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

Caliban Tiresias Darklock caliban at darklock.com
Thu Jan 16 12:10:16 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003


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

>>> Hybridize it then. High quality will attract customers. High
>>> quality WITH Rookie Management System (RMS) with attract more!
>>> They need not be mutually exclusive.

>> However, high quality *keeps* players, and rookie management
>> doesn't. Once a new player becomes an established player, all the
>> wonderful little things that made your game so easy to learn in
>> the first place become... well, a big pain in the ass.

> There's TWO goals here: familiarization and retention. Both can be
> satisfied without conflicting. It's a straightforward matter to
> make rookie-oriented features skippable by skilled players.

However, it's not straightforward at all to make rookie-oriented
features in the first place. The people making them are necessarily
*not* rookies, and commonly have no clue whatsoever as to what
rookies need to know or when they need to know it.

You know, "rookie" really *is* a better term than "newbie" for this
case. A newbie is usually new to the entire idea. A rookie, however,
is just new to this particular situation. I think it recognises much
more clearly that most new MMOG players are either former players of
other MMOGs, or former players of similar games (single-player,
LAN-based, or PNP). Very few people will get their first computer
and immediately run off to play EQ.

>> You just can't get anywhere with a question this generic.

> Of course I can. It's a question designed to elicit comments by
> members of this forum on how to get more people (in general) to
> play MMOGs. Most people have understood and contributed their
> ideas.

I thought the answer was rather obviously "make better games". Any
other proposal ignores the simple reality that people who aren't
playing current MMOGs probably don't want to play them.

Of course, it's an overly general response, but it's also an overly
general question.

> The lack of interest in "coddling newbies" is part of what's
> limiting this market.

I don't think it is. I think what's limiting the market is the
horrific *sameness* of every MMOG that comes down the pipe. MMOGs
are terribly vertical, and until we spread them out a little, we
aren't going to do very well at "growing the market".

>> However, a lack of complexity is where boredom takes hold, and
>> boredom is exactly what you don't want in an online game.

> Of course, but I was referring to the *initial* experience of a
> *rookie* player. Slowly impose the complexity on him (e.g. through
> training).  Once he's initiated, then present him with the full
> "available complexity" of the game.

This has never worked. Go too fast, you scare him away. Go too slow,
you bore him to tears. Since different people learn at different
rates, no single speed will work for all players, and you will
necessarily alienate large portions of your market.

*click*

Actually, training sort of works, IF it happens at predictable
intervals when the player agrees to it. There are ways to manage
that which might actually come together pretty well for an
MMOG... let me consider this a little.

>> But you're not advocating a standard game world. You're
>> advocating a newbie game world where things are easy and simple
>> and we don't offend their nascent tastes before they're ready.

> I've never advocated a newbie game world. I'm advocating a set of
> educational features to assist in acclimating rookie players to a
> *standard* game world.

But the standard game world is exactly the problem. People don't
play MMOGs largely because the worlds aren't appealing to them, and
the worlds are all alike. I think Dikus are boring as hell, and
every MMOG looks too damn much like a Diku.

>>> For the abject initiate, a straightforward in-game training
>>> procedure is invaluable. A spectrum of decreasing simplification
>>> can be applied to more skilled beginners all the way up to the
>>> veteran level.

>> I would agree it's invaluable, because each player will place a
>> different value on it; most of them, however, will place a very
>> *low* value on it.

> The veterans won't care or need it, as it's not designed for
> them. I suspect the rookies, though, will be most appreciative.

On consideration, I'd need to know more about what you mean by an
in-game training procedure. There are some ways to do this which
might actually work, but I'm still coalescing the idea into
something concrete.

Essentially, you could provide a menu of training options, and allow
the player to choose one he would like to try now. He should be able
to choose from the menu anywhere and at any time. The menu should be
reasonably short, so it isn't overwhelming, and each training option
should be reasonably short for the same reason. Ideally, a training
procedure in one area should take less than ninety seconds; two
minutes at the outside. Each training procedure would involve a trio
of ten-second explanations: a virtual teacher explains how something
or other works, and then you get to try it. Each explanation would
add a layer of complexity.

This should all happen in a virtual training space where the
character is invisible to EVERYONE; absolutely *nobody* in the game
can tell that this is where he is. As far as they're concerned, he's
offline, and the game should handle it exactly like a disconnection
with an automatic relog at the conclusion of the training. The
character should not take any items or experience away from the
training session.

Given those latter concerns, there's no reason you couldn't have the
training take place offline in the first place. Just use
downloadable training scripts which are updated as new versions
become available. This would also allow a player to introduce his
friends to the game through training, without violating the EULA by
putting someone else onto his account.

Blizzard's games work with a reasonably large amount of complexity,
because the complexity is introduced gradually in the single player
missions and doesn't represent a huge investment of effort -- in
essence, the single player missions serve as training for the
multiplayer aspect. This appears to work rather well as a proof of
concept for the offline training model; after all, there's no real
reason why we can't create a tri-focused game, where there is an
MMOG component, a peer-to-peer component, and a single-player
component. By letting the player learn on the single-player version
and test the waters in the peer-to-peer component, we minimise his
risk in paying monthly fees for the MMOG component -- he already
knows that he likes the game, and can compete on the same field with
other players, so the major problems with jumping into a new MMOG
are removed.

