[MUD-Dev] Star Wars Galaxies: 1 character per server

Caliban Tiresias Darklock caliban at darklock.com
Sun Jan 5 11:30:36 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

From: "Marc Fielding" <fielding at computer.org>
> [ Caliban Tiresias Darklock ]
>> From: "Marc Fielding" <fielding at computer.org>

>>> With budgets for commercial MMORPGs climbing into the tens of
>>> millions, developers don't have the luxury of limiting their
>>> target market.

>> Absolutely wrong!

> You misunderstand me. I'll try and make it clearer.

I appreciate it. Sometimes it's hard to figure out what the other
person means.

> The context for my discussion with Mike was his honest desire to
> maintain a game's atmospheric purity at the expense of a popular
> playstyle he happens to find disruptive. My central thesis is that
> the MMOG market needs to bring new gamers into the fold, primarily
> through lowering any barriers to entry.

I strongly disagree with that idea. It is not so much that the
barrier to entry needs to be lowered, as much as that the distance
you drop on the other side needs to be lessened. Lowering barriers
to entry does this, but so too does increasing the quality of the
product on the other side. If you make the other side worthy of
climbing the wall, people will climb it no matter how high it is.

> Given that context, my clarified statement is that developers
> don't have the luxury of limiting their target market *to the
> extent Mike desires*.  A target market *is* essential; mine
> includes casual and uninitiated gamers.

So does his. However, he's going to try and turn those gamers into
the kind of gamer he personally prefers. So are you; you just prefer
flexible, versatile gamers.

There is a deep philosophical issue here that should probably occupy
our attention.

Is it the job of a game to raise gamers who can play *this* game, or
gamers who can play *any* game?

It seems to me that a game which takes the latter tactic is actively
attempting to raise the kind of player who is "hardcore", playing
multiple characters on multiple accounts in multiple games. Since
most of us who build games *are* hardcore, we see this as a Good
Thing. But the vast majority of players aren't hardcore, will never
be hardcore, and don't even WANT to be hardcore.

This isn't as obvious as it might otherwise be, because a game
community is by nature self-selecting; the game which encourages
hardcore play styles will eventually consist almost entirely of
hardcore players. That makes it *look* like players are by nature
hardcore, but this is a flawed perception.

>> The problem is that there isn't something *different*
>> arriving. Nobody is splitting up the market. They all want the
>> whole thing. We have half a dozen major MMORPGs which are all
>> trying to own ALL the marbles, which simply never works.

> It's my opinion that this nascent market is far too immature for
> developers to be solely focused on market-splitting tactics.

I'm not talking about "market-splitting" in the sense that one
encounters it in business school, I'm talking about concentrating on
one market segment that isn't "everyone". You concentrate on getting
and keeping the players you can best support, and let someone else
have the rest. We're already doing this in the conceptual sense by
creating genres of game, like fantasy and sci-fi and contemporary
worlds, but that's still far too broad a market.  We're doing
"Abraham Lincoln" game marketing and saying "for those who like this
sort of game, this is the sort of game they will
like". Unfortunately, that's a worthless evaluation.

> the dynamics of this market's development are far from played
> out. Many will fail, but the failures will stem from a market
> saturated with undistinguished titles.

That's exactly my point. Every MMOG looks roughly the same, and most
people are resistant to the idea of making one that looks too
different. The market simply cannot sustain hundreds of games that
are fundamentally interchangeable. MMOGs need to decide who their
target markets are, and market to them.

> MMOG devs either need to live within their means or look to new
> customers to fill all those *empty* seats.

But these aren't equivalent proposals. In the first case, the glass
is half full. In the second, the glass is half empty. But we might
also assume -- as I do -- that the glass is TOO BIG.

> We're actually agreeing here...to a certain extent. I'm just
> looking at an earlier stage of MMOG exposure than you are.

I honestly don't think you are. I think the kind of person who plays
an MMOG for the first time is almost certainly aware that he is
making a large investment -- close to a hundred dollars just to
learn his way around -- and would like some assurance that his
investment will pay off. But while your view of the payoff is an
ability to play any game you like, most people probably see the
payoff as being an ability to play this one game and enjoy

> You don't give a Kalahari Bushman a bit of "Rum-Raisin Swirl" for
> a first taste. That would be overwhelming and somewhat of a waste.

I find this statement *terribly* condescending and arrogant. Just
because they're new to the concept doesn't mean they're stupid and
unable to appreciate things. Some people *want* to be overwhelmed,
and an MMOG *ought* to be overwhelming anyway.

> The same concept applies here. The new customers I am targeting do
> not know WHAT they want. To grow this market, designers need to
> court these kinds of players...give them a variety of options and
> playstyles, let them pick and choose what they like.

Yeah, I think the best thing you can do with someone inexperienced
is give him a large amount of complex flexibility so he can spend a
lot of time building things that don't work. Then you can explain
why he's such an idiot, and he can call you an ass and go play some
game that makes sense.

