[MUD-Dev] Blog about GDC implies changes to MMORPG population

Michael Hartman michael at thresholdrpg.com
Fri May 27 14:19:31 New Zealand Standard Time 2005

Koster, Raph wrote:
> Michael Hartman wrote:
>> Koster, Raph wrote:

>>> I feel the same way about devices like no-drop items and
>>> "soulbinding."  First introduced in order to address twinking
>>> problems (which are at root because of levels), and now bandied
>>> about as a means of eliminating real-money-trades (RMT), it's
>>> both a step towards single-player gaming and a band-aid on top
>>> of the real problems.

>> I look at "soulbinding" as having a more important benefit to
>> games that support it, and that is promoting tradeskills.

>> In Real Life, products wear out. Products get replaced with next
>> year's slightly better version with more features. In MMOs,
>> players really dislike the idea of their equipment wearing out to
>> the point of being destroyed.

> I've managed to put it into two successful MMORPGs without the
> playerbase quitting in disgust. They may dislike it, but they also
> live with it.

I did a poor job of explaining myself.  I am not saying gear decay
is a bad feature. I think it is often a GOOD feature.

People do not like having their gear wear out to the point of it
being destroyed. I think that is an accurate statement.  People
don't like dying either, but that is obviously an important feature
of many MMOs.

Since people do not like having their gear decay, it is usually wise
to make sure decay (if you choose to have it) happens slowly, is
repairable, etc.  I have never played a game with gear degradation
where the gear degraded quickly enough that the gear could not be
passed down to at least 1 or 2 other people. I imagine the reason
gear degradation was this slow was precisely because having it any
faster would make players VERY unhappy and very nervous about using
their gear- to the point that it negatively impacts retention.

>> So having items soulbind (or perhaps customized is a better term)
>> is one way to get items OUT of the game so crafters can have some
>> customers.

> Abstracted, you're saying "one way to remove items from the game
> is to soulbind them so that the march of levels renders them
> obsolete anyway."  Should you remove levels, soulbinding fails to
> accomplish this purpose.  It also fails in the event that there is
> a reduced influx of players rising through the levels.

Even if you remove levels, soulbinding still means the item cannot
be passed down to alts, guildmates, friends, etc. It also means you
cannot re-sell it for some % of the original cost.

By eliminating the ability to pass it down or re-sell it, you have
increased the demand for freshly crafted items. That is the benefit,

> Really, player crafting needs to be about consumables. Whether
> that's done by limiting what players craft to certain consumable
> items, or by making all items degrade, is irrelevant. Soulbinding
> in this sense is just an alternate form of degradation.

I agree. That is why I had to clarify what I said above about gear
degradation in general.

Let me try to summarize what I am arguing. There are two truisms
that are at odds with each other:

  - People do not like having their gear decay. People like their

  - Crafters need business.

As you mention, one thing you can do is provide consumable crafting
items (potions, temporary enchantments, etc.) so crafter-type people
can create those.

But if you want the crafting market for "gear" type items to be
viable, you need some kind of gear degradation or else there will be
very little business for the crafters eventually.

There is some lifespan (L) for each item that would balance out the

There is also some time (U) for which that item will be useful to
its purchaser. That time is based on either how long it would be
before they level up beyond that item's usefulness, or until they
are likely to find an upgrade that is enough of an improvement to
motivate a change.

The developer has to decide what relationship between L and U is
desired. It appears that most games hope for L and U to be somewhat
equal, or even L=U*2. Most games seem to allow the passing down of
an item at least once.

If the item can be passed down or sold to many users, that means L
is a lot greater than U. When L is significantly greater than U,
crafters suffer.

Gear decay is an easy way to shorten L so it is closer to U. You
have to be careful here since you do not want L to be so short that
the players get very frustrated by having to replace the same item
frequently while it is still useful (consumeables don't count here).

Soulbinding allows you to make sure U and L are *exactly* the
same. It is basically a short cut to one ideal.

Now, soulbinding is not the perfect solution by itself because it
does not account for high end gear that might never cease to be
useful nor does it account for the possibility of someone staying at
a certain level just to farm gold or who knows what else.

Thus, the gear decay along with soulbinding gives you two ways to
control the U to L ratio.

Further, by adding soulbinding, you take some of the burden off the
gear decay system which means gear does not have to decay as
fast. The psychological benefit of this is that the player does not
feel like the things they are buying are too fragile to be worth

That is why I feel something like soulbinding (or what I prefer to
call it, customization) has value.  It makes it easier to achieve
the desired U to L ratio and also blunts the negative reaction a
player might have to knowing his/her gear is decaying.

There are, of course, other downsides to soulbinding. Some
developers LIKE the social effect of players passing down items to
friends, guildmates, etc.

There are real benefits to soulbinding that make it more of a
band-aid in my view.  The fact that it has downsides as well just
makes it like so many other game design decisions.

Michael Hartman
President and CEO, Threshold Virtual Environments, Inc.
MUD-Dev mailing list
MUD-Dev at kanga.nu

More information about the MUD-Dev mailing list