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Oct 31, 2006

Comments

1.

My favorite is still the stuff that surrounded the wisps in Ultima Online. I wrote about it in a blog post about NPCs:

Stagecraft definitely has a huge place; not everything must be modeled to a high level of detail. My favorite system I have ever done along those lines is the nonhuman script in Ultima Online. As a primer, you may want to read A Grammar of Orcish by Yorick of Yew.


Based on my species, pick one of the following syllable libraries:

Orcish (heavy on the ughg gaghs)
Chittery (heavy on the kth chkhth)
Slithery (heavy on the ssiss sisshtsh)
Wispish (every consonant, plus the letter y)

Also based on my species, set a length of words (in syllables) and a length of sentence (in words).

Every once in a while, saySomething(with no parameters)

If you hear text, you have a chance of calling saySomething(with the overheard text as a parameter)

saySomething(text):

if the passed in text has any of the following words: food, eat, gold, any of the city names, any of the virtue names, any of the major fictional character names like British or Blackthorn, words related to combat, words related to gameplay

pick from the following list of other words: kill, eat, no afraid, scared, attack, hunt, ugly, puny, hate, love, etc.

Build words up to sentence length. If random chance hits, insert one of the list of words instead, or one of the overheard words. End the sentence with a bit of punctuation: ? ! . or … (and capitalize sentences appropriately).

Building words: grab random syllables from your syllable list, up to the word length.

This meant, of course, that if you were near a wisp, and happened to say the word “moongate,” the wisp might respond with “Zthgtts zzkzyz moongate? Yjjkkjwh virtue shrine.”

This led to a sizable number of people believing a large number of urban myths about wisps, including that they tended to hang around healers, that they healed you, that they gave quests, that enhanced bardic abilities, and so on. From the Seekers of the Wisps conference:


Khajja the Fang: On two occasions I have been helped by wisps. I was healed while fighting a gargoyale And once I was assisted by a wisp while fighting an orc mage. It casted offensive spells. That is all.

Aurora Sylvr says: Wisps have been known to do “unusual” things. We have had many reports of them aiding in unfair battles

Khajja the Fang says: So it is not unusual?

Aurora Sylvr says: It’s rare.. but not completely unusual

I don’t even want to think about how much dialogue we were saved from having to write thanks to this trivial little system.

FWIW, I tend to agree on the productivity of that period when nobody knew how to be a Jedi. I think giving the clues was a mistake -- not only because it revealed the system which did not live up to expectations, but also because it commodified what was mysterious. Ideally, people would have reached Jedi without having any idea what they had done.

2.

Does Mr. Bigglesworth help you get more Epics from Naxx trash?

3.

Nick Yee: Eric then mentioned that in his WoW guild, some believe that it's best for Hunters to be the first to enter an instanced dungeon because Hunters supposedly have better loot tables

I am not sure if calling these things "superstition" is fair. Players understand that code can be messy and that code can lead to strange behaviour. In fact, code can lead to anything.

In LP-MUDs where the code is available to the wizards, players might call on one to get the code examined for bugs or to find out if his theory is bonkers.

Raph Koster: deally, people would have reached Jedi without having any idea what they had done.

If random() > player.playtime Then player.make_jedi()


4.

Ack... invert that test. *blushes*

5.

I would agree with Ola that "superstition" may not be a fair term to use.

I think referencing "urban legends" is better as (1) it's about something that's not proven, (2) it captures the receiver's imagination and (3) the receiver develop their own version of "the truth" of the matter.

Given that these speculations and "urban legends" do capture the imagination of players, it should be considered for proper inclusion in MMOs.

I think the current crop of TV shows such as Lost, Heroes, X-files, etc. uses these techniques to keep viewers engage.

So rather referencing "superstitution" (which is catchy as a phrase), I think a better reference is "urban legends" or actions based on guesses, which occurs often between the time when a quest is added and when the actions necessary to solved the quest is successfully repeated.

Frank

6.

Better question: Is superstition merely our attempt to make a reasonable guess about the algorithm of the universe?

7.

"A Superstition is the irrational belief that future events are influenced by specific behaviors, without having a causal relationship."

The thing about behaviour is that it is always related to a cause. When Skinner ran his experiments, his pigeons were in cages. They were being observed, but were also able to observe.

So there's every chance that the behaviour of the pigeons was pre-empted by a corresponding response from the observers, anticipating the pigeons "superstitious" response. A response which although unrelated to the food dropping event, may have been a rational response given the limited data available.

In WoW, there have been issues raised concerning raid loot generation, given statistically unlikely sequences of loot being dropped for the same raid leader.

IIRC, the development team acknowledged that originally loot generation was seeded (at least partially) by the raid leaders name. Other factors were also involved. I wonder if one of them was class/race?

I'm not a mathematician (unless it's my round) but I've run into enough real life statistical situations where convergent patterns emerge from seemingly random initial data, so this isn't particularly far fetched.

Do I think that Hunters get better loot tables as raid leaders? No. What I do think is that people are extraordinarily bad at detecting causative factors.

As further thought, consider the role of hidden mechanics as part of gameplay folklore. In the real world, we have Masons, witchcraft, Select Committees and other such quasi-mythological entities, knowledge of which is alleged to have significant impact on our daily lives. The important point is that whilst their effects may be largely overstated or imagined, the above entities all have an ability to impact events.

The direct allegory to this is cheat codes and game mechanics. Games are inherently comprised of codes. Understanding and manipulating these codes is an inherent part of gameplay and gaming. Game culture is full of references to both real and imagined codes that convey significant benefits to the able cryptologist.

I'm currently one of a handful of people who currently stack their character with +weaponskill items. Few other players understand how the crushing blow mechanic works in WoW and there's no official literature in or out of game (short of delving into the ever changing, ever censored WoW forums).

If a person looked at my character to derive an idea of how I was doing so much damage, they would first notice the amount of +hit items my character has, since I only have weaponskill on one or two item slots at a time, by comparison to +hit on every other.

That player, if then trying to ape my damage output, would then attempt to replicate my +hit itemisation and failing to duplicate my output, would probably ascribe the significant shortfall to some theoretical "+hit cap" that I have managed to reach.

