Koster Koster
Fri Dec 21 08:13:01 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Michael Tresca

> By "players" I meant my own experiences with RetroMUD's
> playerbase, Ultima Online, and Asheron's Call, and the folks I
> know who play Everquest (I don't play Everquest).  Jessica's rant
> was an example.  I give it as much validity as any other player's
> rant -- just because it's a strawman argument doesn't invalidate
> the opinion. From my personal experience, she is not alone either
> (logical or not).
> As I already said, the "personal attention" paid by a dedicated
> staff is one of the main elements I have NOT seen carried over to
> MMORPGs.  So far what I've heard is:

This is a huge non-sequitur. Jess' article wasn't about paying
personal attention to players. Paying personal attention to players
is, however, a great topic, and one I wish she'd write about. :)

>   1) it's prohibitively expensive to have a staff ratio similar to
>   a MUD

Pretty accurate.

>   2) it's not profitable to filter players in any way WHATSOEVER

You need to define filter; there's many sorts of filters. Perhaps we
should break them into physical and psychological.

Physical barriers are things like invitation-only,
application-required, credit-card-required, deposit-required, etc.

Psychological barriers are things like this-setting-is-obscure,
this-game-has-no-graphics, this-interface-is-hard,
I-can't-find-an-avatar-I-identify-with, this-game-is-too-hard,
this-game-makes-me-a-humiliated-victim, etc.

The MMOs are consciously trying to remove all the psychological barriers
because they are trying to maximize customer base. This is common to
all entertainment media, common to all mass market goods in
fact. It's why the iMac was such a good industrial design--open,
inviting, friendly, etc. It's why we talk about the MMOs turning
into thematic pablum in their desire to appeal to everyone.

Muds have tons of psychological barriers which we might as well face
up to.  For many of us, these barriers are actually attractors. I
love prose and words, therefore to me the fact that muds are driven
entirely by words is a nice thing. To the rest of the world,
however, it's an insurmountable barrier. I am comfortable with
command line operations too, as are most of us on this list--we find
them the most efficient way to accomplish tasks.  But the rest of
the world declared them obsolete years ago. I can proceed on down
the line with more, but they should be obvious.

>   3) credit cards are the only minimum requirement to play a game
> Want to talk about art vs. fun?  Here: if you've got a game where
> any person with money can play, it's not about fun for me.  Maybe
> fun for the masses -- although I submit it won't be fun for long.

Does RetroMUD require applications? Certainly it's a minority of
muds that do. So there you have games that any person with an
Internet connection can play--there's even less barrier to entry in
that sense.

You're talking about physical barriers to entry. And it's apples and
oranges. Muds generally *don't have any physical barriers to
entry*. It's silly to say that credit cards and therefore the easy
access to the game are what have "ruined" the playerbases of the
commercial graphical muds. Because most muds don't have physical
barriers to entry that would imply that most muds should be
similarly ruined, doesn't it? The fact that they're not argues that
you're oversimplifying.

> If indeed, the only screen is a player's credit card, then any
> artistic aspects are trampled underneath the coarse gaming of
> immature, rude players.

Now here's an interesting issue. Just to be contrarian, let me
suggest to you that the playerbase of MMOs is the "real world" and
the playerbase of muds is a weird, distorted hothouse elite.

I am being somewhat sarcastic, but c'mon, you have to recognize that
the statement you made is an extremely elitist statement. After all,
the MMO playerbase is really a weird distorted hothouse elite
too. It's miles away from the concerns of the general populace.

It could even be argued that a game that only works when players
behave as expected or as can be managed by human intervention is a
flawed design.  That's being extreme, but I know that I personally
want to design games that are resilient to unexpected factors, not
brittle ones that shatter because the audience I got isn't the
audience I expected.

>  It's a sort of inevitable entropy that's > going to affect any
>  game that size.  There's just TOO MANY griefers > to police on
>  that scale.

You need to remember to insert phrases like "by current methods" in
there.  :)

> And, of course, griefers are attracted to a game that emphasizes
> combat most of all -- at the end of the day you can still beat
> something over the head with a club and be rewarded for it.

I got to this paragraph and I just shook my head. Gone to the movies
lately?  Seen any professional sports? I could go on a huge rant
about sublimated violence and popular entertainment, but suffice it
to say that discounting violence or deeming it to be too lowbrow or
base to be desirable or "proper" seems to me to be VERY out of touch
with what humans seem to crave as entertainment (the male ones,

> As long as MMORPGs keep their current paradigm, the art is wasted.

Nonsense. What exactly is your definition of art here? Because based
on the above, I am reading it as "things which appeal to this
targeted, cultured, sophisticated audience" and that's a very narrow
definition. Better to say that the sort of art you want to make
would be wasted on the large audiences. Which is fine to say--Matt
Mihaly says it often enough. But don't close your mind to the notion
that there's other forms of the art and craft which aren't bound by
that audience.

> The blood, sweat, and tears that developers are putting into the
> games is like a quick fix -- until the next game comes along.  I
> see this as a development cycle that will speed up as more and
> more games come out and then run out of steam.  Why?  Already, the
> same paradigm is being applied to other markets rather than being
> developed in a different direction (the Asian market).  That's a
> sign the current MMORPG paradigm is hitting a wall.

I think you're misreading the market flow there. Seen on a
year-to-year basis, the market space in the US for MMOs is still
growing; yes, there's a risk that it will stagnate, but it's not
there yet. The explosion in Asia has more to do with catch-up than
anything else, and the same paradigms are *not* all being
applied. Worldwide, have you seen the caveman MMO? The fighting
beat-em-up MMO? The mech MMO? The space sim MMO? The RTS MMO? The
city management MMO? If you haven't checked out projects like
Mankind, Starpeace, King of Fighters, Gundam, Jumpgate, Shattered
Galaxy, Mudpie, Sims Online, and Project Entropia, you can't really
speak in an informed manner about how closely the paradigm is being
followed and in what ways it is being innovated upon.

I'll say it flatly--right now, the innovation, for better or worse,
is coming from the graphical side of things. Yes, there's a TON of
catch-up work to be done, and basic fundamentals that they (we?) are
missing. But what we're seeing is an explosion of basic
typologies--and muds divided into a few typologies so long ago that
a new one hasn't been invented in literally a decade.

> Fun gaming environments are gifts.  They are created by cohesive,
> virtual communities.  You can build a beautiful, artistic city,
> but that by no means prevents Buttcheex and co. from spraying
> graffiti all over it.

You can also

  a) try to create an environment that swallows up Buttcheex and
  turns him into a productive member of society

  b) create one that munches up Buttcheez and spits him out in tiny
  little blood-and-bone fragments

  c) create one that accepts Buttcheex and even glories in his

I'd say that there's an artistic statement to be made by each of
those. :) And I don't think any of them are invalid.

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