[MUD-Dev] MMORPGs & MUDs

Michael Tresca talien at toast.net
Sun Dec 23 12:25:59 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001


Koster, Raph posted on Saturday, December 22, 2001 7:26 PM

>>   This fabulous poll (10/21/2001)
>>     http://www.voodooextreme.com/pollcomments.taf?pollid=93
>>   Kudos to the DaOC team, incidentally, they're winning.

> I don't know what this poll is supposed to be saying about fun
> versus art or whatever. :) To me it says DAoC is a) fun, b) newest
> c) has players who read this site. But I'm cynical that way!

Actually, I was referring to the comments beneath the poll.  <snip
about Shannon's articles>

>>   Mu's Unbelievably Long and Disjointed Ramblings About RPG Design
>>   - The Grandfather Clause of Stupidity
>>     http://mu.ranter.net/theory/general.html#grandfather

> I first pointed out Mu's writings to this list a year or two
> ago. There's some very good stuff in here. This excerpt is about
> how RPG design is too burdened with the assumptions from
> CHAINMAIL: to wit, combat as the core mechanic, and simplistic
> rules for combat resolution. The points are very well taken. Of
> course, arguably the most "artistic" of the MMORPGs went after the
> former with a vengeance, so I am not sure what your point is by
> citing it.

Glad you asked.  I consider the fundamental psychological filters
(that you brought up earlier) to be what makes for entertaining
gameplay.  That's fun -- ignore it, say, because you want to make a
cool game (art), and do so at your own peril.

  "The modern idea of the systemized RPG, from pen and paper to
  MMORPG, all stems from this Chainmail legacy, and several silly
  factors have never been properly weeded out...It is difficult to
  underestimate the ability of people to consider themselves an
  authority on things when their only source of information is a
  game manual someone else wrote before them, which was in turn
  based on another game manual, etc. etc.  Things become worse when
  these designer-types elect to "make a few little adjustments" in
  the thirdhand systems they're stealing from."

This "game evolution" is critical in understanding that games
started out with people playing around a table.  Not five million
people.  Five.  Taking that same game and expanding it to a million
people who interact with each other constantly is a goal that I
never yearned for as a player.  I certainly didn't think to myself,
"If we just had five thousand more wargamers, this game would rock!"
Or conversely, "If we just had another million role-players, this
campaign would fantastic!"  And yet, precisely those game systems
have been extrapolated to a massive size without any real
alterations to the game system.

So why do it?  Presumably for artistic reasons or (worse) financial
reasons.  From a game master's perspective, thousands of little
people role-playing in my universe IS appealing.  But I don't think
this is the player's concept of fun, not when any random percentage
of those people could act completely contrary to the game's purpose.

>>   Foaming at the Mouth by Erich S. Arendall
>>   - Hanging Up the Dice Bag
>>     http://www.rpg.net/news+reviews/columns/spritefeb01.html

>  This article is about how roll-players and role-players clash,
>  and games that cater too much to one extreme or the other grow
>  boring to the writer (but presumably not to the targeted
>  audience).

  "If immersion gamers are so damn amazing, why do we even bother
  with reviews that largely critique the rules? Should we even care? 
  And the answer: we care because most gamers (whether they admit it
  aloud or not) know that the root of RPGs lies in the foundations
  of roll-playing, built upon the tenets of war gaming - where rules
  are paramount."

Yep, same point as above.  Small social groups.  Small social groups
good.

  "From roll-players to immersion gamers, all players are primarily
  concerned with their characters and not the over-all "story"...I
  see these RPGs headed towards the realm of storytelling online,
  thus completely missing the point, and the fun part, of gaming."

It seems to me he's arguing development of character vs. story.
Characters are made by the player (fun) -- story is made by the
developers (art).  It's a player's selfish need vs. a developer's
selfish need.

That's the problem.  Why doesn't Erich want a story?  Because
MMORPGs CAN'T DELIVER IT.  How can you deliver a story that I enjoy
if Buttcheex wins the quest and slays the dragon?  How can you
deliver a story if my comrade is a naked elven woman who by all
rights shouldn't have survived five minutes in that universe?

