[MUD-Dev] MMORPGs & MUDs

Michael Tresca talien at toast.net
Sat Dec 22 21:18:50 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


Koster, Raph posted on Friday, December 21, 2001 11:13 AM
>> From: Michael Tresca

>> 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. :)

A huge non-sequitur?  I consider "personal attention" to equate to
customer focus.  Which was at least in part what Jessica was saying
-- let's not lose sight of customer focus (one of the aspects of
customer focus being fun) when we're developing a game.  Which leads
to what I've been saying: customer focus is possible through small
scale, player-focused games, and MMORPGs on a large scale lose that
ability to focus due to prohibitive costs.

> 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.

Excellent!  Now we have a foundation to work with.

> 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.

It is common to all entertainment media to want to make money.  It
is not common to all entertainment media to maximize customer base
across other target markets.  I'm still waiting to hear what the
target customer is.  I haven't seen it clearly defined.

Because it's not clearly defined, it's rapidly turning into a
liability.  *I* define a customer base as playing with other people
who play the game.  The word "play" is extremely significant.  This
goes back to the ideal player.  What is the ideal player who plays
your MMORPG?  When are they playing it right or wrong?

Don't define it and you've got what you've got: thematic pablum.

This lack of definition cannot go on forever.  It exists only
because the market allows it to exist, because there is no product
differentiation.  Ford didn't make different-colored cars because
there was no perceptive need for such.  Once it was introduced,
everyone wanted to individualize.  But to say, "No one ever wanted a
different colored car" would be fallacious.  You could say, "No one
REALIZED they wanted a different colored car until variety was
introduced."

Or, to use your parallel, no one realized that anyone wanted a
colored computer.  That's because the folks who designed computers
kept them in offices, not homes.  They never realized that it's
actually a piece of furniture to the "average" user.
Differentiation is what makes iMac glorious and unique -- because it
offers diversity.  iMac now comes in a rainbow of colors -- in fact,
just about every electronic piece of equipment mimics the iMac's
color scheme. MMORPGs are still vanilla-colored, because that's not
"offensive" to anybody.

Offer MMORPGs in different colors and watch a billion games spring
up for target niches that, each in their own way, make a viable ROI.

> 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.

MUDs definitely have a low physical barrier to entry.  But
conversely, they have a very high psychological barrier to entry.
In fact, that's why MUDs still exist in spite of MMORPGs.  As Matt's
said, as I've said, there's some players we don't want on our games.
And that's okay.

The personal attention that a dedicated staff provides is its own
psychological barrier.  That's a good thing.  The players who stick
around want to play the game along a loosely but commonly shared
definition of how the game should be played.  If Buttcheex comes on,
another player says, "Hey, I don't think he should be here" and they
expect him to straighten up or leave.

So for future reference, I'll be sure to tell any naked elven women
I encounter on a MMORPG that it's chilly and they should put on some
clothes.  Boy, that sure does ruin the image of the Fellowship of
the Ring when Legolas is running around in his tighty whities (it
was glorious, Jeff, GLORIOUS!).

> 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.

MUDs have even less of a physical barrier to entry, that's
definitely true.  But they have a HUGE psychological barrier.  MUDs
are by no means generic.  Matt can explain Achaea's culture in
detail.  RetroMUD has its own culture.

MMORPGs differ from MUDs in two important ways.  For one, they have
an important physical barrier that, judging from player behavior, is
not a physical barrier at all (see my comment about children getting
their hands on daddy's credit card).  For another, there ARE no
psychological barriers.  Since many MUDs are free and open to the
public, their psychological barriers are critical in determining the
tone of the game.

If you don't have any psychological barriers, you don't have a game,
you have a big virtual playground with no player acculturation
whatsoever.  Psychological barriers refine a playerbase.

> 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.

Some evolution:

  wargames (chainmail) -> dungeon & dragons -> MUDs -> MMORPGs -> ?

Let's keep that evolution in perspective.  The playerbase of one was
at least partially absorbed into the playerbase of the next
evolution.

Are we elitist?  Maybe.  But I submit we're just advanced
gamers. That's significant.  The guys playing MMORPGs today are the
elitists of tomorrow.  MMORPGs are currently raising a new
generation of gamers who will not be impressed by graphics.  They
will have refined tastes and value the psychological barriers that
cater to them.  Presumably, players want to play with other folks of
like mind.

If I see a Jedi named Buttcheex, I'm going to slice him in half,
fair warning. >:)

> 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.

Of course, psychological barriers are an extremely complex means of
dealing with unexpected factors.  Physical barriers alone are not
sophisticated enough to deal with unexpected factors...

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

...by current methods. >:)

>> 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, anyway).

Eh?  I pointed this out only because current MMORPGs revolve around
violence (because MMORPGs started with wargames first, see above).
The inevitability that griefing takes the form of violence against
other players makes psychological barriers all the more significant
in curbing it, controlling it, or channeling it.  MUSHes have, in my
experience, much less problems with griefers because the entire
population has the ability to ignore a dissenting player right out
of existence.  Violence is the ability to exert one's will on
another without the other's permission.  Psychological barriers are
tantamount in ensuring gameplay doesn't constantly devolve into one
massive brawl.

I champion the ability to, at the end of the day, resort to
fisticuffs when all else fails.  But violence is so easy to abuse
too.  RetroMUD has no PK flags, we let the players regulate
themselves because they're mature enough to do it.  That's very hard
to find in many virtual environments.

So my point was not that violence is too lowbrow, but that when
dealing with a million people on a game where killing things is part
of life, it's naive to assume you can just let them play without
someone abusing it.  Lord of the Flies, ya see.

> 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.

Okay, I agree with that.  I change my statement: Art should not be
wasted on an audience that does not appreciate the art.  When you
have such a large player base, the likelihood of that art being
appreciated is diminished.  Those who do not appreciate the art can
spoil it for those who do.  They spoil it for me, anyway.

> 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.

It's coming. Soon.

> 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.

Actually, you just proved my point.  It's not coming soon, it's
here.  Theme MMORPGs are already a slightly more psychological
barrier.  Just not enough.  The next evolution after this one, after
the "thematic psychological barrier" is to even more finely tune the
MMORPG's player base.

> 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.

No arguments from me there.

> You can also

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

This is what MUDs do now.  The psychological barriers are in place
to ensure the players join the society or become ostracized from it.

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

And who determines who gets munched?  Is there some sort of
super-sophisticated idiot-sniffing code?  Sounds great in theory.

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

With a MMORPG, I find it extremely difficult to believe that
everyone can feel equally glorified in their iconoclasm.  This
feeling of "specialness" can work in a small game (like a MUD), but
not on a MMORPG.

> 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.

I agree that they are most decidedly artistic statements.  I do not
agree that they are viable solutions to MMORPG issues.

To sum up:

  Psychological barriers to entry are necessary in dealing with the
  teeming mass that is humanity.  MUDs are successful in retaining
  long term players because they have psychological barriers that
  refine their playerbase.  MMORPGs are taking the physical barrier
  approach, which isn't much of a barrier, because it's the shortest
  path to ROI.  As players become more sophisticated and are better
  able to distinguish between MMORPGs, they will demand more focus,
  more customer service, and have less tolerance for griefers.
  MMORPGs need more psychological barriers to serve the needs of the
  next generation of players -- there is still something to be
  learned from MUDs.

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