The Better Mousetrap

Yet another recurring discussion about the economics of virtual worlds that spans the era from the earliest MUDs to contemporary MMOGs has been percolating in the Terra Nova comment threads. Deep down in the discussion of Randy Farmer's upcoming State of Play paper, Dmitry Nozhnin complains about the one-to-one relationship between time investment and economic payoff in massively-multiplayer worlds. Richard Bartle replies, "If you don't like it, don't play it". This seems to me to sum up the state of this particular long-running discussion, and yet, I can't help but feel that here, as so often, people are talking past each other.

For me, the question comes down to this: is there any way, either plausibly implementable now, or possibly implementable in the future, to allow players to compete in a virtual economy with strategies of invention, innovation and novelty which have a game-mechanical tangibility to them?

Nozhnin's complain is one I broadly endorse, and I feel that to some extent, posing time investment as only major and wholly linear way to measure and reward achievement continues to be one of the design cul-de-sacs that MMOGs are stuck within.

We all know that players can devise strikingly efficient heuristics to achieve economic or pseudo-economic (such as accumulating experience) ends within virtual worlds. Sometimes individuals or small cartels can keep these strategies secret for a time, but sooner or later, improved risk/reward ratios with shorter times to the achievement of economic gains will spread to most of the playerbase. If the strategy in question involves something that is viewed by developers as an exploit (say, finding a space in the gameworld's geography that allows the player to attack enemies without danger of retribution), it will probably be eliminated. Even if it is not an exploit, developers will have to decide whether a systemic change in the rate of overall economic accumulation is desirable, and make changes if necessary.

This is about as close as players can come to achieving economic rewards which meaningfully correspond with the achievement hierarchy that most capitalist societies, particularly the United States, celebrate or ostensibly seek.

There are many routes to becoming rich in the U.S. One is to inherit money or property. This isn't particularly celebrated, partially because it (usually) is not a path one can voluntarily choose to pursue, but also because of a century's worth of efforts in most capitalist societies to slow the accumulation of wealth through inheritance.

Another is through perserverance and hard work, and there is certainly a goodly amount of cultural capital invested in that idea. But by and large, this is an image that is associated with working-class or middle-American forms of status and virtue.

Americans also tend to valorize the role of serendipity, accident and luck, particularly in relationship to wealth achieved through celebrity.

But perhaps the most lauded mode to wealth and success in the United States and to a lesser extent Western Europe is that of the entrepreneur who has a better idea, invents a new gadget, comes up with a novel approach, creatively reorganizes an existing business, and so on.

MMOGs have a kind of wealth-through-inheritance: twinking. Most developers do their best to check its influence. They do not, for the most part, have serendipitious wealth: a player may gain an unexpected windfall through a random drop (an economic mechanism that Everquest 2 in its current form apparently depends upon heavily) but this is essentially still tremendously subject to a labor-time relation. The more you play, the more random drops you will receive. There are no singular serendipities that permanently and disproportionately alter your economic status within the gameworld, the way that being discovered by a Hollywood producer while sitting in a drugstore might.

But above all, almost no MMOG has an economic equivalent to building the better mousetrap, no way to become wealthy by having a better or more creative idea, no way to be an achiever by taking the raw ingredients of the gameworld and reorganizing them into a novel form which is owned or controlled by the innovator. Even a player who discovers an unexpected use of a power or ability, or who discovers a new procedure for extracting wealth that shortens labor-time investment, exerts no ownership over that discovery, and accumulates nothing for it except for whatever they are able to accumulate before the new procedure is widely reproduced.

Is there any way to actually allow players to "build the better mousetrap" and receive concretized rewards as a formal part of the game mechanics of a MMOG? Could a game like SWG allow players to invent a new weapon or item, or a new spell, and receive royalties from all other players? As far as I know, Second Life is the only virtual world that has anything like this. Could the more "game-like" MMOGs imitate or reproduce aspects of Second Life's design? If they could, I submit that the exchange between Dmitry Nozhnin and Richard Bartle would instantly lose much of its pointedness: if labor-time was not the only pathway to wealth, if cleverness or innovation also reliably produced economic rewards that were formally recognized within a MMOG design rather than "off-book" and outside its game-mechanics, then much of the perennial complaining about the labor time = gameworld wealth equation would evaporate.


Comments on The Better Mousetrap:

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Everything is possible if you design for it. If they innovate by luck (i.e. not knowing what the internals look like) then you can do it. If the system is reset based then you can do it. If you have soft-reset (decay) then you can do it.

Just like the "e-bay problem" (which I don't actually think is a problem) can be minimized by simlar means, such as exessive inflation, scaling up the system and so on.

Posted Oct 19, 2004 2:57:28 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

"pseudo-economic (such as accumulating experience)"

XP is an economic reward too. It's capital.

I think MMOGs, due to their complexity, do reward diligence and accuracy in doing research. Looking back, I think I spent about 25 percent of my DAOC-related time just trying to do research on class/realm/server choices.

