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

Joe Andrieu jandrieu at caltech.edu
Sat Aug 4 20:03:52 New Zealand Standard Time 2001


[Note: my apologies for the late reply. My home network has been
down for a week... ack!]

Raph Koster wrote
> -----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.

True, but reproduction usually maps to an economic decision (sexual
drive aside, birth rate matches pretty cleanly to "wealth").  Why
that is so is specualation, but I'll speculate that online groups
would grow larger if there were economic incentives to do so, and
those incentives outweighed the cost. Determining the value of those
incentives should include any losses due to lame user interfaces or
inconsistencies foisted on the player and it may need to include
value not previously provided by the system.

> 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.

Yes, but guilds do spring up at that size even when there is no
support on behalf of the game.  They'll put their own websites
together, use AIM to coordinate, and enforce membership entirely
through social pressure.  That's a lot of expended energy for things
that could be done much more easily if designed into the game.

> 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.

Agreed.  Economic need. Social need. Psychological need.  I would
argue that all of these needs drive the current level of social
structure.  So what drives the transition to the "state" or third
tier structures (50,000+) in Diamond's model? If those needs can be
met at a lower cost, will the structures form with smaller groups?

>> 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.

Agreed.  The user interface is an economic cost of much
significance.

> 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.

[snip]

> 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.

The leisure class can only support the structure if the structure
has a role for them. As far as I know, guilds don't offer much to
the historical leisure classes other than warriors and chiefs. I
don't think it is a lack of individuals who want to be in such
"leisure" classes, instead, it is probably that the current social
structures don't support the activities of these leisure classes.
And since the real world does support them, people who aspire to
leisure may move to offline activities for fulfill their needs.

I think finding an innovative "baseline currency" is the key to
opening up the model. Advancement as a currency is basically the D&D
paradigm, one that fits well with the history and underlying systems
of modern MUDs.  But it is also a very limiting.

In the real world, caloric extraction is important, but once the
baseline needs are met, higher level needs receive dominant
attention, cf Maslow's hierarchy.  Of course, if the baseline needs
are threatened, then priorities shift very quickly to redress the
matter.

Online we are not starting from the same baseline as we do offline.
Here's Maslow, from the bottom up:

  1) Physiological: hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc.;
 
  2) Safety/security: out of danger;

  3) Belonginess and Love: affiliate with others, be accepted; and

  4) Esteem: to achieve, be competent, gain approval and
  recognition.

  5) Cognitive: to know, to understand, and explore;

  6) Aesthetic: symmetry, order, and beauty;

  7) Self-actualization: to find self-fulfillment and realize one's
  potential; and

  8) Transcendence: to help others find self-fulfillment and realize
  their potential.

It's pretty clear to me that gamers have already met level 1 and 2
pretty well, or they wouldn't waste their time online.

MUDs and MUD social structures definitely help with 3, 4, and 5.  I
can't say I've seen them supporting levels 6, 7, or 8.  I'll even
claim that the need to know and understand is at the heart of D&D's
popularity (and all descendant or predecessor games).  With D&D you
know what matters in the world and how things work.  It's all about
experience (either XP or RP type 1) and the rules are in the book or
at least in the hopefully rational mind of the DM, who is generally
available for questions. With advancement as the base currency and
time as the axis of comparison, you can understand quickly how to
progress in the game.

Compare that to the real world and it can be pretty attractive. Yet
it doesn't mean that advancement is the only currency--just the one
we tend to use in current MUDs.

My point is that any currency must fundamentally fulfill some aspect
of Maslow's need and that by supporting higher-level currencies a
MUD can create and retain the "leisure classes" we are talking
about.  Other currencies are clearly involved in other entertainment
transactions. People don't go to the movies to "advance" any
character.  There's an emotional transaction happening which offers,
IMO, a much greater potential currency than anything based on D&D.

> 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?

Agreed. It is in fact the "ability to roll your own" that I refer
to.  Design in the tools to make it easy to roll your own "state"
and it will happen.  Now, there are a lot of design issues that make
it a non-trivial task, but if you can imagine the universal
all-flexible super-duper easy-to-use
so-intuitive-you-don't-need-a-manual social group construction tool,
I'm certain people would use it.

>> 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.

This sounds exciting.  I like reputation as a currency--distinct
from advancement--and the mechanisms you mention sound like a lot of
fun to play.

As an aside, this makes me think deeply about the currency
underlying The
Sims.  Is it just advancement? Or is there something else...

-j
--
Joe Andrieu
Realtime Drama

joe at andrieu.net
+1 (626) 395-8045

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