[MUD-Dev] RE: Realistic Ecological Models, Differentiating Areas by Difficulty, and Socialization

Ron Gabbard rgabbard at swbell.net
Wed Apr 24 10:11:32 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


I think most people will agree that one of the greatest factors in
customer retention is socialization, i.e., in-game friends the
player has made.  There are many players that will 'stick it out' in
a game to which they have grown tired in order to play with their
friends.  In this context, realistic ecological models are possible
(but dangerous) and varying the mob difficulty throughout the game
world is not feasible.

Sean Kelly wrote:

>> In this case, simple spawns are a vastly more economic
>> solution. In supplying us with something that looks alive, spawns
>> are as terrible a solution as the UO model was for maintaining
>> high and stable populations of prey. IMO :)

> And ultimately, I don't think spawning is very entertaining.  The
> feeling I always got in MMORPGs was that I was in a funhouse.
> It's not any fun if I as a player don't have any lasting impact on
> the environment.

While I agree that it doesn't make much 'real-lfe' sense that
players can repetitively kill a certain type of mob without
affecting the ecosystem, it's almost a necessary evil.  Particular
mobs are placed in specific locations for balance reasons as well as
for supporting socialization dynamics.

Every mob has a 'desireability factor' based on risk/reward.  Part
of that factor is travel time to reach the mob.  Ideally, each mob
of a specific difficulty level will have similar desireability
factors.  Else, assuming players are rational and will act in their
own best self-interest, mobs with a materially lower factor will go
unhunted and those with a materially higher factor will be
over-hunted/camped. (Thus incurring a tragedy of the commons).  If
mob X actually learned that roaming around area A leads to certain
death, they would either move to area B or go extinct in a realistic
model.  In either case, balance for that mob (which impacts the
relative desireability of every mob in that level range) has been
changed or content has been removed from the game world.

A dynamic ecological system could be carefully used as a balancing
tool where over-hunted mobs are moved to a less convenient location.
However, this brings up the topic of socialization.

Static mob spawns allow for the formation of 'staging areas' where
players of a particular level range can meet to form groups and meet
other people in their level range.  Over time, these staging areas
become well-known and increase the efficiency with which players can
form groups. Move/remove the static spawn to realistically reflect
the changing ecosystem and you've effectively moved/removed the
learned staging area.

This topic then ties into the idea of varying the difficulty of mobs
throughout the game world so there is no 'designated' area(s) for
specific levels.  This has already been done to a certain extent
(until the highest levels) in DAoC.. and is one of the game's
greatest weaknesses in my opinion.  Content of varying levels has
been spread throughout the realms with few logical staging areas.
Combine the diffusion of mobs, extremely lucrative solo kill tasks
through level 20, and the character's ability to solo throughout
their lives and you have a game that intrinsically discourages
socialization.  Honestly, the best thing Mythic has done for the
game, so far as inducing socialization, was the creation of the
level-restricted PvP areas.  These areas funnel large amounts of
players of a specific level range into an area and give them an
incentive to group.

Static spawns and designated areas for levels are definitely not
'realistic', per se.  However, they do induce socialization within
the player community if implemented properly.  It may be that the
best option is to work on develop an evolving AI and risk/reward
structure at the mob/camp level.  Verant has done this at the
rudimentary level with EQ's faction system and by making database
adjustments to XP rewarded in certain zones, e.g., the Hole.  Mythic
took the evolving risk/reward structure a step further and
incorporated it into the core code through short-term 'camp bonuses'
in DAoC that award extra XP for mobs that haven't been killed in X
time.

While moving/removing static spawns may be difficult while still
maximizing socialization, creating dynamic risk/reward systems and
evolving AI to reflect player activity is extremely doable and would
actually be a decent mechanism through which the developers can let
the players self-manage traffic and content utilization.

Players don't really want to change the world... they want to change
their world.  They do want to combat the hoardes of evil and
liberate an area for civilization... they don't want to venture
forth to find the area already civilized and have nothing to battle.
They do want to form guilds to build grand castles and cities and
defend those cities against the on-slaught of enemies... they don't
want to log in and find that a Japanese or Aussie guild burned their
city to the ground while they were asleep.  That's the challenge.

Cheers, 

Ron
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