But once you're in the game, there does seem to be a direct time = reward mechanism.

At last year's SOP, Alex Macris pointed out that there are only three things to reward: player skill, player time, and player external resources (dollars). Tim's pointing out that you can also reward luck.

Thing is, we have this massive system in place already that's designed to reward skill, external resources, and luck. It's called 'the real economy.' As a game, it has its problems. Namely, the distribution of skill, starting resources, and luck is very uneven. The question I raised earlier about motivation in MMOGs could equally well be applied to the real economy: under the current structure, people have different opportunities, and those who start behind usually fall farther behind as life goes on, with only a few chances to keep up. How do you motivate everyone, top and bottom, to keep working?

MMOGs get around this by connecting success to the one resource that is most equally distributed: time. The struggle between casual and powergamers is often an argument about time choices, with casuals envying the powergamers for the immense amount of time they have to spend. But the time connection is important because it gives people a way to be rewarded that the real economy doesn't.

I wish, intensely, there were an MMOG that was designed to reward my own skill set (hence my enthusiasm for researching class/race combos and the like). But I understand why most of them just reward time. It makes them more fair.

Posted Oct 19, 2004 3:01:10 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Gah, the only reason that time is an issue is that MMOs only have 1 months worth of content and 11 months worth of content locks... Which in turn makes for the ebay market, because the games are dull and boring. Games which have high replayability will not suffer from this to the same degree. The analogy physical world = game world is not a very good one. Unfortunately, most people seem to be stuck on the idea that games should mimic the physical.

Regarding twinking... both EQ and AO were designed for twinking. Twinking = replayability. Not a good idea in my opinion, but there you go.

Posted Oct 19, 2004 3:30:40 PM | link

Tore Vesterby says:

"Could the more "game-like" MMOGs imitate or reproduce aspects of Second Life's design?"

Well, one attempt still underway is Seed: The Human Condition being developed by Runestone Game Development here in Denmark. It may be somewhere in the neighboorhood, or I might be be barking up the wrong tree.

Now I know we shouldn't be making guesses about MMOGs before they are actually released, but their CEO did a talk at the ITU in Copenhagen last fall where he talked about players being able to cooperate by building invetions and creating vaccines. The game should allow for this kind of 'serendipity' because the avatar's knowledge is part of it's value, your earnings. In other words information is part of the basis for the MMOG's economy.

Supposedly the avatar's knowledge of the game world is actually separate from the player's knowledge of the game world as it is based on a fairly complex AI model, as far as I could tell. Thus your avatar can only have conversations with other avatars based on what nodes of information your avatar possesses. Hence in order to create a cure for a disease, your avatar can either research the cure by herself, or she can try to find the information she needs by conversing with other Avatar's or NPC's. I'm still not entirely sure if all your knowledge has to be accumulated by hard work - ie. hours and hours of game play.

However since the world is very stylistically stringent, I don't see them - or their engine for that matter - allowing for players to actually create their own unique items in the world like SL.

To fair to the developers I don't think my example does their presentation justice, but there is some hype of the game on MMPORG.com and an indepth interview with the developers on GamerGod.

Posted Oct 19, 2004 4:36:58 PM | link

Timothy Burke says:

Ted gets at something that I also would say in reply to my original posting, putting on my historian cap, namely, that the concept of entrepreneurial innovation as a victory in the real-life game called "The American Dream" has a bit to do with reality, but is also substantially a myth. But I think it is the desire for a meritocratic avenue of gameplay that drives a tremendous amount of the complaining directed at inflexible time = reward economies of most virtual worlds.

The problem I can see is that the way MMOGs are built now, any possible mechanic of "innovation" is going to be instantly replicable by the entire player base. To give one modest example, with Asheron's Call 1 there were monthly updates that usually introduced new substantial story elements, dungeons, items and so on. I think early on, some of the players assumed that there would be in-game clues and so on that a smart player could solve more rapidly or intuitively and get to the rewards more quickly. But really, there never were--when a new update went live, there just seemed to be people who knew where everything was and how it was done, but there were no in-game clues or puzzles that could have yielded such knowledge. Over time, people realized that there was a small group of cognoscenti that was either being tipped through indirect links to the development team, and another group of cognoscenti who were hacking the data files for each update and finding all the new material in them. Even if there had been in-game clues, those would have yielded no more than a momentary advantage that had no accumulative or persistent effects, but it would have at least felt like a bone to those who wanted to live by their wits rather than by the amount of spare time they had to burn in the gameworld.

Posted Oct 19, 2004 4:37:44 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Yeah, this is the uber-template problem too: if there is only one metric of success (XP), then regardless of the complexity of strategy choices, at most one will be proven to be superior. And then everyone will have it. You stiill get some variability in choice because some people will accept a little slower XP gain in order to play the class of their choice. but for the most part, these uber templates and behavior modes become like a social law.

the fight about smite clerics in DAOC illustrated this well. Here was a cohesive group of skilled players who knew that the early DAOC cleric was, as intended, a fairly powerful offensive spellcaster. Society insisted, though, that clerics must heal - if you want groups to advance most quickly, you must have clerics devoting their time to healing. clerics who specced smite were subjected to all kinds of abuse for not playing their character the right way; it disrupted the uber template of warrior - cleric - enchanter that we all learned in EQ. you hear about similar norms all the time - "Elvaan mages are gimp" and so on.

