[MUD-Dev] [STORY] Story and population size

Adam Martin ya_hoo_com at yahoo.com
Fri Nov 30 02:11:42 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

<EdNote: Attribution fixed>

On Thu, 29 Nov 2001 02:21:27 -0800 
Zak Jarvis <zak at voidmonster.com> wrote:

> You lucky sods get to hear what I've got to say.


> Which brings me to the second part of what I felt a need to say.

> We aren't going to get good stories happening until we lose the
> shard model and get real, sizable populations, or create very
> geographically small areas for the shards. What we're talking
> about with the best case scenarios in current games is 3000 people
> populating an entire world, and usually they're expected to hold
> up multiple entire ethnic groups (sometimes MANY groups).

> The results that I've seen so far are pretty consistently
> community manque.  3000 people is a very small town, and that
> small town is being fractured into usually many tens and sometimes
> hundreds of pieces. These sorts of artificially divided groups
> usually seem to devolve into one of two scenarios for
> players. Either they feel isolated from other players and they
> solo the game with the occasional interactions, or they join some
> sort of guild and have no real interaction outside their group.

Speaking as someone working on technology to allow orders (plural)
of magnitude more players per server, I'd love to be able to take
this idea and run with it (great for explaining to investors why the
product is going to take off). However, immersion in the worlds of
game design and gameplay, combined with browsing (some of) the many
socialogical studies leads me to be sceptical that the presence of
100s of thousands of players within the game is going to do anything
more than shift the major problem to a different sphere; if nothing
else, the moment you do that you've suddenly got to rethink most of
the other parts of your game (by which I mean that you can no longer
take heed of the examples provided in existing long term games
within the genre).

Obviously, you are not making a claim that "increasing the number of
player" implies "solving the story problems" whereas I'm talking
about such an idea.  My reason is that from my perspective - i.e. as
someone who is constantly thinking about the way that 100,000+
players per server changes the entire way the game is played -
although I agree with your point, it seems to me to be only one
small drop in the ocean of other problems that are holding games
back from having great stories right now. In very quick summary,
I've been working on a game design that would usefully cope with
that kind of number of players, and do something novel with it (only
because we need to demonstrate the technology in an impressive way
:) and it appears that a much bigger problem is getting people to
believe in the stories.

Without player acceptance - and belief in the stories - in a large
majority of the player population, things are just the same as when
you have only a few thousand people in the game. (Note these
statements are made entirely without evidence, and are pure
conjecture based upon broad high-level observation - in other words,
guess-work :) ). The main reasoning I can give for thinking this is
the tendency for humans to only be able to remember roughly 7
things. Or to manage approximately seven complex sub-systems. Or to
directly lead approximately 7 other people. Etc. I suspect that when
you have multiple thousands of people in the game, you get something
akin to the London-underground scenario: there's so many people in
the city that most people either never bother to talk to anyone
around them, or in some way feel reticent about doing so, and just
ignore the mass of people. In the case of MMOG's, I can't see how
individual players are going to shift particulary far their own
reactions to the world around them when they still can't
(physiologically) manage many relationships in the game due to their
human failings.

Mostly I'd be interested to hear what anyone else has to think about
how the whole ball-game changes as you rack up the number of
players. This is purely on an academic level - rest assured that the
company has a more coherent business model to sell the system than
my ramblings in this email do ;).

Hmm. This is probably quite an incoherent posting - apologies, its
one of those 02:00am-after-a-long-day-at-work emails. FYI, to anyone
who's interested, I'm expecting that we'll have a demo/prototype of
our system out for limited public distribution in a few months
time. Then you can all have a quick play with it :). Focussing on
getting this out accounts for the complete abscence of postings from
me in recent months (although its an unwritten company rule that
everyone has to subscribe to MUD-DEV, so I'm certainly still
listening ;).

Adam M

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