Yes. This is a belief that an event is influenced by a non-causative factor.

The decision making behind it, however, is perfectly rational.

*Sorry about quality of language, I'm writing this in fragments whilst I beaver away in a call centre. Hope it makes sense.*

8.

First, I am glad to see Skinner's study referenced as I found it quite informative. I disagree with the claim that the pigeons were reacting to some other factor. The pigeons merely suffer from the same problem humans do: An assumption that the universe is governed by predictable and understandable rules.

When we encounter something that is random, or over which we have no influence, we are loathe to come that conclusion. We'd rather build an increasingly complex set of hypotheses that fit the observed data so far.

Second, to the Game Design question. Is superstition a good thing? YES! Superstition is the game equivalent of "reading the book vs seeing the movie". Superstition is the player projecting complexity onto your game mechanics that isn't there. Superstition is, in effect, the player playing a *better* game than you wrote. Indeed, sometimes the game that they think they are playing is not even possible for you to write due to technical limitations.

What I think a good game designer should do, however, is troll the forums silently looking for superstitions. Then, where possible, they should secretly change the code so the superstition becomes true. Ie, say a lot of people are claiming that by sacrificing gold in a certain ritual at a shrine increases their luck attribute. Perhaps one should then add code so that actually occurs.

There are two ways to find out how to make a game more worldly. One is to wait for someone to try something that doesn't work because it isn't implemented. You then know that you should implement that feature. The second is for someone to try something that doesn't work but that they don't realize doesn't work. In this case, you get the benefit of implementing the feature without having to admit that you never thought of the possibility.

9.

There's always Malinowski's functionalist analysis of the supernatural in Magic, Science, and Religion. I don't have a copy at hand, so I've had to Google up some quotes. To wit:

This
"The classic study in this area was Malinowski's (1925 - reprinted 1948) analysis of Trobiand Island fishermen who combined magic with "scientific" knowledge - both deployed to enhance food-gathering activities. Malinowski lived with the islanders he observed and felt that when events couldn't be explained "scientifically" magic or ritual was deployed to reduce uncertainty. Support for this notion was found in what he felt were the different orientations of the inshore (in the lagoon) as compared to the more dangerous offshore fisheries. Offshore fishermen performed more elaborate rituals and were more deeply superstitious than those who worked in the calmer waters of the lagoon. Wherever the outcome was more uncertain, the greater the need for magic. Hence "we do not find magic wherever the pursuit is certain, reliable and well under the control of rational methods and technological processes. Further, we find magic where the element of danger is conspicuous" (1948, p. 139-140) [...] Malinowski's was a functionalist analysis wherein superstition served to reduce anxiety where there is uncertainty and a risky situation."

That
Malinowski, in Magic, Science, and Religion and Other Essays, pointed out that Trobriand islanders—far from living in a perpetual fog of magical thought—hunted and gardened with empirically-honed skill; they only turned to magic when they reached the limits of their practical knowledge. Evans-Pritchard, in Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande, argued that a belief in witchcraft did not preclude the Azande from understanding empirical relationships in the world around them and that their witchcraft beliefs had an underlying logic and plausibility that impeded falsification. While there were reflexive implications to this work, Westerners too turned to magic and religion when they felt powerless."

10.

This last part was cut off for some reason.

11.

What's with this? Okay, the quote I was trying to put in:

We find magic wherever the elements of chance and accident, and the emotional play between hope and fear have a wide and extensive range. We do not find magic wherever the pursuit is certain, reliable, and well under the control of rational methods and technological processes. Further, we find magic where the element of danger is conspicuous.

https://atheism.about.com/library/glossary/general/bldef_malinowskibronislaw.htm

12.

What is interesting for developers is whether they should add random code, or code that follows complex patterns, to enrich their world. I worked on an events team for a couple years, and the best stories we came up with were ones that offered a bare minimum of information, and gave the players a chance to puzzle out the rest. One of our events involved a "scrambled" communications that was actually us hammering on our keyboards randomly. The producer told us to follow grammar and linguistic patterns similar to real language, then we would add in occasional references to what the players said. The result was months of puzzling over what we said, and several people claiming to have broken the "code." It would be interesting to have something similar within the game itself, a mechanism that would randomize rewards based upon changing parameters.

I'm a believer that players want to understand what's going on in a virtual world, but don't want to be fed it on a plate. There should always be something they don't understand, so they're never "finished" understanding how it works. One way is by continually adding new content you've developed for the game; another is to add some random sequences that can be puzzled over by players; the third (and best in my opinion) is to let players create dynamic content, so they continually innovate in the world.

13.

I second that, Gabriel. This is easier to achieve in single-instance worlds though, where you can walk in lock-step with players as they progress. Albeit somewhat expensive in terms of human resources.

14.

It reminds me a bit of "scuttlebutt" in the military or in other similar campy settings (college dorms, airplanes?, concerts/events?). I think it comes from a mass of similarly situated people who have some feel for how decisions are made but are essentially out of the loop. Rumors then become incredibly salient, with the lack of hard information... there's a model here somewhere.

15.

I stayed up late at night to play my crafting characters in UO, because I'd heard that skill gain was based on the number of characters currently online with that skill. I also ate a lot of fish steaks, because everybody knew that skill gain was improved when your character was full.

(Were those true?)

In WoW, there have been issues raised concerning raid loot generation, given statistically unlikely sequences of loot being dropped for the same raid leader.

Are they actually looking at hard data with reasonable sample sizes? Random item generation makes people think funny things.

On the last live game I worked on, every once in a while, players would start swearing up and down that we'd changed one of the game's random item generation systems. One person would seed the idea on the boards, and it'd take off like wildfire. It felt like every single player who ever posted on the boards was 100% certain that I was lying to them when I said the system wasn't changed.

It was true. That system hadn't been touched in years. And a few weeks after it started, the players would stop talking about it. Even though they let it die, I suspect they held a grudge. It was all because one asshole started a rumor, and people are willing to believe anything about random item generation.

16.

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17.

