[MUD-Dev] RE: Character development [was Re: ]

J C Lawrence claw at under.engr.sgi.com
Mon May 4 19:02:34 New Zealand Standard Time 1998

From: "Koster, Raph" <rkoster at origin.ea.com>
To: "'J C Lawrence'" <claw at under.engr.sgi.com>
Subject: RE: [MUD-Dev] Character development [was Re: ] 
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 1998 15:03:33 -0500

You said:

> Whoops.  Changed my mind twice in the middle there.  It started out
> as an on-list reply, but then seemed better sent directly.
> Apologies for the duplicate quote text.  <sigh>

I'd actually be sort of interested to see if the list even picked up 
on it--my reply to your questions only generated one follow-up. I 
agree with you that muddom as a whole, and the list membership in 
specific, tend not to discuss these other areas. As you know and can 
discern from my posting habits, I tend to be focused a lot more on the 
intangibles and a lot less on the code stuff. :)

To answer a point you raised in your note,

I said:

>> Success is moderate. On the one side, I think equating it to a
>> graphical DIKU is really really wrong. A simple glance at the
>> feature list will demonstrate that--heck, a simple glance at the
>> typical player's activities will demonstrate it.

and you replied:

> <nod>
> Yes, I know this.  You know this.  Your average Wired or Upside
> reader doesn't know this, which is and was the point.

The average mass market reader is going to have trouble really 
realizing the depth regardless. The coverage of UO has not differed 
significantly from the coverage of text muds five years ago, to my 
mind. They still portray it as "roadways lined waist-deep with 
corpses," to steal your phrase, regardless of advances in the state of 
the art. The article on UO in the current issue of Yahoo! Magazine 
demonstrates that.

However, it's also very interesting to note that, to the mass market, 
the intangibles I mentioned above are what really capture the 
imagination. They can go slay a dragon in dozens of other games, and 
the idea of doing it with friends is not earth-shattering. What 
captured the imagination of the stockbrokers and the housewives and 
the other non-traditional players UO attracted was the idea of setting 
up a house in a virtual world, having a pet, making their own 
clothing, etc.

As a result, I have come to believe, particularly in the last few 
months, that all those sorts of things are a heck of a lot more 
important than whatever the "game" supplies. And recent research 
appears to back me up on that belief, with its emphasis on specific 
things that help in creating community online (keep an eye out for 
"Building Communities on the Web" by Amy Jo Kim, Peachpit Press, this 
summer--I'd LOVE to discuss some of the aspects of this as they 
certainly upset MY apple-cart in terms of some features and the like 
that I had always despised or denigrated and now see as vital). A 
surprising amount of them are things we either take for granted or 
tend not to consider important in mud development: how visually 
distinctive a group can make itself, in "tribal branding." What 
mechanisms there are for establishing "ownership" of a particular area 
within the environment. Etc.

These things translate into tighter community bonds, which matter more 
to the longevity of your environment than the game does--or the 
quality of the roleplay. This is quite a reversal for me personally, 
as I spent a lot of time before UO thinking about ways to solve what I 
perceived as player retention issues with muds with game 
mechanics--for example, what to do about fiinite levels and tiers of 
advancement. A lot of what the press has (gently) termed "questionable 
design decisions" came from that concern. And now I think that while 
many of my approaches proved to be valid, my premises were incorrect. 
Adding tailoring meant more than a complex skill cap formula did.

>> Changing a public mindset takes a lot more than game
>> mechanics.

> <kof> Quite.

I should ask you to post this to the list just so I can get another 
aphorism in the library. ;) For that matter, it'd be neat to have a 
list of those aphorisms. I've seen so many on the list that were 
begging to be quoted...

>> So, their motives are the same ("kill, kill, kill") but to maintain
>> their status and abilities, they still need to deal with a much
>> wider array of activities.

> How to make that *depth* of involvement a known strength of the
> game, and in itself an appealing factor for non-kEWLD00dZ??

Well, I think it already is a known strength of the game, in UO's 
case. When I first saw ads for Kesmai or EverQuest that spoofed UO's 
focus on crafting skills and the like, I knew that we had managed to 
portray a compelling enough take on virtual world design that it was 
worthy of spoofing. And I think we did well at making it an appealing 
factor for the non-kewldoodz. The question then became one of 
scale--we've got so many more kewldoodz, and such a higher proportion 
of them than a niche product would have (and my GOD, did I 
underestimate how bad that problem would get! I have come to a whole 
new awareness of niche market versus mass market...), that all the 
classic problems reared their head anyway.

I would be *fascinated* to see a niche product (like, say, a text mud) 
that basically did exactly what UO did, with the same range of eco-sim 
factors and the like. I bet it would be MUCH more successful at 
satisfying the niche than UO was, thanks to the lesser proportion of 
kewldoodz in the environment. The hardcore mudders-and-rp'ers who can 
appreciate the touches it has make up a very very small portion of 
UO's actual audience, and therefore are much less appreciative of what 
is in it. :) Whereas within the mud community itself, if they had a 
chance to play it with only members of their community, I suspect it 
would be a very interesting thing to watch...

Looks like they will be inducing labor tomorrow morning, so Kristen 
and I are expecting a son within the next 24 hours... I may be 
somewhat absent from the list for a while. And if I haven't mentioned 
it before, my kudos for managing to create such an interesting 
community on the list itself. :)

- -Raph

J C Lawrence                               Internet: claw at null.net
(Contractor)                               Internet: coder at ibm.net
---------(*)                     Internet: claw at under.engr.sgi.com
...Honourary Member of Clan McFud -- Teamer's Avenging Monolith...

MUD-Dev: Advancing an unrealised future.

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