[MUD-Dev] CGDC, a summary
adam at angel.com
Sun May 10 00:14:04 New Zealand Standard Time 1998
As I mentioned before, I attended CGDC today. Nothing terribly
new to the folks on this list, but it is interesting to see so many computer
game professionals getting serious on these issues which have been our private
hobbiest's domain for so long. Thought I'd sum up the lectures I attended,
less to stimulate any discussion and more to just share what's going on with
those that might be curious. At the very least I learned quite a few terms
in use for stuff we've talked about a lot but never (to my knowledge) named.
First one I went to was Jonathon Baron, one of the maintainers of Kesmai
Air Warrior for the last decade or so. He was fairly critical of current
offerings, and called mainly for a re-examination of how to make online
games, that they aren't just single player games + a network connection,
and all that jazz. He started off by asserting that the time is ripe for
the rise of virtual communities due to the lack of RL connectivity - he cited
statistics such as the average middle-class person moving every four years.
Thus, he wanted the creators of the games to view them as tools for social
interactions first, and as traditional games second. Things he listed as
being serously lacking in current offerings (his main examples were Air
Warrior and UO) were:
- Indocrination. Air Warrior has a training school he cited as being an
obviously retrofitted tack-on, and UO has nothing at all, but rather just
dumps you into the big bad world. I guess he wanted a Merc mud school :)
- Rites of Passage. He said that this was something completely lacking in
Air Warrior when it came online, and the ones they tried to add later were
poor. The players ended up coming up with their own that were much better.
He also complained about UO since it's entirely skill based; there are
few-to-no 'platos' of accomplishment one reaches. He also stated that the
nature of these advancements couldn't be arbitrary (which was the problem
with AW's attempt). They need to be indications of status which are
positively acknowledged by other players, and desired by the owner. In
addition, they cannot (he says) be subtle - it should be clear how to
achieve something which is within your reach, and once you achieve it it
should give immediate feedback.
- Elder Games. This is what we've been talking about recently with
god-games; it refers to the game changing as the players advance. Early on
he stated that a fundamental difference between single and multiplayer
games is that in the first case, once you've mastered the game, it should
end. With multiplayer mastery of the game is 'just the begining.' For his
Elder Games he references multi-player Battletech - the game of a grunt in
the field is very different from a player in the position of house leader.
(I'm not familiar with this one; it certainly sounds interesting, though.)
He spent a while on the tie-ins between character advancement, rites of
passage, and elder games.
- Player vs Player. He stated baldly that no game should allow a player to
'take away' something of value from another player. This PvP is "okay" for
games like Air Warrior where you only loose some pride when you get killed,
but completely unacceptable for games like RPGs where you "ruin" or
otherwise damage someone's character, whom they may have invested a lot of
He had some interesting anecdotes from Air Warrior, of course. One
interesting idea he put forward was that the WWII theme of AW was more likely
to have players 'play nice' than (say) a fantasy or sci-fi theme, simply
because WWII references a real time period. The etiquette is defined; most
people have parents or grandparents they knew well that lived during that
time. He stated that the further the theme was from our own RL environment,
the more likely people were to exhibit 'misfit' behavior.
He also spent a fair amount of time talking about conflict: PvP, P vs the
Machine, and P vs Player Simulcrums. His main theme was that conflict is
essential, as it accelerates the bonds between those involved, and since
on-line communities have so much less time availible to them (since most people
play for a small fraction of their total real-life time), this acceleration is
necessary to form meaningful bonds in a reasonable amount of time.
The second and most interesting class I attended was a round table, hosted
by Amy Jo Kim, who seems to be in high regard with a few folks on this list.
She certainly seemed to know what she was talking about. In addition it was
interesting to hear from the many attendees. There were a few folks from TEN,
Mpath, Asharon's Call, the guy from Avalon, several from Kesmai, and a whole
host of startups looking to break into 'massively' (this seems to be a key
buzzword now) multiplayer gaming.
Amy also relied heavily on UO for examples, but also muds, GeoCities, chat
rooms, AOL, the web, Diablo, and Quake. The flow of the discussion was
oriented around her nine design points, presumably documented in her book.
1. Purpose. Communities are more successful when they have a clear purpose.
Games are ideal for this, since their purpose is "play the game." She
also stresses importance of a back story to bring a sense of history to
the environment. She critisizes UO (although she's well aware that the
designers were restricted to the existing Ultima story) for having a
history with no strong females on the side of Good, and cites this as a
reason for the lack of a strong female demographic there.
