[MUD-Dev] To good to be TRUE, in an MMPORPG?

Koster Koster
Fri Jul 27 08:18:37 New Zealand Standard Time 2001


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Freeman, Jeff
>> From: Koster, Raph [mailto:rkoster at verant.com]
 
>> The place where it WAS scale that was problematic was in making
>> the sim scaleable enough for a world that size. That's just
>> another kind of design flaw, though.
 
> But is that a problem with scale, or with population density
> (playerbase size relative to the world-size, that is)?

When I say the sim, I mean the code that ran the ALife stuff. So
that was world size, number of concurrent agents, etc, not with
population size. Just the pathfinding and search loads were chewing
up enough CPU cycles to cause notable slowdowns. Now, this was
arguably because of a design flaw (there was no scaleability in the
sim--the current buzzword in the industry for this seems to be
"LODAI" for "level of detail AI").

>>> UO didn't try player-policing, either.  UO tried anarchy, and
>>> the results were the exact same as the results you get on a
>>> small-scale MUD: Dead noobs all over the place.
 
>> Here, I disagree; plenty of muds exist where peer pressure alone
>> (occasionally with some admin step-in) handles the policing. And
>> the size of the playerbase does seem to matter a lot, in terms of
>> the effectiveness of peer pressure.
 
> The "no restrictions on killing = dead newbies everywhere" strikes
> me as the more common of the two, though.

That's not my impression from the text mud world.

>> I think the main things that felt scale-impacted to me were
>> social dynamics.  Over and over I found that groups of players
>> behaved as I expected, but that the playerbase as a whole didn't.
 
> Interrelationships between sub-communities, vs. a MUD which
> (perhaps) is one community, then?

Yes indeed. Much of UO's tensions can be seen as various
subcommunities competing for territory and resources--resourcesin
terms of in-game enjoyment and mindshare from the developers, as
well as literal resources in the game.

I think there was also a difference in type among players. Many of
those that UO attracted were completely new to online games, and the
more people we got, the more notable the differences in patterns of
behavior. Many were more casual about the game, they had different
play patterns than the hardcore early adopters, etc. In smaller
muds, you usually ONLY see the hardcore, and rarely get
significantly sized groups of complete novices, computer
illiterates, online newbies, etc.

>> A lot of older problems were exacerbated, sometimes turning a
>> minor problem into a big problem--like what happened with camping
>> in EQ.

> That also strikes me as a problem with population density (and in
> some cases level design), rather than one of scale.  i.e. The
> people aren't really behaving differently just because there are
> more of them.

Camping is an interesting example, because as the number of players
competing for the exact same resource rose, complex rules of social
standing and precedence started arising spontaneously. That's not
something I saw in smaller muds. The phenomenon of plane raids in EQ
being "reserved" by guilds that are the size of your average mud's
playerbase, for example.

  (For those who do not know: the highest level zones in EQ are in
  demand enough that players have organized schedules wherein guilds
  sign up for timeslots to tackle the area. This arose spontaneously
  from the playerbase, and is enforced by custom, though at this
  point I believe the in-game admins have been known to uphold
  "reservations." Similarly, at spawn locations a curious etiquette
  has evolved whereby there's a prescribed order in terms of who
  gets to kill the spawning mob first and who gets to loot it;
  players literally stand in line and await their turn. Those who
  jump the queue are ostracized).

Now, certainly "scale" is being used very loosely here, and is in
fact referring to density and simultaneous player size and world
size and audience size.

I've mentioned Jared Diamond and _Guns, Germs, and Steel_ on this
list many times, and that chart (pages 268-269 in the Norton
paperback edition) that breaks down social complexity into tiers
based on population size. I find an eerie correlation between the
categories he cites and the typical behaviors of player groups in
muds:

  BAND
    Up to dozens of people
    Tend not to have a fixed home
    "Egalitarian" leadership, or leader by force of will
    No real bureaucracy
    The leader doesn't have official control of force or information
    Informal conflict resolution
    Generally unstratified culture

This looks much like the regular group of friends in a large
environment, and much like a small mud. In the real world these form
because of kin relationships.

  TRIBE
    Hundreds of people
    Tend to have a single home
    "Egalitarian" or "big-man"
    Organized resource extraction
    Still unstratified

This is what most guilds seem to behave like. In online my
observation is that they tend to fragment fairly easily if the
charismatic leader who defines the group departs (an example of this
is of course the Norse Traders in "A Story About a Tree"). This is
the form of social organization that we see peeping out of larger
muds, and that is rampant in the MMORPGs.

  CHIEFDOM
    Thousands
    1 or more locations
    Class issues emerge
    Centralized decision making, monarchic, cronyism
    1 or 2 levels of bureaucracy may emerge
    Chief controls force, chief controls flow of info
    Tithing and tribute appear
    Indentured labor, slavery
    Public architecture
    Luxury goods for the elite

Welcome to the uberguild. How often do we hear stories of the
indentured labor farming items that are required of newbies to the
guild? Of the iron control exercised by the guild leader and the
cronies that help run the thing? Of the way in which they exist in
multiple games, using several as a home base? Not exactly the
friendly, enlightened societies one might hope for, but currently
the most highly evolved social structures available n virtual
worlds.

The last one is "the state" but it takes over 50,000 people to get
there, and it's where minor stuff we tend to value (or say we do)
like less cronyism, fairer distribution of wealth and of justice,
rule of law, etc, starts showing up.

A key point that Diamond makes is that it's not literal population
that matters. It's economic participation. These social structures
emerge when all those people are trying to draw from the same
resource well (literally trying to extract more calories from the
same amount of land). So, if you've got a bad in-game economy (monty
haul), you're probably hurting guild development because nobody
needs anybody.

Online games have a problem with inconstancy; players aren't
economic participants 24/7. When logged off, they generally are
consuming resources or contributing to the economy in any
significant way. And that means that social development is probably
further retarded.

And that's why Star Wars Galaxies will have the ability to buy and
sell goods while offline, the ability to mine resources while
offline, the ability to manufacture goods while offline, and ongoing
costs to all of these things.

-Raph
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