Actually, as I recall the Skinner superstition study is not entirely straightforward. I seem to remember that attempts to replicate it in the 90s indicated that it's not just a case of "randomness produces superstition" there was another factor or two. The overall verdict, from a student of Skinner's, was that Skinner kind of fooled himself on this one. I'll see if I can dig up the later study.

When it comes to players, I think that superstition isn't the problem, it's unlearning superstitions. It's perfectly fine if players decide that a hunter has to enter an instance first, but it's not ok for players to avoid running instances if they don't have a hunter. If a significant portion of players are consistently doing something that makes the game less fun, it's the designer's problem and needs a fix.

It's very difficult to train someone out of a behavior which is non-functional but which they believe is associated with a reward, simply because they don't want to take the "risk" of skipping the behavior. You can't reward players for not doing the superstition, so you have to wait for the lack of reward to extinguish the behavior, which can take quite a long time and may extinguish interest in the main task.

18.

Some superstitions have a basis in fact.

I can't help but be reminded of the situation with the monk intimidate skill in the original EQ. One or two people were able to exhibit the skill, and nobody else was.. There was a huge volume of speculation about secret trainers and quests to get the skill. Later there was a backlash in the other direction with claims that someone who provide screenshots of skill in action has fabricated them.

Eventually it came out that the skill was real, was supposed to be available from regular trainers, and that GMs thought it was in place because characters who had their level changed artifically had the skill correctly unlocked. Later it was fixed to be available from standard trainers and I doubt if many people even recall the incident now.

Its too bad they didn't do what Brask suggested and make the code fit the player mythology.

19.

I stayed up late at night to play my crafting characters in UO, because I'd heard that skill gain was based on the number of characters currently online with that skill. I also ate a lot of fish steaks, because everybody knew that skill gain was improved when your character was full.

(Were those true?)

The first one was based on truth, but was false. the chance of gaining a skill was based on the overall frequency of skill usage for that skill. Skills that were used infrequently by the playerbase as a whole would go up faster than skills that were used constantly. The reason for the origin of this system is that something like swordsmanship was queried really often and quickly, and something like spirit speak was queried really infrequently. Were there no table to adjust the advancement rates, you'd max out swords in far less time. Overall across all players, the total time to 100 in each skill was exactly the same.

Unfortunately, the system wasn't baselined somehow, so it spun into a feedback loop, making everything slower and slower and slower. Explanations of how the system worked led people to think that playing when no one was on would mean that everything would be faster. This was erroneous.

The fish steaks thing was complete hokum. No idea where that came from.

20.

My favorite MMO superstition was the Wi Flag. Found some history here:

https://www.vitaerising.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=40&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0

The fascinating thing about the Wi Flag is that it was rooted in truth:

"Normally--if we had rolled between 0 and 3 in the example--your order in the list should have no effect on how likely you are to be chosen. But because we only rolled between 0 and 1, the earlier you appear in the list, the more skewed your chance of selection is. And as it happens, in AC code, your position in this list is determined by the InstanceID of your character, which is assigned when you create the character and never changed."

And when your wildest superstitions turn out to be based in fact, it's hard to argue in the future that rotating counterclockwise doesn't have some affect on the seed supply.

21.

In Dark Age of Camelot, crafting skill-ups were essentially random, as was the quality of the final item. Statistically, the odds were proven; it was basically a 1/100 chance for a perfect 100% quality item, a 1/50 chance for a 99% item, etc. (I don't remember the numbers exactly, but you get the idea). Creating "masterpiece" items was just a random event. The more you tried, the more chances you had.

The DAOC crafting boards were laden with threads discussing the various ways to get the most out of crafting. There were a plethora of theories, most of them abominable. For example, make lots of low-level items (thereby saving money on retries), then switch to making high-level items when you get close to 100 attempts to cash in on the "inevitable" masterpiece that the system owes you. People would become angry if their masterpiece "came early", i.e. while they were still crafting useless low-level items because then their masterpiece chance was "used up" and they'd have to start all over again.

It was also amusing to hear crafters arguing with one another about "stealing" masterpieces. The thinking went: if I do a lot of crafting and get a lot of masterpieces, then I've won the masterpiece item, and you therefore won't make any. It was thought the system had a finite number of masterpieces in it, and if I created them all, then they wouldn't be available for you to create.

No matter how concisely or how clearly one tried to explain random independent events to these folks, they KNEW FOR A FACT this was the way crafting works.

22.

Well, they aren't superstitions, for one thing. They are patterns of behaviour that work, just like in real life. For example, if I ever have a parcel not renting in Second Life, I know how to ensure that it will rent instantly -- I first have to spend an hour building or assembling a house on it, then it will rent, and five minutes later, the customer will ask to have the prefab removed to put out their own. Works like a charm, but I try to ration the charm's use.

23.

That got me wondering what an "anti-climatic truth" might be. Meteor impact? I used to giggle every time I saw the Professor's city "Climactic Research" in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.

Anyway, the fundamental problem is that not a lot of game players know how probability works. If you try to organize people to collect data on how a particular game feature works, they immediately launch off into anecdotal evidence. Some people are happier with myths than facts, and I guess that is something a game designer or a politician has to accept and take into account.

24.

Everquest had tons of this stuff, too. People were convinced that mob respawn was affected by whether you fully looted the corpses of previously killed mobs (it wasn't). People were also convinced that if you stood too close to the mob spawn point it wouldn't spawn (it would). After every patch, people were convinced that they'd nerfed the run speed boost of J-boots (they hadn't).

It all comes down to a game like EQ having really inscrutable mechanics and humans being terrible at pattern recognition and understanding of randomness.

25.