I'm sure it frustrates the devs because they would like to see more variability. But if the metric of success is one-dimensional, well, there's a curve that's going to have at most one global optimum, and the players will find it one way or another.

The only answer is to come up with genuine variability in the kinds of things that are measured as 'advancement.' CivIII is not the way to do that - yes, you could win a diplomatic victory, or a cultural victory, or whatever, but everyone learns quickly that the best way to do any of those things is simply to achieve military domination first. Then you have the choice of destroying your enemies, or forcing them to terms, or stealing their Wonders. But the success metric - tanks - is the same.

What it would take would be some variety in what constitutes achievement. SWG actually does very well on this. You do not have to be a combat character to "win." You can achieve respect, money, a house, and all that, just by doing science, or dancing, or make-up. (If they'd handle macro entertaining, it would be even better).

Pushing in the direction of SWG is the way to go. and it might help with the mousetrap issue as well - if there are many standards, there will be a large distribution of successful endpoints, and it will not be the case that the entire playerbase "knows" the best approach to every problem. There will be too many problems, and the problems will be of interest to only a subset of the players. In SWG, for example, a person might discover that the best way to combine a fetish for butterfly wings and a dancing career is to specialize in Pole-Arms. (Not saying this actually happens, but it's the kind of thing that wouold be ideal).

Posted Oct 19, 2004 4:55:52 PM | link

Frederic Levi says:

Greetings.
To be honest I think that we are missing a point here, economy (virtual or not) comes from the dependencies between the differents players of a society and there needs to establish trade/relation. Without those interdependencies there is no society, no economy. Preventing player to be self-efficient is the first sine qua non step for an economy to be working, it will enable you to hope for an auto regulation of the system. Then comes the game's mechanics: not letting player accumulate resources too fast , having control over the money mass available, inflation control etc... don't you think ?

Posted Oct 19, 2004 5:28:59 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Timothy Burke:
>The problem I can see is that the way MMOGs are
>built now, any possible mechanic
>of "innovation" is going to be instantly >replicable by the entire player base.

Why?
Power-of-item = f(hash(charid), t, X, tX)
t is current time
X is item configuration
tX is time of creation

Posted Oct 19, 2004 5:28:59 PM | link

Andres Ferraro says:

If there is a way to break the "time is money" relationship within gameworlds, one would think it lies in distancing the gameworld further from the universe where such a relationship is true, not in bringing it closer.
On the other hand, the farther away you get from reality, the harder it is for players to suspend disbelief. Perhaps if done as a gradual progression as the player advances through the game it could result in an interesting lock-in strategy when the player's conception of 'a' game world is so different from other, more reality-based game worlds, others are excluded as viable alternatives by lack of perceived depth.

Posted Oct 19, 2004 6:43:08 PM | link

dmyers says:

[quote] Yeah, this is the uber-template problem too: if there is only one metric of success (XP), then regardless of the complexity of strategy choices, at most one will be proven to be superior. And then everyone will have it. You stiill get some variability in choice because some people will accept a little slower XP gain in order to play the class of their choice. but for the most part, these uber templates and behavior modes become like a social law. [/quote]

***
Social laws. Hmm.

I have long thought there are two basic kinds of mmo players -- the system expert (powergamer, for instance) and the social expert (rpger, for instance) -- resulting in two basic kinds of deeply conflicting, even paradoxical, play. The notions of optimizing play, min-maxing, uber-templating, and such are those of the system expert.

It's the system expert who plays the uber-character. The social expert plays the guildmaster.

To the system expert, if the system allows cheats, hacks, exploits, then, hey, that's all part of the game. Ebay, economics, whatever -- its all part of the game, baby. If you don't want something in there, then don't design it in there.

The critical question that distinguishes these two kinds of players in CoH: Would you play a gimped super-hero if that hero, despite its gimpiness, best fit your character "concept."

If we concede for the moment that there is and always will be an uber-template possible to be found among all possible templates allowed by the system (as a practical matter, I don't think this is clear at all, however), then the intriguing question for me is how the system and social experts are connected. Which sort of play (if either) "contains" the other?

E. g., I am not a gimp, I just play one online. Or, even better: I am not a griefer, I just play one online.

On one hand, my notion of what is fun and good about play is strongly aligned with the system expert -- I simply cannot see the supra-game fun in being Guild/Clan/Supergroup High Muckity Muck.

On the other hand, I believe a total dedication to the system expert credo -- e. g., I will ebay/grief/hack your ass off if I can because it's all part of the game, baby -- is beyond the pale.

