Automated Expertise Management

If you play WoW and have never used Thottbot.com, you should stop whatever you're doing and check out Thottbot. But regardless of whether you play WoW, anyone interested in online communities should be fascinated with what Thottbot is doing.

At first glance, Thottbot looks like a normal third-party MMORPG information site. Try searching for "Fiery Enchantments" - a lvl 42 quest in the game. Thottbot has the details of the quest stored. But imagine I just picked up this quest and I don't know where these "dragon whelps" are that drop the "black drake's heart". If I follow the "black drake heart" link, Thottbot shows me all the mobs that drop it, their level ranges, and most importantly where to find them. Click on the "map" link next to the lvl 41 Scalding Whelp. Thottbot dynamically generates a map of the zone where these mobs are found and their spawn range. All items, quests, mobs and maps are cross-referenced in Thottbot.

Now, you might think that Thottbot has this information because of constant submissions from good-hearted players (which is how other sites do it), but that's not what's happening. There is a free custom GUI called Cosmos which allows customized toolbars as well as mods that add functionality. Of interest to us here is that Cosmos also sends information (optional) to the Thottbot database from every player who uses it. Every mob, item, quest and player character that is encountered has their stats and location tracked and sent to Thottbot automatically.

In other words, the expertise of individual players is automatically tracked, stored and shared by the system. More importantly, the aggregation of their expertise allows the discovery of what would otherwise be hard to know - the spawning ranges of mobs, the drop rates of rare and uncommon items, and so on.

You may argue that this is the same thing as Google, but Google requires deliberate, articulated knowledge (webpages) whereas Thottbot automatically tracks behaviors. Also, while Google can pagerank according to links, it can't aggregate knowledge to produce meta-knowledge (drop rates, spawn ranges, etc.) that require the correct aggregation of incoming data.

Contemporary work is becoming more and more about information manipulation, but information management is still an incredibly difficult thing to do in large corporations or academic institutions. Thottbot gives us a glimpse of a world where expertise can be seamlessly transferred - without needing to articulate our knowledge, without needing to track down experts, and being able to find the bigger picture even if we only have a small piece of information.


Comments on Automated Expertise Management:

Andres Ferraro says:

Now, if only web search engines could profile end-users properly, then track their online paths, they could then deliver 'pro' results for nearly every search.

Posted Jan 24, 2005 1:52:57 PM | link

Barry Kearns says:

I've considered Thottbot to be a truly fantastic piece of work as a player... it has made things so much easier and allowed me to perform analyses that otherwise would have taken many months.

I've answered hundreds of random player questions (of the form "Where do I find ____ ?") with one simple answer... "Check Thottbot.com".

I've gotten many grateful replies that come drifting back well after the fact, when people discover the tremendous wealth of info there.

I'm wondering, therefore, if developers see Thottbot as anathema to their "magic circle" conceits.

Does the automated pre-analysis and brutally thorough automated information gathering lead to a shattering of the magic circle, and therefore make Thottbot "evil" from the content generator perspective?

Doesn't Thottbot shorten the player path in many of the same ways that commodification does?

Posted Jan 24, 2005 1:58:25 PM | link

AFFA says:

Anarchy Online also had several user tools (such as helpbot, an extremely useful in-game chat bot that answered questions and did basic math), and websites with database dumbs (aodb.info, auno.org). And there's wiki for A Tale in the Desert which has a similar function. None of these are as well cross-linked as thottbot, however.

Posted Jan 24, 2005 2:06:06 PM | link

Grax says:

I think Thottbot is hugely destructive for MMORPG gameplay. The Explorer player-type (if you haven't, check out Bartle's player types article*) is already hugely marginalized, and programs like Thottbot are really killing off some of the last of the in-game advantages that are tied to player skill/knowledge. Being able to find rare creatures, or to quickly get from one location to another in short time, is the type of thing that has hitherto been the Explorer player's small prize for his unusual playstyle. This skill is increasingly underappreciated by the mechanics of the game, which supply in-game maps for discovered territory, etc. Thottbot worsens the situation by providing creature locations, specific quest details (some of the NPC quest directions are written in such a way that they are meant to be a small obstacle simply to understand, so that players who know about "the mountain above the bend of the stream" will be able to use their knowledge for in-game advantage), etc.

There are other mechanisms at work in the newest MMORPGs which truly undermine the Explorer's role, and some of these are described in the blog I kept** while I beta-tested WoW (I don't play retail, but most of the more general criticisms in the blog are still 'current').

Also, Bartle's description of player types may not be exhaustive, but it is certain that the player types he describes DO exist.Destroying certain player-types' utility in the name of simplicity seems to be the trend nowadays. This is catering to an achiever/socializer population. A majority of players, and especially new players, will have the concerns that mark them as Achievers, because this is a path with obvious in-game rewards -- indeed, it seems to most new players that although they've heard there is no way to win in an MMORPG, 'achieving' status (items/levels/guild) is the default game-winning path to take. I believe that the most important motivation for this destruction of Explorer/Killer roles is a desire to attract the greatest number of casual players (who are far more populous than hardcore gamers, and who use much less bandwidth, and who on average probably cause 'fewer' problems in-game, since the serious 'problems' such as duping often require more specific knowledge (not always, unfortunately)).

I've just mentioned that Killer-types are also marginalized. I'll simply point to two of the biggest MMORPGs in North America, and certainly the two biggest names right now: Everquest 2 and WoW. In EQ2, the Killer playertype has been completely and unambiguously neutered. Sony is not even pretending to address PvP concerns in EQ2. In EQ1 there were poorly-optimized PvP servers offered, and no significant attention given to PvP gameplay concerns, but at least one could get the impression that the company wished to have a game that Killer-types would want to play. Meanwhile, WoW has PvP, and there is the apparent desire to optimize the game for PvP (class balance, PvP-centered activities such as Battlegrounds, etc.), but in actuality there are currently no real in-game advantages given to those who successfully PvP. A skilled PvPer will find that his success or lack of success is essentially not 'seen' in any meaningful way, due to the blindness of the game mechanics to PvP success. One may believe that this will soon change, with new disincentives (serious death penalties)/incentives (gold/reputation/items/territory) for PvPing, but in the meanwhile we can simply say that WoW has devoted no in-game mechanisms to confer advantages to the PvP aficionado, because most of the mechanisms that one could implement to this end were likely deemed to trample upon the 'quality' of the Casual/Socializer/Achiever's game experience. We must assume that Blizzard believes it would lose more casual players by providing challenging, fulfilling, interesting PvP rulesets/incentives than it is comfortable with. Or perhaps it's simply a question of dev team time and priorities. Either way, the end result is unimpressive for the Explorer types (for reasons stated earlier), and for Killer types (for reasons just mentioned).

One last note, which I believe Bartle himself has made: I have been talking about player types as if each person were a pure Killer, pure Explorer, pure Achiever, pure Socializer, when this is obviously not the case. I am simplifying, by grouping people into the categories in which they 'most belong'. And this is a very accurate way of speaking about individuals, in my opinion. I've spoken to many, many MMO gamers and it is usually quite clear what type of player they 'primarily' are.

* http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm
** http://freedomgreg.blogspot.com

Posted Jan 24, 2005 2:19:21 PM | link

greglas says:

Thanks for pointing this out Nick. Never knew about it.

Barry has a good point though. Anyone want to find the relevant EULA language?

Posted Jan 24, 2005 2:24:13 PM | link

Jeff Freeman says:

Does the automated pre-analysis and brutally thorough automated information gathering lead to a shattering of the magic circle, and therefore make Thottbot "evil" from the content generator perspective?

IMO, no, it's a good thing. It's a 'safety valve' for problems arising from making assumptions about how difficult a thing ought to be, when the specifics of how difficult a thing actually is varies from user to user.

I think people try to find things on their own with no assistance (given enough information to make the effort even seem possible in the first place), and thottbot (and the whole rest of the internet) is there for when they were not in fact given enough information (even if some people found that to be all the info they needed).

