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

Joe Andrieu jandrieu at caltech.edu
Sun Jul 29 01:34:58 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

Raph Koster wrote:

> 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



> 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.

Diamond's book is amazing.  However, I would suggest a slightly
different reading. I take the same passage to say that the
socio-political structures will arise on their own in groups of said

That is to say, left to their own devices, people will invest their
own resources to form these organizational structures even if they
have to do it OOC or even out of the game.  We've all seen this
happen at the meta-game level. Pretty amazing correlation.

But I believe that, given the opportunity to participate in a higher
tier structure *at no additional cost*, players will do so.  At the
heart of Diamond's argument is the power of investing in "leisure"
activities such as a warrior or political class (compared to
farming/hunting or other sustenance labor). Larger groups were
possible because of advances in the basic sustenance techniques and
technology, which lead to different social structures, because it
now made sense to pay the implicit "tax" of supporting the new
structure. The new structures allowed more leisure, which lead to
technology and warfare advances which led to the more "leisure"
civilizations kicking other civilization's butts.  In other words,
the potential power of a civilization was indirectly proportional to
the percentage of labor invested in sustenance.

I posit that by designing and creating the mechanisms of a higher
tier social structure in such a way that individual players can
benefit at no transaction cost, you can sustain the higher social
form. (Or at low enough transaction cost since even every mouse
click is a cost when you get down to it.)

Of course, I could be totally wrong. I'm not sure if anyone has
tried it in a manner sufficiently rich enough to judge.

Actually, now that I think of it, I'm wondering how much "farming"
you can automate and stay within the paradigm of today's MMPORPGS.
It would seem that the less "farming" the higher in the tier you
could go.  But what if "farming" is the primary activity as
envisioned by the game designer?  Hmmm...  That might get us right
back to Diamond's tiers: whatever the farming is, perhaps your
societal forms scale in direct relation to the leisure afforded and
maybe you can't get away from the basic sustenance as a designer.

> 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.

Very interesting and very cool.  I look forward to seeing how that
plays out.


Joe Andrieu
jandrieu at caltech.edu
+1 (626) 395-8045

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