In any case, I see social and system law in a natural, irrevocable, and (even potentially) fruitful dialectic. And, yes, it is increasingly possible that one might be construed as the other inside virtual worlds. But I sure hope not.

Posted Oct 19, 2004 10:22:41 PM | link

Dmitry Nozhnin says:

>>>is there any way, either plausibly implementable now, or possibly implementable in the future, to allow players to compete in a virtual economy with strategies of invention, innovation and novelty which have a game-mechanical tangibility to them?

There was one - SWG during its golden age, winter 2003/04. A thriving world almost totaly different from sick EQ and clones.

- any profession could be mastered under 40 gameplay hours
- best nonloot weapon+armor could be obtained under same 40 gameplay hours
- good replication of RL economic roles: raw material miners, goods manufacturers, sellers and resellers, advertisers.
- there were small workshops, mass market sellers, elite loot items crafters, and they were rotating as old ones quit and young masters opened their shops.
- fierce competition between big malls trying to provide best prices and choice.
- a whole class of craftable loot hunters (NOT farmers, although there were some, of course) including myself, relying on game mechanics knowledge and deep planets exploration.

One can work hard and get stable income (everyone could be a miner and manage resource harvesters), one can specialize in some area and become well known professional - crafter, social manager, exploring ranger, buildings decorator, advertiser and so on.

Sure, all those activities are time intensive, but they do not require 40+ hour per week to become the best and they are times more profitable than just mob killing. Without treadmill and with such diverse social, combat and economical roles, players can really build their own world instead of 24/7 mob spawns camping.

But as everything have its price, I guess this world do not fit into addiction-based business model. More, Sony "forgot" about supporting and updating the game, maybe concentrating on EQ2, and SWG slowly turned into good old EQ with 24/7 jedi freaks PvP, static spawns camping and players login in just to chat with guild members.

Second Life is totaly different game, very creative and innovative, but it cannot be directly compared to SWG. Its more like combining Sims+LEGO for a very casual gamer, not RPG and MMORPG evolution.

>>>>labor time = gameworld wealth equation would evaporate.

I doubt it ever would without some specific constrained economical model, like Randy Farmer's one.

In my opinion, time consumption itself is a problem, but not the main one. My time == that guy's time == farmer's time == my PC uptime with bot program running. That is what i hate so much in EQ and Lineage2. I _cannot_ be creative and smart playing due to poor design, I cannot make my ingame time more valuable, thus I cannot compete with farmers and powerlevelers. In SWG there is no treadmill and no demand for cash compared to L2, so almost no farmers.

I have no statistical data, but across my friends and guildmates in SWG noone ever bought anything for $$, and more than 90% in Lineage2 did, simply because they know standard farming rate for their char level (say, 22.000 adena per hour) and its cheaper to buy than to farm like zombie.

Posted Oct 20, 2004 2:29:01 AM | link

ren says:

I wonder what the ways are that one can innovate within an MMO. Second Life allows all kind of innovations, from objects / design to business models. But in SL the economy is the game.

I guess one route that an MMO could take is to replace crafting with a system that allows free creativity i.e. anything beyond the selection of a few pre-selected objects and object combinations.

The resulting object could then be traded, the success of their trade could be linked to a reputation / XP system. Moreover a range of abilities e.g. create new shape, upload new texture, could be linked to a skill tree so that there would also be a level like progression and possibly a link between other professions, but at core, the only way up would be to create things that the community some how see as genuinely innovative – either technically or because they are simply beautiful (yes there are echo’s of the role that sculptures play in ATITD here).

Posted Oct 20, 2004 3:09:16 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Timothy Burke>This seems to me to sum up the state of this particular long-running discussion

Ultimately, it sums up any game that people aren't forced to play. The thing about games (and VWs, in this context) is that their rules only exist because the players agree they do - this is the "magic circle" thing. If someone comes along who has a different idea of what the rules are, there's an issue that needs to be resolved. There are three possibilities: one party brings the other party round to their way of thinking; both parties live together in an uneasy peace; one party leaves and goes where their idea of the rules prevails. The problem with virtual worlds is that there may not be another such virtual world, or if there is then the people who have a different idea of the rules may follow you there.

>I can't help but feel that here, as so often, people are talking past each other.

On the specifics, yes, but not on the general issue: if two people have conflicting ideas of what a game is about, either they change, they try to accommodate each other, or they split. Your post here is calling for accommodation, which is fair enough if it suits both parties. However, I still want to reserve the right of the developers of a virtual world to bar access to people who don't play it by the rules - they shouldn't have to change the rules just so that people who want to play against the spirit of the game can do so. Just as in RL, if it's my ball then I should get to decide what game is played with it.

>posing time investment as only major and wholly linear way to measure and reward achievement continues to be one of the design cul-de-sacs that MMOGs are stuck within.

It is, but thaat doesn't mean players are willing to stomach the alternatives. A virtual world with permanent death and groundhog day resets would ensure that skill triumphed over time or money, for example, but players don't currently feel that they should be punished for having no skill (or no money).