Heh - Thanks for catching the typo CherryBomb. I've gone ahead and corrected it. I guess the opposite typo is more embarassing :)

26.

first of all, i think "speculation" is a better term to use than "superstition".
players speculated on what would get them a Jedi.
(by the way, putting player Jedi into SWG was THE single biggest mistake, which ultimately killed the game... jus'sayin')


one of my biggest gripes with MMOs is all the Math involved.
it seems that in most MMOs everything's about numbers. every skill, every item, has numbers attached. most players know most of the formulas which go into the game's mechanics.
everything is right out there in the open!

this takes away so much of the mystery of how things work.
everything is broken down into formulas. number crunching reigns supreme.


i think that making MMOs which promote speculation amongst players is a very good thing.
as was seen in SWG, player's came up with some fairly imaginative ideas on how things worked.

if you remove the visible math from MMOs, players are left with vague ideas.
ideas are malliable (in the players minds).
math is not.
those vague ideas will become imaginative ideas.


people aren't used to seeing all of the underlying mechanics to their World.
we've just got vague (varying degrees of vagueness) ideas about how things work.

instead of: "this sword has 12 damage (+3 vs. Orcs)."
how about: "this sword is well crafted and sharpened, and coated with a subtance known to be poisonous to Orcs."

instead of: "i need 12,000 more Archery XP to make my next level, and earn the 'Faster Aiming' skill, which increases my firing rate by 5%."
how about: "i've been practicing with this bow and arrows for four days now. i hope that the next time i speak with my trainer, he will notice my improved abilities, and maybe teach me a new and helpful technique."

i think vague ideas and speculation would make for a far more interesting MMO, than another number crunching grind.

27.

I think the term "speculation" is fine for the situations where people are indeed just theorizing on a message board, but I think when you have people repeatedly performing an action in the belief that the action causes a specific event outcome (and in the face of many non-confirming outcomes), then it's fair to call it "superstition". For example, in the case of obsessive looting of mobs in EQ to "help" respawns, that feels more than just a speculation.

Now, if they were systematically testing this (i.e., experimentally), then that would be hypothesis testing, but in most of these cases, they aren't testing the speculation. They just do it without any good evidence because they are convinced it does happen.

28.

The point to temember about environments with complex contingency, like MMOGs, virtual worlds, and everyday life, is presicely that statistical risk management approaches break down in them. Humans in them therefore rely on something which, all things considered, they are quite good at -- developing a reliable disposition of how to act. Sure, sometimes this generates laughable "guesses", but this is neither "anecdotalism" nor "superstition." It is an open-ended readiness to learn, always in the process of becoming.

29.
but I think when you have people repeatedly performing an action in the belief that the action causes a specific event outcome (and in the face of many non-confirming outcomes), then it's fair to call it "superstition".

fair enough.

one of my favorite superstitions from real life, is when Major League pitchers hop over the foul lines on their way to the dugout, thinking that stepping on said lines causes them to pitch poorly.

for some reason, the actions players take in MMOs have never seemed comparable to that. or at least haven't seemed to be done in the same "spirit" as something like that.

i suppose they are done so afterall.


i still say that ADDING to the superstitions and speculations (by removing as much visible mechanics as possible) will make for a much more rich and colorful world.

you'll have players saying things like "if you visit the Blue Forest at night, you'll become much stronger the next day."
or "never cast the fireball spell while in the presence of a star-crystal. it will backfire!"
and statements like those could be based on kernels of truth (which are in the now-hidden mechanics), or they could be completely false, and based on the experiences of a few talkative players.

you could even have players psyching each other out, or using trickery.
for instance, if one group of players possesses the so-called "star-crystal", they could spread completely unfounded rumors about its effect on the "fireball" spell.
thereby causing their opponents to neglect using that spell in battle, giving the advantage to the group who spread the rumor.

that may be a far-fetched scenario, but it would be possible in an MMO which encouraged superstition and speculation by hiding the mechanics.

30.

Nick Yee: in most of these cases, they aren't testing the speculation. They just do it without any good evidence because they are convinced it does happen.

The problem with code is that they cannot reliably test their hypotheses/thories anyway, unless they understand the premises for the code. In order to predict they need data, but developers can prevent sufficient data from sipping out by using an odd distribution (e.g. brownian motion) or a wide range of nonintuitive variables as parameters. Random drops doesn't have to follow a white noise pattern... Systematic testing presumes a "somewhat deterministic" model.

31.

Or to phrase it differently: the only reasonable model players have access to is the model they can obtain from reasoning about what kind of programs a programmer would bother to write.

The physical world is different: we can inspect the underlying mechanisms. Variables usually leave visible traces. The physics of the universe provide constraints. Code is inherently different.

32.

"Variables usually leave visible traces."

Not just visible traces, but obvious, in-your-face traces like health bars, and new abilities that literally offer you "+3% chance to hit." What if, even though it may be based on numbers, your MMORPG offered no numeric feedback to the player? This would include gauges, life meters, and progress bars. Coming up with meaningful feedback would be a challenge -- and a possibily prohibitive one, at that, as you try to invent a metaphor for every game mechanic -- but I bet it would foster superstition.

33.

I have a friend who swears up and down that in UO, the random chance of your fizzling a spell or resisting one was seeded by your location in the world (your tile). Therefore, if you were getting a lot of fizzles, you should shift a few tiles to get a new seed.

I heard that theory as well when I played, but it always sounded very urban-legendy. My friend played a lot more than me (ahem), so I deferred to his opinion on it, but I have always been curious whether it was really true.

Incidentally, this same friend thinks that most MMOGs use a similar system now, so if he is wrong, he may be considered a poster child for the Skinner's Pigeons theory.

34.

Informis:but I bet it would foster superstition.

Yes, but my point is more that the idea of "superstition" only holds under the assumption that the implemented models are dead simple, accessible and predictable.

The theoretical point is this: if the computerprogram is unknown, then the program's output should be considered to be arbitrary. Under these conditions MOST models should be considered to be _equally_ probable. Hence "superstition" is a meaningless term from a purely theoretical view.

Granted, developers encourage players to develop certain models over others, but can you trust developers to be "nice"?

It is also known from psychology that human beings tends to favour evidence that support their existing believes, and ignore contradictory evidence. This is a good thing too, otherwise we would never be able to agree on anything... I think "superstition" is a misnomer, unless they have solid evidence against their beliefs. I consider this type of behaviour to be "pragmatic rationality". Some people favour insanely complex models, others prefer very simple models.

35.

Indeed, Ola. This is also talked about by some as a "reliabilist" epistemology.

36.

I have the same experience as Sara Jensen above with Meridian 59; even though we haven't patched for months, people swear something changed or some secret nerf went in.