Doesn't Thottbot shorten the player path in many of the same ways that commodification does?

The main problem with commodification is the impact that farmers have on everyone else trying to play the game, rather than the impact it has on people who 'buy their way to the top' (or for that matter, the impact it has on the farmers).

I don't think your use of thottbot has an impact on other user's play, except maybe in a helpful sort of way.

Posted Jan 24, 2005 3:25:03 PM | link

dmyers says:

>>> programs like Thottbot are really killing off some of the last of the in-game advantages that are tied to player skill/knowledge.

Posted by: Grax | January 24, 2005 02:19 PM

***

This is my information-desires-to-be-free platform again, but here goes.

Thotbot is extremely cool, and I challenge any who would argue that it -- or any information provider like it -- makes a game less fun. Undoubtedly, I would say, such a thing makes a game more fun.

For, with all apologies to the inherent values of mystery and intrigue, I note that "in-game advantages" are almost always NOT dependent on player skill/knowledge and almost always ARE dependent on restricted information flow. That is, "advantaged" players are advantaged only insofar as other players are disadvantaged, and it is much easier to design, construct, and maintain the disadvantage than it is the advantage.

Exhibit number most obvious one is the construction of guilds and supergroups and mafias and such inside online games (particularly within those games encouraging pvp). While superficially these groups promote info-sharing among their members, their more common and systematic function within the game is to deny information to non-members.

(And here there are some interesting cases in point regard Hammy raids in City of Heroes.)

O, if only game designers would design thotbots in their games instead of futzing around with still another endless series of finding-waldo-ish mazes or missions or maps or doors that need to be unlocked with keys hidden somewhere other than any place you really want to be.

Posted Jan 24, 2005 4:24:51 PM | link

Dave Rickey says:

I think this is more like Alexa than Google (since Alexa is based on information gathered by the Google toolbar, and collects just the kind of "behavioural" information you are talking about).

As for its meta-game effects, in essence it is an extreme example of the issue always raised by "spoiler" sites: The best place to look for information is outside of the context of the game. Now, Thottbot does not seem to do anything that those sites do not, and quite frankly most of those who self-identify as "explorers" have long since stopped concerning themselves with literal geographic exploration, or else have come to terms with the fact that there is no part of the world that is not well documented somewhere and simply wander for its own sake.

Most "explorers" are more interested in the underlying rules of the system from what I have seen. Thottbot at least has the potential to be a truly comprehensive data source for that kind of analysis, in fact now that I think of it I find myself wishing something like this had existed for Camelot, it would have saved me many, *many* hours of gathering data on how the combat system was actually performing (which was very different from how the programmers thought it worked).

It would have been nice to be able to look for patterns in gameplay, rather than having to infer them from the results. Frankly, examining it makes me wonder why we didn't have that level of data-gathering. Like most "benign" third-party tools, it points out a design shortcoming.

--Dave

Posted Jan 24, 2005 5:01:31 PM | link

Adam Miller says:

I am an Explorer type and I think Thottbot is fantastic.

Thottbot opens up new avenues of exploration for me. I can see patterns in loot drop rates, see the roaming (or non-roaming) zones of mobs, see the differences in the stats of the various weapons and how they fit a bell curve (or not), and in general see understand the game systems better than ever before. I can use my intuitive explorer skills in such different ways now with all this new information.

Explorers don't have to use it, thus they can feign ignorance and explore to their heart's content. However, I cannot think of a real explorer who would ignore it.

Thottbot functions as a great backup for lousy quest design. There are several quests that I definitely couldn't complete without it, because I would have never found the item or mob. I especially like Thottbot allowing me to avoid quests that have a poor ratio of risk/reward (also lousy quest design). With Thottbot, now I can even enjoy the "find the single pixel in the rubble" quests, because at least I know to look near the third pillar of the ruins. I think Thottbot is going to change the rules a bit and inhibit designers who rely on fun by simple obscurity. Perhaps they are going to have to create real game systems now...

Thottbot functions like a person manually drawing maps and marking locations, then posting that on the Web. The difference is that this is automated and WAY more effective and accurate.

Using the thought logic of some of Thottbot's opponents, does that mean that books about Chess ruin the game? I propose that Thottbot expands your knowledge and appreciation of what the game has to offer. How much of the content would I have missed without it? A lot!

Posted Jan 24, 2005 5:07:02 PM | link

Barry Kearns says:

Jeff Freeman wrote:

The main problem with commodification is the impact that farmers have on everyone else trying to play the game, rather than the impact it has on people who 'buy their way to the top' (or for that matter, the impact it has on the farmers).

I don't think your use of thottbot has an impact on other user's play, except maybe in a helpful sort of way.

While I personally agree that the truly disruptive aspect is farming (rather than commodification per se), there has been no shortage of folks expressing dismay over the "counterfeit achievement" that comes from game commodification. Many folks seem to feel that their own sense of achievement is somehow lessened if someone else reaches the same goal without having to endure the same struggles.

Personally, that's never been an issue for me... I value the difficult tasks that I've completed and know personally what those struggles are worth.

But there seems to be an aspect here that has to do with external recognition of achievement, rather than just the internal recognition... where it seems people want OTHERS to admire the difficulty of what they have done, and have that aspect of rarity serve as some kind of peer status symbol.

I see echoes of that in Grax's comments about the marginalization of Explorer types via ThottBot. When information is a rare commodity, investing time and energy into gathering valuable information (which might give a competitive advantage) would seem to be another player metric of achievement.

When being clever and dedicated with respect to information gathering is your prime competitive skill, or the one thing that sets you apart from other players, does Thottbot "destroy the game for you"? Does it take away the opportunity to distinguish yourself and thereby gain admiration?

I would think that information of this type would be exceedingly difficult to keep contained, given the advent of the Internet, and just that much harder with ThottBot-type technologies.

I'd be interested to see examples of games that reward the cleverness aspects of Explorers where information sharing gives little (if any) benefit. Dynamically generated and shifting puzzles / secrets, perhaps? A way to give character benefits tied more closely to the ABILITY to find answers, rather than the specific answers themselves?

Posted Jan 24, 2005 5:07:03 PM | link

That Chip Guy says:

I'd want to see that too, Barry. I game with someone who is a Dave Rickey-type Explorer: the game structure itself is just another territory to devour, especially since there are so many non-experiential sources of information about his MMO of choice. He was an obsessive explorer of sites and quests in STAR WARS GALAXIES before and after the such Points of Interest became universally-accessible in character datapads. His argument is that non-obsessive explorers will never find interesting content in an MMO world through word-of-mouth and casual exploration. I guess even for explorers, serendipity is overrated -- and there are tons of barriers to experiencing serendipity in the few MMOs I've played.

On the other hand, dissecting a game through a stream of information such as Thottbot would destroy my own sense of immersion. What about story and experience? If I ever play THE MATRIX ONLINE would I be unraveling the seams of a virtual world in which I play a character unraveling the seams of a virtual world in which....

Maybe there are so many limits on our ability to immerse ourselves in virtual worlds that the most enjoyable way to play in them is not to try.

Posted Jan 24, 2005 6:06:09 PM | link

Jeff Freeman says:

Many folks seem to feel that their own sense of achievement is somehow lessened if someone else reaches the same goal without having to endure the same struggles.

I think you need to implement things that are actually difficult to do, rather than relying on things that are difficult to find. Particularly since the 'difficult to find'-things won't be that way for long, even without thottbot.

When being clever and dedicated with respect to information gathering is your prime competitive skill, or the one thing that sets you apart from other players, does Thottbot "destroy the game for you"? Does it take away the opportunity to distinguish yourself and thereby gain admiration?

Leader-boards such as EQ2players' "Item Discovery Rankings" (or even just the 'first reported by' info displayed on Thottbot) make better use of the reality at hand, I think. i.e. People are going to collect this info anyway, so if you want to recognize the people who find things first, that's the sort of place to do it.

