[MUD-Dev] Massive Corporations and MMORPGs

Michael Tresca talien at toast.net
Fri Jan 3 16:19:12 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

Koster, Raph posted on Wednesday, January 01, 2003 9:35 PM

> No, no, no. You can't just make uch a statement, you have to
> EXPLAIN.  Describe the methods. :)

Okay, okay, okay.  Fine.  Here we go.  Deep breath.  This is going
to make me very tired...

Let's follow a typical message roll out (one I will see shortly at
work I'm sure) at the mythical company.  Here's how it works:

  1) CEO plans for an implementation of a new initiative:
  paperlessness.  Paper is the enemy.  It is evil.  Paper must be
  eliminated.  Everything can be done online.

  2) CEO has a meeting in some sunny location with his direct
  reports.  Direct reports are told the message.  They're supposed
  to tweak it (but usually, they repeat it ad nauseum without
  filtering it).

  3) Direct report, SVP of a sub-business, communicates this
  information to his managers.  Managers make their own

  4) Managers, in turn, have staff meetings where they discuss and
  disseminate the message to employees.

  5) Employees run the message through a filter, including:

    - How will this affect my job?

    - Does anyone care if I don't do it (or do it)?

    - How will this affect the company?

If the message can't run through those questions, it utterly falls
flat.  The company talks about the initiative but employees don't
really believe it.  It's BS, and everyone knows it.

If an employee realizes that there's still reams of paper in the
storage room, he's not affected by the message at all.  The

  - How will this affect my job?  A: It won't.  You are still
  writing memos like you did before.

  - Does anyone care if I don't do it? A: Nope, you have plenty of
  paper left.  Obviously, if "THEY" really cared, they would have
  removed the paper.  You didn't get penalized or rewarded for doing
  it -- so keep doing the same old thing.

  - How will this affect the company?  A: It must not affect the
  company, because nobody's reacting to it even though that's the

As an employee, I feel pretty insignificant.  I was told to do
something but, obviously, actions speak louder than words.  I feel
like I am not important.  I get told to do an action, but nobody's
paying attention to see if I really did it In short, like a child, I
feel neglected.  I decide to do what works best for me, working in
my own selfish interests to further my own goals and ensure I am
bettered by it.

This is where communicators come in (my job, incidentally). By
inserting the communicator in between any of the steps (preferably,
all of them), we translate, modify, and alter the message to fit the
audience.  The CEO's message may need to be hard driving to his
direct reports, but it may come off sounding arrogant to employees.
So the CEO's message should NOT just be replicated and handed down
to the line without altering it for the audience.

In fact, instead of viewing it from the top-down, communication must
be viewed from the bottom up.  Employees do the majority of the work
in the company.  That one sentence is VERY difficult for companies
to actually comprehend, so I'll say it again:


So why aren't we running the company with their needs in mind?
Because of pyramid structures where information flows downwards,
because the general assumption is that by advancing, power over
people is somehow a reward.  I.e., you should be a manager because
you're good at your job.  It's an old, outdated concept.  Managing
requires people skills.  They are a core competency in MANAGING.

So how does this help employees feel valued?

  Employees care about their own selfish needs.  Instead of
  pretending they are utterly loyal to the company, communicators
  recognize them as millions of individuals, each with their own
  needs.  There will be exceptions to every rule.  Broad sweeping
  statements are a mistake, because they will tick off somebody
  somewhere, who really DOES need paper to work on.

So first, we address the employee needs.  What the employee wants to know:
WHY do we need to get rid of paper?

  WRONG ANSWER: Because it saves the company money.

  RIGHT ANSWER: Because by saving the company money, it allows us to
  increase spending elsewhere, which means bonus checks and free
  water can continue in hard economic times.

And the employee buys into it.  Sure, fine.  So why should I care?

  WRONG ANSWER: Because we told you to care and you should be lucky
  you have a job.

  RIGHT ANSWER (filtered by manager): Because it will save our
  department $10,000 that we can spend on other useful stuff that
  will make our lives easier.

Okay.  And how does this affect me?

  WRONG ANSWER: It just does, so stop using paper.