>But perhaps the most lauded mode to wealth and success in the United States and to a lesser extent Western Europe is that of the entrepreneur who has a better idea, invents a new gadget, comes up with a novel approach, creatively reorganizes an existing business, and so on.

Just because something is lauded, that doesn't mean it's for the best. Roy Trubshaw and I could have patented the concept of virtual worlds and made our fortunes from royalties: we had the opportunity, but we decided to put it into the public domain instead. We don't get lauded for this (no, I'm not fishing for compliments!) but nevertheless it's better for everyone else that we didn't take that route.

In other words, your consideration of the route to "wealth" in virtual worlds may be the wrong focus. There may be - indeed, I believe there are - other things that are more important than the in-game "rewards" that people seek for their actions. Primary among these is the reason why people seek any rewards at all. What do they want out of a virtual world, and why?

>no way to be an achiever by taking the raw ingredients of the gameworld and reorganizing them into a novel form which is owned or controlled by the innovator.

Yes, well there are design reasons for that. If the innovator gets code-supported IP because they discovered something first, that means people who start playing 6 month later will have to pay royalties for something they were quite capable of "discovering" themselves.

If the ingredients in a recipe to make an object can't be divined from the object, and if there's no reward-the-earlybirds IP component, this can almost work. Blacksmith Bill adds a ton of stuff to his magic sword mix and creates swords that last longer or do more damage than the swords made by Blacksmith Brenda. If Bill told Brenda his secret, or if she experimented and found out herself, she could produce the same swords. I say "almost work" because groups of players will co-operate to find the best combinations, which they will then put on their web site. The thrill of discovery will disappear for everyone else.

>if labor-time was not the only pathway to wealth, ... then much of the perennial complaining about the labor time = gameworld wealth equation would evaporate.

It wouldn't, it would just change shape. We'd be arguing about ways to break the stranglehold that players who started in the 3 months after launch had on all the good spells and magics - that's if the commodification companies hadn't bought them all out.

Richard

Posted Oct 20, 2004 7:54:56 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Richard Bartle> If Bill told Brenda his secret, or if she experimented and found out herself, she could produce the same swords. I say "almost work" because groups of players will co-operate to find the best combinations, which they will then put on their web site. The thrill of discovery will disappear for everyone else.

Not necessarily. As I pointed out further up the thread you can make the item depend on character id of the creator (the gifted ones), creation time and use time. You could for instance make the system such that there are 100 ways to make every item, but only 1 out of 100 characters can use the same receipt. Or you can make it depend on the phase of the moon and let the item rot after 10 days... Etc. Or you can require cooperation to create items and let players find descriptions of steps that are useful for them, but that are only valid for 1 day and so on. It is possible, but perhaps not fun. Well, if you were allowed to invent Sam Fox, perhaps?

What I find annoying by most threads here on Terranova is the assumption that the world should be static and predictable and the core assumption that the field of economy as it has evolved in the physical is suitable for virtual worlds. I don't think it is. For instance, further up the thread you have the assumption that you can reward players for

1. skill
2. time
3. resources
4. luck

Well, this all depends on how you define these terms of course... e.g. 2) is an obvious special case of 3), and you could also frame 1) as 3). and 1) 2) and 3) as 4)

Now, that said there are lots of other things one can design a system to reward players for:

5. knowledge
6. loyalty
7. beliefs and values (helpfulness etc)
8. willingness to be submissive
(cyber sex for instance)

etc

I don't know why people are so hung up on playerskills, time and resources. Perhaps because they are related and therefore more or less interchangable? But that doesn't mean they constitute the limits of design... *growls*

Posted Oct 20, 2004 9:16:12 AM | link

Tinkergirl says:

It seems like a variation on a 'Harrison Bergeron' world - a world where strength, reaction time, appearances and to an extent creative ability have all been equalised so that no-one can be jealous of another.

We're left with a place where if two players decided to strive for exactly the same 'win' situation (usually achieved by being the highest level/most uber pvper/most complete template etc) then the only things that would differenciate these two, given the same spoiler sites, would be luck, time invested, possibly money invested, and social skill. Of these, social skill (getting others to help you) to me is the most interesting.

Cooperation is something that the game doesn't specifically reward (even in games with bonuses for grouping, these can often be circumvented to an extent) but that will provide a benefit to the player wanting to 'win'. Twinking is the other side of this.

If we chose to unbalance the Harrison Bergeron world, by letting player skill/intelligence play more of a part in the sucess of the character, then we'll end up (in a game world with no other limits) with the most intelligent 'winning' all the time, the less intelligent 'losing' and then leaving. It's much easier to wish you had more time, than it is to wish you were more intelligent.