'd be interested to see examples of games that reward the cleverness aspects of Explorers where information sharing gives little (if any) benefit. Dynamically generated and shifting puzzles / secrets, perhaps? A way to give character benefits tied more closely to the ABILITY to find answers, rather than the specific answers themselves?

Hm. I don't think so. Or I should say it sounds risky and difficult to do just right: The accumulation of knowledge is their score. Dynamically generated content is a periodic player-wipe for these sorts of folk.

Posted Jan 24, 2005 6:16:46 PM | link

Tom Hudson says:

thottbot seems to be another tool that reduces some of the friction inherent in sharing information INSIDE the mmo. I find it considerably harder to gather a group of peers and maintain contacts with them in a MMO than I do in RL.

Thottbot/magic circle seems to me to have an issue similar to the 'rest restrictions' in Neverwinter Nights (not quite a MMO - but a multiplayer online D&D implementation that scales up to around 60 simultaneous players on a server, and I've seen linked servers with portals and communication systems that start to feel a lot more like a MMO). In real life, it makes sense that there are some areas that are too dangerous to camp in and others that are safe. NWN by default lets you rest anywhere. Lots of users decry this and force the players to move to a safe area before resting. However, this really hoses the pacing of the drama. In a face-to-face RPG, players can say 'we head back to town to rest and resupply' or 'we head back to last night's campsite', and the travel can be glossed over if that's appropriate to the story. By and large, CRPGs don't allow you to gloss over travel like that.

I've been playing a lot of Anarchy Online ever since they made it free :), and the out-of-game communication and information sharing sites are essential to my enjoyment of the game, because the difficulty of getting information in-game is so high (and because some quests are pixelhunty). Stuff that in literature or narrative would be abstracted away or handled in passing needs to be able to be handled in passing; out-of-game information sites enable that.

Posted Jan 24, 2005 7:21:35 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Some guy wrote:

The Explorer player-type (if you haven't, check out Bartle's player types article*) is already hugely marginalized, and programs like Thottbot are really killing off some of the last of the in-game advantages that are tied to player skill/knowledge.

If your goal for exploration is competition, you're not driven by exploration impulses anyway. If you are driven by just the need to explore, it matters not a whit that Thottbot is out there. Just don't use it.

--matt

Posted Jan 24, 2005 9:45:34 PM | link

Puss In Boots says:

Matt, you're an idiot if you think Thottbot cannot affect you if you don't use it.

You know what? Your statement is pretty clear, so I suppose a condition really isn't necessary. So, yeah... You're an idiot.

Posted Jan 24, 2005 11:42:49 PM | link

Puss In Boots says:

MMORPGs are social games where you must interact with other players. You cannot play an MMORPG and not be affected in any way by the information other players have access to. This is a really easy conclusion to get to, but I'm sorry I called you an idiot anyway, pal.

Posted Jan 24, 2005 11:46:52 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Puss in Boots wrote:

MMORPGs are social games where you must interact with other players. You cannot play an MMORPG and not be affected in any way by the information other players have access to. This is a really easy conclusion to get to, but I'm sorry I called you an idiot anyway, pal.

You're right, I overstated it. It can affect you, in trivial ways. I've been playing MUDs/MMOs for 15 years now though, with a significant portion of that spent as an 'explorer', and have never given a rat's ass if other people can go to a website and get the info I explore for. Why should I care? It doesn't diminish my joy in exploring. Similarly, I often wander around the mountains near my home, taking great joy in discovering new trails, ponds, etc. Doesn't matter one whit to me that I could have just bought a map. It's new to me, and that's what exploration is all about.

Thottbot only really matters if you're competing with other people.

--matt

--matt

Posted Jan 25, 2005 1:09:55 AM | link

Andres Ferraro says:

"I think this is more like Alexa than Google (since Alexa is based on information gathered by the Google toolbar, and collects just the kind of "behavioural" information you are talking about)."

Indeed it is. It would be interesting to see the results of searches weighted by Alexa popularity. They're not doing this AFAIK.

Posted Jan 25, 2005 1:32:31 AM | link

magicback says:

The secondary effect is changing the way MMOs are designed and in this particular case how new content in WoW will be designed. Will they expand the range of a particular variable, add more fractal random variables, throw some curve balls and easter eggs?

I get the vision of ant-hive-mind ecology with ants swarming over a juicy bit of food.

Posted Jan 25, 2005 10:49:16 AM | link

Jamie McCarthy says:

I'd be interested to see a technically savvy writeup of the effects that Cosmos has on the servers. I've seen it claimed that because the bot is constantly querying the server about every visible item (I guess "clicking" on everything it sees), in a highly populated area where more than a few people are running Cosmos, every player will see database lag. Anyone know if that's true?

I'd also like to know what bot is behind GoblinWorkshop.com, which has a cleaner layout but less information and fewer options. (Compare the two sites' data on the list of monsters that drop a Small Flame Sac, an item I need for a potion recipe I just got: GoblinWorkshop vs. ThottBot. Not only are ThottBot's stats more accurate, since they're based on more kills, but it knows about more drops. Now I know I can go hunting Whelps in the Wetlands, instead of heading all the way to Ashenvale to find Blink Dragons.)

As a Mac player I just get to enjoy the websites. Oh well.

Posted Jan 25, 2005 12:29:39 PM | link

Michael Hartman says:

> Jeff Freeman wrote:
>
> The main problem with commodification is the impact
> that farmers have on everyone else trying to play the
> game, rather than the impact it has on people who 'buy
> their way to the top' (or for that matter, the impact
> it has on the farmers).

I wish more people understood this. Well said, Jeff.

The "professional" farmers are what is damaging to a game, not the ability for people to buy items/gold/whatever. The farmers dominate areas, mobs, and content and make it impossible for a "normal" player to partake in that content.

Frankly, I'd like to see more MMORPG companies figuring out ways to sell gold and/or items to put the farmers out of business that way. The end result is the same (people who want to buy stuff can) but the destructive middle men (farmers) are removed.

We have long suffered under this sytem where only people with tons of time can get ahead in a game. Some people have a lot of time, some people have a lot of disposable money. Often these two things are inversely related. Why is it that only one group of people has any hope of experiencing all the content in an MMORPG?

There have been some attempts to break out of this paradigm. UO has the "Advanced Character Service" (http://support.uo.com/advancedcharacter.html). Everquest had the Legend Servers. Iron Realms' games and Threshold are designed with payment systems that provide advantages related to how much you want to pay.

From my own experience, such systems do NOT hurt or hinder players who choose to invest heaps of time instead of money. It truly turns out to be an alternate path to being able to partake in content. Also, simply putting money into the game does not give you an influential character. That is still done by building relationships and that can only happen through time.

Posted Jan 25, 2005 1:21:55 PM | link

Flatfingers says:

I'm personally in a kind of middle ground between Grax and Matt.

As a fairly extreme Explorer-type, I generally don't feel much of an urge to compete with Achievers. I don't mind a little recognition for knowing a lot about a game, but it's not a necessity. If Achievers feel compelled to obsessively beat everything in the game, that's their business.

The problem occurs in the intersection of Explorers and Achievers. Some Achievers feel the need to "beat" Explorers (just as they sometimes feel a need to kill Killers). This is particularly true when the game itself makes Explorer content and rewards visible (as SWG did when it added interesting locations to its in-game Points of Interest list).

When this happens, it creates another "thing-to-be-beaten" for Achievers. They go into Explorer mode, visiting every location and mapping it, and killing everything in sight and documenting that, too. Then (being Achievers, who enjoy public validation for their achievements) they'll post this information on the Web. At one stroke, the value of the Explorer's most obviously useful gift to other players -- information -- is taken away.

That's why the idea of a thottbot (or bestiary in Allakhazam, etc.) bothers me. I may not want to compete with Achievers, but I'm still affected when they decide to compete with me!