There are also cases where it's not mere superstition. There was a case in M59 where you could become invulnerable if you put on and took off a certain set of equipment. People thought it was some former programmer's easter egg. In reality, it was a particular piece of equipment not resetting the resists for a weapon type correctly when it was removed. So, the main part of the sequence was actually putting on and taking off a particular piece of equipment.

Personally, I wonder how much of this "superstition" is players wanting to feel some control over something that is almost entirely random, and therefore out of their control. Nobody likes to feel that they are completely out of control in a situation.

An offline example is when I play console RPGs, I usually tap the button on the controller when there is no option during combat. As a kid, it seemed that the game would work better when I did that. Now it's just a habit I have that fills the time while my character does its 30 second animation for its attack. But, I think part of me wanted to have more control over the combat between the meaningful choices. On the other hand, this behavior gets me in trouble in the Mario RPGs where tapping the button at a specific time is important. But, you do have more control over the situation between choosing your attacks.

Some thoughts,

37.

Not exactly; the chance of advancing in a skill was seeded by your location.

See "Use-based systems" for further details.

38.

Whoops, that was in reply to Jayce.

39.

I do remember 8x8, but I had moved on by that point too :) I first heard the fizzle/resist rumor well before 8x8, during the T2A era. Interesting to have it debunked once for all.

On topic, I think Psychochild is onto something with his statement about people wanting a feeling of control. Corollarily to the law mentioned in Raph's use-based system article, people will figure out every algorithm, etc in your world - but they will also "figure out" some that don't actually exist.

40.

> i still say that ADDING to the superstitions and speculations
> by removing as much visible mechanics as possible)
> will make for a much more rich and colorful world.

Heh. Design approaches like this are clearly covered under Rule 1 - "The Professional Game Designers Trap", that is; creating a game that *you* want to play, rather than creating the game that *players* would like to play.

There are many types of players who will not like such ambiguity at all (I suspect about ~25%), and who instead will set aside their willing-suspension-of-disbelief in order to min/max stats and performance. I don't happen to be one of those players personally (story, ambience and setting are important to me), but I know I must make games that keep the rest of the players happy too. If we create a game that hides cause-and-effect too deeply (which is all too easy when we're dealing with pixels on a screen and not real world senses) we give rise to a form of aberrant-conditioning... which will not create a pleasant user experience. Downplaying the numbers-game should be important, but not at the risk of giving mixed messages about progress to players. Sigh... would that our technical ability to convey the richness of our worlds had kept pace with our designs; then we'd see some great things emerge!


41.
creating a game that *you* want to play, rather than creating the game that *players* would like to play.

actually, i keep that in mind, and try to avoid that as much as possible.

if your definition of "players" is "those who already currently play MMOs, and have been doing so for many years", then yes, you would do well to keep the math and math-based feedback visible at all times.
but if your definition of "players" is "any and all human beings", then you've got a lot more room to work with.

of course i'm not suggesting that ALL feedback is obscured to the point of confusing and bewildering players, so that they can't figure out how anything works.
there's no need to give mixed messages.
just more meaningful messages, without hard numbers to serve as evidence.

you're obviously not going to decrease a players XP as they practice something.
even the dumbest player can wrap their brain around the concept of "the more you do something, the better you get at it".

so why show them the XP bar?
all that does is make their experience predictable (meaning, they KNOW exactly when they'll achieve their next skill or level).
and while humans enjoy a sense of predictability, i believe they enjoy surprises more (at least the good surprises).

as it is right now, MMOs are practically ALL hard numbers as very visible evidence.
so we can only take it in the other direction.
and i believe we need to, in order to capture the players from that second definition i offered. because very few human beings enjoy number crunching and min/maxing.

42.

"The physical world is different: we can inspect the underlying mechanisms. Variables usually leave visible traces. The physics of the universe provide constraints. Code is inherently different."

Strong assertions, all problematic. I think my key objection is that, unlike the rest of us, Grøstad's experience of the universe seems to be dominated by basic physics. But the universe I live in is dominated by human behavior. The directly relevant "underlying mechanisms" in this universe are much less available for inspection. Most variables are not only "invisible", some believe they are in principle unavailable for "inspection".

Furthermore, the assumption of the regularity of the universe is an assumption. It's a necessary assumption, yes. But then it's also a necessary assumption for anyone existing in a virtual world. And while we can never hope to know that the real universe is regular, as it happens we can know that a virtual universe is regular.

If anything, it seems to me that the direct opposite to Grøstad's argument is more defensible: a gaming universe is more comprehensible than the real universe, its mechanics less obscured and more likely to be known to be regularized.

43.

Well, in that case Keith, simulation of the physical world becomes an impossibility

44.

"Well, in that case Keith, simulation of the physical world becomes an impossibility"

You need to fill-out these statements of yours more. I don't know what you're getting at. On its face, this statement is both true and false, depending upon how "simulation" is interpreted. In theory, at least as it seems to me off the top of my head, you can simulate reality to any degree of detail excepting complete detail. The level of detail which is practically possible is another matter entirely. And of course you have to assume the universe is regular.

I'm not sure how you intend this to relate to our argument, but I'll just wish you luck simulating me to any level of detail beyond the most superficial and for purposes beyond the most trivial. If your original statement about the comprehensibility of the real universe was applicable to people—and assuming that you meant your statement to apply in the practical realm (which it seems to me you must have intended for it to have any relevancy in this discussion) then the problem of AI would be relatively solvable and already solved. But it is relatively insolvable and emphatically unsolved.

But that's only the most extreme example. I can only guess (well, I could do a web search on your name to dig a bit deeper), but it seems like you must be relatively unaware of two histories essential to your point: the history of science and the history of simulation in science. Simulation of even basic Newtonian physics is hard. Need I remind you that even something as exquisitely simplistic as the newtonian three-body problem is, as a practical matter, unsolvable?

And the argument can be turned on its head, too. The very reason that simulation has become an indispensable tool in the modern physicist's toolbox is because simulation allows a selective ignorance of variables that make theoreticaly models unworkable while, at the same time, allowing a level of complexity with regard to selected variables and the model itself such that useful results are generated. Which, by the way, is really nothing qualitatively different than what expressing a theory mathematically is doing.

