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

Sasha Hart hart.s at
Sat Jan 11 03:30:43 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

[Raph Koster]
> [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:

Yes, I was making a reference to that - though Earth & Beyond was
what put it on the tip of my tongue.

In addition to skill mismatch (the game is all about spending time
and you don't have time but you are smart, or vice versa), there is
also a frequent mismatch on competitiveness or reason to play. Some,
perhaps many players would be just fine if you trashed the ladders.
Strip out the big, distracting, absolute index of progress - based
on skill or time or whatever - and you emphasize the ongoing
evaluative feedback, hence the player's moment to moment play
experience. That ongoing feedback isn't a judge of how good you are
(like rank on the diablo ladder), and it doesn't constrain your
ongoing ability to make decisions (like the money you earn in many
muds) - it's more or less just something to play by. Lots and lots
of video games are like this; people don't play them to be better
than anyone else, nor even necessarily to have a bigger number,
button progress through the game (I submit this is very different
from accumulation), or to see more scenes, or to solve more puzzles,
or whatever. Healthy, casual play of all kinds is like
this. Friendly arm-wrestling, etc. Non-zero-sum, not accumulative,
certainly not accumulative based on how much you've accumulated, but
with some stake in it nonetheless, something to play by. That is the
kind of evaluation that is crucial to a game.

> 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.

Your more detailed criticism seems to provide ways out ("very very
few ranking ladders, most of which select for the same
things"). That suggests that skill-based games can redeem themselves
if they do it right.

> 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)

I think you've gone over my head here. What makes a skill-based
environment into a scale-free network with unidirectional linking? 
Is this an observation that the one tends to encourage the other?

> there is a characteristic graph that develops that reinforces
> Pareto's Law.

I think a cut-off-the-nose solution is to tear out the nasty
feedback loops created by persistence (you mention resets below),
e.g., no one has any money, or (different) everyone has the same
income. A more partial solution is to cut out the differences in
production based on how much you have, e.g., even playing field, so
you might keep the inequality but it isn't necessarily the same
people. I suppose you could look at some time-based stuff this
way. Another is to allow differences to exist but make them
irrelevant. Kind of like destroying any problems with distribution
of wealth by giving everyone the personal scope they need to live
happily regardless of wealth. We don't have the technology to even
start on that in real life, but we do in muds.

Multiple ladders and trashing ladders are, after all, both ways of
making individual ladders less worth worrying over (more
meaningless, even). In one people make their ladders, in the other
they choose them. In any case the game is not zero-sum, and the
player has more freedom (perhaps a better 'standard of living',

The real problem isn't whether the time-wealthy minority controls
the game (MUD) or whether the skill-wealthy minority controls the
game (online FPS), but whether players are having fun. "Everyone has
won, and all must have prizes" is not a silly standard for games
because games do not necessarily involve competition, and games
which involve competition do not need to have persistent winners or

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