I see only a couple of ways out of this situation. One is relatively simple: assign a cost to Explorer content. The first thing a true Explorer will do on starting a new character is purchase the skills necessary to explore the game. She probably won't even think of that choice as having a cost. An Achiever, however, will be torn -- he'll find it difficult to pay the price for Explorer abilities, especially if he has to give up Achiever abilities first. This won't stop the rabid Achievers, of course, but it will slow them down.

The more effective -- but more difficult -- approach may be to rethink what it is that only true Explorers are good at, and build game features that speak to this motivation. Achievers will still try to do these things if there's some public reward for doing enough of them, but they won't enjoy it... and that's a moral victory.

My personal belief is that Explorers are less interested in cataloging raw data (which anyone can do) than in revealing hidden patterns in data. The developer who interprets "exploring" as some literal walking around physical space to visit a new location has misunderstood what it means to be an Explorer.

Explorers don't want to just see 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 -- they want to recognize the pattern ("Ah -- that's a Fibonacci sequence!") in order to predict the next value. Explorers feel satisfaction when they can move from the specific to the general.

In a game context, this means that low-level things need to add up to something greater. A lazy developer will just throw a bunch of things into the game world -- a developer who respects the Explorer playstyle will take the time to insure that some or all things in the world are interrelated parts of a larger pattern. That pattern may be easy to see, or diabolically difficult... but it must not be random.

Examples:

1. Some players can improve their "lore" attributes, or purchase levels of "awareness." This would allow Explorers to be better than non-Explorers at uncovering useful but hidden information.

2. These bits of information should fit into a pattern of information, and revealing this pattern should give the individual who sees the pattern some useful power in or control over their place in the game world. (I phrase it like this to suggest that revealed power/control shouldn't be general, since if it can apply to everyone then it just gets posted on the Web and everyone has it.)

3. Some information or objects or processes should change over time according to a pattern -- Explorers would (eventually) be able to observe this pattern and adapt their playstyles to it.

4. Explorers love "erector sets" -- collections of things that can be combined in complex ways to produce interesting results. Figuring out what every permutation does can keep an Explorer happy for weeks. Now imagine if various erector sets could themselves be combined to produce strange results....

5. Other hidden knowledge that Explorers could be particularly good at revealing: animal migration patterns, NPC conversation trees, plant growth patterns, story arcs, NPC motivations (assuming your NPCs have sufficiently interesting AI), new technologies (Civilization-like tech trees), workings of discovered hardware (post-apocalyptic games), secrets of a derelict starship of an alien race, lockpicking ability (but only if picking locks is more than just pass/fail)... you get the idea.

Ultimately the goal ought to be game features that any player can experience, but which only Explorers will naturally be willing to pay (within the game) to do. At that point, thottbot won't be a problem. It won't matter if Achievers identify and publicize raw data about places and critters and objects, as long as the developers have created those things according to a pattern... and only an Explorer can see and exploit that pattern.

...

Just a final note on Nick's last point, which is that automated knowledge management is definitely something that the (non-game) corporate world is interested in. As more companies realize that the last great untapped source of capital is the knowledge squirreled away in the brains of their employees, we'll see more tools for capturing and exposing that knowledge come into corporate usage.

The hard part isn't the technology for watching emails or hard disks (as in the Google desktop). It's the perception of further loss of privacy that will impede acceptance of thottbot and its successors.

Thottbot may be accepted... but how much more intrusion into our "private" activities are we willing to tolerate?

--Flatfingers

Posted Jan 25, 2005 6:32:50 PM | link

Barry Kearns says:

I've thought about (for some time now) the concept of trying to Achiever-proof some Explorer content I'm putting together for the game I'm constructing... I just wasn't thinking about it explicitly in terms of Bartle's "types". Thanks for articulating that, Flatfingers!

One of the things I'm exploring now (pun intended) is the concept of making certain player crafting aspects extremely specific to the individual character... in other words, different players have different formulae for exactly how to craft a particular item.

For balance purposes, I'm looking at assigning a variety of tiers of rarity to given resources, and then making player-specific mappings from generic schematics to specific ingredients. I'm creating the mappings at the time that the player first invests in that particular crafting skill.

In effect, each player has his own personal set of recipes. Posting information about that publicly wouldn't do nearly as much good. Most importantly, it's not a direct one-for-one mapping. You don't just need to discover which of ten ingredients is equivalent to "Generic Ingredient 104" for you... that doesn't tell you in advance which ingredient you'll need later on down the line.

For example, if a friend needs Frelnatz Oil for three of his recipes, comparing your required ingredient list on two of those recipes won't tell you in advance what ingredient you'll need on the third. You'll need to discover that INDIVIDUALLY.

An interesting side-effect that I'm anticipating out of this is a more robust trade in different ingredients... what's valuable to me might be junk to you. It should also make it much more difficult for anyone to artificially gate any particular item by trying to gobble up all of a given resource.

Posted Jan 25, 2005 7:01:21 PM | link

Brian 'Psychochild' Green says:

Some fuel for the fire:

Thottbot:Exploring::Botting:Achievement

(botting = unattended macroing, to clarify)

Most games have fairly strict rules against botting the game because it is often seen as a "cheat", or a way to get out of playing the game properly. Yet many people seem to be embracing Thottbot wholeheartedly.

My theory is that these games are still generally Achiever-focused, so circumventing that is bad for the game and runs against the "vision". On the other hand, Exploration is not the focus of the game, so something that circumvents exploration is acceptable. Even though for some people (namely the hard-core explorers), sites like Thottbot harm the game just as much as botting does.

Not saying that Thottbot is all bad or evil, just trying to show a different perspective.

Have fun,

Posted Jan 25, 2005 7:19:47 PM | link

Adam Miller says:

I failed to mention earlier my belief that Thottbot is a powerful leveler. Meaning that it levels the playing field and ensures that most everyone has access to the same information to play the game with. That changes the dynamics of the game some, meaning that raw skills come back to being the most valuable asset as opposed to some "secrets" you know. Intelligence and ability to do something useful with the data becomes more important than data collection.

It still fascinates me how that with Thottbot in existence, how many WoW players don't use it. Some players pay alot for items in the auction house that are available on vendors for half or a fourth of the price. I guess even Thottbot cannot help some people...

Posted Jan 25, 2005 7:31:51 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Brian Green wrote:

Even though for some people (namely the hard-core explorers), sites like Thottbot harm the game just as much as botting does.

Nobody has explained how it actually harms the games for explorers. If you're exploring to explore, what does it matter if other people have access to the equivalent of a map?

--matt

Posted Jan 25, 2005 8:25:49 PM | link

Barry Kearns says:

It would seem to be harmful to explorers only to the extent that obscure knowledge might give a competitive advantage over those who lack it.

If an Explorer's motivation is to gain a competitive edge from what they've found, public disclosure is the enemy.

A "great leveller" takes away from those who had an edge, by bringing anyone else who asks up to their plane.

I think that describes more of an Explorer-Achiever hybrid myself, as someone described above.

For pure Explorers, I'd think it makes little difference. I know it does to me. The existence of walkthroughs for intricate games doesn't lessen my puzzle-solving joy, after all.

But then again, I tend to think of the competitive landscape in those types of games as much more of "me against me" rather than "me against you". I'm generally not trying to be the first to solve the puzzle, but rather to enjoy the case. I can choose not to look at the spoilers and walkthroughs, just like I can choose not to enable cheat codes, and solve things "the hard way".

Posted Jan 25, 2005 8:32:59 PM | link

Peter says:

>...programs like Thottbot are really killing off some of the last of the in-game advantages that are tied to player skill/knowledge...

No. The Everquest designers felt that "spoiler sites" were the end of EQ. Instead, the spoiler sites let players find out what quests were broken for the last 4 years, so that generations of players didn't waste weeks trying to find something that had been removed from the game in 1999.

Having spent time as a guide in eq, I was supposed to "roleplay" some little song and dance when players were frustrated by the bugs in the game. I wasn't supposed to say "mmm, websites say the quest is broken, maybe wait till next patch."

