[MUD-Dev] Responses to the Mudwimping article

Dmitri Zagidulin zagidud at allegheny.edu
Wed Aug 2 13:41:37 New Zealand Standard Time 2000


Heh, the Mudwimping article certainly touched on a 
painful note! - look at how many defensive replies
it generated. Sort of like an article on bad 
parenting practices...
What a lot of people seem to have missed is that
he wasn't really writing for _you_, that is for
MUD-DEV. There's a strong availability heuristic
at work here, and it's easy to forget that this
list, as a whole, is populated by intelligent
admins who design and run their muds very well.
It's easy to miss out on the fact that there
are _tons_ of muds that aren't too well 
designed or run, and who go through exactly
the cycle he describes, and fail because of
wimping and wiping. You all probably have
horror stories of such places; I certainly do.
On one such mud, as a badly executed cycle
of redesign slowly dwindled the skills, spells
and equipment (as well as available territory),
we used to joke that pretty soon, the whole
mud is just going to be one room - the village
square, with just one Guard showing up once every
hour, with the whole player base crowding around
fighting for the chance to kill it. And you know
what, the funny/horrifying thing is, that's
_exactly_ what ended up happening. That's
an extreme case; just because your
mud doesn't suffer from the ailments Tenny
described doesn't mean we can't learn some
important lessons from his article.

But before I get into the lessons, let me
just point out that most of the flaws in 
his arguments discussed so far stem from 
exagerration and misunderstanding. 
He does not rail against "changing" the
skills and spells in any way. The point is not
a static, frozen or boring mud. He's 
complaining against the admins who operate
on the delicate workings of a mud with butcher
knives and hacksaws.

There are two main things to understand about
his article. One is that he's operating on a 
premise: "A mud is player-centered. Admins build
it primarily for _player_ enjoyment - that's why
it's a mud and not a private fantasy/chatroom."
If this premise doesn't apply to your mud - no
problem. Skip over this article & don't complain
about it.  The other point that he keeps harping
about in so many words is obvious, but important
enough to be stated:"Players have time, emotions
and sometimes money invested in your mud. Don't
carelessly hack at their achievement and work
for the sake of a dubious design improvement.
Your changes have consequences and ramifications.
Pay attention when you change stuff!"

This discussion may seem to intersect on the
issue of public relation, on the "Grief Players"
thread. That's not the main point; even the most
angelic and loyal players will complain and leave
if you start - no, not changing - wiping and
wimping.

How, then, do we change things (as we inevitably
must) in our games without permanent damage 
(there will _always_ be some outcry - that's not 
the point)?

Several key points emerged from the discussion:

- Unless the MUD is specifically themed around 
it, complete player file wiping on a post-beta 
mud is ridiculous and inexcusable. 
No arguments here.

-Add, not take away. That's been repeated 
several times, but it's very important and
needs to be discussed further.
Among other things, players want a rich
and detailed world. They want _options_
for their characters, to uniquely express and 
define them. In general, you want more skills
and spells, not less. Don't take away skills,
spells and equipment to fix an imbalance that
you've put in elsewhere. There are other ways
to deal with that imbalance. Don't take away
or devalue money - tone down some of the cash
cows and put in more money drains.

Most importantly, *don't take away completely
the established skills and spells players 
have come to depend on*. Gasp, you say, we
would _never_ do that! Good for you - but 
many places do, and it sucks. Or, you might 
say: "But what if we put in something that's
too powerful!"  Well, notice I said established
skills. Why did you let them become established
and the players dependent on them? Also, see
the next point about continuity. Worse yet,
you might say "Of course we can take away 
whatever the hell we want to - it's our game."
Well, that kind of attitude (especially when
put into action) is going to cause very real
pain to your players.  Be prepared to face the 
attrition rate & "mud life cycle" that Tenny
was talking about.

-The most important point out of this whole
discussion, is this:
Players don't want a *static* world. They 
don't even necessarily want "stability". 
They need CONTINUITY.  Continuity in a 
storytelling sense. If you make your changes
with continuity in mind, be it by changing
a skill or by reseting the player file,
complaints will be minimized and easier to
deal with.  Continuity applies to two main
things: the world, and the characters.

World Continuity:
Simply put, have in-game reasons for your 
changes. Once you're out of beta and are
established, make your changes subtle and
fluid. Contain your changes with in-game
devices. For example, say you want to 
introduce a new spell. Slip it onto a couple
of scrolls, let them circulate among the 
treasure - see what effect they have. 
Too powerful? Don't produce any more scrolls.
The spell is in a limited-edition batch, rare
and wonderful, all the more so if it disappears.
The players haven't come to _depend_ on it
or expect it. Say it seems to be doing fine, but
you want a little wider exposure, to see if it
scales. Have a wandering wizard or a hermit 
start teaching the spell. Too powerful?
Have the teacher turn up dead one night, and
let the players wonder. What about the spells
that were taught? Tweak their effect a little -
perhaps in teaching, the effectiveness/damage
is altered slightly; since it's not widely 
spread, the players might not notice, or 
would still be glad to have this rare spell.
Provide an in-game reason for all this happening:
maybe a dragon or a secret organization had 
originally let this spell slip loose, and now
wants to contain the damage.
In general, when you think of adding or taking
away an important feature, have an in-game reason
for doing so, and have a damage control/extraction
strategy ready, also in-game. That way, the players
see the changes as not due to to capricious 
administrator whims, but as mysterious features
of the world that they inhabit.

Same thing goes for player file resets.
If you need one - have an in-game reason for it!
The players might even love it!
If you anticipate the need for pfile wipes,
create a cosmology to account for it. 
Final battles, apocalypses followed by a cleansing
and renewing - it's not unheard of in world 
cosmologies and religions. A ravaging disease, or 
a conquering extraplanar army - whatever it is,
it sounds better than "Uh.. we messed up. Everyone
resets tomorrow".

Which leads me to...

Player Continuity:
Here's a rough guideline for determining how high
on the Whining Scale the reaction to your changes
will be. 
Whatever it is you're doing - will it still let 
the players retain their 'signature' or 'style' -
their uniqueness? If players made a reputation
as master potters or swordmasters, you can change
the numbers & nuances of their skills, but you
don't want to delete the skills and leave them
with nothing. Did you mess up your economy and
now some players' bank accounts are getting obscene?
Don't just decree "As of tomorrow, players will
have a 500k cap on their gold". Have them robbed,
and leave some clues so they can investigate! 
Let loose a gold-devouring monster or two. Stage
a proletariat revolution! (or not).
If you're having an apocalyptic battle before
a pfile wipe, let some legends live on about
the exploits of the bravest of players.

Well, you get the point by now. 

Thank you for your attention.

(Steps down and walks around the long line
awaiting to get on the soapbox).

-Dmitri Zagidulin





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