I'm just thinking out loud here, and I do realise that when you have
multiplayer without a monthly fee many people will choose not to go
the MMOG route. However, the people who *do* go the MMOG route will
probably have a higher retention rate -- because they'll want
something that they aren't getting from P2P multiplayer. You also
run the risk of the MMOG being so different from the single-player
version, people who don't like the single-player or P2P games would
still like the MMOG but don't realise it.  But, at the very least,
it's an idea.

>> As far as decreasing simplification, that's an extremely
>> difficult thing to do, and I've never seen it done well
>> anywhere. I would go so far as to say that I don't believe it's
>> possible to do well in the first place, and that any efforts in
>> that direction are almost certainly wasted without some kind of
>> quantum leap in conception.

> Then we've got our work cut out for us, don't we. =)

No, we've got a Manhattan project, and we need an Oppenheimer. I
don't think we've got one yet, so we're probably not getting a bomb
for a while. ;)

>> The biggest problem is that people assume all players learn at
>> roughly the same rate, which is just plain stupid. You can't
>> provide a smooth slope for Joe Idiot that works for Bob Genius,
>> too. One of them is simply not going to fit in.

> Of course not. A solution to that is to provide a feedback
> mechanism in the training system where players could control the
> pace of the acclimation.

This is counterproductive. Let the player control the pace of
complexity, and he'll rapidly get in over his head. Then he'll run
off, because he feels stupid.

The primary focus of every person is not to feel stupid.

I've said it before: school is not fun. Games are fun. Tutorials at
the beginning of your game are school, and hence not fun. Players
feel very keenly that tutorials are a wall between them and the
game. They want to climb the wall and get into the game as fast as
possible, so they can have fun. So they whip through the tutorials,
but don't learn the material. Then they get into the game and
realise they don't know how to play. This makes them feel stupid, so
they blame the game and run away.

Your training methods need to address this problem. If they don't,
it will continue to be a problem. Letting the player turn off the
system is not a solution.

>> (Man, did you fall for THAT one.)

> I'm still waiting for the joke.

It wasn't a joke, it was a trap. Traps aren't funny when you're the
one who gets caught in them. They're just funny to the rest of us.

>> That's exactly what I'm talking about. A diamond in the rough can
>> be made into a fantastic gem, but it has to be a diamond in the
>> first place. You can't polish a turd. No amount of schooling will
>> *make* people what you want them to be.

> Of course not. But given the pile of undifferentiated stones (new
> customers) sitting in front of you, you need to create some sort
> of filter to extract them.

I disagree entirely with this statement. All those undifferentiated
stones *could* be beautiful, whether they're precious or not. I
think we need to give these players tools they can use to polish
themselves, and let the turds turn around and leave on their
own. Self-selected groups have a much higher commitment to their
selection.

There's an old saying, "never try teaching a pig to sing; it wastes
your time and annoys the pig". The same thing applies to taking
everyone who shows up and trying to shoehorn them into whatever mold
you happen to have.  It's a waste of time, and it annoys your
players. Who are paying you, so you don't want to annoy them.

> Make your MMOG inviting to new players. Many won't bite. Some
> will. A few will become regular customers.  Congratulations,
> you've just expanded the market.

But that's not important. The important question is how YOU get a
bigger market, not how the entire MMOG community gets a bigger
market.

> If I get to them before their opinions about MMOGs are formed, I
> can have a hand in shaping their opinions.

Well, yes, you can. Unfortunately, you want to homogenise them, and
people don't tend to like that.

>> What you WANT and what you HAVE are two different things. Don't
>> confuse them. A narrow worldview is not an *automatic* indicator
>> of stupidity or a lack of ambition; it may simply be a lack of
>> exposure. That doesn't mean you don't want to be exposed.

> Excellent! Then you agree with me. All I'm providing is that
> exposure.

But you're not. You're offering the players a chance to expose
themselves to something just like everything else. That's not a new
idea, it's just more of the same old crap, and you've got nothing to
make your game more attractive than the others.

The one thing you seem to have forgotten about growing the market is
that people have a reason for not being in the market to begin with,
and until you know what it is you can't address it. I don't think
people are avoiding MMOGs because they don't know how to play them,
I think they're avoiding MMOGs because they don't WANT to play them.

I tell people I don't want to play "Command and Conquer" because I
don't have the time to learn it, but the truth is the game doesn't
appeal to me.  Unfortunately, when I say it doesn't appeal to me,
people try to convince me that it's a good game and I should try
it. They never shut up about it.  Every time someone really likes a
game I don't like, I get told over and over about how cool it is and
how much I would like it if I just tried it.  So I tell them
something they can't argue -- that I don't have time to learn
it. Then they say "oh" and shut up.

It's sheer ego. The first statement was an implied insult: "you play
a crap game", while the second was an implied compliment: "you play
a highly complex game". It doesn't take long to figure out that
implied compliments shut people up, and implied insults start long
discussions.


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