[MUD-Dev] Removing access to entertainment

Amanda Walker amanda at alfar.com
Tue Dec 16 11:55:39 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

On Dec 5, 2003, at 4:43 PM, Chanur Silvarian wrote:

> Not every user enjoys the same experience and the designer of a
> MUD must take that into account.

Or decide not to appeal to everyone.

Many MUDs exist because they appeal to a small group of people.
With a small group, it's easier to have designer/GM interactions
with players, providing a single game play style works (as in the
examples of UO shards), and so on.  If it doesn't have to appeal to
everyone, the designer can concentrate on who it *does* appeal to.

To appeal to everyone, you can take Richard Bartle's approach and
treat the world as a common arena in which many games can be played.
This is the approach a number of people have been implicitly
assuming in this thread, and it seems quite attractive as a
solution.  character classes are a rudimentary form of this, and
recent games like DAOC and SWG embrace the idea explicitly.

There's one really big stumbling block for wide-appeal commercial
games, though, which is a combination of game marketing and player
expectation (or, "EverQuest collides with Playstation 2"):

  (a) Game marketing: arenas are billed as individual games.

  (b) Player expectation: individual games are linear, winnable, and
  have no downtime except that imposed by the player (hitting
  "pause" or "save").

I think these two factors have combined to really muddy the waters,
at least in the wide-appeal commercial segment.

Arenas provide context and mechanisms for players to play their own
games.  There have been some excellent recent examples of this:
There, SWG, Second Life.  But their very success at being arenas
undermines their appeal as "games" per se.  Players expecting
winnable, linear gameplay complain that there's no point to them,
and that when they do manage to find ways to "win", they get
"nerfed" (insert standard player "this game suxxors" rant #27 here),
and so on.

For pure arena games, this is not such a bad thing--it makes the
arena self-selecting for people who will have fun with it.

For games which try to combine the two, though, factor (b) causes
problems.  I'll take SWG as an example (mainly because I'm familiar
with it, and player reactions to it illustrate the problem nicely).
It's got a bunch of subgames:

  - Hunt monsters until you can kill all of them, muahaha.  (D&D
  with blasters)

  - Craft stuff until you can build a house and decorate it with
  anything (The Sims In Space)

  - All PvP, all the time (FPS with really big levels)

  - Group combat with pets/stormtroopers/etc. ("party" style RPG)

These subgames are even well done, each with its own set of
rewards. What the more strident players end up complaining about,
though, is *that the other subgames games exist*.

>From this point of view, the "object of the game" (that is, the
source of the game's entertainment) is to get all the rewards
available--get all the items, pick up all the powerups, see all of
the levels, find all of the easter eggs.  Console games, and PC
single-player games, are like this, so it's not that unreasonable of
an expectation.  But to do so, they have to play a different game,
which they feel isn't what they signed up for.  When it was
released, combat-oriented players were whining "Oh, they should call
it Star Wars Crafting instead," or "hey, it's Star Pet Wars!"  More
recently, there's a lot of kvetching about "Jedis" in SWG (roughly
speaking, to be able to create a Jedi character, you have to master
a bunch of the regular gameplay styles first).

By the evidence at hand (and it's not just SWG, similar dynamics
happen in most MMORPGs), a large (or at least vocal) subset of
players don't want a big arena in which multiple games can happen.

> My point... MUDs have many player types who want different things
> and will therefore probably never be able to please everyone with
> 100% entertainment 100% of the time.  In fact I'd say if you provide
> each player with "entertainment" 30% of the time you are probably
> doing well given the vast array definitions of "entertainment".

Indeed.  And if you're trying to appeal to everyone, you'll get
better complaints that your game is 70% boring (though in much more
colorful language, no doubt).

How to create a game context that's distinguishable from the games
played in it is an interesting question.  There is trying, but the
games are fairly narrowly drawn (dune buggy racing, surfing, fashion
shows, and flirting).  Second Life is doing an astonishingly good
job at arena building but tries to actively stay away from being
called a "game" at all.  Interestingly enough, it's got the most
"MUD-like" feel of any major commercial MMO titles, at least to me.
You can build stuff, and script its behavior, share it with other
people, etc.  Reminds me of LambdaMOO or LPmud with graphics.  But
as such, it greatly disappoints people who are looking for a game
they can win.

Perhaps "balanced gameplay" is the wrong direction.  Perhaps instead
of trying to appeal to everyone, we should have small "extreme
games" that each appeal to single play styles.  Have a PvP fighting
game.  Have a crafting game where people can use CAD programs.  Have
squad-level combat games.  Have discussion groups

Hmm, sounds like the "Internet", doesn't it? :-)

Amanda Walker
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