There is a deep irony involved in the fact that people almost universally think of phsysics, relative to the other sciences, as "difficult". The truth of the matter is that the reason physics is "difficult" is because the description of the universe it aims for is about the easiest, or most attainable, description of the universe available. Because in this sense physics is "easy", the likliehood of it being successful is high, but it still takes about as much rigor and genius and hard work as we have available to achieve that success. In comparison, all the other sciences are only slightly more advanced and rigorous versions of superstition. Thus, we think of physics as "hard".

But the universe is essentially incomprehensible if we take as our goal of comprehension something closer to the god's eye view we aim for in basic physics rather than the extremely limited and contextual comprehension we've evolved to possess. When you compare the real universe to a virtual world with your focus on what's "really" happening in the code, you've defined the rhetorical context unambiguously as being that omniscient view. But with that view as the standard, our actual comprehension of the real universe is practically nil. And with that view as the standard, or actual comprehension of a virtual world is relatively very large.

45.

I wish people wouldn't say things like "simulation of the physical world becomes an impossibility" when clearly we can simulate the physical world to a very high degree of accuracy, and regularly do.

The world is simulatable to very high degress of accuracy, but at the same time we know it also contains random events (e.g. wavefunction collapses) which are either unpredictable or the information required to predict them is unmeasurable.

46.


I have the same experience as Sara Jensen above with Meridian 59; even though we haven't patched for months, people swear something changed or some secret nerf went in.

That seems to be pervasive throughout software. QA people seem to evidence this almost as much as regular users. On occasion even designers are vulnerable to that. I think "superstitions" are actually stronger when they occur on development teams, because they have a much stronger belief that the system will meet their expectations..

47.

"...when clearly we can simulate the physical world to a very high degree of accuracy, and regularly do."

Well, no, we don't. We simulate to a very high degree of accuracy carefully selected and carefully limited portions of the real world. That seems to me to be a very long way from "we can simulate the physical world to a very high degree of accuracy". You can simulate me to a very high degree of accuracy if by "me" you limit yourself to "statements of similar character and content as those made by Keith M. Ellis in this blog". Which is, for select purposes, a useful simulation. No one would claim it's a simulation of me in any large sense. Neither is any simulation of the "real world" a simulation of the real world in any large sense.

Also, as best as I can parse it, Ola Fosheim Grøstad's comment is, in the context of his argument, a contrafactual. He's saying it's the consquence of my argument. It's not his argument.

48.

In my eq2 guild we mentor to the lowest person in the raid prior to zoning then unmentor after all have zoned. Some think that this will lead to a better loot table if loot is determined by the server during zoning In theory, if our level is lower we are fighting more difficult mobs and will be rewarded for this.

Others argue that this is an error. Loot tables are based on levels. So if you want to loot a level 70 armor piece the raid needs to be an average level of 70.

When I played Project Entropia (now Entropia Universe) superstitions were common. Some players would not hunt when another player was on the radar. Some theorized that better loot was given to higher level players in the same area. Another superstition was the longer a mob was spawned the larger the loot so players would not kill a freshly spawned mob.

One society established themselves as a church to the god that controls loot (Church of Lootus) and players would offer up gift prior to hunts. Probably tongue-in-cheek...but why not...just in case.

49.

"I think "superstition" is a misnomer, unless they have solid evidence against their beliefs. I consider this type of behaviour to be "pragmatic rationality". Some people favour insanely complex models, others prefer very simple models."

I agree. Superstition is just an incorrect (though not necessarily illogical or irrational) belief about how the world works. A player might arrive at a superstitious conclusion by deducing it for themselves based on what they've observed, or a more experienced player might deliver it to them pre-packaged.

And this leads back to the original question: "Is encouraging superstition a good thing for an MMO?" The presence of a superstition amongst players means they either haven't completely deconstructed your game yet, or they have and they think there's more there to discover. Both are good, but the former is clearly a better position for a developer to be in. Once (YOUR MMORPG HERE)wiki.com appears, you're nearing the point where the mysterious workings of your game have become commonplace, *understanding* is no longer a goal of your players, and your game has to survive on the merits of its game mechanics alone. In this sense, superstition is an indicator of a healthy game because you've created a game that is resistant to deconstruction.

50.

To me, that's the essence of game design as an art form -- the ability to calibrate these multiple sources of the unpredictable in a way that is continually compelling for the participant. But I would add that, while many games that are designed are closed systems, in a sense (such as chess), nonetheless it is the creation of games that are so complex as to never be fully deconstructed by *anyone*, not even the designer, that are particularly impressive to me, and which characterize most of the MMOGs that we talk about here (yes, even WoW, which may be the most shallowly contingent of them all). It is the ability of a great game designer (like a great GM in pen and paper RPGs) to manage complexity on the fly, without ever controlling it utterly, that continually amazes me. It's certainly hard to do well.

51.

Peter Clay: I wish people wouldn't say things like "simulation of the physical world becomes an impossibility"

Keep wishing.

The world is simulatable to very high degress of accuracy, but at the same time we know it also contains random events (e.g. wavefunction collapses) which are either unpredictable or the information required to predict them is unmeasurable.

That doesn't matter. Assume that God or some other supreme being freezes the state of the Universe, writes up a perfect simulation and executes it on a (Turing) computer with infinite storage. This is either possible or it isn't. (assuming the existence of such beings and computers). Human beings cannot do that, but that is really a moot point from a theoretical point of view. There are many things that are possible (computable) that we cannot compute.

But my argument was much simpler and I could have used a much weaker argument. I just chose not to.

52.

Devil of outside, the content of the angel, return hesitant what? game

53.

I wonder what is meant by having direct access to the variables in real life?

We had to build a lot of measurement tools and drop a lot of balls down ramps before we built our simplified models of physics.

Speaking as someone who has done the equivalent in-game, investigating random distributions of dice rolls and damage output of spells, I'd say the game based experiments are easier and more tractable. Sure, there could be a GM hiding nearby changing my results to confound me. But we also have no proof that God didn't cook Newton's experiments.