  RIGHT ANSWER: When you come in to work tomorrow, the paper in the
  supply closets will be replaced with an automated storage facility
  that will dole out sheets of paper.  You have to provide a good
  reason for why you want it, but we want to be flexible and ensure
  that work isn't disrupted.  Our goal is to make work faster and
  more efficient by eliminating unnecessary waste.

So now the employee can see why he should care.  It does affect his
work processes.  He's even gotten an explanation as to what it will
mean when he comes into work the next day.  Best of all, that
message is individually tailored to the employee so that different
employees are getting different messages.  Perhaps the IT folks
don't use paper now anyway, so it would be a much less substantial
announcement filtered to them.

What the hell does this have to do with players on a MMORPG?

  Well here's the thing: the above message process is being
  distributed to hundreds of thousands of people, all with different
  languages, different cultures, different locations.  A one size
  fits all message is impossible, because it simply costs too much
  to translate into 20+ languages and it wouldn't be appropriate for
  all cultures anyway.  The communication process must be a LIVING
  THING, filtered through the lens of site communicators and their
  managers.  In short, mini-cultures within a larger culture.

This is not anything new.  I know there's much more scientific names
for this sort of thing, I'm just speaking from my own experiences
and because Raph wanted an explanation.

So here's some lessons from the corporate world:

  1) RECOGNIZE MINI-CULTURES.  Your players are not part of one
  massive player base.  They are playing in their own human
  experience, in groups of five, ten, and twenty.  They do not see
  their group as thousands.  They know the core group they interact
  with.  MMORPGs should map out what those mini-cultures will be,
  what they want them to be, and encourage their growth.  This can
  be guilds, clans, etc.  It should not be "whatever the players
  come up with."  That means the foundation of these mini-cultures
  are built largely on ignorance, guesses, and hypotheses based on
  experience alone.  People want information they can rely on --
  fail to give it to them, and the rumor mill will do it instead.

    BAD EXAMPLE: Most MMORPGs let players classify themselves
    however they see fit, losing an opportunity to take the credit
    for good communication.  "Races" are not a valid mini-culture.
    Players pick a race with little to no social or cultural
    implications on the game itself.  Clans are self-created, and
    are thus only as well informed as a group of players can be.  We
    call that the grapevine in corporate speak.  The grapevine has
    many heads, it speaks with many voices, and it guesses about
    everything.  If the grapevine is speaking to players, if players
    are forced to rely on each other exclusively in a vast virtual
    universe for their networks, then the social network is already

    GOOD EXAMPLE: On Ivory Towers, there were two cities, Chaos and
    Law.  The playerbase was divided in two depending on which city
    you lived in.  Further, players were divided into guilds.  Each
    guild was as strong as "clans" on MMORPGs.  People strongly
    identified with their guild. On the smallest level was the
    party, which players also identified with.

  mini-cultures, you need to make sure they're connected. MMORPGs
  need "translators" of messages to manage the millions of
  subcultures that pop up on a MMORPG.  But who are those folks? 
  Ironically, clan leaders, which appeared of their own volition.
  Big mistake.  We call them Thought Leaders.  Thought Leaders are
  often times administrators or folks who "have access."  They are
  not trained communicators . They hear things through the
  grapevine.  They've been at the company twenty years.  They think
  they know everything.  They're right some of the time, wrong most
  of the time.  But they have strong opinions and people listen to
  them. Instead, thought leaders should be trained. They should be
  trained to filter information and they should then be communicated
  to, consistently and repeatedly.  They should be the primary
  target for disseminating information, because it's a lot easier to
  target 200 communicators than 200,000 employees.

    BAD EXAMPLE: Using a level-based system to determine authority.
    Levelers are not leaders.  Someone who is 100th level is not the
    best person to network or lead (just like being good at your job
    should not mean you become a manager).

    GOOD EXAMPLE: On Ivory Towers, each guild has a guild leader
    with built-in powers to police the guild.  Guild leaders had
    council meetings where they determined various issues
    (promotions, war against the rival cities, etc.).  Guild leaders
    were nominated by guild members.  Guild leaders...well, LEAD.

  3) ONE MESSAGE DOES NOT FIT ALL.  We highly discourage all
  employee messages except as platforms to provide awareness for
  managers, who explain what it means to employees.  Similarly,
  coding staff must be sure not to simply drop an information bomb
  on players and "hope the word gets out."  There should be tailored
  messages that target the appropriate audience.  The more
  personalized, the better.

