[MUD-Dev] Do players enjoy farming? (was MUD-Dev Digest, Vol7, Issue9)

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Wed Jan 14 20:17:12 New Zealand Daylight Time 2004


Paul Schwanz writes:
> John Buehler wrote:
>> Paul Schwanz writes:

>> I'd be interested in hearing an example of a non-trivial barrier
>> that was a positive force in a game design.

> Whether or not it was a positive force in the game design is going
> to be highly subjective.  A lot of players will say that the
> aforementioned natural disasters in Sim-City were non-trivial
> barriers that were a positive force in the game's design.  You
> would obviously disagree.  They'll say that the disasters *were*
> entertaining, while you would probably view them as barriers to
> entertainment.

And the subjectivity of whether something is a barrier or not may
well be one of the best ways to detect barriers.  When your player
base is split over whether something is entertainment or a barrier
to entertainment, it's an indication that it's got a lot of
'barrier' to it.  That 'barrier' sensation arises when one
experience is not aligned with the other experiences that the player
is taking as a package.  To be specific, those who expect to be a
farmer expect certain kinds of entertainment to make up the farmer
experience.  When other entertainment is introduced which is not
well-aligned with that experience, the barrier feel appears.

I'm arguing for careful alignment of the bits and pieces that make
up any given experience so that it remains clearly coherent.
Everything after that should be options.

>>> I happen to believe that interdependence is an important
>>> ingredient in building community, even though I do understand
>>> that, poorly implemented, it can also be a barrier to
>>> entertainment.  But I also believe that pointing out how poorly
>>> something can be implemented proves little.

>> I don't use my examples as a means of demonstrating how poorly
>> something can be implemented.  I use them as a way of pointing
>> out flaws in basic design principles.  In this case, the very
>> substance of farm entertainment has nothing at all to do with the
>> substance of monster-slaying entertainment.  They are very
>> different kinds of entertainment.  Consequently, I believe they
>> shouldn't be mixed.

> Yeah, that came across a bit more accusatory than I intended it.
> I apologize for that.

No need.  I wasn't offended in the least.  (But thanks anyway :)

> I still think you may be looking at the art a bit too closely.
> Sure, there are those who prefer farm entertainment and those who
> prefer monster-slaying entertainment, but I think I may be
> designing for those who enjoy living-in-a-medieval-world
> entertainment.  For these people, the entertainment is in how the
> other elements mingle together into something believable and
> immersive.  I like the idea of having sub-games, but I don't want
> them to be so isolated that the experience comes across as playing
> parallel single-player games instead of one large whole.  So I
> believe that they should indeed be mixed, but certainly they
> should be mixed skillfully and carefully.

Yet the mixing need not be done by the designer.  Let the players
mix entertainment as they see fit.  I think that's the best way to
permit players to get what they want.  So go ahead and isolate the
experiences, but let the players get to the experiences that they
want as they want.

This lies near the root of why I disagree with the interdependence
notion.  It says that players are obligated to do something because
the designers want them jumping through certain hoops.

In the case of the besieged farmer, he is obligated to hire
monster-bashers because that will get players interacting with each
other.  Or he is obligated to band together with other farmers and
put up magical defenses.  Whatever it is, he is obligated to solve
problems that you create for him, not problems that he chooses to
pursue.  If the problems that are *available* to pursue are
sufficiently entertaining, the players will band together
voluntarily to enjoy them together.

Note that this is not a call for extremist measures here.  I don't
want players able to do silly things like walking up to dragons and
killing them with a single blow just because that was what the
player thought would be entertaining.  I just mean that if the
designers partition the entertainment subtly and capably, the
players can assemble the bits and pieces that the designers have
provided.  Somewhat like LEGO blocks.

As an example, I might choose to run a farm that grows Blomberries
in one field.  Well, dragons LOVE Blomberries during their mating
season, and I'm gonna have to be ready to fend off dragons from my
crop.  And it works out that tanners use Blomberries to cure
Emberwolf leather to a very hard form - which is useful for warriors
who want to fend off dragons from fields of Blomberry bushes.  As a
farmer, I have stepped into the combat zone because I chose to, not
because the designers said I had to.

That's a VERY simplistic example.  Hopefully, with a little bit of
time and effort, designers can produce a kind of chess game of
different kinds of entertainment.  All of which are interwoven in
interesting ways.  We might call them 'flavors' of different game
experiences.

And this is also why I don't believe in player-run worlds such that
one player relies on another for his entertainment.  Doing that is
the same thing as game designers deciding what the entertainment du
jure is, except that instead of the designer, another player is
deciding.

>> More fundamentally, I believe that interdependence is a valuable
>> community building technique for the strongest of bonds.
>> However, I don't believe that attempting to create bonds that
>> strong are appropriate to a purely online community.

> I'm not really sure there is such a thing as a purely online
> community any more than there is such a thing as a purely
> on-the-telephone community.

Okay, then let's just apply my comments to a 'predominantly' online
community.  If a bunch of real life friends are playing a video
game, I can easily see that interdependence is a very effective way
of bringing them closer together as a community.  But in the heavily
anonymous arena of the internet, interdependence can be a
frustrating, hit and miss thing.

JB
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