Until the psychological factors are increased to weed out people who
are not there to play the game, you have a big mess where consistent
storytelling is all but impossible.  Unlike Erich, I still think
it's feasible on a small scale however.

>>   - You're Doing What On-Line?
>>     http://www.rpg.net/news+reviews/columns/spritejan99.html

> This article is about how you actually can roleplay in online
> games...

  "However, on-line gaming also allows people to game with people
  they don't know, and that is a bad thing. First, allow me to point
  out that most gamers are seen as introverts, and on-line gaming is
  the next step to simply locking yourself away and eating the
  key. But more importantly, there are a number of people who are
  jerks and idiots in real life, who will become even more annoying
  due to the anonymity of the Internet."

See my thesis on anonymity (http://read.at/tmb/thesis.htm).
Anonymity generates fun for the anonymous, it does not generate fun
for the other folks from whom the identity is shielded.  Anonymity
is much less likely in small social groups with high psychological
filters.  Especially when an identity for the character is being
established.

In short, nobody cares that you made a perfectly proportioned elven
woman (art).  What matters is that some anonymous idiot made that
beautiful elven woman run around naked because he can (fun, for him
anyway).

>>   - Computer RPGs and How Most Aren't
>>     http://www.rpg.net/news+reviews/columns/spritejan98.html

> ...as opposed to CRPGs where there is no character development
> other than statistical.

This one was included in error, oops. :)

>>   Gamegrene.com's Rants
>>   - What's Wrong With RPG's? Part 1
>> http://www.gamegrene.com/rants/whats_wrong_with_online_rpgs_part_1.shtml

> The principal point is that he didn't like EQ because of technical
> reasons and UO because it didn't feel heroic, whereas the original
> NWN captured the pen and paper experience...

  "When I sign up for an RPG, online or not, I sign up to play a
  hero (or villain) who role-plays, kills enemies, saves the weak,
  solves problems, and builds in strength. I don't expect to waste
  hours upon hours in front of my screen fishing, knitting, chopping
  lumber, or giving snickers to trick or treaters!"

Art vs. fun here.  The author listed what he considers fun.  Then he
listed what he didn't consider fun, which was part of UO
(presumably, that's art).

Read the responses at the bottom.  They're very informative.

>    - What's Wrong With RPG's? Part 2
>  http://www.gamegrene.com/rants/whats_wrong_with_online_rpgs_part_2.shtml

...which is what he sees as the way to go. And therefore, Bioware's
NWN will save the day!

  "Online gaming seems to have less of a role playing element when
  the creation of the game concentrated too much on user interface
  and realism."

User interface and realism = art.  Role-playing element (to me) = fun.

Read the responses at the bottom.  They're also very
informative. They all point to the value of psychological filters
and small social groups -- the same groups that have been sacrificed
for ROI and the appeal of a million players.

>>   - Click Me Baby One More Time
>>      http://www.gamegrene.com/rants/click_me_baby_one_more_time.shtml

<snip quote and Raph's response>

  "To really role play, you need a community of other players who
  are all role playing as well. It is possible to be the only player
  around acting in character, but it is not very enjoyable. If
  nobody else is acting in character, there is little point to
  dialogue. It is difficult to build a community in an MMORPG
  because the game's mechanics make it difficult to gain power and
  build a role playing community at the same time."

This sums it up quite nicely.  Buttcheex toils away at killing stuff
better than my character, who spends his time interacting with
characters first before slaughtering them.  Buttcheex becomes more
powerful.  Therefore, Buttcheex is rewarded for his actions vs. my
actions.

The sheer size of a MMORPG diminishes the value of character
development.  The guy I role-play with today is not the guy I
role-play with tomorrow.  And sadly, I may never even see him again.
Small social groups and psychological filters ensure cohesive groups
form that have compatible gaming styles.  MMORPGs have a few
physical filters and not much in the way of psychological filters.
Not the intended ones anyway.

