of the air) the staff has enough manpower and other resources 
to do 5,000 things to the game that players want in a given period, the 
players will request 500,000 things.  The staff can't even read through 
all the requests in all the public forums, much less respond to them, 
much less address them all with actions.  And many, many players will see 
none of their personal gripes or suggestions addressed, won't have 
personal experience with some friend getting theirs addressed, and will 
assume that the changes they do see are made not because of the requests 
of strangers that they didn't hear about, but because of the whims of the 
staff, who are "busy ignoring my suggestions and doing whatever they want".

Taking something very dramatic, which a lot of players have talked about, 
and making a big, bold, obvious change and slathering "this is here 
because players asked us for it" all over the thing, that would be a very 
helpful PR move in my opinion, even if the gameplay of it didn't work as 
well as the people asking for it had hoped for.  The gameplay of the 
regular, PK-allowed Ultima Online is not necessarily as good as many of 
them had built up their hopes for before they played it, but that doesn't 
necessarily mean they aren't out there spending large numbers of hours 
getting everything they can out of it.

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