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

Ron Gabbard rgabbard at swbell.net
Fri Jun 28 20:23:40 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

From: "Marian Griffith" <gryphon at iaehv.nl>
> On Fri 21 Jun, Ron Gabbard wrote:

>> I think the player's and the character's best self interest would
>> need to be the same.

> Not at all. I have RPed characters who did all kind of things not
> in my self interest, and sometimes not in the interest of that
> character either.  Those two are not at all the same.

OK.  I guess I was working under a different assumption.  My
assumption was that the player's best self-interest in playing the
game was to maximize the amount of fun or enjoyment derived from it.
That desire to have the most fun/enjoyment possible in the game
would drive the player's in-game actions.  If the character's best
self-interest is such that the player has to sacrifice fun or
enjoyment of the game in order to pursue it, I would think that
there is a flaw in the design.

> That is if you really take on the role of that character.  If I am
> roleplaying an incurably curious character I would make her check
> out the strange noise, even if I as a player already know it is a
> monster lurking around the corner.  The character knows it is not
> smart, but would not be able to resist her curiosity to find out
> what it is that makes that funny noise. I as a player know that it
> is very much not in the best interest of the character to do this,
> and that it might lead to the character dying because of it.

What about the situations where your character is not alone and is
part of a group?  Do you role-play a 'dumb' character that pulls a
dungeon-full of monsters on the group and gets everyone killed
and/or ruins a 'raid' for 40 - 60 people?  Or, does the character
become a little smarter and a little less inquisitive because their
actions now impact other people as well and you as a player don't
want to tick everyone else off by getting them killed?  This is a
major constraint for role-playing in MMOGs as the player that
constantly triggers avoidable traps and gets the group killed in the
name of 'role-playing dumb' will soon find themselves playing alone.

>> The basic assumption in economics is that all people are
>> 'rational' in that they will act in their own best self interest.

> That is the assumption, but it also has been shown that this is
> not necessarily true under all circumstances. People can and will
> frequently act against their self interest, or they define their
> self interest in much broader terms than economics.

All 'rationality' says is that people will choose activities/actions
that return the highest utility (benefit) amongst competing
activities given their associated costs.  That is their best
self-interest.  It doesn't get much broader than that.  Economics
does not define 'benefit' in terms of material gain, power,
prestige, or any single type of intangible or tangible
asset/benefit.  It's the sum of all benefits received (both tangible
and intangible) related to the sum of all costs (both tangible and
intangible).  The basic tools of economics can be used to describe
any multitude of decisions from what someone had for lunch to what
kind of car they drive.  I would be interested to know in which
circumstances it has been shown people will frequently act
irrationally, however, as I'd like to toss that at my old micro
economics prof.  =) The only situations my entire graduate economics
class could come up with for irrationality were situations where the
decision-maker was 'impaired' (or addicted as in the case of

> In any given situation they will have many choices. e.g. are they
> going to optimise their immediate gain, or are they looking for a
> long term advantage, or are they applying entirely different
> criteria? E.g.  there are many brands of washing powder which are
> rougly of the same quality.  Do people always pick the cheapest,
> which would be the rational thing to do?  Not remotely, which
> shows that saying people act in their own best self-interest is
> meaningless if you can not tell what that self interest would be.

Your example is off a bit.  To make the washing powder example
relevant, you have to start 'with all other things being equal' --
brand image and advertising, product packaging, product smell,
location on the store shelves, etc.  Price is just one factor in the
customer's decision-making process and is weighted differently for
every customer.  If the influence of all other factors were equal
across powders AND the customer chose to pay a higher price, the
customer could then be considered 'irrational'.  However, even then
you have the influence of price/quality relationships where some
customers may 'perceive' the more expensive product as
higher-quality, thus maintaining rationality of the action.

Regardless, you hit the nail on the head in your second comment
regarding the meaninglessness of 'rationality' if you can't tell
what determines the player's best self-interest.

If the players' best self interest in playing a game is to maximize
fun and enjoyment derived from it, it is the game designer's job to
create a game that allows players to pursue their best
self-interest.  As you just stated, we can't tell exactly what
comprises that self interest... only that players will pursue it.
Previous commercial MMOGs have used a hit-and-miss strategy where
they guessed (based on experience) what players will consider 'fun'
(their best self-interest) and hard-code it into the game.  My
entire argument about using player-driven, dynamic economies,
ecologies, and social systems was based around addressing this exact
issue.  The game designer can't know exactly what comprises the
players' best self-interest (especially for 100,000
individuals)... but the players know (probably more implicitly than
explicitly).  Give them the opportunity and tools to have
fun/enjoyment the way they would want and that game would blow any
existing commercial MMOG out of the water.

>> 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?

> Except that players can look for less substantial rewards, like
> hanging out with friends, or entertaining oneself.

The fulfillment received from 'hanging out with friends' is just as
valid as the fulfillment received from 'leveling' and both can be
expressed in economic terms of utility.  Economics doesn't
differentiate between 'material' benefit of spending time camping
monsters for loot versus the intangible benefit of spending time
socializing with friends.  It depends on the individual player and
the value they place on those activities.  Again, it's a comparison
amongst competing activities and their associated costs and choosing
the activity that results in the greatest return for the cost.  The
player 'hanging out with friends' is acting rationally and the
player who camps one spawn spot for hours and hours is acting
rationally.  They are both acting in their best self-interest within
the context of their own value system.

> Players gain nothing by playing, in an economic sense, but in
> their own opinion they gain a lot, just as somebody reading a
> book, or eating a chocolate bar, or watching a movie gains
> something that can not be expressed by economics.

I think your concept of economics is a bit off.  Enjoyment received
from eating a candy bar or watching a movie CAN be expressed by
economics.  It's a process of measuring utility gained versus cost
paid between competing activities.  Your decision to read a book or
eat a candy bar necessarily means that you gave up some other
activities or items as that time and money could have been spent on
something else.  That decision-making process then frames the value
of that candy bar to you in relation to the other choices.  It gets
a bit more complicated than this however it can be and is done quite
regularly by the makers of those scrumptuous candy bars.

The cool thing about forums such as this as you get a lot of
different perspectives on common issues.  Business and economic
disciplines are not evil, quantitative hatchets that rip the fun and
fantasy out of games.  They are tools that can turn stories and
fantasies into integrated systems that make sense and give players
more tools with which to role-play and have fun.  The biggest
short-coming in most of the MMOGs currently out on the market isn't
the quality of the ideas nor the quality of the technology.  It's
the poor integration of the ideas with other systems in creating a
'world'.  Fix and integrate the world systems and I'm betting that
roleplaying and immersion and all the other aspects related to
player 'fun' are improved dramatically.



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