Posted Oct 20, 2004 10:17:54 AM | link

Tinkergirl says:

However :) (Sorry for posting under my own post)

I am reminded of Neocron - where the hacking system in that was a combination of the character's hacking skill, and the player's ability at solving the puzzle.
Here, I'm imaginging that the very best hacker character would be the one who was not only the longest playing hacker, but the greatest real world skill at solving those particular kinds of puzzles. But, if a player who was no darn good at those puzzles wanted to 'win' against that player - they'd have to choose a different character class to do so. So that leaves the possibility of different classes for different play styles (as we're used to) but also different real world skill sets - will we see a game where the twitchy people will be the fighters and pilots, the puzzle solvers will be the mages/scientists/crafters, and the extroverts will be entertaining/barding to their hearts content?

Posted Oct 20, 2004 10:29:56 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Tinkergirl >Cooperation is something that the game doesn't specifically reward

Well, guild and raidbased games certainly reward cooperation. Maybe the kind of cooperation they reward isn't all that interesting, but it is still cooperation.

>If we chose to unbalance the Harrison Bergeron world, by letting player skill/intelligence play more of a part in the sucess of the character, then we'll end up (in a game world with no other limits) with the most intelligent 'winning' all the time, the less intelligent 'losing' and then leaving. It's much easier to wish you had more time, than it is to wish you were more intelligent.

I see you point, but... I disagree that this is something inherent to the design situation. I can go to a gallery and stare at one picture and analyze it and get lots out of it. Or I can go there with a friend and discuss it with him. Does it bother me that he see other things in the picture than me? Does it bother me that people with more time get to see ten pictures? No. Not really. Current worlds lack content. Plain and simple. We are currently staring at empty canvases and players who hoard empty canvases are rewarded...

(this is a metaphor of course)

Posted Oct 20, 2004 10:57:44 AM | link

Dmitry Nozhnin says:

Tinkergirl > will we see a game where the twitchy people will be the fighters and pilots, the puzzle solvers will be the mages/scientists/crafters, and the extroverts will be entertaining/barding to their hearts content?

Aren't you afraid this would kill the competition spirit of the game? Puzzlecracker cant battle with twitch swordfighter, joystick guru pilot is nothing against popular bard in song contest, and vice versa.

Posted Oct 20, 2004 12:28:25 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Uhm, Dmitry... Those "games" are called virtual worlds... That's what makes them... worlds. O_o

Posted Oct 20, 2004 1:20:10 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Timothy>is there any way, either plausibly implementable now, or possibly implementable in the future, to allow players to compete in a virtual economy with strategies of invention, innovation and novelty which have a game-mechanical tangibility to them? <

Seems to me Player innovation is always going to be pretty limited in a VW based on the Consumer paradigm. The basic consumer paradigm is the manufacturer comes up with some explicit designs, and you choose which one you buy. Playing Sony's EverQuest are not much different in that respect than purchasing a Sony TV. Sure, you can indulge in some self expression by choosing a 25 in or 32 inch model. In silver or in black. A Fighter or a Mage. With a Mace or a Sword. But you are limited to the designs the manufacturer chooses to make. In a market economy, the innovation occurs amongst the Producers, not the Consumers. And in most VWs the players are content Consumers.

Innovation works in the real world because the real world is based on emergent design. There is a ruleset, but nobody knows the complete design space that ruleset allows. The possible outcomes are more than we have collectively explored in many centuries. I'd expect to see the most innovation occur in a VW in which the players are given a ruleset, or tool set, but no preordained plan on what the world should look like when they finish. A practical VW would like limit innovation to certain areas though, and provide a designed structure for others. As ren mentions, ATITD does achieve this to some extent, with opportunities to design fireworks, flowers and puzzles for other players. Certainly in Egypt players have achieved social if not dollar wealth from these innovative activities.

Posted Oct 20, 2004 2:53:23 PM | link

ren says:

Hellinar > As ren mentions, ATITD does achieve this to some extent, with opportunities to design fireworks, flowers and puzzles for other players. Certainly in Egypt players have achieved social if not dollar wealth from these innovative activities.

Actually I was not thinkings of thing like flowers – although I know that cross breeding is very complex and possibly has a whole bunch of probabilistic going on in the background. I was thinking about The Test of Art and Music (wiki.atitd.net/tale2/Initiation_Into_Art) where to be initiated you have to create a work and get at least 20 ‘interesting’ votes from members of the community. See the Friends of Mihe web site for lots of examples: www.mihe.org/tale2/sculptures/sculptures.html (Thx 2 Tickle for the long term work in maintaining this site).

The point of ATITD is framed in social terms, hence personal social capital and wider social cohesion are exactly what tests like this are designed to create (I will do a TN interview with Teppy just as soon as he has a moment as the wider social aims of ATITD are totally fascinating and little written about).

However I do think it is a clear example of where actual skill is linked with a form of progress tree. One could argue that the SWG Jedi hierarchy (Everyone wants to be a Jedi -terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2004/06/everyone_wants_.html) basis in PvP ability is also a real skill system embedded with a formal game structure.

Posted Oct 21, 2004 2:50:09 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Ola Fosheim Grøstad>As I pointed out further up the thread you can make the item depend on character id of the creator (the gifted ones), creation time and use time.