I would say a very important concept is:
DON'T WASTE THE PLAYERS' TIME!
I cannot recover 20-100 hours because a bug in the game that you refuse to acknowledge. If I know the bug is there, I can do other more productive things, like picking bellybutton lint.

Posted Jan 25, 2005 9:41:51 PM | link

Michael Hartman says:

> It would seem to be harmful to explorers only
> to the extent that obscure knowledge might give
> a competitive advantage over those who lack it.

Such a person is *NOT* an explorer then. That is an achiever.


> If an Explorer's motivation is to gain a competitive
> edge from what they've found, public disclosure is the enemy.

I hate to repeat myself, but: Such a person is *NOT* an explorer then. That is an achiever.

Posted Jan 25, 2005 11:44:56 PM | link

Fizloki says:

QUOTE: Dave Rickey
-----
"Now, Thottbot does not seem to do anything that those sites do not, and quite frankly most of those who self-identify as "explorers" have long since stopped concerning themselves with literal geographic exploration, or else have come to terms with the fact that there is no part of the world that is not well documented somewhere and simply wander for its own sake."
----

But who creates these information websites to begin with? Explorers. I read your post and I only saw more support for Grax's argument. As you state in your post, Thottbot has simply usurped 90% of the explorer's role. As someone in a previous post noted, there exists much to explore within the numbers generated by thottbot. But, such exploration existed before the creation of thottbot. Thottbot has only removed all the in-game exploration previously required by players in order for them to reach the point at which they can satisfy their exploratory desires with number crunching.

An Analogy: Thottbot is to the explorer's role as macroing is to the achiever's role.

Both are convenient and both are able to replace the majority of their respective roles. Furthermore, neither adversely affect other places (at least not directly.) I think it an excellent analogy and hope that it can perhaps let us view the problem of thottbot as expressed by grax from a different perspective.

QUOTE: Adam Miller
----
"Explorers don't have to use it, thus they can feign ignorance and explore to their heart's content. However, I cannot think of a real explorer who would ignore it."
----

This is to deny the nature of the beast: it is an mmorpg, not a single player game. And as such if a player were to not use thottbot, it would be the equivalent of an explorer IRL ignorning the fact that the mountain he is attempting to map is populated by map wielding and gps using climbers. Simply put, one cannot explore that which has already been mapped and quantified, even if one were ignorant these unfortunate facts.

-fizloki


Posted Jan 26, 2005 1:06:41 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Matt> Nobody has explained how it actually harms the games for explorers. If you're exploring to explore, what does it matter if other people have access to the equivalent of a map?

Well, if there is any hold to the categories then it harms hardcore explorers because they want to find out things that they think have not been discovered yet.

Some "explorers" come to a game, map it out, put the map on the web, then quit. Why would you start creating a new map if everybody have it already?

However, I think proper explorers are a rare breed. Not too many of them.

Posted Jan 26, 2005 5:42:21 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Ohoh, let me correct that last statement. How viable hardcore exploration is depends on the game. Strategy-games would be different, obviously.

Posted Jan 26, 2005 5:55:13 AM | link

Darniaq says:

Grax wrote: The Explorer player-type (if you haven't, check out Bartle's player types article*) is already hugely marginalized, and programs like Thottbot are really killing off some of the last of the in-game advantages that are tied to player skill/knowledge
I don't necessarily agree with this. To me, Thottbot is a more automated form of Allakhazam or EQ Atlas, but performs the same function to players. It's a great academic encyclopedia of knowledge, but that's it. The onus is still on the players to achieve the goals and to figure out the best ways for doing so.

I never really felt Explorers needed their playstyle validated through mentoring. They're explorers because they like to learn things on their own at all. They may feel a sense of reward for imparting their wisdom to others, but I can't imagine that many players are driven to consume all the content in a game just so they can be the best teacher of it (unless they are running a fansite, but then that's a different motivation). I agree with Barry Kearns' and Matt Mihaly's summations (respectively):

Barry wrote: Personally, that's never been an issue for me... I value the difficult tasks that I've completed and know personally what those struggles are worth.
Matt wrote: If you are driven by just the need to explore, it matters not a whit that Thottbot is out there
Players try and make information valuable, but it's a transitory benefit. Wanting to be a fount of information has no impact at the reality that everyone else is capable of learning the same thing on their own.

I agree with many here who say/imply that information like this should be free. Leadership comes from leading the charge of experiencing the content described on Thottbot, not being the first one to report of its existence.

Barry Kearns wrote: I'd be interested to see examples of games that reward the cleverness aspects of Explorers where information sharing gives little (if any) benefit.
I don't know if this exactly addresses your question, but I feel SWG does reward Explorers with the resource harvesting system.

Explorers had the advantage because they would freely travel the world looking for the best "veins" of the current resource upon which they can place an automated harvester. While of high conceit, I always did get a certain sense of satisfaction when I'd place my fusion farm on a high-percentage vein and come back two days later to see other energy vendors have to accept lower percentages within the same vein. And the converse was often true too, since resources shifted somewhere between 6 and 12 days when all things worked. There's a competitive advantage to explorers who have a penchant for achievement.

Posted Jan 26, 2005 10:16:13 AM | link

Jim Purbrick says:

I don't think it's evil, just a very neat hack to generate the data that people want.

I've used spoiler sites on a number of occasions especially when I've got stuck because the game doesn't allow me to logically find the solution to a problem, even given the games internal logic. KoL was like this on a number of occasions (although, to be fair a lot of the problems made sense in terms of KoL's own twisted logic).

I try not to use spoilers, because they, well, spoil the game, but I agree that beyond a certain level of frustration they provide a useful safety valve. Once you know the information is there it does take a lot of willpower not to use it though.

There is a difference between single player game spoilers where you're only cheating yourself out of gameplay and multi-player games where part of the reward is the status you achieve compared to others. Spoilers allow short cuts in the same way that bought items do and will annoy the time rich in the same way.

This issue seems to be another of those grey areas where the games developers could make more money, but don't in order to be seen to be fair to those playing the hard way.

All of this information is known to Blizzard, they could make a subscription site to access it and charge players money in the same way that they could sell virtual items for those who want to buy themselves to the top.

It seems strange to have to go to such elaborate lengths to replicate a lot of information that Blizzard already has. It would be a lot more interesting for game developers if automated collection sites like these started tracking things like social interactions, group dynamics, play styles and other dynamic player information, rather than just uncovering known static content.

Posted Jan 26, 2005 10:52:06 AM | link

Dee Lacey says:

It seems to me that (especially based on Flatfingers' examples of what Explorers like/want from games) the ideal thing to put in to solve this problem (explore-botting) is to put pattern-puzzles into games that do not result in achievement-related rewards, but explorer-related rewards: bits of history and secrets about the game/world/story that achievers won't really care about because they do not affect experience/loot/powers/skills.

Make some introductory ones with such intense spoilers in them that people feel inhibited from revealing (some of City of Heroes' storylines are like this, the Omega Clearance one for example), at a level that an explorer can solve on their own; and make some advanced ones that are so deviously complex that they'll take days of cooperative solving on Explorer-oriented websites.

EQ has done this a bit (puzzle runes on a newsletter), mostly as advertising gimmicks to introduce new expansions. EQ also always had its "unsolved mysteries" (where do the locked teleport pots go? what is lewella's favorite drink?) I have no idea if World of Warcraft has anything like this... anyone know?

Posted Jan 26, 2005 2:34:20 PM | link

Flatfingers says:

Matt: "Nobody has explained how [Thottbot] actually harms the games for explorers. If you're exploring to explore, what does it matter if other people have access to the equivalent of a map?"

That's a good question.

I'd suggest that Explorers aren't some monolithic "type" any more than other convenient classifications of playstyles. Nearly all Explorers appear to have a desire to reveal that which is unknown, but there's still the question: reveal to whom?

Some Explorers explore purely for themselves. They play a game as an independent observer to reveal the secrets of that game world to themselves. When they feel they know the world well enough, they move on.

