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

Damion Schubert damion at zenofdesign.com
Mon Jan 13 14:20:12 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003


>From Michael Tresca
> From Damion Schubert

>> Bored because of the treadmill.  The hardcore gamers make
>> designers feel compelled to create something where 'it'll take a
>> player 3 months to get to level 50!'.  Of course, we speed up the
>> low end so that you can zip through, oh, 5 to 10 quickly, but
>> before you know it, all the gamers are stuck between levels 15
>> and 20.
 
> Sounds like a game flaw to me.  Strong argument to fix the game,
> not so strong argument against SCS.

You don't have to convince me that the current crop of games is
somewhat lacking in the fun factor of their treadmill activity.  In
fact, reading over my recent posts on this board, it seems that I
won't shut up about it.

However, that was not the point I was trying to make.  My point was
this: players play these games a lot - in the hundreds to thousands
of hours.  _Any_ game gets boring at that point.  When a player gets
bored, he has an expectation (and a reasonable one, in my opinion),
that if he's going to pay $50 dollars for the box, and $13 bucks per
month (total: $206 per year), that he is entitled to more than
1/16th of the classes and 1/8th of the races (adjust numbers for
your game of choice as appropriate).

At any rate, if you have spent 8 digits making a game, do you really
want to bet that you have _completely solved_ the boredom problem
that seems to hit all of the other games - to such a degree that you
start stripping out playstyle paths from the player?

>> At this point, the player wants to do something.  Still wants to
>> advance a character, but he wants to try something new.  Maybe a
>> fighter, or a mage.  Just something that's _different_.
>> Something that feels like he's making progress without making him
>> want to poke out his own eyeballs.
 
> And he still has that option by buying another account.

Great!  So now he's paying $412 per year!  That's great for us, but
I suspect that most casual gamers will start to suspect that we're
bleeding him for every cent we can milk out of him -- because we
are.  I also suspect that most casual gamers will choose not to,
instead choosing to get bored and, eventually, wander elsewhere.

Star Wars may get away with SCS, but I suspect that the games
without the SW license may find it more challenging to convince
players to give up what they feel they are entitled to.

>> Sure, it would be great if we had more content.... but we do!  We
>> spent a lot of time making more spells, more quests and more
>> areas.  He only gets to experience 1/16th of those
>> class-restricted stuff, and 1/8th of the race restricted stuff.
>> Just by way of comparison, they get to play all of Baldur's Gate
>> of it, and miss hardly any of it, in just about 120 hours (more
>> or less) In an MMP, a player can play 500-1000+ hours, and yet
>> SCS suggests they should limit themselves to a fraction of the
>> design.
 
> Variety is the spice of life.  No, you do NOT have to play every
> character combination.  I do not want to be every single
> profession on the planet in real life.  I like my specialization,
> I'm comfortable with it.

And that's you.  Other people (in fact, the majority of them) prefer
to have a bit of variety in their life.  Most people don't want to
even max out all their characters, they don't want to be the best at
everything.  They're quite happy to get good at one thing and play
around with the others.  They are not happy, however, when they are
forced to delete all of their hard work or leave all of their
friends behind to do so.

> I like to learn new things -- a sufficiently flexible game that
> allows multiclassing or skill-based games that allow characters to
> branch out in many directions both satisfy the above concern about
> "exploring character content."

I'm a huge advocate of not putting in permanent choices in the game
if you can help it, and I've always been an advocate of skill
atrophy of some sort in games.  However, I do not feel that this is
sufficient to allow players to experiment with all factors of the
game.  Permanent choices such as race cannot be undone.  Frequently,
changes must happen slowly (i.e. over weeks or months) for reasons
of balance and supporting character identity).  Huge achievements
(i.e. hard to reach skill boxes or quests) must be discarded,
meaning you're still asking the player to throw away work.  All of
their recognition as the best cook in the world must be tossed in
the trash can if they decide they want to try fighting monsters.

This is not something that is fun or attractive to the average
player.

> The ability to individualize your character is in large part by
> having something someone else doesn't.  The obsessive need to
> "know it all" ensures the game is completely genericized and
> ultimately loses its theme.  As a player, you make choices in your
> character's creation that limit his ability to experience the
> entire universe.  Just like real life.  These choices require us
> to deal with the consequences.  It's tough being a pauper when you
> have the choice of being a playboy as well.

How does my ability to play a stormtrooper AND a cantina owner
destroy the theme?  Playing a stormtrooper will be affected by the
art, the sound effects, the nifty armor and the gameplay experience
of shooting and missing rebel soldiers repeatedly.  I can't think of
any way where saying "This is boring, I think I want to take another
role in this huge, sprawling universe" removes the Star Warsness
from the theme.  If anything, it offers a chance for you to be
exposed to more of it.

> Generally, what I've seen of the MCS complaint that they "can't
> explore character creation content" is actually, "I can't maximize
> the best combination by testing out all the alternatives."

"Maximizing the best combination by testing out all the
alternatives" is fun.  Powergaming is fun.  My girlfriend purports
to hate power- gamers and their ilk, and yet she started 16
different Morrowind characters to find the best one.  Those who
don't percieve this activity as fun are psychologically disjointed
from the market.  _This is how most people play games_.

Experimentation is how players learn these games.  Lord knows that
they don't read the websites and strategy guides, and even if they
did, those would be out of date all the time anyway.  In a
persistent state world, though, experimentation is much more costly
since there are no save games or do overs.  With SCS, the concept of
experimentation is crippled even beyond its normal state.