I was arguing against code-supported IP, ie. giving the first person to find a recipe a share in the proceeds of every subsequent use of that recipe by other people. If there are no subsequent uses of that recipe by other people (because for each person the recipe is different) then sure, that would stop re-use; however, it would also not address the problem that Tim was trying to address by suggesting it.

Didn't Asheron's Call do something like this for spell research?

Richard

Posted Oct 21, 2004 3:35:36 AM | link

ren says:

Richard >I was arguing against code-supported IP
Are you arguing against this in principle or in a specific implementation i.e. rights to first creator and some royalty fee?

I’m thinking that there
(a) might be different schemes that could be implemented (see: cory’s recent stuff on SL and Creative Commons).
(b) Might be different reward system e.g. XP.

This got me to thinking that while pyramid marketing is bad when we are talking money, it might be a game option, just so long as new players can form new pyramids.

Posted Oct 21, 2004 4:17:50 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Richard Bartle:
>I was arguing against code-supported IP, ie. giving the first person to find a recipe a share in the proceeds of every subsequent use of that recipe by other people.

(nods) Well, I just used your message as a hook for my own viewpoints... :P I wouldn't even think about allowing significant in-game innovation without having items production limited and time out or otherwise be rendered obsolete (the physics of the world itself could change too if one wants to have a moving target to innovate for). Since when was a game balanced at release?

If you are allowed to do stuff that requires real creativity (that goes way beyond the imagination of the designers, i.e. real programming) then it gets even worse of course. Besides I believe many people will feel discouraged from trying to innovate when the game forces them to compare their own output to the "professional" output that coexist in the same gamespace. Works in the niche... For the masses? Hm... Doubt it.

>Didn't Asheron's Call do something like this for spell research?

I think both the spell research design and the allegiance design is described and picked to pieces somewhere in the mud-dev archives.

My faulty memory seems to suggest that the spells were more powerful if few people knew about them? But, people put them up on websites for bragging rights, thus undermining the system?? Was that it? Status is more important than benefits...

Posted Oct 21, 2004 5:08:36 AM | link

Timothy Burke says:

I'd forgotten about Asheron's Call spell research system, but yes, it was a bit like this at the outset--the recipes for spells were not known, you had to experiment to find them, and the spells were fractionally more powerful if there were few users. Then someone made a third-party application which basically made it possible to run the table of the possible combinations quickly and find the pre-existing forumulae that would work, if I'm remembering rightly. If the formula had been in some sense genuinely emergent phenomena, e.g., the designers did not know themselves what would work in advance, then I suppose it might have been closer to what I'm thinking about. On the other hand, it's interesting that the early system was regarded by most players merely as a nuisance, a "content-lock" that forced them to spend a great deal of time doing drudge work in order to advance.

Posted Oct 21, 2004 8:49:11 AM | link

Tinkergirl says:

ren> "(b) Might be different reward system e.g. XP. "

I know that in SWG it used to be (still is?) that if a player made an item and it was used by another player, they would get a small amount of usage xp. I thought this was a lovely system which rewarded the producer of popular, used items, and gave a bit more of a connection between the manufacturer and the purchaser. However, this ended up marginalised to such an extent that people would rather grind the xp (guaranteed and requires noone else) in practice mode (gives extra xp, but gives no final item) than actually interact with buyers.

Posted Oct 21, 2004 12:00:13 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Tinkergirl, I didn't know about that. That was interesting. I think it is a bad idea in general to spread out rewards, it is better to chunk them so you get a noticable reward once in a while. The system reminds me of the gourmet-game I suggested on MUD-Dev a while ago:

http://www.kanga.nu/archives/MUD-Dev-L/2004Q3/msg00888.php

The basic idea is that you only get your XP when someone use something you produced and have real use for it. I think the dynamics would be interesting. You wouldn't want to give your products to people who waste, maybe players would prefer giving food to poor players?

Posted Oct 21, 2004 12:58:01 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

ren>Are you arguing against this in principle or in a specific implementation i.e. rights to first creator and some royalty fee?

Not a specific implementation, but a specific kind of implementation. I was arguing against it for a game-like world of indefinite duration that players could join at any time where the recipes for which they have the code-supported IP readily yield to brute-force methods.

I'm not talking real-world IP here, just what the virtual world deems to be IP in its context (eg. secret spell component sequences that the developers have created in advance). I was arguing against it because as described I think it unfairly punishes late-comers.

Richard

Posted Oct 21, 2004 2:14:25 PM | link

Flatfingers says:

Time investment shouldn't be the only way to "succeed"... but its effectiveness in game worlds only mirrors its utility in the real world. To remove it as the primary form of advancement in game worlds would be an interesting social experiment, but as a practical matter I believe it would founder on the rocks of human nature because it would eliminate the most obvious measure of human creative effort.