Other Explorers are more social and more participatory. For them, the process of exploration isn't independent of what other players do -- they want to play an actively useful role in the game world. These folks don't explore purely for themselves, they explore because exploration helps them feel useful to other players.

For these social Explorers, if the only Explorer reward in a game is the ability to fill in a map or observe a mob's difficulty level, then once someone else has already done this there's no reason for the Explorer to play the game. It's not an issue of competition (although there's no rule against Explorers being competitive); it's an issue of perceiving that their playstyle no longer has value in that game.

Where this gets to be a problem is when most of the popular games are highly Achiever-oriented. Such games offer mostly Achiever rewards (rank, loot, money, titles, badges, monuments, leader boards, kill stats, etc.); if there's anything explicitly for Explorers, it's rare, feels like an afterthought, and frankly is too simple to be interesting. So what's an Explorer to do in such Achiever games?

The only real options are to enjoy what Explorer content there is and then leave, or stay and act like an Achiever because that's all there is. Those who leave don't care, but what are those who choose to stay supposed to do when Thottbot comes along and eliminates the value of the one or two Explorer things they could do in the game?

The bottom line is that Thottbot and its more manual ilk have a significant impact on Explorers because there just aren't that many features for Explorers in most MMOGs. Until/unless designers recognize that not every player is motivated by Achiever rewards, and decide that Explorers, like Achievers, are a community worth attracting with cool features, MMOGs won't have as many subscribers as they could have.

So it's encouraging to see Barry's idea: "each player has his own personal set of recipes". That seems like a clever way to avoid the problem of the mystery being taken out of crafting. (Actually, it reminds me of the "guild" approach to teaching trade skills that was the norm up until a few hundred years ago. Apprentices were taught only the most basic trade skills; journeymen were given a few more of the craft secrets, and only the masters were entrusted with knowledge of a trade's most important methods. Some of this mystery surrounding trade skills being passed on by degrees survives today in groups like the Masons.)

I can see two effects of this approach. One would be that crafters would want to keep larger stocks of all possible resources (since you never know exactly what you'll need). If player inventories are limited, this could cause some complaining.

The other (as noted) is that players would probably want to do more resource swapping with each other. That's not necessarily a problem as long as they have effective tools for finding players who want to make trades, and have relatively simple ways to make those trades. As important as the Bazaar is to SWG, I suspect that some kind of in-game resource trade system would be absolutely crucial in a crafting system where resource needs are much less predictable.

I also like Dee Lacy's suggestion: "Make some introductory [rewards] with such intense spoilers in them that people feel inhibited from revealing ... at a level that an explorer can solve on their own; and make some advanced ones that are so deviously complex that they'll take days of cooperative solving on Explorer-oriented websites. "

If there were a game that included features like this as a regular, ongoing, and integral model, I would happily pay to play it. If it also included more personalized features for discovering unknown things in the game (i.e, dynamically game-generated mysteries of story or crafting), I would probably have to find a way to quit my day job and play it full-time.

Overall, I think these are innovative ideas for tipping the balance of a game slightly from Achiever-oriented to Explorer-oriented. I look forward to this being the start of a bidding war to see who can create the most Explorer-friendly MMOG. *grin*

--Flatfingers

Posted Jan 26, 2005 3:49:07 PM | link

Byron Ellacott says:

Wow, lots of discussion here. I'll add in my own observations.

1) Although thottbot.com is in some sense an 'information wants to be free!' enterprise, the lua source to the Thottbot UI addon is obfuscated, and the data it saves is also obfuscated. This may be related to the ease of poisoning the collected data; without the obfuscation it would be trivial to add an object such as "My Huge Wang: 1000dps!!!#!@" With it, you have to have the patience to untangle the data structures and/or code.

2) There are a few bugs in the Thottbot code, one that looks like a cut'n'paste error that prevents you from disabling its data collection, and another that is a direct result of the obfuscation of the data. See http://www.thottbot.com/?m=6434 for a really beautiful example of the bug: the numbers 70 and 72 are obfuscated to the same value as 91. The mob's location is (72, ?), but thottbot.com shows it as (91, ?).

3) thottbot.com is rapidly becoming out of date, being a victim of its own success. New accounts cannot be made, updates from existing accounts either don't work or are very delayed. With Cosmos being one of the more popular UI mod sets, and thottbot.com being such a useful tool, the volume of updates and requests is rapidly growing beyond what the servers can handle.

Finally, I'd like to argue that the need for such a site is a direct consequence of the game designers failing. As I've argued before on MUD-DEV, when a player needs or wants to hit a spoiler site to complete a quest, it means you didn't provide enough information in-game for players to complete the quest. Similarly, if there is a market for farmed items or gold, it is because those items or gold are sufficiently uninteresting to obtain in the "normal" way that people are willing to pay for them.

Consider that: people are willing to pay money to skip parts of your game. That strongly suggests to me that your game has a problem.

Back to thottbot, an interesting study might be to find which quests were being looked up on thottbot.com most frequently, and which least frequently.

Posted Jan 26, 2005 6:51:16 PM | link

Adam Miller says:

For those who feel Thottbot ruins the game for Explorers, note that Thotbott doesn't just connect to the WoW servers and autoexplore the entire game by itself.

Someone has to encounter a mob at least once before Thottbot knows about it. So in essense, that first person is the explorer. There are still things in the game that Thottbot doesn't report on, but admittedly these are getting scarce. The things that are missing from Thottbot are some quests that open up when you reach extremely high faction with certain NPCs. I have heard people discuss those quests on the forums, but cannot find them on Thottbot. This means that some people are still actively discovering new content in the game, but since they don't have Thottbot or have it configured for data collection mode, Thottbot never gets the data about these things.

So you can still discover these secrets and take advantage of them, however the time window for you to hold these secrets is shorter.

Also note that Thottbot has an oversupply of data on commonly visited places and mobs, but little on the fringe and high level parts of the world. I have run across some rare spawn items that NPCs sell and they are not listed on Thottbot.

Posted Jan 26, 2005 7:23:54 PM | link

Grax says:

"Finally, I'd like to argue that the need for such a site is a direct consequence of the game designers failing. As I've argued before on MUD-DEV, when a player needs or wants to hit a spoiler site to complete a quest, it means you didn't provide enough information in-game for players to complete the quest." - Byron Ellacott

I'm glad you brought this up, Byron. It has been my opinion that people often speak of MMOGs in idealized terms, but are thinking about specific games and MMOG companies when they are pretending (to themselves and others) to speak about "the ideal, feasible MMOG".

To clarify what I mean: Most MMOGs to date have "deserved" the macro programs which exist to circumvent acquired experience, and the Thottbot-like programs/sites that exist to circumvent acquired knowledge. But when we speak of MMOGs in the abstract, we should perhaps not be so demoralized that we assume that MMOG devs are forever doomed to create games whose content is dull and uninteresting (often to the masses, and even more often to those with good taste).

I agree with Byron when he states that it is game designers who fail, and who deserve to have their MMOG's gameplay modified by a third party-program. However, Byron and I probably do not agree about whose opinion matters when it comes to the dullness of a game, or how desirable it is to circumvent certain aspects of a game. When he asks us to consider that "people are willing to pay money to skip parts of your game. That strongly suggests to me that your game has a problem", one must be quick to point out an old MMOG dev cliche: that no game will satisfy everyone's taste -- some people will find parts dull that others truly appreciate.

I believe that the evolution of the MMOG genre is occurring quite rapidly, and that it is characterized in large part by mass-marketization. We can get a glimpse of the evolution of 'the product' when we consider the brief period that marks the MMOG genre's lifespan (from MUDs to WoW): mass-marketization means that you sell what sells to the proletariat, and you convince the aristocracy to buy the product (MMOG in this case) using a number of methods, preferably combining several methods.

