[MUD-Dev] Bringing out the barbaric in each of us

David Kennerly kennerly at sfsu.edu
Wed May 21 19:09:47 New Zealand Standard Time 2003

Hello MUD-Dev,

There's an excerpt from the new book "Developing Online Games, An
Insider's Guide" at Gamasutra.com:

     Managing An Online Game Post-Launch
    By Jessica Mulligan
    and Bridgette Patrovsky
    May 21, 2003

It had some common sense... or should-be common sense, if that makes
any sense.  I appreciated page 2, "Managing the Expectations of the
Players" the most.

I'm probably not the target audience.  To me, most of all that was a
given.  But a few questions came to mind after reading it.  The rest
of the book might answer it, but I don't know that yet.

It's nice to consider three groups of players, the good, the
average, and the bad.  Jessica used the terms: Citizens, Tribesmen,
and Barbarians.  Here's a question to consider: What specific
techniques convert average players into bad players?  Or--to use her
terms--tribesmen into barbarians?  We've encountered bad apples,
rotten to the core.  But what about the borderline cases?  She
already assented that it was a spectrum and not neat categories.
Perhaps it would be useful to imagine a bell curve or other
distribution curve with the horizontal axis from left extreme: bad,
to center of the bell: average, to right extreme: good.  At any one
snapshot in time, there might be a given distribution, and each
point under the curve represents a real player (or fraction of a
player in cases of multiple characters and accounts).

Ms. Mulligan gave advice on how to deal with each fuzzy category
that she defined: barbarian, tribesman, and citizen.  The advice for
barbarian was to get reroute or get rid of them.  It's good advice.
Having considered this for a few years though, I think a further
question is worth researching: How does the game's design and
service policies transform borderline average players into bad

For example, we've debated up and down and left and right about
various forms of PvP.  Since it's a really easy example, I'll use
it.  If a game doesn't want players to kill each other it can simply
turn it off.  We manage that.  Two presentations at MDC were
examples of how to manage PvP.  Neither was freeform PvP.  Almost
nowhere in the commercially successful world is.  Freeform PvP is an
example of how the game design changes player behavior from good to
average or average to bad.

What are advanced ways the design can preclude or rehabilitate the
enjoyable cohabitation of players?  If there are any reusable
methods, they would be profitable.  As Jessica wrote, the citizens
are the gems of the game.  Wouldn't be nice if you could transmute a
few players?

In my experience, I haven't succeeded in changing many or preventing
much of human behavior in the game.  However, it wasn't negligible
and it wasn't inconsistent.  Distinct systems and balances of
systems seemed to create more griefing or extinguish some griefing
without apparently damaging the other delicacies of the social

Yesterday, Daniel James and I talked a little bit about design's
influence on player behavior. Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates
(www.puzzlepirates.com) does an elegant job of precluding some nasty
behavior.  It has PvP without (at least in this ideal, alpha
environment) harassment that can follow it.

Some simple cases can also be traffic control.  If one area is
overpopulated, then players can frustrated and release their anger
on the fellow players.  I can remember this in The Kingdom of the
Winds and Dark Ages.  In an early time in The Kingdom of the Winds,
one could physically block some critical passages.  In an entirely
unintended sense, that player had been given the tools to harass the
rest of population that needed to pass through.  This happened on a
pirate ship in the game during the first year of US service in 1998.
I could most easily fix this by widening the passage.  That required
no code changes.

By doing so, it was as if there were less bad people in the game.  I
don't really believe there were, but there was less bad behavior.
And for the scope of most games, that's good enough.

I'm not attempting to sanitize the world.  Some forms of conflict
are fun.  But most user-complaints are not about those forms.
They're often about what most of agree is grief, at least in the
mind of the reporter.  It's interesting that players can and do make
that distinction.  They accept some forms of conflict and rarely
report it, while others forms they report.  One is called acceptable
play.  The other is called cheating or abuse.  In my experience, if
the rules are clear enough and the interaction sculpted to
automatically enforce most of the rules without precluding
entertaining acceptable play, the players enforce the policies among

In some sense, even "role-playing" falls into the boat.  A number of
text MUDs and a few graphic MUDs (Underlight, Dark Ages: Online
Roleplaying, ...  others?) have had varying degrees of policies that
actively enforced role-playing.  Some of us have mentioned here that
enforcing this requires fascism.  That's interesting.  That the
enforcement of the rule itself becomes an avenue for spawning
barbarians, or bringing out the barbaric in each of us.

So what might bring out the angelic in each of us?  What techniques
of online game design and service assist in turning bad players into
average players, or at least in dampening grief behavior?  And what
techniques assist in turning average players into good players?

On a personal scale, I know that setting a good example helps and
that a bit turn the other cheek can also help.  Not too much, but
enough.  Tit-for-tat.  Axelrod described that well in The Evolution
of Cooperation.  And Matt Ridley trumped it and broadened it in The
Origins of Virtue.

But on the scale that we developers often see.  We can't script
little nice guys to influence each person.  In our role, that we
play every day of development, there might be some more techniques
to rehabilitate play behavior.  That old Chinese proverb, if you
have a year, plant rice, if you have a decade, plant a tree, if you
have a century, educate the people.  We've grown up on decades of
good intentions gone bad.  Now, as designers, what specific
techniques actually work for online game players?

There's also been some posts here and there about designing with the
metaphor of a DisneyLand(tm), in that the user experience is
carefully controlled.  I don't think "Disney Land" is quite the apt
metaphor, since there's no PvP in Disney Land.  But I appreciate the
metaphor of a theme park.  Up to the metaphor and down to the bits:
Does anyone else have a story to share?


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