[MUD-Dev] Building a \\\'Deeper\\\' MMOG

Ron Gabbard rgabbard at swbell.net
Fri Jun 21 01:13:07 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

From: "Brian Lindahl" <lindahlb at hotmail.com>
> From: rgabbard at swbell.net

> Building a deeper MMOG is about creating a game where combat is
> not the center, but roleplaying and theme.

Hehe... color me stupid.  I don't understand how roleplaying can be
the center.  I would think that, by definition, roleplaying would
require a 'role' and that this 'role' would have to be in context to
something.  I can see how the theme can be dominant but only so far
as the players can interact with it and that interaction with the
theme can provide a role that the player can buy into.  The trick is
then to keep the interaction aspect (combat in most games) from
becoming more important than the theme itself.

> The reason why they act in their own self-interest, reguardless to
> theme, is the fact that such people have no sense of what
> roleplaying is.

I will agree with you on that part... roleplaying is truly a very
small part of MMORPGs and will probably become smaller as the number
of people entering the genre increasingly have backgrounds in CRPGs
and FPSs vs. D&D and other pencil and paper games.  This kind of
begs the question... is reliance on players roleplaying to drive
and/or follow the theme feasible in a MMOG of 100,000 players?

> They think that because it has a story, a history, a fantasy or
> sci-fi environment its a roleplaying game. Perhaps, in the sense
> of the genre, it's a roleplaying game. But roleplaying is an
> action, not a genre. A game is only a true roleplaying game when
> the majority of it's players take on the action of
> roleplaying. Roleplaying is the action of playing and
> understanding a role or character within a theme. When players act
> in accordance to their character's self-interest, rather than
> their own, they will be 'role' playing. Players who act in
> accordance to their own self-interest are 'achievement' playing.

I think the player's and the character's best self interest would
need to be the same.  The basic assumption in economics is that all
people are 'rational' in that they will act in their own best self
interest.  I don't think expecting players to act 'irrationally' is
necessarily the best path because it's not sustainable.  People will
eventually return to rationality.  Theoretically, I can see how a
non-quantitative reward system could be developed to define the
character's best self interest without being 'achievement-oriented'.
But would it provide sufficient feedback to the player to keep them
motivated without providing so much feedback that it just becomes
another 'achievement' ladder?

> The trick to building a deeper MMOG is not adding more features
> for players to achieve, but bringing the players into the world of
> 'role' playing, versus 'achievement' playing by increasing the
> dominance of theme.

I think I understand the point you are trying to make so far as
developing an immersive theme such that the players are more
engrossed in accomplishing the goals of the theme than they are
worried about the 'power-race' to end game.  I agree with you on the
importance of theme in this sense...  liberation from the hamster
wheel would be a relief to many (if not most) players.

>> The example I gave of trees in the dynamic ecology/economy was
>> just meant to be a very small example of making a game deeper.
>> It wasn't meant to diminish the need for a theme.  It was just an
>> example of

> Well the difference is that you were using this example in the
> context of making a MMOG deeper in theme. Ecology and economy may
> aid a player in feeling like the world is more living, but this
> rarely helps the theme.

I would strongly disagree here.  The economy can be the designer's
best friend in supporting the theme or it can totally ruin immersion
through inflation/worthless money sinks/uninspired trade skill
systems.  The problem is that the economy in most games seems to be
designed as an afterthought...  a cesspool of loot as it were that
gets loosely integrated with the trade skills which are loosely
integrated with mob itemization.

Asheron's Call touched on what I'm shooting for with their shadow
fragments and motes.  Both are essentially trade components looted
off of mobs where the crafters were NPCs.  The players ate those up
and they soon became the coin of the realm as the currency was
pretty much worthless... it became a mote/fragment economy.  The
shadow armor from the fragments totally supported the theme and
provided a lot of fun for the players.  Now, make most every mob
drop a 'fragment' of some type to some extent and use the ecology to
provide scarcity and balance.  The possibilities of using the
economy to support the theme become endless.

>> supported by the game world.  Human nature is human
>> nature... players may play an 'ogre' in-game but they are still
>> driven by the same motivators that drive them in the 'real
>> world'.

> Again, this is a single-player game mindset, for many, if they
> move away from the achievement style of playing, and into a
> roleplaying mindset, they'll achieve a greater satisfaction from a
> theme-oriented multiplayer roleplaying game.

I would disagree here.  In a single-player game, the designer has
the ability to control every interaction the player experiences and
can almost force the player to roleplay an 'ogre' because that's how
everything in the game treats them.  In a multiplayer game, the
designer has very little control over most interactions as they are
between players.  Thus, with the absence of designer control over
interactions something else has to take control.  I would argue that
what takes control is 'human nature'.

I think we're approaching the same problem from two different sides.
Enhancing the dominance of the theme increases the complexity of the
player/environment relationship while enhancing the players' ability
to effect each other and the world around them increases the
complexity of player interactions.  Both ways can result in a
'deeper' MUD.  Personally, I would go both routes.  It's just too
easy to design and implement a player-driven, non-inflationary,
closed economy (and associated trade skills) to do otherwise given
the benefits in terms of player interaction.  AND, to your point,
players need relief from the repetitive slaying of monsters with the
goal of reaching level X+1.



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