How to destroy the aristocracy through marginalization, propaganda, and eventual absorption into the lower classes:

1) You tell the MMOG aristocrats that they are well represented in your game, even if this is not true.
2) You convince your society -- the mass group of individuals who may be interested in buying your game -- that all men are created equal, with the same desires, concerns, and that the aristocracy is not having its tastes abased to the level of the proletariats', but that technology is allowing us to bring everyone up to an aristocratic level. The only thing which stops this from being true is the overall quality of the proletariat (genetics, education, and lack of leisure are primarily responsible for this quality).
3) You ignore the aristocrats, and hope that some of them are actually well-dressed proles, who will end up buying your MMOG even if it caters almost exclusively to the lowest common denominator.

There is clearly a large problem here. Will the true MMOG aristocrats ever have a good MMOG to play, or will the MMO genre continue its simplifying, newb-friendly trend of catering to the lowest tastes? It seems like there shouldn't be all that much stopping the masses from enjoying themselves in a game that tells them: "You must be this knowledgeable, skilled, and devoted" to complete this quest, and if you are unable to complete this quest, then you will not be able to complete this quest. Period. No circumventing third-party programs will allow you to sneak into the MMOG's aristocracy. This world has real borders and you will not be able to bypass its mechanisms by stepping outside the game to 'achieve' in-game wealth, status, and notoriety.

All of these concepts (wealth, status, notoriety) are so extremely cheapened when they are given to players who simply have the urge, and not the means, to obtain them. MMORPGs are not single player games. Should all games allow each player to believe that he is the greatest hero, and that there is nothing he cannot have, even if he lacks the competence, time, and knowledge to obtain it within the game? Often, MMOG devs do not implement mechanisms in such a way that true competence is required to obtain knowledge and experience in their virtual world, but should this practical failure (or choice, if cash-motivated) influence how we view the "ideal and feasible MMOG"?

Posted Jan 26, 2005 7:53:06 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Byron wrote:

Consider that: people are willing to pay money to skip parts of your game. That strongly suggests to me that your game has a problem.

Or it just means that it's not possible to design an experience that will be appealing in the same way to every player. I don't view golf as a flawed sport just because I can rent a golf cart to avoid walking the course. Some people enjoy walking the course, some don't.

The concept of a perfect game design in which every moment is enjoyed by every player is fundamentally impossible unless you keep the game simple enough that you can ensure that the only people allowed to play are people who have been pre-screened for enjoying every bit of gameplay. Good luck with that.

--matt

Posted Jan 26, 2005 9:22:43 PM | link

Jacob Sharp says:

Quote (Grax)

"When he asks us to consider that "people are willing to pay money to skip parts of your game. That strongly suggests to me that your game has a problem", one must be quick to point out an old MMOG dev cliche: that no game will satisfy everyone's taste -- some people will find parts dull that others truly appreciate."

I've never played any MMOG except WOW. Could someone tell me if there are any other games that require skill in completing the quests? On the path to level 25, I've noticed that quests require three different abilities:

I. The ability to go places
II. The ability to kill monsters, people, etc.
III. The ability to collect items

I Maybe this one is oversimplifying gameplay, but when there are quests in which you only have to take an item to someone else for completion, I will list going places as a separate skill, for those quests depend solely on your ability to travel.

II is simple because the player merely needs to stay within an area where mobs are of comparable level. A probability based hit system does not leave much to skill. If the mob is higher level, I can barely hit it. If I'm higher level, the mob is trivial (except elites). I just sit back and let the dice roller work for me.

III is simple, unless you have not mastered I and II. You can't collect things in a place you aren't, and you can't collect things from a corpse unless the carrier is, well, a corpse.

Maybe I'm missing something subtle about the WOW game experience, but it seems as though tasks are trivial, or impossible.

Posted Jan 26, 2005 9:43:01 PM | link

Raph Koster says:

In text muds, there are plenty, Jacob. :) Somewhere in the comments on an old post here is a description of a quest on LegendMUD...

Posted Jan 26, 2005 11:10:10 PM | link

Krones says:

Byron Ellacott wrote:

Finally, I'd like to argue that the need for such a site is a direct consequence of the game designers failing. As I've argued before on MUD-DEV, when a player needs or wants to hit a spoiler site to complete a quest, it means you didn't provide enough information in-game for players to complete the quest.
------------------
Since we are discussing Thottbot in particular and Thottbot is an exclusive World of Warcraft spoiler site, I disagree with this sentiment and I am a bit taken back, because the impression I got from your post was that you are somewhat familiar with the game. And if so, you should know that WoW does an excellent job of providing their playerbase with what I like to call dumbed-down game mechanics. Most quests will tell a player exactly where to go, what the item reward is and even features a minimap that in some cases will show that player where a quest npc is or the direction in which they need to go. Don't forget the ever immersive concept of using ! ? for quest distribution and completion. What's next, an automatic auto-play mechanism that plays the game for you? The problem is not the designers, they are not at fault, they have definitely gone above and beyond to help alleviate the need and want of using spoiler sites.

The problem is with those players, their laziness, and the fact that some are just spoiled-rotten. Some players feel that since the game is easy enough that justifies their reasoning of using a site like Thottbot on a constant basis. The perception of making most, if not all of that information available in-game to combat spoiler sites ultimately fails. If those players feel Thottbot is enhancing their playing experience, than so be it, but please for those of you that may be developers, do not dumb-down your game to the point where you're treating the playerbase like a bunch of toddlers.
-----------------
Consider that: people are willing to pay money to skip parts of your game. That strongly suggests to me that your game has a problem.
------------------
Not necessarily, someone that pays real life money to skip parts of the game may have a hectic work schedule with a family on top of it. What if they want to share the same higher-level experience as other players, but they can only afford a 5 hour a week time investment. In this scenario, I don't consider the game to have a problem or a flaw. Maybe the problem is that the game is too fun? Would time investment be a problem, all games require it in some form. I guess that would make all games problematic.

Posted Jan 27, 2005 7:04:15 AM | link

Byron Ellacott says:

Matt> Or it just means that it's not possible to design an experience that will be appealing in the same way to every player. I don't view golf as a flawed sport just because I can rent a golf cart to avoid walking the course. Some people enjoy walking the course, some don't.

Conversely, noone views golf carts as controversial in any way; or at least, I've never heard anyone argue that golf carts ruin the game of golf for everyone.

Some people may enjoy farming for a rare item or for gold, but given the apparent size of the eBay market, I'd suspect many people do not. It's a bit premature to shrug and say you can't please everyone, then run around desperately trying to stick a digit into every hole in the eBay dyke, rather than trying to analyze who is buying, and why. In my opinion, at any rate, which has no game titles to lend it weight.

Posted Jan 27, 2005 5:59:34 PM | link

Simon Humphreys says:

Achievers don’t use thottbot to fill in game design gaps. They use it simply because its faster and easier.

Let me explain...

When I enter a zone, I bring up a list all the quests in the area. I click through the links and find out the amount of travel involved, the amount of time I am going to have to spend searching for something and the experience reward. I can then make a pretty accurate estimate on the xp/min rate that the quest will give me. If it’s not faster than my current xp/min from just killing things, then I skip the quest.

When I pick up a quest in World of Warcraft, I don’t bother to read the text or follow the conversation. I just hit accept. I then stick the quest name into thott and follow links to bring up the exact location of the mob that I have to kill, the npc I have to find, or the drop rate of the item I have to collect.

I use two computers while playing the game, that way I can see the thottbot maps on one screen and compare them to my current position in the game.

When I run instances, I pull up the loot list for all the named mobs using thottbot. I have an add-on that displays the equipment of my group mates so I quickly compare it to the possible drops in the instance. This way, I can work out the bosses we can skip and the quickest way through the instance.


You may argue that my playstyle doesn’t interfere with yours, and to some extent this is true. But how many times do you form a pickup group to do a quest, only for someone in the group to lead you exactly to the objective. Sure, he could have got lucky, he could of tried it before and failed, but what’s more likely is that he is thottbot user.