> People don't want to make commitments because they're used to
> free-for-all games with no real vision as to what the game's
> about.  Star Wars is huge, bigger than those games in concept and
> design.  So it will accomodate even experimentation in life
> through a more generic advancement system that allows you to
> explore MOST (although I'm betting not all) of the character
> development process.

This entire paragraph reads like "Star Wars is too good for MCS.
Why?  Because MCS is bad."  I'm saddened that you feel that games
like EverQuest, Asheron's Call, and Ultima Online had 'no real
vision as to what the game's about'.  Having personal friends on all
of those teams, I can tell you that all of them had a very firm
vision of what the game was about, even if those visions suffered
from difficult implementations or the harsh lessons of the
marketplace.

A vision is worthless unless it accomadates a player's desires and
expectations.  The player's vision is in many ways more important
than the developer's, and ironically, the players usually end up
winning, too.

Star Wars, other than its broad market appeal, is no more or less
good an MMP universe than hundreds of other fictions that are
available, and it certainly has unenviable problems that I'm sure
the team is regrets (the loudest being the 'jedi' problem).

As for the design, there's no doubt that the design is good.  Not
only is what is available on the sites good, but I know most of the
design team, and have immense faith in them. I find it sad that most
people will only really get to play a fraction of the design.  I
also find it sad that many people will be so discouraged to try new
things that they will never truly find their best place in the
universe.

At any rate, I'd argue that the more well-fleshed out the various
career paths are, the more necessary it is that those career paths
are playable by everyone.  Sure, if the difference between a
barbarian and a fighter is that barbarians get a neat-o loincloth
bonus, it's no skin off my back if I can't play both.  But if the
gameplay experience of both Jedis and Cantina Owners is
exhilerating, I'm going to be annoyed to discover that I can't try
the other one without sacrificing hundreds of hours of work or my
friendship net.

>> Well, now our guy's got a nasty choice.  He can either sacrifice
>> all of the friendships that he's made, or he can destroy the
>> weeks of work it took him to get that first character to level
>> 16.
 
>> Given that friends and achievement are possibly the strongest
>> retention factor in a game, this is a nasty, unfair choice to
>> offer.
 
> People make this choice all the time?  It builds character, it
> forces you to deal with the character's flaws rather than discard
> them.  To put it another way: it IS limiting playstyles and that's
> an intentional choice.  It's on purpose.  It's a limitation on a
> game that's deemed justified (in my mind anyway) to increase
> diversity later.

Causing people emotional distress is not something that builds
character.  What it builds is frustration towards those who provide
the service, which snowballs into enmity.  Let's look at this again.

  - Player plays character for 500 hours.

  - Player gets bored, because anything gets boring after that
  period of time.

  - Player decides he wants to try something new.

  - Player realizes he either has to leave his friends behind, or he
  has to destroy 500 hours of work.

  - Player chooses one of the above, severing one of the major
  things retaining him in the game (friendship set or character).
  (OR player chooses neither, and gets even more bored).

  - Player gains bad feelings towards how he is being fleeced by
  those running the game.

  - The next time something bad happens to the player (bug, CS
  incident, even an emotional death), player has less retaining him
  into the game, and has enmity towards the service provider.

This isn't building character, nor is it in any way a positive
experience for either the player or the service.  And as of yet, I
haven't seen any arguments against MCS that aren't fixable along
some other design avenue.

> I see MCS as having your cake and eating it too -- it's like being
> in college forever, on your sixth degree and you're 50 years old.
> We all wish we could dabble in EVERYTHING.  Not everyone can, not
> without consequences.

The reason people play games is so they can do things they can't do
in real life.  This isn't a character flaw, this is a part of human
nature.

> I just had the shocking realization that perhaps this is because
> the adolescent population is really not happy with the idea that
> they have to choose a "job" or "career" path when their real lives
> may not have gotten to that point yet and they don't want to be
> saddled with such a long term decision.  Hmmm.

A huge percentage of the people playing these games are not
adolescent, and a huge percentage of these people like playing
second characters.

>> Most hardcore gamers will buy second accounts (we had SCS on
>> Meridian 59, so I feel pretty confident of this).  I've heard it
>> said that SCS prevents griefing.  Wrong.  It's now harder to
>> prevent griefing, because players now have second accounts which
>> they have very little emotional investment in, and which are
>> difficult and time-consuming to trace back to their primary "I've
>> spent 500 hours on this character" character.  Who cares if my
>> second account gets banned?  I'll just plunk down $20 bucks for a
>> new box, and I'm right back in with a mule.

> And how is this different than MCS? So we ban five characters --
> and the guy STILL plunks down $20 bucks for a nex box.  SCS
> psychologically discourages griefing because it means there is
> more investment in a character.  Less anonymity.  Anonymity
> encourages griefing. See my thesis for more details.

In a MCS system, a player's second character is on the same account
as the player's primary character.  When the player decides to cause
mischief with his secondary character, a GM looks up the secondary
character and bans the account, thus banning the primary character
as well.  End result: players are more likely to 'be good' with
their secondary characters, as it carries the emotional attachments
that the primary character does.

Anonymity encourages griefing.  No argument there.  SCS characters
are vastly more anonymous than linked characters on an MCS account.

--d

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