54.

Brask, I said that variables usually leave visible traces in the physical world. This should be taken metaphorically for obvious reasons, but in the physical world the representation and presentation is one. In computer programs you see variables only because the programmer went through the trouble of making it available. Most MUDs/MMORPGs have very simple D&D inspired mechanics and make results accessible, but that says nothing about the nature of computer games (i.e. computer programs). I think it is unfair to assume that players should know what type of computational architecture developers use and call it superstition if they device theories that are too complex for said architecture. It is valid to approach a game AS IS, withouth any knowledge of the underlying representation whatsoever. In fact, that is a prerequisite for full immersion!

55.

To make things clear: you cannot infer the model of a computer program by analyzing its output from a single run.

Let me explain this with a simple example: I've written a computer program in which players will win the first 100 fights followed by an infinite number of losses. I warn the players that the underlying model might not be what they think. After watching 100 fights players can device an infinite number of reasonable theories:

Theory 1: Players always win. This theory is dead wrong of course, as the actual probability of winning is near 0%.

Theory 2: Players will first win 100 times, then loose 100 times, then win 100 times etc.

Theory 3: Players win if their timing is right.

Theory 4: Players will always loose. This is the best theory...

According to what has been said by others, it should be labeled as superstition if players believe in Theory 4. I'd argue that this is a fallacy. In fact, their theory is almost correct!

56.

With regard to hiding the numbers in an MMO, it's already been done. EQ had relatively few numbers provided to the players and kept them in the dark about quite a bit of how things worked. For the first two years of the game, before they allowed UI modding, experience was tracked on a tiny yellow bar on the screen making it hard to quantify how much it moved when you earned xp. Combat mechanics were also quite vague.

Guess what happened? After the game had been out long enough a community of hard-core game analyzers grew up who tracked and logged and quantified as much as possible and revealed to the player base how combat really worked. Along the way they revealed that some stats sucked that had been thought good and others were essential that were thought less important. Even the people who weren't into numbers were forced to go along with these discoveries lest they be mocked for having crappy gear that boosted the wrong stats.

So hiding the numbers only postponed the day that they were revealed and caused trauma to the players that had unknowingly been playing "wrong". Revealing the numbers as later games have done is a *good* thing because it lets everyone know this stuff right up front.

57.

Ola, you can no more infer the model of reality from a single run than that of a computer program. For all we know, the universe has a timer running in the background that will scramble all the physical "constants" tomorrow.

I also don't understand what you mean about representation vs. presentation. We see only the presentation of real world variables. We can never see the representation of the gravitational constant. Indeed, being in the universe, we can't see the representation of anything - we could already be in a universe-sized turing machine. I can't pull aside the curtain of reality and take a look at the code behind it.

It is somewhat odd to say that players can only see the variables which the programmer has exposed. From the viewpoint of the player, the variables which the programmer has not exposed do not exist. A variable either has an effect on the world, which means it is measurable, or it does not, in which case it is irrelevant. The server could be busy calculating digits of Pi in the background - the players will never become aware of this if the digits aren't used anywhere in the program, but, likewise, I wouldn't think it is at all interesting that the players never see this information. Real effects, such as Hell Levels in Everquest, leave their traces in the world for players to witness.

I do agree that the players must build their models from the viewpoint of players in the game rather than creatures outside the game that know the hardware the game is running on. I think you misunderstood why I called it superstition when players ascribed mechanics too complicated for the hardware. This was not superstition because it was too complicated, it was superstition because it was not founded on evidence. If they had properly tested their speculations in game they would have concluded they were ill-founded.

58.

There's a persistant WoW superstition that I'm surprised no one has mentioned yet: It's almost impossible to play through an entire Alterac Valley battleground (on the Alliance side) without someone typing "Don't loot the dogs!"

This come from the belief that once Drek'Thar's two wolves die, they'll only reset (and therefore have to be killed again) if someone loots the items off their corpses. Simple observation will show that the wolves will actually only reset if Drek is attacked and then he, himself, is reset.

Amazingly, despite reproofs on popular (and trustworthy) WoW websites, players continue to echo the "don't loot the dogs" myth in every game.

59.

I'm really curious why MMO developers don't have different drop tables, spawn locations, item stats, etc. for different servers. Is it too hard to track different configurations? Or do players hate it?

Have any MMOs intentionally screwed the reverse engineers by giving players individual (unique) randomization formulas? For example, one player could have damage slightly improved based on dexterity and another by charisma.

60.

Brask, if you reject all popular scientific beliefs and strongly believe in God or the Devil as a "programmer", then yes... you might claim that the physical world is comparable to ONE computer program, but you cannot claim that it is comparable to ALL possible computer programs.

it was superstition because it was not founded on evidence.

Computer programs do not provide evidence, unless you run it more than once or if you know in advance that it's output is predetermined to have certain regularities.

I guess many players are too experienced with the current crop of games to open up to the possibility of other designs... I resign ;-).

61.

Concerning the terminology, "superstitious behavior" is pretty much a term of art in psychology with a specific definition. I'd guess that Nick is using it in that sense, rather than the looser popular sense of merely irrational behavior.

Superstitious behavior is related to the perceived comprehensibility of systems. Accordingly, it appears to show up when dealing with systems having two characteristics:

* closed
* complex

Open systems suggest comprehensibility. When you can see the engine working, it's reasonable to think that you can figure out the rules by which the parts interact. (After all, someone had to put the thing together in the first place.) But closed systems are black boxes. You can't see the internal mechanisms; you can only infer what mechanisms might/must exist by twiddling the inputs and observing the outputs.

The human body, for example, was this kind of black box for a long time. (Leeches, anyone?) Until Vesalius mainstreamed the use of dissection, a considerable amount of medicine practice was based on superstitious behavior. (The human mind, meanwhile, is still mostly a black box.)

As for complexity, simple systems are comprehensible. It's easy to observe that Cause A reliably produces Effect B, so there's no need to guess with superstitious behavior. It's only when a system reaches a certain level of complexity that we start having to guess at the internal rules of the system.

