[MUD-Dev] Geometric content generation

Dave Rickey daver at mythicentertainment.com
Wed Oct 3 10:09:31 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


-----Original Message-----
From: Ola Fosheim Grøstad <olag at ifi.uio.no>
>John Hopson wrote:

>> It is mental ergonomics, designing a game to work with the
>> players rather than imposing decisions on them at the designer's
>> whim.

> WHAT GAME ARE YOU PLAYING???  Ever seen how game companies go
> bonkers about "exploits" and "cheating"???  You know, the
> zero-tolerance policies?  Ever seen players complain about
> "nerfs"???

> Ohoh, a player is off the rails.  Hey player, yes you! Don't stray
> away from those rails, or I'll smack ya.  *smack*

Here in the states there's a commercial on TV lately.  I forget who
is being advertised, some kind of "eBusiness Solutions" thing.
However, it shows a cartoon rat confronted by a maze, with cheese at
the other end.  Towards the end of the commercial, the rat runs
around the outside of the maze to the intended exit, and gets the
cheese.

The purpose of a schedule of reinforcement is to encourage certain
forms of play over others.  When the players find the ways to skip
the maze in order to get directly to the reward, the intended forms
of play are no longer being followed.  You can either re-build your
game on the fly so that some sense of "fun" is restored, with
probably inferior results, or block off the shortcut.

If it was acceptable to have only a single mode of play, we could
ignore it, but in these games we are usually trying to integrate
multiple play modes into the same reward structure (at a minimum, a
"melee" style, a "nuker" style, and a "healer" style).  We do this
in an effort to create complementary strengths and weaknesses, push
the players towards group pursuit of individual goals, and drive our
social construction and organization.  When a means around the
"maze" (a faster means of generating XP) is found, it usually
involves either bypassing or neutralizing those need relationships,
and the game lacks the fundamental social bonds it needs (needs in
both the "player fun" sense and the account retention sense).

AC's fundamental flaw as a social environment is that there are a
handful of "Extreme" templates which are far more effective at XP
generation, and they are all "solo" templates.  This is also a flaw
in AO, and UO.  IMHO, EQ's status as the #1 game in the US comes not
from the fact it is prettier than the alternatives, but because it
has these fundamental socializing pressures, and the others do not.
Although my experience with Lineage is limited, I believe it is also
a strict "class" system, with similar socializing pressures (and
others in the form of territorial control meta-games, which require
even higher orders of social organization).

In fact, as I look at the games, and their relative success, what I
see as the determining factor is *not* graphical appeal (Lineage,
the largest, has the poorest graphics.  AO, the smallest, has the
best graphics), or quality of production assets (AC's server
architecture is of higher quality in *many* ways than any of the
others, yet it's 2nd to the bottom), or reliability (Lineage servers
are *incapable* of staying up for more than 10 days at a run, EQ
servers crash frequently, AC almost never crashes).  What I do see
is a direct correlation between socializing pressures and revenue.

Players will complain about graphics, whine about balance, *scream*
about stability.  But when it comes time to renew their
subscription, what decides if you keep that customer is how many
friends he feels he'd be leaving behind.  Show me a better way to
create those friendships than through manipulation of the XP
treadmill system, and I'll be all over it (I always hated them,
anyway).  For right now, I'll go with what works.

--Dave Rickey

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