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

Caliban Tiresias Darklock caliban at darklock.com
Sat Jan 11 10:23:46 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003


From: "Ted L. Chen" <tedlchen at yahoo.com>
> Caliban Tiresias Darklock

>> The situation you describe is, in our opinion, an excellent
>> representation of how to make a game that sucks the donkey's
>> balls hard enough to make his ears twitch.

> At least that would have been err... interesting.  ;) Just out of
> curiosity, would you say that the lack of fun of TSO is in anyway
> directly attributed to the fact that you have to control the sims
> directly?

No, I wouldn't. The problem I had was the sheer inability to do
anything *except* run like hell on a treadmill -- I needed to create
an income, and there was no way for me to do this without
micromanaging activities that created it. Nothing was ongoing or
automated, I had to do it all. So when I wanted to put new things in
my house, I had to frantically work out on an exercise machine until
I maxed my Body stat, then go and beat up pinatas until I had enough
money to do what I wanted. By this time, I was just sick to death of
playing the game, and I still didn't have enough money to get the
things I thought would be cool. I kept having to settle for "good
enough", because I didn't want to beat up pinatas for another three
hours to get what I really wanted. I worked like hell, and what I
got was nowhere near worth what I had to do to get it. Essentially,
TSO assumes you want to spend hours online not only getting nowhere,
but working really hard to get there. Reminded me of the running
scene with the Red Queen in "Through the Looking Glass".

If TSO would just *admit* that it's little more than a glorified
chat room, removing the pretense of being a game and simply
providing some fun things to do with your friends, it would probably
be pretty cool. Using a building budget and an item budget, out of
which you make your house and furnish it, might work. As you spend
more time online, your budgets could go up slightly based on your
interaction with other people. Go over to someone else's house, and
your budgets increase slightly. Have other people over to your
house, and they increase somewhat more. This would encourage people
to do things with other people, so they could make interesting
places to hang out.  Eventually, people could clique-off and go to
just interacting with a few people; they'd earn less in their
budgets, and that would tend to account for itself in item
depreciation when they wanted to make changes.

> I hypothesis that part of the fun and challenge of games such as
> the Sims (offline) and Chu Chu Rocket (that's the first other one
> to pop into my head) is the fact that you modify the environment
> in a vain effort to gain control over the characters/mice.  Little
> complexity -> Large choices.

I'd remove the word "vain". You can't control sims on a long-term
basis, but you can control them in small ways for short periods of
time.

It seems to me like a game of The Sims primarily consists of a bunch
of small goals you need to convince your sims to accomplish (going
to work in the morning), and a bunch of minor crises you need to
tell them to fix (mopping up the mess when the dishwasher
breaks). Since all the situations you control are on such a small
scale, you experience a consistent pattern of success, and the sims
have such moronic A.I. that you feel your efforts are making a
difference in the quality of their "lives". Leave a sim alone for a
while, and it will soon become overwhelmed and unhappy. Invest a few
minutes in telling it what to do, and it will make significant
progress in a very short time. When you tire of the micromanagement,
you can jump into building mode and extensively customise their
environment at a leisurely pace without the world running away from
you.

So I'd characterise the game as having these desirable qualities:

  1. Your goals are small and easily managed. (Sense of success.)

  2. If you don't do things, they don't get done. (Sense of
  purpose.)

  3. You can customise the environment extensively. (Sense of
  personal ownership and style.)

  4. There are two distinct user-configurable paces of
  gameplay. (Sense of control.)

Not every game needs all of these, or in fact any of them, but I'd
argue that these are all desirable things that could fit into many
games. In TSO, only goal 1 is really lacking -- your goals at the
beginning of the game are to find a place to live, build an
inadequate residence, forge personal relationships, and earn enough
money to have some *options* on levels 3 and 4. You can't
extensively customise at the outset, because you just don't have the
money, and while you CAN go into build mode whenever you like...
it's sort of pointless if you can't afford anything.

So all you really have at the start is a sense of purpose, and your
ability to enjoy the other three goals that made The Sims so
entertaining is contingent upon earning lots of money through
whatever repetitive action provides the best return. This isn't a
small or easily managed goal, because that repetitive action must be
done for hours and can't be automated.

Some people (my wife) had this same problem with the offline
version, and would use cheat codes to get an immense initial
bankroll. I always sort of enjoyed the process of getting a job and
sending my sims off to work, since it was at the very least
automated, but my wife always hated it. She told me once that she'd
like it a lot better if she got to control her sims at work, instead
of just waiting till they came home with money. I always found it
terribly interesting that *she* actually preferred to micromanage
the money-gathering process, instead of having it automated and just
having to wait for it.


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