> True roleplayers are a miniscule market and not what MMORPGs are
> targeting.  There, I've said it, everyone can recoil in horror
> now.

Heh.  Well you think role-playing's dead, so there's not much point
arguing that.  I equate role-playing with socialization.  You can't
role-play without it.  In fact, let me put it another way: I don't
think MMORPGs must encourage role-playing, but I think they should
NOT ACTIVELY PROHIBIT IT.

That in itself is a psychological filter.  By creating a big,
amorphous culture that doesn't have cultivated social rules (but
strongly cultivated physical ones like combat), MMORPGs diminish the
value of role-players who want to bring something to the game other
than themselves.

But wait a minute.  Isn't role-playing "playing the game correctly?"
What's the target market Raph?  Apparently, it's not role-players.
And yet, you're creating a game where you're immersing people in a
role.  So you WANT Buttcheex to play?  Because he's more numerous?

I don't have to recoil in horror. Everyone else do it for me.  It's
okay you can come back now.

>>   Ack! by Jeff Freeman
>>   - The One True Way to Roleplay
>>     http://www.rpg.net/news+reviews/columns/ackjul99.html
>>   "I haven't played on a text MUD (or MUSH) since Ultima Online came
>>   out."

> Another essay about roleplaying versus other forms of
> playing. Mike, you're going to need to actually explain your point
> somewhere along the line here.  It's not art vs fun. There's some
> other agenda, and I can't tell what it is.  You've argued that
> large is bad, you're citing a ton of essays about immersion
> roleplaying... all I can presume tis that you are arguing that
> muds should go back to being small, rp-required environments.

I just wanted to point out where my other feedback comes from. >:)

Actually, I'm arguing that MMORPGs need to stop taking the Massive
approach.  MMORPGs need to be broken down into cities, communities,
smaller social groups that human beings can relate to.  Massiveness,
near as I can tell, is coming out of basic greed.

MMORPGs need to stop being anonymous.  Anonymity breeds griefers.
Small, social, cohesive groups discourage this.

MMORPGs need social cultivation.  Big random pots of humanity do not
"just work" because you create them.  And yet developers work so
hard to create beautiful games, complex games, truly fantastic
games.

Then they throw a million random people in that universe and shout
"have fun!" and run away.  Because they don't have enough staff to
monitor those inhabitants on a "personal focus" scale.

You're creating a role-playing game.  And you don't want
role-players in it?

>> Did I mention that a lot of my feedback comes from disgruntled
>> players who quit MMORPGs and went back to MUDs?

> Who, I'll say again, are a tiny niche market that the MMO
> companies aren't really targeting.

You're creating an online game.  And you don't want the folks who
originally played online games to play them?

<snip>

>> Fundamentally, this thread can't really go anywhere without
>> developing the concept of what the target customer is.

> I'm getting the impression that the problem is that you feel the
> target customer should be someone else than who it actually is.

Yes.

> It's fairly expansive:

>   - people who don't need a story told to them

>   - and aren't hung up on fictional consistency

>   - who want to do things they cannot do and visit places they've
>   always wanted to see and have their wishes and dreams fulfilled

>   - along with other like-minded people

Number 1.  Role-players don't need a story told TO them. They want
to share THEIR story with others.  MMORPGs actively prohibit this by
having large, anonymous groups.

Number 2. Fictional consistency?  Heh.  You'll need to flesh this
out more.  I just can't imagine George Lucas turning around and
saying, "The people I want to see my movies are the ones who don't
care about those freaking midichlorians, it's a plot device people!"

Number 3.  Yeah, that'd be role-players.  And MUDders.

Number 4.  AHHA!  And here we have it.  What are the odds of all one
million people being like-minded?  An impossibility.  Unless those
small social groups are defined, that like-mindedness is damned hard
to develop.  Psychological filters develop cohesiveness by refining
small social groups.  MMORPGs don't have enough of them to ensure
that "like-minded" people are really like-minded.

Because if like-minded ends up being Buttcheex, that's no game I
want to play.

Mike "Talien" Tresca
RetroMUD Administrator
http://www.retromud.org/talien




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