[MUD-Dev] Something in the water

Caliban Tiresias Darklock caliban at darklock.com
Tue Jul 24 14:00:06 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

On Tue, 24 Jul 2001 10:59:44 -0400, John Hopson <jhopson at nc.rr.com>

>  Currently, in most muds, the environment doesn't acknowledge
>  roleplaying at all.  It acknowledges pkilling, mindlessly hunting
>  mobs or typing "Mine ore" nine thousand times, but an hour spend
>  roleplaying is, in the eyes of the system, utterly meaningless.

You know... that is quite possibly the most useful observation on RP
in MUDs that I have ever seen. So I'm going to ramble at great
length about it. Oh, wait, that's my response to everything. ;)

Traditionally, I think the "reward" for RP has been the admiration
and respect of other players. When you log onto the average RP MUD,
for example, there is an established base of players who are engaged
in RP and will respond to non-RP with undesirable responses. Any
attempt to RP, however, meets with favorable reactions from the
other players -- even if it's ham-handed and ineffective. They
display by their actions and reactions what "good" RP is in the eyes
of that game, and the newer player learns by example. A new MUD
which *isn't* founded on RP, on the other hand, usually lacks the
sheer number of players you find on a new RP MUD.

When you ask "why", an answer immediately presents itself.

RP MUDs usually start from a clean slate.

When someone starts a MUD running TinyMUSH -- and they *can* do this
with pretty much any server, if they decide it's a Good Idea -- they
have nothing. They start with a basic "core" which includes defining
a "master room" and three near-ubiquitous additions: the staff
nexus, a private area for staff only; the OOC room, where new
players are dropped when created; and the main entry point of the
game grid, usually a significant landmark roughly the equivalent of
a Diku's "town fountain".  A staff is required, and must be
recruited somehow. The unique "global" commands for the system must
be defined and constructed, placed in the master room, and
tested. The game world itself must be created, linked, and
described. Rules, procedures, and codes of conduct are laid out and
defined. This is accomplished as a team effort, with typically a
dozen or more people working to various degrees on each project.

Each of those people has a significant period of time -- sometimes
as much as a year -- to talk up the new game to his friends. Some of
those friends join the staff. Others merely indicate a desire to
come and play when it opens. By the time the MUD actually opens its
doors, there are twenty or more people on staff, and fifty to a
hundred people waiting in the wings to play. For some time before
actually opening, the MUD provides some of these players with
"signature" characters important to the game. Others are provided
with plain old regular characters they want to play. While they wait
for the MUD to actually open, they spend their time interacting with
staff, forging bonds, helping define the initial rules and policies,
requesting and building their own personal areas of the game.

In short, when the game finally opens, the initial playerbase is
already defined and has already developed its own culture. This
culture is tightly knit with the staff, and there's actually a
single unified vision. The new player who arrives the very second
this game opens faces a hundred more experienced players who dictate
what constitutes "acceptable" behavior.

Now, let's contrast the average MUD running Diku. Usually started by
three or four people, they begin by spending a few *hours* editing
some of the area files. They import some other areas, throw a couple
areas away, maybe build a couple themselves. They customise the MUD
to their personal druthers, and then fling open the gates with a
blitz of free internet publicity through mailing lists, newsgroups,
and web sites.  When the new players arrive in droves, there are
three or four staff.  There is no culture. There is no
distinction. The MUD looks like...  well, any other MUD. The
first-time players of this MUD outnumber the experienced players ten
or more to one.

Here, the MUD is a blank slate when it opens its doors, and then
they let in a bunch of kids with spray paint.

For further contrast, let's look at a massive commercial MUD. This
MUD will have a similar setup to the TinyMUSH example, until it
opens its doors. Then it's in the same situation as the Diku,
because the rabid players come swarming in, and the players who were
part of the design process were largely *paid* for their
assistance. Now that it's not their job, they trail off reasonably
rapidly. The culture is rapidly overwhelmed, and then deserts the
MUD before it even has a chance to assert itself.

Arguably, UO was in the best position there because it brought an
established world into being. Many of us, like myself, had played
the UO series of games for close to 20 years. (When WAS the original
Ultima released? Wasn't it like 1978 or something? I started with
II, myself.)  There was an emotional investment and an expectation
that already existed in the target market, so a community vested in
those values was virtually guaranteed. How well that community has
asserted itself is arguable, but it cannot be denied that such a
community is certainly well-entrenched in UO and will not be
displaced anytime soon.

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