Despite my rather extreme need for data, I wouldn’t want a system like thottbot incorporated into a game. If this information becomes part of the game, everyone has access to it and therefore it IS the game.

Imagine this. You log in and bring up a list of possible quests, the first one reads:
"Go 300m to X,Y coordinates and kill 10 rats."
It now shows you a picture of a rat.
"The rats have 35 hp, 12 ar, two attacks, a basic melee attack that does 10-15 damage and a disease attack that does 30 damage over 20 seconds. Rats drop whiskers (35% drop rate) that are worth 12s each. Each rat is worth 50xp"
"On the way to X,Y you will find herbs at the following locations a,b c,d and d,e. You may also encounter the following enemies..."
The rats and herbs are then added as locations on your map.

Obviously, thats an explorers worst nightmare. But why does it look so bad to me, an achiever? After all, this is exactly how I am playing the game when using thottbot.

It’s because of something that usually gets missed from the achiever archetype description. Most achievers don’t care about achieving things; they only care about out achieving other people.

Posted Jan 28, 2005 7:11:13 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Byron Ellacot wrote:

Conversely, noone views golf carts as controversial in any way; or at least, I've never heard anyone argue that golf carts ruin the game of golf for everyone.

Completely untrue. There have been huge controversies about this in golf that reached the national media I wish I could remember the guy's name, but within the last few years there was a big to-do about whether to allow some pro golfer who had some sort of minor handicap to use a cart when everyone else was walking. Using the cart leaves you fresher, leading to longer drives, etc.

--matt

Posted Jan 28, 2005 3:56:38 PM | link

Grax says:

Yeah, Byron I feel that your analogy backfires in that it underlines the key differences between single-player golf and competitive/multiplayer golf. People who play a game of golf and make up their scores and use golf carts don't really take too much heat for it, but people in tournaments who do the same probably would.

MMORPGs are not singleplayer games, and I fear that too many people try to pigeonhole them as such. The type of people who view (and sometimes play) MMORPGs as singleplayer games (whether they admit it or not) are the type of people who tell others that "Thottbot shouldn't bother you if you just don't use it" -- that you can get all of your (single player) Exploring done without worrying about who might be using Thottbot.

Posted Jan 28, 2005 4:39:37 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Grax wrote:

MMORPGs are not singleplayer games, and I fear that too many people try to pigeonhole them as such. The type of people who view (and sometimes play) MMORPGs as singleplayer games (whether they admit it or not) are the type of people who tell others that "Thottbot shouldn't bother you if you just don't use it" -- that you can get all of your (single player) Exploring done without worrying about who might be using Thottbot.

It's not just single player exploring. I've played with friends before, running around virtual worlds exploring them, none of us referring to the readily available sites of info. How does the availability of said information greatly impact our playing experience? It doesn't, at all. I could care less because I don't view that kind of MMO experience to be competitive. I don't care if you use a bug, knowledge gained from a website, whatever, to get whatever it is you want as long as it doesn't have a serious tangible impact on what I'm doing. Again, it's no different from enjoying exploring a physical world mountain that's already been mapped. The fact that I could just gone to the bookstore and gotten a map doesn't lessen my delight at "discovering" a new trail for myself.

The people for whom Thottbot matters are the people who aren't playing just for the experience of exploring, but to compete for something or who have a "I had to learn about it in-game, so should you" hazing-type attitude towards other people's play experience. There's nothing wrong with competing (though the 'hazing' attitude is a bit juvenile in my opinion), and it makes sense that Thottbot would annoy those people.

But if you're not competing, as I'm not when I play these days, I just don't care and can't see why anyone else who isn't competing on some level would care either.

--matt

--matt

Posted Jan 28, 2005 6:01:07 PM | link

Barry Kearns says:

Matt Mihaly wrote:

But if you're not competing, as I'm not when I play these days, I just don't care and can't see why anyone else who isn't competing on some level would care either.

Matt, I think the disconnect may lie in the underlying concept that some people just don't seem to grok... the concept that I might want to play an MMORPG in a non-competitive fashion, and still not be a social butterfly.

I've discussed it with others, and gotten looks like I'm discussing four-sided triangles, or circles with corners.

Some people seem to have pigeonholed the experience to be "if there are other people, you HAVE TO be competing with them. Otherwise, there's no point."

I find that sad, frankly. I can't count the number of times people have told me "you should go play a single-player game instead"... as if the only function of other people being present is for them to serve as competitors to you. I see it over and over with random strangers spamming duel requests at me, and them getting upset when I won't help them validate their desire to "prove something" in relation to me and others.

I figure it's something that you just get... or don't. I've generally given up trying to explain it to those puzzled over my non-conformance to their expectations. I just smile, thank them for their advice, promptly ignore it and continue on enjoying my experience.

Posted Jan 30, 2005 12:08:51 AM | link

Staarkhand says:

I've played WoW rather a lot, and used thottbot the whole time. I have some thoughts.

Cutting edge content is really poorly represented on thottbot. For example drops that we're pulling out of Molten Core are almost nonexistent in its database, at a rate disproportinate to the number of people actually exploring those areas right now. This strongly suggests that the powergamers aren't running thottbot, possibly because they wish to keep an edge with their knowledge. This inforces earlier sentiments in this thread that explorers aren't as marginalized as powergaming knowledge hoarders. Power to the unl33t. Casual players appreciate it just as much or more than the hard core. Min/maxers are beside themselves with glee. And game designers are relieved that Thott did half their work for them and is covering for any sloppiness in their quest design.

The game is f-ing gorgeous, and big, and 3d in a way that maps just don't capture. If the first time you take a griphon ride or explore the top of the Ancients in Feralas you just happen to be thinking "I could have just looked this up at thottbot.com" you probably can't even spell expolorer.

Distributing knowledge like this moves success from being defined as "do you know where x random spawns" to "can you successfully organize and execute a high-level raid", etc. This is excellent for all but the most extreme of hermits, and moreover is as untouchable by distributed knowledge as it is by botting.

Incidently, database lag was the bane of open beta and about the first 2 weeks of retail (thottbot was active in closed beta on). They've fixed that, now the servers just reset a couple times a day with no warning, you have to wait around an hour to log in during peak times, and large-scale PvP is completely out of the question. But that's another day.

Posted Jan 31, 2005 5:42:29 PM | link

Capt_Poco says:

Bartle's types are not a vaild way to classify players. Try Deadalus for why this is so. If you're too lazy to click the link, then think about this: What classification is a Raid-Guild Officer?

Everybody always says that Explorers are being shortchanged in MMOs. Guess what? Nobody cares.

The truth is, Explorers have much more fun in single-player games. They don't really interact too much with other players and other players don't really interact with them. Think about it.

Killers are better off playing Counter-Strike or America's Army. The reasons are obvious.

Bartle says that Explorers and Killers are a small part of the population. I wonder why nobody cares too much about catering to them?

Posted Mar 19, 2005 12:00:39 AM | link

Ed says:

It strikes me that Thottbot only works because the universe is static; the quests and mobs are always there. If the developers wanted to circumvent Thottbot, all they need to do is replace content, not add more.

I don't do development, but it would strike me that it should be pretty easy to take out the quests that ask you to kill 10 of mob A and replace it with a quest that asks you to kill 5 of mob B and 5 of mob C. Change the quest objectives every now and then, and Thottbot's data becomes outdated and irrelevant; the quests, rewards, and objectives simply won't exist anymore.

A more dynamic environment should be able to better satisfy Explorers and Achievers. If there are new things, and things will eventually go away, then the feeling of discovering new things and being able to see them while others miss them should be able to satisfy that. Then you just hand out momentos - items essentially like a t-shirt that says "Been There, Done That; and You Haven't And You Can't, Because It's Gone".

Thottbot is datamining a static set of data. The end user result is like going on Mapquest to figure out how to get from point A to point B. If there's road construction, Mapquest will get you lost.

Posted Mar 19, 2005 5:00:45 PM | link

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Posted May 4, 2005 6:58:29 AM | link