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

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Wed Jun 1 04:00:15 New Zealand Standard Time 2005


Raph Koster writes:
> John Buehler wrote:

>> In such a world, degradation and replacement need not have a
>> signifiant role.

> They need not, but it's a recipe for classic mudflation. After a
> few years, newbies will get handed full plate outfits when they
> log in.

> What you describe is no different from obtaining rare drops of
> high level items. Over time, they trickle down unless measures are
> taken to prevent it.

> Getting a rare drop of an item from slaying a dragon is exactly
> the same as "manufacturing" it.

Except for the rate of production.  I'm thinking of a rate of
production where characters really don't have piles of junk.  The
sticking point in what I've talked about is that I don't have a
replacement activity for the level/hoard activity in current games.
I *think* it's about shared in-game accomplishments, such as
empire-building, but I haven't nailed it all down yet.

>> So I believe that player crafting needs to be about the
>> manufacture of the items.  On the consumption side, it's about
>> picking which of the few major items in the world your character
>> will have - as opposed to it being about needing a house or a
>> vault to store all your junk.

> Players WANT to have piles of junk. If they have to pick which few
> major items they will have and there is a surplus of the items,
> they will simply run multiple characters in order to store more
> stuff.

The difficulty with the Piles of Junk model is that it assumes that
crafters are factories.  That's why crafters don't have inherently
entertaining activities.  Push a button and blammo - a shirt.  Push
a button and blammo - a house.  I doubt that it's possible to have
time-consuming and entertaining tasks for crafters and also crank
out goods for the masses so that they can have their piles (unless
producers massively outnumber the consumers).

Out of a desire to broaden the entertainment experience of the
genre, I'm theorizing that slowing the rate of production to a
trickle makes accumulating items a sidebar to the mainstream game
experiences of whatever.  Part of the whatever is the slow crafting
of items.  I look to a crafting experience such as is found in
colonial Williamsburg, Virginia and its crafters.  They make items
at a trickle pace.  *I* find that experience fascinating, as do the
many visitors there.  Whether or not that experience is viable in a
game setting is a speculative guess.

>>   A character then spends a character's career to obtain a> full
>>   set of plate.  It need not rust, rot or break.  Crafters will>
>>   spend perhaps days working on a single item.  Days working with
>>   a> crafting system that they enjoy, in the same way that
>>   players will> work for weeks to obtain a single level.

> I think it's dangerous to underestimate either of the following:

>   - people's desire to hoard

>   - the accumulation of stuff over time

I'll certainly agree with the latter point.  Stuff hangs around.
I'm actually okay with degradation, wear, etc.  I'm averse to using
degradation as a mechanism to handle the unreasonable pace of
introduction of items in current games.  It takes us back to the
factory model.  Monsters are factories.  Crafters are factories.
It's American consumerism.  Crank 'em out, throw 'em away, make some
more.  As has been stated, without degradation, the crafters would
have nothing to do.  That's a sign of a dangerous design mindset as
far as I'm concerned.

Your first point (hoarding) is a philosophical issue for me because
it is a statement that underscores how people don't resist selfish
temptations.  Hoarding in a game is like sex and violence in movies.
I don't like hoarding in games because it feeds a simpleminded
desire in players, just as sex and violence feed simpleminded
desires in moviegoers.  I'm always looking for some higher-order
stimulus for players, to draw them into entertainment that they will
find more enjoyable than the simpleminded stuff.  I believe that the
online communities that result from higher-order stimuli will be
better-behaved than those that result from low-order stimuli.

I don't contest that people like to hoard items.  I wouldn't contest
that people like sex, or that they are fascinated by violence.  I'd
contest the notion that a game must cater to those impulses, and I'd
argue that there are forms of entertainment that transcend such
simple impulses.  Such as being a part of empire-building.  Falling
in love.  Helping others.  Less selfish stuff.  (I said it was
philosophical)

> I don't understand why the system you describe wouldn't fall prey
> to classic problems we saw in muds fifteen years ago or more.

If I were to summarize the problem, it would be done this way:

  1. Lots of activities in real life are only entertaining in fits
  and starts.

  2. In any entertainment venue, players should be given as much
  entertainment as possible in any period of time.

  3. To make real life activities entertaining, they are
  time-compressed so as to eliminate the stuff between the fits and
  starts of actual entertainment.

  4. This accelerates all game activities.  The world simply
  operates faster.

  5. This means that goods are produced more quickly.

  6. This means that goods must be consumed more quickly to avoid
  the world looking like a landfill.

When a game focuses on the stimulus of obtaining stuff, it tends to
accelerate the entire virtual society to place goods in to the hands
of the players.  To take them out of the players' hands,
degradation, wear and rot rates are boosted commensurately.

So my solution was to avoid boosting the production rates.  Return
them to something more conventional by making the actual task of
crafting time-consuming.  That can only be done if the additional
time spent crafting is inherently entertaining.  The acceleration
was originally done because crafting wasn't entertaining.  I think
that the acceleration was the touch point to the whole problem.
Acceleration of any process is going to have significant social
impact.

Accelerate commerce and you go from medievalism to modern
consumerism.  That's why crafters are just factory workers, and why
the throwaway-goods society forms.

Other things get accelerated as well, of course, such as travel.
Very much a 'fits and starts' type of experience, so it is
compressed either with fictional transportation or by having a more
compact geography.

The reason that combat remains a mainstream for the graphical games
is because it is an engaging activity in real time.  It doesn't need
to be time-compressed.  Note that the finding of things to fight HAS
been time-compressed by the use of static spawns.  The games have
fallen back on a particular type of entertainment that suffers from
very few inherent problems.  It is now the cornerstone of the
industry.

One solution to all of this may be to skip compression of activities
and to switch to having the player juggle multiple characters that
operate simultaneously in different parts of the world.  While one
character is skinning a hide, another character might be negotiating
a deal and a third might be searching for herbs.  All the while, the
player is socializing with other players, researching online and
monitoring the characters.  Just a thought.

JB
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