[MUD-Dev] MMORPG, buildings, is it bad to be just props?

Ron Gabbard rgabbard at swbell.net
Thu Feb 20 08:44:30 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

From: "Damion Schubert" <damion at zenofdesign.com>

> So I guess my take is: by all means, make a fully interactable
> town, but keep player traffic patterns in mind when you lay out
> the thing, with a real eye for what players truly value.

Keeping "player traffic patterns in mind" when developing MMOG
cities and worlds is somewhat of a dilemma for the designer.  No
matter how bright the designer, they're going to get it wrong,
(where "wrong" is defined different than the players would have
designed it to make it most convenient for them).  That said,
designers are wearing the wrong hats with regards to city design.
The appropriate hat is that of urban planner.  The urban planner
lays out the infrastructure of the city. They don't decide what type
of commercial building goes into a commercial zone.  They don't
decide what will be sold in that building.  They don't decide the
prices for those goods.  The citizens of the city determine these
things in accordance with their value system.  Ideally, that's how
it should be in MMOGs... a constantly evolving world that changes as
player habits change.  As was pointed out in the case of UO, a ton
of developed content was considered obsolete by the players for the
very reason that it didn't serve any purpose outside of being

Let's say that the designer is smarter than anyone whoever lived and
really could lay out an ideal world with buildings exactly where the
thousands of players would have built them, place appropriate
merchandise in those buildings, and assign perfectly balanced and
efficient prices to that merchandise.  The game goes gold and
everything is fine for a year... then comes Christmas and the
release of MMOG Expansion: The Uberlands.  Player habits change and
what was perfect at release is now not so perfect.  There are shops
that are completely unused while their NPC-owners, unaffected by the
drastic downturn in the economy, continue to hawk wares to the
random passersby.  The end result over time is virtual abandonment
of obsolete content and a ton of wasted development time.

For me, the object lesson of UO was to give players the tools to
affect their economy and world and let them compete with each other
to make the world more convenient/efficient for the average player.
Crafter players walk around giving away teleportation marks to their
castles where their vendors are set up.  When you arrive, there are
most likely a plethora of vendors available selling all types of
various goods that the players need.  When every player has a dozen
marks to various shops around the world, the vendors are forced to
compete on price, quality, relationships, array of products, etc.
They have to keep on increasing the value proposition to the average
player.  The end result is that the average player gets the best
value for their time... and isn't that a primary goal of these

Is it bad for buildings to be used as props?  No.  As was pointed
out, the world is full of buildings to which the average person has
no access.  The greater sin is to try to force a use onto the
buildings that are accessible.  Or even worse, force the players
into "game" mode where the player is forced to do mini-quests in
order to do relatively mundane activities -- e.g.., if you are going
to have a forge in a town, don't force players that want to use that
forge to travel 20 minutes to get ore and other supplies to use the
forge.  It's like traveling to Lake Geneva for vacation, deciding to
go fishing, then being told by the locals that you have to go to
Milwaukee to buy a pole and bait.



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