    BAD EXAMPLE: Posting to a message board that, "The Thieves Guild
    lost backstab because it was too powerful. Discuss."

    GOOD EXAMPLE: Disseminating that message to guild leaders,
    specifically the thieves guild first.  Explain in detail to the
    leader what it means.  He in turns disseminates that information
    to the other thieves.  Then a more generic message that
    addresses the concerns is released to players at large,
    specifically that this downgrade does not mean that mages will
    lose fireball.

  selfish than working.  It's for fun.  Players come from the
  perspective that their view is the right view, that their version
  of the game is the correct game to play, that they are there to
  have fun and therefore they should be catered to.  Similarly,
  employees want fulfillment in their jobs and want to make money
  doing it.  Recognize that you can't please all of them all of the
  time.  You will have to make some decisions that negatively impact
  some players while benefiting others.

    BAD EXAMPLE: "We removed the ability to store items because of
    people who stored up a billion items and cause the game to

    GOOD EXAMPLE: "We remove the ability to store items temporarily
    until we can figure out a way to reduce server load.  This means
    that you will not be able to make as much money as before, and
    we recognize that as a valid concern.  However, the alternative
    means you won't be able to play the game at all, which means
    nobody makes any gold at all."  (Raph's exhaustive post on
    muling addressed this quite well).

  5) YOU DON'T OWN THE GAME.  Networks are made up of people.
  Americans tend to embrace the notion that the talking head is the
  guy who runs things -- just as actors take credit for good movies
  as if they wrote/directed/produced/filmed the damn thing.  This is
  very often untrue.  The CEO alone does not run a company and it's
  a great disservice to the rest of the employees to imply he is
  responsible for its success (or its failures).  Administrators
  must recognize that a MMORPG ceases to be their game and becomes a
  hybrid effort that is 90% players, 10% admin.

    BAD EXAMPLE: 99% players and 1% of admin fixing
    bugs. Administration does nothing to deal with typical social
    issues (griefing, mass PKing, thieves, harassment) because they
    style themselves as coders only.  Or because it's too expensive
    to police it.

    GOOD EXAMPLE: Successful MUDs, who have an involved coding staff
    that actively monitors the game.  It doesn't even have to be
    coding staff -- designated leaders can fulfill this role.  By
    recognizing them LEGITIMATELY (as opposed to just letting clans
    exist on their own), the coding staff recognizes the game is in
    large part owned by the players.

  6) OPEN, HONEST, AND DIRECT.  Players are not idiots.  Recognize
  them as people and they will respond better than sweeping
  statements about them being geeks, nerds, fanatics, fanboys, or
  pathetic losers.  If they are treated like adults, many of them
  will act like adults.  Treat them like children and they act like

    BAD EXAMPLE: "Here's the latest patch." (Stone faced silence ensues)

    GOOD EXAMPLE: "We made a change to the system to fix a bug, but
    it caused more bugs.  It was an error we should have caught
    early, but we missed it.  Our apologies for the inconvenience.
    We've modified our process to make sure the next time this
    happens, we'll catch the bug earlier."

I could go on and on.  This is just the foundation for the way large
companies deal with large amounts of people.  I'm continually amazed
by how the "masses" are all jammed together as a huge faceless
crowd.  Almost as if we don't know who our players are...

Oh that's right, it's too expensive to do all that monitoring.  And
yet, profitable companies do just that.  It's time to stop treating
MMORPGs like sandboxes that kids play in and treat them like massive
networks.  In other words, actually include player societies as part
of the game as opposed to a "bolt on" accessory.

  To parallel: Companies are not just jobs.  They are made up of
  people.  If the majority of employees do not buy into the
  fundamentals of the job culture, if they are not communicated to
  and engaged, then the company will fail on a network and
  structural level and be no more successful than companies of a
  smaller size.

  Translation: Star Wars is not just a game.  Star Wars is a state
  of mind.  If the players don't have that state of mind, if they
  don't buy into the fundamentals of what makes the game Star Wars,
  then it will fail on a network and structural level and be no more
  distinct than any other MMORPG.

Whew, tired already.  I hope at least some of the above made sense.

Mike "Talien" Tresca
RetroMUD Administrator

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