The thing about American entrepreneurial innovativeness -- which I do not agree is largely mythical -- is not that Americans are somehow more creative than people in other places and cultures. They aren't; in fact there's a reasonable argument that most human beings (individually and in groups) are very creative, but only appear uncreative because something in their physical or social environment stifles their willingness to spend time indulging their natural creative impulses.

This model says there's no way to make people more creative. They're already creative by nature; all you can do is discourage creative activity. Social stigma, excessive taxation on capital formation, oppressive regulatory interference, absence of rule of law -- all these things persuade people that it's not worthwhile to spend their time developing new ideas. The places/cultures/nations that are perceived as most creative are those that deliberately try to limit these kinds of pressures on individual and group innovativeness. Those that do apply such pressures (usually because their policies are based on a belief that entrepreneurialism is less valuable than other economic or cultural goals) appear less creative not because they don't do enough of the right things, but because they do too much of the wrong things.

In particular, an entrepreneurial culture isn't imposed by something a government does -- it thrives as a result of what a government doesn't do. Obviously a culture of creativity still requires certain fundamental structural support: stable and effective legal and economic systems at a minimum. It's what a government does -- or doesn't do -- beyond these basic requirements that determines a nation's apparent creativity. (MMOGs have an additional requirement that exists naturally in the real world: the ability to make new things.)

If this argument is a good reflection of reality, then the implication for MMOGs that don't penalize creativity is that there, too, the best indicator of success should be time, because that's the primary measure of creativity. If the assertion that most people are creative is correct, then what differentiates results isn't one's ability to come up with clever ideas, it's the time and effort one puts into transmuting ideas from vision to reality. Thomas Edison's famous quote that "genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration" exactly reflects this worldview.

I'm another one of those people who'd love to find an active game world where creativity and entrepreneurial energy are explicitly rewarded by the game structure. I want a game that offers me the building blocks to create new things within the game world, and encourages my doing so by protecting my right to profit from my creative work. (By "my creative work" I mean things I've personally conceived and developed within the game world, not things the developers pre-created and I merely discovered. I agree with Richard that the latter approach creates a self-limiting world by unfairly penalizing late-comers.) And I'd like to be rewarded for the quality of my ideas, rather than for how much time I spent turning those ideas into products.

But even though finding such an Explorer-friendly game is a strong personal interest, I still wind up having to agree with the powergamers and Achievers. Whether I like it or not, time is currently what matters most in being successful in any persistent game because it remains the most obvious measure of effort expended.

When there's a better measure of effort, time will matter less.

--Flatfingers

Posted Oct 21, 2004 6:09:27 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Flatfingers> Whether I like it or not, time is currently what matters most in being successful in any persistent game because it remains the most obvious measure of effort expended.

Or perhaps because designers are still copying D&D...

Btw, I am not able to follow the creative culture reasoning... at all. Maybe examples would make it easier to follow.

Posted Oct 21, 2004 6:40:27 PM | link

Tinkergirl says:

Imagine there were three communities - called A, B and C.

Community A's laws dictate that a person must submit seven forms, in three different languages, and pay X, to register a new idea. This is to protect ideas from being flippantly registered.

Community B's laws dictate that each idea must be discussed within a committee of at least 10 people, over 4 months, and then be put before a board of 200 impartial observers for a vote, before the idea may be registered. This is to stop unpopular and 'flakey' ideas from being registered.

Community C lets anyone register any idea they want. It's a mess - there's always a flurry of crazy activity and useless ideas fly around the place all the time.

Which community seems more creative? To me, it would seem like C. The others are as creative (there's no difference between the people) but they're not given the room to express the 'dangerous' world of new ideas.

(Hope you don't mind me trying to explain your idea, Flatfingers)

Posted Oct 22, 2004 5:46:28 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Tinkergirl, I want real world examples. :-) I am not even sure if creative people like playing games... the rules get in the way.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 6:56:42 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Ola Fosheim Grøstad>I am not even sure if creative people like playing games... the rules get in the way.

Games are a way of getting rid of rules.

Richard

Posted Oct 22, 2004 9:07:50 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

In a society with strong class identities, like Britain, yes, I suppose so. :-) If you mean something else then I need examples.

(I guess I should have said that the goal of the game is getting in the way.)

Posted Oct 22, 2004 10:07:36 AM | link

Staarkhand says:

I thought the rules were the game. Any 10-year old knows the first response to "let's play a game" is "what are the rules?" Calvinball only works because it's played by Calvin and, well, Calvin.

Also, if that's true why are we having a whole thread about adding in-game copyright or patent equivalents?

I agree that adding tools and mechanics to enable creativity is a great thing, but some of this sounds like I'm going to have elves knocking at my door to collect royalties because someone else patented kiting.

More tools for creativity = good. Capturing complex human interactions (reputation, etc.) with clumsy mechanics = bad.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 10:14:54 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Staarkhand>I thought the rules were the game.

The players are the game.

>Any 10-year old knows the first response to "let's play a game" is "what are the rules?"

The response is to the initial "let's play a game". All else flows from that.

Richard

Posted Oct 23, 2004 6:08:46 AM | link