[MUD-Dev] RP, MMORPGs, and their Evolution

Paul Schwanz pschwanz at comcast.net
Fri May 23 09:59:55 New Zealand Standard Time 2003

For some reason, large, well-written posts that make sense often get
few responses on this list.  For some reason, it seems that strong
disagreement is the biggest motivator in spawning the larger
threads. Go figure.

I'm going to try to buck the trend a bit by responding to a post
that I nodded my way through for the most part.  At the same time,
I'm going to show I'm not so immune to the call of the pied piper by
concentrating mostly on those things that didn't make me nod my
head.  Go figure.

Incidentally, lest I offend those sticklers for a high signal to
noise ratio, I'd like to point out that a post prompting general
nods accross the list is a pretty strong signal that the current
format seems incapable of capturing unless we occasionally respond
individually with written nods to those things with which we agree.

Talanithus HTML wrote:

[first of many large snips]

> One tangible aspect I would like to see developed more in MMORPGs
> is to make a character's background history a more integral aspect
> of their "persona". In Dark Age of Camelot and ShadowBane (and to
> a limited extent, the upcoming release of Star War's Galaxies),
> your race and starting "kingdoms" have a very obvious effect on
> how you play the game. In some places, you are shunned, in some
> hunted, and in others welcome. This is a very deep and immersive
> aspect of their world sets, creating an identity bond between the
> player's character and other character's of similar type, and that
> is something I would like to see explored more beyond the "race"
> issue.

*nods vigorously*

> Why not have starting towns for all players? Places they call home
> where the NACs/NPCs recognize them by name, give them
> discounts... and even perhaps offer specialized content/quests for
> their "home town heroes". Why expend the effort for this? To bring
> people BACK to specialized places... let them literally set roots
> within the township and let those static, empty NPCs and buildings
> take on a community meeting area for players who have a similar
> background. If you encourage players to continually return to
> these places, it is bound that they will meet up with others and
> form bonds of friendship/community/fellowships that further
> emphasize on the GEOGRAPHICAL home base they chose when they
> created their character.

> On the other hand, I think it would be even better if you could
> literally move. Are you spending all your time in new city ____? 
> Then after X amount of time the NPCs in that city begin treating
> you as one of their own... and when you return to your old city,
> you get the "where have you been?" script set.

> But beyond even this level of immersing your players into the
> geography of your world, I think it is important to reward and
> encourage the development of their own communities with similar
> systems... but I will cover that in point C "Group Role-playing".

I very much like the idea of home towns and especially the ability
to move to a new community that is more in keeping with your own
ideals or play style.  I'd like to see these towns designed and
built by players. I'd up the ante a bit by giving additional perks
to towns as they hit certain population goals, creating even more
incentive for players to build the sort of place that people want to
live.  Hopefully, players would even start thinking in terms of
attracting new players to the game and player retention as as viable
methods for growing and maintaining a player-town population.

[more snipping]

> The simple truth is, massive games do not lend themselves to
> massive quests/fiction. Now I DO think that these are valuable
> additions to the community, and by all means PLEASE keep using
> them to explain new introductions of classes/skills/land
> masses/whatever. They are a needed aspect of developing the
> fictional consistency of the world, and setting the "stage" for
> all sorts of things. But from a pure entertainment view, in
> attempting to directly touch as many players as possible and let
> THEM feel like the heroes/villains, they fall significantly short
> of the mark. There simply isn't a way for a handful of developers
> to offer true dynamic content to ten's of thousands of players on
> a regular basis. It isn't economically or statistically feasible,
> or if it is, it is beyond my humble imagination (though please
> enlighten me!)

*nods vigorously*

> And that brings us to type 3 of the currently enabled MMORPG
> Role-playing choices. Group Role-playing. This is the RP
> guilds/communities, be they an Elven Town amidst the woods or a
> Vampire Conclave deep in the Crypts. Here, this is where things
> start to get really interesting. This is where epic quests where
> the players have a chance to MATTER become a reality, where
> battles are about saving your town, not trying to find the next
> uber-l33t quest item.

> And yet for all the potential this category holds, it is the LEAST
> enabled of them all. Sure, players can generally participate in
> battles amongst each other, so combat merit and duress is always
> an option. But how many of you remember the wonder you felt in pen
> and paper games as the Dungeon Master revealed a new type of
> monster? Or item? Or a spooky city/castle/dungeons/whatever? This
> is the category that holds the greatest potential in the MMORPG
> genre, though it is yet untapped. This is the genre where players
> grow from simply living a story, to TELLING one.

OK, here's where I disagree a bit.  I actually don't want to tell
stories.  Nor do I want to be told a story.  I simply want to live a
story.  I don't feel any of the current MMORPGs allow me to do this,
so I'd be happy to see them grow to this point.  To try to
illustrate this point, I'll use an example I gave in a similar
conversation elsewhere.

