[MUD-Dev] (no subject)

Travis Casey efindel at polaris.net
Tue Nov 23 15:22:47 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999

On Tuesday, Tuesday, November 23, 1999, Travis Casey wrote:
> On Monday, November 22, 1999, Marian Griffith wrote:
>> On Sun 21 Nov, Travis Casey wrote:

Following up to myself here...

>>> Yep... I'll note that all the popular mud codebases seem to be stuck
>>> in the late 70's or early 80's, as far as RPG design goes (speaking,
>>> as I usually am, in terms of paper RPGs).

>> My guess is that this has to do with the fact that players have their
>> expectations of muds,  as have people interested in putting a mud up.
>> It is like designing a new house.  Everybody knows what a house looks
>> like  so you can not be too different,  or nobody is going to buy it.
>> With muds it is the same. Even if you would create a radically diffe-
>> rent mud,  nobody would be interested in it,  because  they would not
>> recognise it as such.

> One could have equally well argued in 1974 that "Even if someone
> could create a radically different paper RPG, nobody would be
> interested in it, because they would not recognize it as such."  With
> the benefit of hindsight, we can see that this wasn't true -- far from
> generating an infinite succession of D&D clones, the RPG industry
> immediately branched out in several directions.  By 1980, we had the first
> skill-based RPG (Runequest), the first RPG with non-random character
> creation (The Fantasy Trip, IIRC), the first RPG deliberately designed to
> be simple (Tunnels & Trolls), the first "play the monsters" RPG (Monsters!
> Monsters!), and the first universal RPG (Basic Roleplaying).  For
> genres, there was "generic" fantasy, SF, superheroes, post-holocaust,
> military, detective, espionage, Westerns, swashbucklers, Arthurian fantasy,
> and even an RPG based on the Dallas TV show.

> All this was within 6 years of D&D's publication.  It's now been 25
> years -- and the RPG "state of the art" has advanced such that someone
> who introduced an RPG like the original D&D today would be laughed at
> by most paper RPG gamers.

> Now, contrast this with muds -- what sort of muds were out there 6
> years after the first one?  Note that after about 20 years of mud
> development, people can put up a new mud that's of about the same
> level of sophistication as the original muds, and most mudders will
> consider it a decent mud.

> What's the difference here?  Why did paper RPGs explode in different
> directions so much faster than muds?  Well.... I have a few thoughts,
> but the clock is ringing midnight here, and I have to go to work in
> the morning.  More later.

Well, it's later.  Here are my ideas on why muds haven't branched out
as fast:

1 - Higher effort required.  Creating a new paper RPG system requires
    just being able to design the game and write reasonably well.  A
    new mud requires one to design the game, implement it in code, and
    create areas/adventures (equivalent to a paper RPG's "adventure
    modules").  Thus, creating an original mud requires both more
    effort and a broader skill set than creating an original paper RPG

    Further, the effort required for a mud is continuous.  Once you've
    put an RPG out, it can keep going without any further effort from
    you:  GMs will create their own adventures, fix "bugs" as
    necessary for their campaigns, and extend the game.  (An RPG isn't
    likely to be successful without continuing support, but it has
    happened.)  A mud, in contrast, requires continuing support to
    create new areas, fix bugs (both rules bugs and software bugs),
    and extend the game.  Ideas for these things can come from the
    players, and in some cases even code, but there's always going to
    need to be some person or people "in charge."

    (Another way of thinking about this is that muds are innately
    centralized -- players *come to* the mud.  A paper RPG is
    decentralized -- it comes to the players.  In some ways, a mud is
    more like a gaming group than a "game", in traditional RPG terms.)

2 - Higher cost of entry.  To create a new RPG in the '70's, all one
    needed was some players to test it on, a typewriter, and enough
    money to have some copies photocopied or printed (or even
    mimeographed, for some of the early ones) and to put an ad in a
    gaming magazine.  (To become successful required more, but this
    was the minimum to get started.)

    In contrast, starting a new mud in the 80's required access to a
    network-connected computer that someone would let you run a game
    on.  Many muds have had difficulty keeping a server for any length
    of time.  Some solved that by buying their own, but that was
    expensive and, if you couldn't piggyback on someone else's
    Internet connection, had a high continuing cost.

    A non-commercial mud still needs a site and a network connection
    -- and it's getting harder to find free ones that will run muds.
    A non-commercial paper RPG, on the other hand, only needs a few
    hundred K to a few megs of disk space on a web server somewhere --
    which can be gotten from "free" web providers like Geocities.

3 - Community size.  I don't have any way to prove it, but I'd say
    that the traditional mud community (i.e., the text-based mud
    community) has been smaller than the paper RPG community for
    most, if not all, of its lifespan -- and has had worse internal

    The paper RPG community has had print magazines since the
    mid-70's -- as far as I know, it has always had at least two
    magazines in print since the early 80's.  _Dragon_ has been
    continuously in print since 1976, and has been available in major
    chain bookstores since 1980.  These have provided a central forum
    for people to learn about new games (and a central place for game
    makers to advertise).

    The mud community, in contrast, seems highly fragmented.  The
    closest thing I know of to a "central forum" for muds is the
    Usenet mud newsgroups -- and a low percentage of mudders use
    them.  Indeed, many people who are creating muds have no idea
    they even exist.

4 - Audience expectations.  Free muds face a problem -- much of
    their audience comes from computer game fans.  However, free
    muds aren't much like the popular computer games today -- many
    computer gamers now will turn up their nose at anything
    text-based.  They want their online games to be like the
    store-bought single-player games they play -- which themselves are
    largely locked into a class-based, kill-the-monster paradigm.
    IMHO, this is so because of the greater investment needed -- a
    computer RPG needs to sell a lot more copies to make a profit than
    a paper RPG does, so they do what will sell -- which largely means
    appealing to men in their teens and early 20's.

    (I'll note that the same formula is successful with the same age
    groups in paper RPGs -- hence AD&D's continued reign as the
    biggest RPG.  However, due to the lower startup effort and costs,
    pretty much anyone who wants to circulate their own paper RPG

    In the paper RPG arena, amateur-produced RPGs regularly compete
    with "the big boys".  They don't quite do so on a level playing
    field -- but their field is much more level than that between the
    big MMPOGs and the typical mud.

5 - Motivation.  Many people who put up muds (especially the more
    stock muds) do so because they want to be free to make the
    modifications they want to an existing mud base, free to make the
    areas they want, or to be an admin.  They have no interest in
    creating an *original* mud.

    In the paper RPG world, people who want to do this sort of thing
    can simply start their own gaming group, with themselves as GM.
    There's no need for them to start a "new game" to do so.  (As
    mentioned above, in paper RPG terms, a mud is more like a gaming
    group than a game.  From a paper RPG viewpoint, then, different
    "stock" muds off the same codebase aren't different games --
    they're different groups running the same game.  Building new
    areas doesn't make a "new game" from that viewpoint either, and
    even some level of modification is possible without it being a
    "new game" -- just as two D&D GMs may have different optional
    classes in their campaigns, yet both be running the same game --

       |\      _,,,---,,_        Travis S. Casey  <efindel at io.com>
 ZZzz  /,`.-'`'    -.  ;-;;,_   No one agrees with me.  Not even me.
      |,4-  ) )-,_..;\ (  `'-'
     '---''(_/--'  `-'\_)

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