Brand Loyalty (was Re: [MUD-Dev] Requirements for MM (wasComp lexities of MMOG Servers))

Koster Koster
Fri Jan 10 15:16:51 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003


From: Sasha Hart

> Something just hit me in the head. This problem (people want to be
> skillful, but can't develop the skill or whatever) seems more
> troublesome when there is just one ladder

Hence the Law that's been in there for years now:

The secrets to a really long-lived, goal-oriented, online game of
wide appeal:

   - have multiple paths of advancement (individual features are
   nice, but making them ladders is better)

   - make it easy to switch between paths of advancementt (ideally,
   without having to start over)

   - make sure the milestones in the path of advancement are clear
   and visible and significant (having 600 meaningless milestones
   doesn't help)

   - ideally, make your game not have a sense of running out of
   significant milestones (try to make your ladder not feel finite)

The first point of course being the key one.

All of this is very tied into all the research I've been doing for
my design presentation this year for GDC on competitive and
cooperative structures in online worlds. I don't want to post it
until after the conference, but basically, there's mathematics that
prove this out, essentially.

One of the flaws of Sims Online, to my mind, is that it's inherently
a skill-based game. Social skill, sure, but real life skill
nonetheless. In a single-player model where the majority of the
market are consumers, this isn't that big a problem, and indeed Will
has his famous chart showing how content producers are a vry small
part of the Sims audience that adds a great deal of richness.

But in any skill-based environment (actually, in any scale-free
network with unidirectional linking, such as zero-sum game models,
hierarchy between players, etc) there is a characteristic graph that
develops that reinforces Pareto's Law. It also leads to the
equivalent of Bose-Einstein condensation, aka monopoly. Simply put,
in skill-based games, you end up with a few players who rule the
roost, a lot of people who get defeated every time they play, and
small cliques of people who don't play with the majority of people,
forming their own little league.

Unfortunately, TSO supports the leagues poorly (no neighborhoods),
and offers very very few ranking ladders, most of which select for
the same things. This results in insufficient boosts for the 80% of
players who are bound to be on the losing side of social
interactions.

Start looking at the friendship web in TSO. It's a sobering
experience. The people who run the top houses have literally
hundreds and hundreds of friends. Most people cannot compete. And it
will grow worse as time goes on, as those people with the top houses
solidify their leads. Without some form of catastrophic turnover
(resets being a time-honored way of handling the problem in other
forms of skill-based competition) there's inevitable results.

For nice evidence of what happens to your power law curve over time,
try going to GameSpy and looking at the graph of online game
popularity.

-Raph

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