[MUD-Dev] Why Socializers are our Comrades (long)

Brian 'Psychochild' Green brian at psychochild.org
Wed Jul 12 19:32:14 New Zealand Standard Time 2000

This post is kind of a followup of my previous post, "Advancement
Considered Harmful".  I wanted to evaluate, correct, and amplify some of
the statements made in that post.  I hope, as always, to throw some
doubt on our current mindset.

According to the online Bartle-quotient test
(http://www.andreasen.org/bartle/), I'm an SEK; I rank awfully close to
Damion Schubert, according to the test.  (I'm still wondering if this is
good or bad. ;)  Now, I find this a bit odd, because I'm not much of a
MUSH player, I actually played LP MUDs exclusively in college.  Nor am I
a huge fan of plain chat.  I also love offline games as well as online
games; I've been neck-deep in Diablo 2, which is really little more than
exploring random maps while waiting for your stats to increase. :)  
Anyway, online I'm mainly a socializer even if I have achiever
tendencies in general.

Now, I think the distinction between online and offline play styles is
important.  When I log onto a MUD, I like to socialize and explore my
surroundings.  Why do I like to socialize?  I think the main reason is
because socialization only happens with other people, something I don't
get in most offline games.  Don't we put our games online to add the
extra dimension of human interaction to the game?  And, socializers are
the people that provide the friendly face to this interaction in our
games.  All this seems brain-dead obvious, but is it really?

I advance the notion that we worry too much about the other types
defined by Bartle to the exclusion of the Socializer type.  We
constantly ponder the problems caused by unrestrained Killers, we tend
to focus our games on keeping the Achievers happy, and we always want
Explorers to grace our games.  Explorers are the fun and interesting
players. :)  But, when is the last time you heard any MUD developer
consider, "How can I make my game more attractive to Socializers?"

Part of the problem is the fact that people view community as something
that automatically happens in an online game.  Obviously, it happens
automatically, because it's what is unique to online situations compared
to equivalent offline ones.  One of the Laws states: "The basic medium
of multiplayer games is communication." (Dr Cat's Theorem as expressed
by J C Lawrence).  But, I think most experienced developers know that
community often doesn't form in ways we expect.

Even though the community happens automatically, the job of the
developer is to help shape it to the extent they want it to fit into the
game.  We have trouble with some of our current communities because we
did not take an active hand in developing the community we wanted.  If a
developer chooses a hands-off approach to forming community, he or she
should not be surprised when something unusual (or unpleasant) forms.  

In Meridian 59, when a particular new server was opened up in the early
days of the game, some of the developers allowed an established,
friendly "guild" of players to play on the server first.  At least one
of the former developers believes this is the reason that server
remained strong even when others failed; the established guild had
enough of a foothold to keep the "bad seed" in check.  Even though the
"undesirables" were present, they couldn't counter the group that was
already established within the game.  Given this, I think that
developers cannot absolve themselves from considering how the community
will form.  And, by applying Bartle's research, we know Socializers are
the foundation for a strong community.

So, how do we attract and retain Socializers?  Really, there's nothing
new or earth-shaking here, we just need to apply what we already know
with more vigor.  Communication tools are obviously an important part of
retaining socializers.  As I stated in my last rant, you need to make
sure you include both instant and persistent communications in both
individual and broadcast forms.  Each of these types of communication is
important for the Socializer to keep in touch with their friends and
meet new people.

This also brings up another important concept: that we need to make sure
that Socializers are able to meet new people and make new friends if
they want, just as Achievers want new powers, Explorers want new areas,
and Killers want new victims.  Much of the focus I've personally seen in
discussing systems for empowering social groups talk about allowing
people to keep in contact with their existing friends.  However, I know
from personal experience that meeting new people is a large part of why
I enjoy socializing with others.  

Tying this back to "Advancement Considered Harmful", we need to make
sure that Socializers can interact with a wide variety of people.  If a
low-level Socializer can offer nothing to a high-level player, then
there is little possibility for interaction.  The more this is the case,
the less chance the Socializer will have of making friends and staying
with the game.  This interaction is vital to the Socializer, and the
bond must be able to be maintained in the game, preferably without
forcing a focus on achievement on the socializer.

So, why do socializers like our games?  Why don't they stick to the chat
rooms where they belong?  Because the game provides an instant form of
"common ground" to allow people to start conversations.  There are a
plethora of chat programs that allow me to keep in contact with my
friends, but a MUD allows me to meet people with a common interest in
gaming, a certain genre, etc and play a game with them.  This is one
reason why I think the watering down of games to make them more
"mass-market" friendly is problematic.  Without a solid, defining
characteristic, it makes it harder for people to find others of similar
interests, the "common ground" I spoke of above.

Of course, there are some limits on this.  I am certainly not advocating
that we focus on Socializers to the exclusion of all others.  As I said
before, I'm not a huge fan of plain chat.  We need the Achievers,
Explorers, and Killers to make the MUD a game.  It is also important to
realize that sometimes tradeoffs are made in the game.  Perhaps you
eliminate instantaneous communication for whatever reason ("not
realistic", or "don't want players giving info to enemies", etc); a good
developer realizes that this change accomplishes the goals of the game
yet at the same time realizes it will hurt the Socializers.  Each
developer must decide if this is a good tradeoff in the game they are
working on.

So, it's time for MUD developers to remember the Socializers.  We must
consider this group in designing our games, give them the necessary
tools, and present them with the situations they desire.  By
intentionally including Socializers, we create a game that truly takes
advantage of the online medium.

"And I now wait / to shake the hand of fate...."  -"Defender", Manowar
     Brian Green, brian at psychochild.org  aka  Psychochild
       |\      _,,,---,,_      *=* Morpheus, my kitten, says "Hi!" *=*
 ZZzz  /,`.-'`'    -.  ;-;;,_  
      |,4-  ) )-,_..;\ (  `'-'  "Ritalin Cures Next Picasso" 
     '---''(_/--'  `-'\_)               -The_Onion_, August 4th, 1999

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