[MUD-Dev] Gamasutra: Online Justice Systems

Sayeed yu219121 at YorkU.CA
Mon Mar 27 13:48:10 New Zealand Daylight Time 2000


>Sayeed wrote:
>>I don't think this is a very big problem in a 
>>pay-for-play system because people WILL be
>>discouraged by the extra cost.  Sure, a few will
>>shell out the extra cash and figure out a way 
>>around the checks for a character they can "risk,"
>>but on the whole you will have a lot fewer multiple 
>>characters.

Raph Koster  wrote:
>Fewer doesn't mean too few to cause the problem. I'd guess a double-digit
>percentage of our players have multiple accounts. The problems it causes can
>be quite severe since the advantages can be very large.


I disagree, and I think I've been focusing too much on one aspect
of the solution, a character's relationship to online society 
(responsibility) and not on the other side of the coin, a character's
relationship to the player.  They are, of course, very closely 
related, but I consider them discrete concepts and to respond 
I'll have to go into the latter more thoroughly.

Raph, I think you were referring to Ultima Online (?), so let me 
use that as an example.  If I remember correctly, an Ultima Online
account costs $10 per month and entitles you to 5 characters.  
This means that players can create one character for adventuring, 
one for item creation, one for a mobile storage, another for anti-social 
activities, etc..  If they buy another account, they get 5 more 
characters to play with.  Characters, therefore, are relatively 
cheap.  That's the relationship between characters and their players.

So when a player makes a decision to buy another Ultima Online 
account, a part of the reason he's doing it is because characters 
are so cheap.  Five for another $10 ($2 each) and each character 
can do the same things as every other.  (I would also propose that 
being able to have many characters also distances a player from his
characters.)

Now consider a single character system.  $10 in this system buys 
only one more character.  A player invests time and work into one 
character, say becomes an adventurer, and wishes he had another life.  
(Don't we all in RL).  Then he thinks of the cost/benefit.  This 
time, a character is very valuable to him ($10 each).  He probably 
won't pay for another character.

There's an obvious response to this, and I'll cover it, but here's 
where it gets a little bit complicated.

By increasing the price of characters, you're increasing the value 
to the player, and this seems to imply that players would be WILLING 
to pay more for the higher value, right?  There's two aspects of 
value we need to look at to better understand the situation and 
to understand why this is false.

1)  Price Related Value
2)  In-Game Value

The first "value" is the increased in perceived value that a player 
might see just because accounts are more expensive.  They cost 
more now, so doesn't that mean they're more valuable?  Since 
this is price-related value (actually not value at all, just cost), 
all we need to do is look at a simple ECON 101 demand curve and 
examine the inverse relationship between cost and quantity sold.  
So the price "value" will discourage players to buy fewer accounts 
than in a multi-character system.

The second type of value is 'real value,' the increased value 
a character has simply because it's more entertaining now to 
have more lives in a world of less anti-social player 
activities and where people feel responsibility as characters.
You're not making new characters different in any ways, but 
the world is fun, and so each character will have more fun 
than in a multi-char system, right?  This would seem a fairly 
obvious reason there might STILL be a double-digit number 
players willing to pay for as many new accounts as they 
bought in multi-char Ultima Online, despite the increased 
cost per character.

The problem with this logic is that buying another account 
is a value-decreasing action.  When you buy a new account, 
you are negating all the good effects that people having 
only one account creates.  This is easier to see if I show
it on a larger scale.

Fictional Single Character Ultima Online.  Playerbase: 100,000 (random guess)
All 100,000 go out and buy 4 new accounts each.  
Now they have multiple characters to enjoy the world.  
Of course, now it's very clear that the problems associated 
with multiple characters have increased and the 'real value' 
of each character has gone down.  Player Killing, harassment, 
distance from characters, muling, mutiple item creation experts, 
all these things decrease the value of characters until 
they're basically the same as having more characters in a 
multiple character system.  What are our players paying for?  
They're paying $50 for no extra value.  Reduce the number of 
characters each of the 100,000 buys by one.  Now they have 
four each, and there are still a lot of multi-char related 
problems.  Now they are paying $40 for only slightly higher 
value per character.  Finally they buy only 3 characters 
each, and are paying $30 for a bit higher value.  $20 for 
even higher. $10 for very high value.

If it applies at 5 characters each, then it will apply at 1 
character each.  If it applies for 100,000 people then it 
applies for 10, though it's HARDER TO SEE.  Each player that 
buys a new account dilutes the benefit of that account.  
This is not a deterrant from buying new accounts, it's a 
ground-level reduction of the VALUE of each account, a 
cancellation of the REASONS for paying for the account, 
and will insure that multiple account fever does not get 
out of hand.  Why would people pay more for less?

Of course this means that you have to judge your cost just 
right.  It also means that charging LESS for the same product, 
even though it is economically viable, might not be the best 
thing to sell a valuable product.  If your overhead was low 
and database/other costs are reduced, then you might have to 
charge what the product is worth, instead of what you paid/pay 
to create/maintain it, to MAKE it worth that.  Once a balance 
is found, it means that you'll have a much stronger MUD with 
a LOT fewer problems than inexpensive-character MUDS.

Are you hurting the less well off?  No.  IF people get around 
your credit-card verification methods then you might be allowing 
the rich to purchase value-reducing accounts, allowing them 
to pay for another online experience, you might be allowing 
the rich to slightly reduce the value of all accounts, but single
character systems does not hurt the less well off.  It makes
their (and everyone's) experience more enjoyable.

On a related note, I think that just the time investment 
players will put into their initial character will be a 
deterrant from purchasing another one.  They'll identify 
with him/her, feel his responsibility, and maybe even 
choose to role-play him.  They will BE their characters, 
and so we'll have less mass-murderers, less anti-socials, 
and more involved players.  Why go through the trouble of 
finding a different name and different credit card to pay 
through, when you've started to thoroughly enjoy playing 
one character?

Enjoyment.  A single-character/expensive-character system 
makes things fun, and in the end that is what it's all about.

---

Hmmm, I'd appreciate feedback.  What are my major oversights?


Zaid Sayeed
yu219121 at yorku.ca
zaidsayeed at hotmail.com







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