2. Places. Providing the proper places for people to interact. Size of the
world - too big and you never see anyone, too small and you're packed in
like sardines. Availibility of 'private' rooms. Ideal number of players
interacting in a single "room" (ie, a chat room). This led to discussion
of communication channels, for which Amy called UO "woefully inadequet."
Most of the talk was about lobbies for games played in single sessions
3. Identity. Giving players an avatar they can bond strongly with.. some
interesting oppinions were put forth on this one. One fellow seemed very
offended that games 'allow' identical characters - he suggested that
something which provides you with a 'facemaker' (ie, Furcadia, UO, or
Asharon's Call) should mark that particular combination of features as
being 'taken' while your character exists, and no one can create a player
from then on with that combination. Another guy didn't like graphical
avatars at all - he felt this was an area where text was completely
superior. "After all," he said, "isn't that what we're trying to get away
from in a virtual environment - judging people by their appearance?"
Amy didn't have much to say about the actual method of individual
identification, but she seemed to fall into the camp of believing that
being able to 'subvert' people's identities - that is, masquerade as
someone else - was unacceptable.
4. Leadership. Strong, easily identifiable leaders are important for any
long-lasting and civilized community. The larger it is, the more leaders
it needs. In addition, the leaders can't be admin/god type characters -
they have to be player characters which the other players can use as
role-models. Here she described her "virtual age" theory: A player, the
first time they come into a virtual world they are unfamiliar with, is
like a child. They are unfamiliar with the customs, ettiquete, and other
rules of behavior for that world. Like a child, they look to others who
are more mature in that world for clues on how they should behave.
And just like a child in the real world, if they lack good role-models,
they will grow up to be counterproductive misfits. She says one problem
which recurs again and again is that the existing misfits in an online
community draw the most attention, therefore are the most noticable
role-models for new players. She suggests that the admin should try to
deal with misfits quickly and quietly, whereas they should take the 'good'
role-models (ie, people that behave the way they want the rest of the
community to behave) and make them more visible to the rest of the
playerbase. She didn't mention any specific examples, but it sounded a
lot like the mayor of Yew on UO that Raph mentioned. At any rate, this is
an interesting solution to the 'jerk' problem so often discussed here; as
JCL often says, "It's a social problem, and shouldn't be delt with at the
software level." I guess she agrees.
5. Etiquete. At this point we were left with around 10 minutes to hit the
rest of the points, so she kind of blasted through the rest. Here she
just refered back to the visibile role-models thing, plus making the
specifics of the code of conduct readily accessable to anyone.
6. Events. This is the one topic she hit on that I don't think we've ever
discussed here in any depth (or at all?). She started by asking what
major community that has ever existed that didn't have regular, repeating
events - ie, holidays. They greatly enhance the sense of belonging to
those in the community, as well as offering a good chance for folks to
socialize. I found myself realizing that this particular topic is a lot
more important than I've ever considered it; the things that continuously
drew me back to the muds that I played the most were events. However,
I don't think I've ever played one with mud-wide events that repeated on a
regular basis. She also mentioned that a side-effect of the far-flungness
of online communities required that some sort of internal calander is
required; she said that UO recently implemented an internal calander which
displayed upcoming events, and allows guild leaders (?) to add their own
guild events to it. (I haven't seen this, but I'd like to.)
7. Roles. She kind of breezed over this point, but only said that it is tied
back to leadership and role-models; what roles people take on are a
combination of their own personalities and what is expected from the
community, once again stressing the need for strong role-models and
well-defined etiquette; if you don't define 'what is expected', then it
will be defined for you.
8. Rituals. She refered to Jonathan's Rites of Passage, and the importance
of acknowledgement of a players accomplishments by the community.
9. Subgroups. She said that subgroups were actually a detrimental thing
early on in community's development, as they just fragmented a group that
didn't yet have a sense of itself. Later, however, they are vital to a
community's ability to scale (a major concern in the commercial field),
because the community becomes too large for the individuals to feel a
sense of being important in the community to which they belong. She said
that this is an area where it's up to the administration to make good
tools for the players to form their own sub-groups, and referenced UO's
The last one I went to was Yu Shen Ng, some guy that worked for Mpath
setting up previously single-player games to work online. Mostly
technical issues so not all that interesting to me (ie, UDP vs TCP, how to
beta-test, interface considerations etc).
All in all not bad. I missed Mike Sellers there, although someone did
quote him at the roundtable. :)
MUD-Dev: Advancing an unrealised future.
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