[MUD-Dev] Thought Experiment: Permanent Monster Death

games at anthemion.org games at anthemion.org
Sat Dec 20 13:48:36 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

Note: This message was written via the list web archives.  There is
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Original message: http://www.kanga.nu/archives/MUD-Dev-L/2003Q4/msg00396.php

On Fri, 19 Dec 2003 17:44:40 -0800
"Scott Jennings" <scottj at mythicentertainment.com> wrote:
> From: "Sheela Caur'Lir" <dstgasey at webhiker.dk>

>> To go off on another tangent - It always annoyed me that the GM's
>> were used for customer support, even in larger MMOG's.

>> They are Game Masters dangit, they should run events for the
>> players, or help developer test new areas and so forth. They
>> should be working a storyline and make the virtual world
>> progress.

> It's a reasonable assumption that, at a bare understaffed minimum,
> an additional 50 "GMs" would be required to meet the job you
> propose (basically, human-driven gaming as opposed to the
> automated variety). Ultima Online tried with many more volunteers
> and were unable to meet the players' demand for event-driven
> content.

> Basically, you're asking for a LOT of very creative people to be
> on call, 24/7. That costs a lot of money, and, to be honest, there
> may well just not be those people available to be hired with that
> skillset - good pen and paper DMs are rare, too.

I almost agree with your conclusion, but I think your reasoning is a
bit off.  Specifically, it is not just a question of cost, since
consumers will obviously pay more if they perceive an increase in
value. The problem with GM involvement is one of efficiency.

You suggested that 50 GMs would be needed, and that their skills
would be relatively expensive; let's assume that salary, payroll
taxes, and miscellaneous costs would amount to $100,000 per year per
GM. That's $5,000,000 per annum.  Let's assume also that your game
has 'only' 100,000 players. The per player cost for GM content would
thus come to $4.17 a month. This sounds (relative to a $10 or $15
subscription fee) like a lot of money, but is it? As I've argued
elsewhere (http://www.anthemion.org/PlayTimeExcerpt.doc), the real
cost of MMORPG play is not the subscription fee, but the opportunity
cost of the player's time. What is four dollars compared with 80
hours of play time? So I think the cost of your 50 GMs would be
fairly trivial. But what would players actually get for their four

What we normally think of as content (i.e., aesthetic, play, and
technical content) is non-rivalrous; a single unit can be shared by
many players without lessening its utility to any of them. Thus, a
unit of content investment by the developer results in a unit of
content enjoyment for many thousands of players.  This is a
phenomenally efficient use of developer resources (and indirectly,
player fees). While GM participation can also be considered a form
of game content, it is rivalrous content, or " at best " imperfectly
non-rivalrous content. Consider: how many players can meaningfully
interact with a GM at the same time? Ten? One hundred? This is the
real problem with GM content. Though such interaction is doubtless
more compelling than static content, it cannot be reproduced
arbitrarily. If a dollar of GM content can be experienced by as many
as one hundred players, and a dollar of static content by as few as
ten thousand, then GM content must be one hundred times more
compelling to be cost-effective.

Ultimately, this is simply another comparison between pen-and-paper
RPG and MMORPG, though this one suggests that the relative
popularity of MMORPG can be explained not by form, but by simple

Jeremy Neal Kelly
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