Do you actually teach people at all? Because I think you've got some
really bad ideas about how people want to learn. Most people don't
want to learn at all, and this *is* a game, so you really need to
get out of their way and let them play.

Every player has the same major goal: don't feel stupid. Give
someone an option they can't understand, and they will become
confused and feel stupid.  Make the player feel stupid, and you have
failed. Fail enough times, and the player will leave.

>>> Those newly minted roleplayers will seek refined experiences,

>> No, they won't. They will seek experiences that are more of what
>> they like, and less of what they don't. It takes a certain kind
>> of person to appreciate refined experiences, and that kind of
>> person tends to turn up his nose at vanilla.

> You just made my point! An informed consumer will seek those
> refined experiences, but first he needs an introduction.

But the kind of person who appreciates refined experiences is not
created, he simply *exists*. Some people simply aren't equipped to
handle the refined experience; it's not a flaw or a failure, it's
just the way they are. Some people watch a movie and say "that was a
good movie"; other people watch the same movie and say "the lighting
was particularly effective in portraying a sense of urgency and
mystique". When you boil it down, the second guy is still just
saying "that was a good movie", he just says it in a different
way. But the first guy is probably never going to talk like the
second guy, no matter how much you try to teach him.

If you send a redneck to film school, you don't get a film critic,
you just get a redneck with a film degree. You can't *create* a
cultured individual with refined tastes, you have to recognise him
when he comes along.

> First educate a consumer about his options, and then provide him
> with choices.

Wrong. First, give the consumer something that works. Then let him
ask about his options when and if he feels ready, obtaining sensible
answers from an automated system that will never laugh at him or
sigh heavily at the prospect of explaining it AGAIN.

When a new player logs onto a game, he does not want to take a
class, he wants to play the game. Tell the player one and only one
thing at the start: how to get help. Then let him ask for it when he
needs it, and give him what he needs without making him construct
complex queries or speak the ideosyncrasies of your language. Follow
the player closely, assist when the player has trouble, but above
all -- stay out of his way.

>> There are some people, like me, who think this is too big a pain
>> in the ass.  I think you're one of those people, too. We don't
>> care how you can get someone from level 1 to level 45 in a single
>> combat. It smacks of cheating, anyway, and that's just not
>> right. We determine that this is both immoral and unethical, and
>> we don't do it.

> Agreed! I actually enjoy the process of achievement.

Most people don't. They want the prize at the end, and the only
thing they care about is how to get there FAST. They want the game
out of their way so they can get the prize. Of course, they don't
value the prize unless they have to work for it, so as soon as
players can get something easily it becomes undesirable and

Once you know how to powerlevel your characters, you aren't going to
go out and do things the hard way anymore -- unless you're one of
those people with refined tastes. But you can't *count* on culture
to prevent abuses of the system, though that's what many games
do. After all, peer pressure never convinced anyone to STOP smoking
in high school.

>> But a lot of other people just want "easy". And those people will
>> find it much more simple to train a new character than to go out
>> and look for someone with the right skills. How many people have
>> a level 42 cobbler with a specialty in basilisk hide? Not
>> many. And if you can rip a new character up to level 45 in a day,
>> it will be harder to *find* one than to *make* one.

> First of all, the dedication required to spend a "day" leveling a
> character to a high degree of skill is already off-putting to most
> people.

How about the dedication required to spend a MONTH trying to contact
the guy with the skills you need, and arrange to meet him online so
you can give him the materials to make the shoes you need for your
latest magic item? Because that's not unusual, you know. People
leave their in-game messages sit for weeks unopened, and then just
stash the ones that require a response off in the corner until they
feel like answering. During that month, you will undoubtedly
complain about this to someone who says "Why not make one yourself? 
It's easy." -- and shows you how to open Pandora's box.

How to close it, of course, is left as an exercise for the
player. ;)

> Secondly, I believe it's faulty design to allow such a rapid level
> of skill advancement.

I'm not suggesting you make your game thinking "people should be
able to get to level 45 in a day", I'm suggesting that someone
somewhere will figure out how to do it and then be able to get away
with it for an extended period of time. While this may be faulty
design, it's also a plausible representation of reality on most

> SWG supposedly allows crafters to leave a "maker's mark" on their
> creations, with a bit of experience being transferred to the maker
> each time the item generates XP (e.g. a player-made blaster kills
> a monster in combat).

Won't that only encourage the creation of things that generate XP? 
It seems to me that players will rapidly figure out which items
garner the most XP, and concentrate on making those. And how would
you prevent the Microsoft problem, where one crafter or group of
crafters is primarily responsible for the creation of ALL the
important items?

It will be interesting to see if anyone goes the other way and does
the Linux thing, simply giving away the product to get the XP.

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