    The game can tell a story about the merchant who goes to the
    local inn to recruit adventurers to escort him and his goods to
    the next town. Basically this story is the invention of a writer
    who sets out to put all the principals in place, probably
    creates some cool quest item to hand out, maybe sets up a group
    of Actors or NPC characters to attack the caravan on the way,
    and approaches appropriately leveled PCs in the inn to set
    things in motion.

    If this is truely a dynamic quest and not just a story that is
    dictated for the most part to the PCs, then the writer should
    have thought ahead about all of the (perhaps very unusual)
    courses that the PCs approached at the inn could take. For
    instance, what if they decide mid-way into the journey to simply
    relieve the merchant of his goods and go their own way? Can they
    even do this? (If not then how dynamic is the quest? At the
    least, the immutable hand behind the curtain is revealed.)

    In any case, this is a lot of work. As the world scales upward,
    the workload scales as well. You are right to point out that
    this is, or at the least will become, much too heavy a workload
    for the developers to handle alone. You are also right to point
    out that letting players become involved in GM-ish activities
    has its own risks. It will be very difficult to find any method
    for implementation that doesn't bring accusations of
    favoritism. (Even your "best language skills" filter would
    likely lead to a number of accusations, whether deserved or

    But I think there is another option for dynamic content.

    The game can *be* a story about the merchant who goes to the
    local inn to recruit adventurers to escort him and his goods to
    the next town. This isn't anybody's invention. It occurs because
    the game is designed to support merchants and has the kind of
    economy and game world that makes it sometimes advantageous to
    transport goods from one town to the next and to hire guards to
    help protect those goods.  It occurs because the game supports
    the ability to create a contract (call it a quest if you prefer)
    between the merchant and the guards.

    This quest is dynamic by its very nature, not subject to
    anything but game mechanics. Since it is based solely on game
    mechanics, it is not as susceptible to the same sorts of lapses
    in foresight which might plague a dynamic story that is
    told. And there *is* no hand behind the curtain. The quest will
    likely seem more realistic to the pricipals because it *is* more
    realistic. There may be a number of little details that a GM
    might overlook, but the real merchant will quite naturally do
    what a real merchant would be expected to do. The GM might only
    look at the level of the PCs in the inn to determine who is
    appropriate. The real merchant will try to ascertain what he can
    of reputations before he even thinks about entrusting his goods
    to the care of others. And I imagine there could be a number of
    other factors which will make the experiences just feel

I totally agree with you regarding the need for player-generated,
dynamic content.  The difference is that I'd like to see this
content generated inside of the world and its fiction instead of
outside of it. You allude to this when you say:

> People play MMOGs in particular for one main reason... to interact
> with other people. Of course, the guiding motivations of these
> players is quite diverse, ranging from competitive sport,
> socialization, a feeling of belonging, and even malicious intent
> behind an anonymous mask! Yet the one unique bond that encompasses
> all players, be they PvPers or RPers, Socializers or Explorers, is
> the fact that they have chosen to do so in a world where dynamic
> content is created via the very foundation of the players
> themselves. Therefore, once players have achieved the ability to
> customize their characters to their heart's content, does it not
> hold that they will seek to then personalize the world around
> them?

Player-built towns are a good example of this.  Yes, let players
personalize their communities.  The players and what they create
within the game world and game fiction *is* the dynamic content.
But this can only happen when players are actually given quite a bit
of freedom along with the tools to have real impact on the world.
Again, however, I don't believe that that impact has to originate or
be implemented in an OOC manner.  Instead, build the tools into the
game fiction itself.

When players can build a "hive of scum and villany" by making
in-game choices, then the player-town *is* the dungeon.  The key,
again as you have alluded, is to limit the effects via community so
that players have choices.  Instead of restricting this to community
membership though, I'd take a more geographical approach to things.
If you create a hive of scum and villany, no one has to visit.
Furthermore, your ability to expand that sort of place can be made
dependant upon the number of players you get living there or
visiting.  If the place you build *is* entertaining, then players
will visit or take up residence and you will grow to the point where
you can expand the geographical area over which you have influence.

But again, I'd want to make this available in-game and in-fiction so
that players can live stories instead of telling them or having them
told from the outside.  It is still a "mod" type approach, but the
mod builders build from inside the game instead of from the outside.

[snipped the rest]

In general, I think you are spot on with much of your assessment
regarding the future of MMORPGs.  I especially think the way you
describe communities self-policing their own content is right on the
money.  My only disagreements have to do with personal preferences
for immersion over traditional role-play, but I don't doubt that
others will see it differently.


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