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

Koster Koster
Sun Jul 29 22:04:33 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Joe Andrieu

> 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 sizes.

In the real world, I agree with you. But I am not sure that the same
is true of the virtual. I already mentioned constamncy of presence
and economic participation as one example. Consider also
reproduction and how the groups grow in size. in the online world,
the only means is via adoption--given that cliques (which is what
these tend to start as) are by their nature exclusionary, many
groups simply won't grow very quickly, whereas in the real world, a
group like this will have children and keep growing year to year.

To put it another way, how do you GET groups of such sizes? It's not
like guilds of 150 spring into being out of thin air. Whereas a
village with sufficient food is pretty much guaranteed to get there,
a player group or tribe has no growth forced upon it in that sense.

> 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.

People do tend to organize. But they don't seem to grow in size or
develop into more complex structures without some prodding or need.

> 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.

The trick is figuring out what sustenance is. After all, the entire
premise is leisure to start with. If developing and maintaining the
social structure becomes too onerous, they'll abandon it or its
development--either move on to another game, or leave it sit.

The closest analogue I can come up with to caloric extraction from
the environment in these games is extraction of advancement, of
experience points and quest flags and "dings." Hence my comments
recently about what we choose to reinforce and how players tend to
value most those things that we provide tangible in-game recognition
for. In GoP games at least, the thing that players work together to
increase the efficiency of is the process of extracting more XP per
hour. Hence group tactics, camping (which is essentially a direct
analogue to agriculture! We used to hunter-gather the mobs, now we
farm them... even the term "farming" has crept up in common usage),
etc etc.

In more sophisticate economic models and crafting system, this may
transmute into gold, or from raw resources, but it's still the same
thing. As Jonathan Baron has observed many a time, the GoP games are
essentially capitalist.  It's all about the benjamins, where the
benjamins are the recognition we give in the form of ever-increasing

What is the leisure class in a GoP game? The people who no longer
play? The people who have so much money and maxxed out levels? We do
tend to see many of those people change playstyles away from
achiever towards socializer or killer (eg, towards either giving up
on challenges, or seeking greater challenges). But we don't
necessarily see them as contributing towards a greater social
structure, perhaps because they fundamentally don't NEED the plebes.

> 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.

We could attempt to supply ready-made structures, but by and large
people seem to vastly prefer growing socieities organically rather
than having them thrust upon them. Anyone else had the experience of
seeding a guild system or the like with a few pre-made ones for
people to join, only to find that as soon as the ability to roll
your own went in, the pre-seeded ones shriveled up and died?

> 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.

The "economic participation" guideline I am trying to apply
fortunately cuts across the board. As long as everyone has ongoing
costs (akin to rent, which has largely been abandoned in Dikus,
perhaps erroneously!) and as long as there are means of transferring
goods and wealth from person to person regardless of their actual
presence, it seems like those people must count in the economy, and
therefore will lead to greater complexity.

To get back to the psychological reinforcement thing--that's also
why we are heavily pursuing what we call "social
professions"--activities that are not traditionally rewarded in GoP
games but which we nevertheless rely heavily on for the formation of
a robust culture in the game. To be very specific--even if your
bartender advancement ladder isn't particularly deep or complex,
it's still a way to recognize people who perform that function in
the game. They can earn some badges to show off, they can maybe earn
some money with it. They get that much-craved "ding" from the game
server that validates their activity, and on top of that they are
interacting with the game economy.

The logic being that if people feel validated in filling other
niches in the game beyond just the experience farmer (or if they
farm it in a different way) you'r more likely to get the sorts of
interactions across groups that lead to greater social structure.
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