But the system can't be too complex. As Axelrod pointed out, sufficiently complex behavior will be perceived as random. Let's say that the complexity of a system can be designated somewhere on a continuum between deterministic and random. The question is, at what point does a player decide that the system really is random and start demonstrating superstitious behavior toward it?

Is there a kind of "uncanny mountain" for systems at which superstitious behavior is maximized?

(Note: "simple" is relative. What's simple to us might be complex enough to a pigeon to promote superstitious behavior. Question: Is superstitious behavior a function of intelligence? In other words, does superstitious behavior increase generally as intelligence decreases? Are there any studies on this?)

Finally, I wonder whether MMOGs that seem to generate a lot of superstitious behavior might not make great laboratories for teaching science. When you've got a closed, complex system, the only way to understand it in a practical way is to form hypotheses about what might be connected to what, to devise empirical tests to examine those hypotheses, and to conduct those tests and record and analyze the results.

Sounds like science to me! When it comes to inadvertent teaching, maybe MMOGs have some redeeming features (contrary to media reports) after all....

--Bart

62.

Rephrasing slightly for clarity: The question is, at what point does a player decide that the system is apparently-but-not-really-random and start demonstrating superstitious behavior toward it?

--Bart

63.

Bart, that would depend on what assumptions the user is making about the designer's intentions... No tabula rasa here.

64.

I'm not sure I follow that, Ola. What a designer intends a system to do may or may not be what that system actually does, which is often the only thing a user can know.

Sophisticated users may try to obtain information about the intentions of a system's designer to improve their theories about that system's internal cause-and-effect mechanisms. But assumptions about intentionality don't seem to be required -- you can still treat the system as a black box; it just might be a little harder to puzzle out the mechanisms.

In fact, if the developer's intentions weren't fully realized in the actual system as implemented, knowing the designer's intentions could actually be misleading. (A corollary to this is "clean-room" reverse engineering. For legal reasons, you have to be able to prove you didn't know anything about how somebody else implemented a system.)

I'll agree that the level of experience the user has with the type of system being studied might affect the amount of superstitious behavior demonstrated, though.

--Bart

65.

What I meant is that users come to world-like games with lots of expectations. They might look for the Holy Grail if it fits with the theme for instance.

I am not sure I like this definition of "superstitious behaviour" either... because the classification seems to depend on knowledge of the actual implementation. An infinite number of implementations can produce the output that has been seen at time N.

Does this black-box contain stateinformation, or is it just a pure function (so state is recorded in levers and buttons)? It seems to me that the notion only makes sense if there is no stateinformation in the black-box, or at least very few hidden states (let's say 10). In that case it is equivalent to running the same program many times.

66.
Brent Michael Krupp wrote: Revealing the numbers as later games have done is a *good* thing because it lets everyone know this stuff right up front.

how is knowing everything right off the bat inherently "good"?

i would say that it's not a good thing at all.
showing all the numbers pulls back the curtains.

how can one immerse themselves in a fictional World if you can see everything that makes that world tick.
there's no mystery.
no wonder.
no superstition.

it would be like reading a great novel, but all of the author's notes are printed everywhere, interspersed throughout the story.
as new characters are introduced, all of their strengths and flaws are spelled out for you in plain text.

maybe that wouldn't bother some people. like people who are more concerned with the techniques of writing.
but most people would not be able to enjoy a novel like that.
they wouldn't be able to immerse themselves in the story if they continually had to stop and read exactly what the author was thinking, or has planned at that point.

knowing that sword has a damage output of 50-120.
knowing that skill gives you +3% to attack speed.
knowing that monster has 250 hitpoints.
knowing you need 500 more XP until you advance to the next skill or level.

those types of things prevent immersion for the average player.

for me, the whole point of MMOs is immersing yourself in a fictional World.
i can't do that when i see numbers everywhere i turn.
knowing that other players are pretty much ONLY seeing those numbers, and crunching them to their fullest effect.
meanwhile i'm trying to enjoy myself in the game environment, but i can't because i'm constantly outperformed by people who don't care about the lore or unquantifiable social aspects of the game-World.
they don't care about any of that.
to them, each new MMO is just another set of formulas to solve.

if i wanted to take a math test, i would've signed up at the Community College.

take the math out of MMOs, or at least keep it out of sight. take the focus away from quantifiable items and skills and XP, and put it on unquantifiable social relationships and storylines.

/rant off :P

67.

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68.

@Kohs: Preach brother! I agree with you [some large, mysterious percent]!

69.

@Thomas, who said: "It is the ability of a great game designer (like a great GM in pen and paper RPGs) to manage complexity on the fly, without ever controlling it utterly, that continually amazes me. It's certainly hard to do well."

Indeed. A dungeon-crawl, which is what, I would say, WoW is to a great degree, can be a lot of fun. But, in the end, it ends up being quite linear. What "Party A" does will never really differ much from "Party B," except in the details of when they die or how much loot they carry out. After a few years of GMing crawls (or versions thereof), I abandoned that style of GMing as being unsatisfying to me. I ended up seeking (and finding) crews of players who were after more psycho/sociological play. That is not to say it didn't involve many elements that are also included in good, combat-oriented play... just that it had more "managed complexity on the fly," as you put it.

In almost every major adventure I ran, there were at least two forks that I'd worked out for the players; what happens if they succeed at the task given; what happens if they don't. The second wasn't ever just a case of, "You don't find the Amulet of Wonder, and go home empty handed." It was always a plot twist along the lines of: A) If you find and free the king's nephew, you get the dukedom you've been seeking. B) If you fail, and the kidnappers kill the kid, you'll need to go back and somehow either smooth over the king, or bump him off before he puts the hit on you.

What does this have to do with superstition? Well, in playing these games, the crew I played with quite a bit came to understand that I was almost never going to present them with an "easy" choice; a "win or go home" scenario. That's just too easy. And part of my personal GMing gestalt was to, from time to time, make them roll on various skills that, so they thought (or argued), had very little to do with a particular situation at hand.

Not so. We were playing GURPS. And in that system, everyone needs to take disads and quirks. I was forever rolling to see if those "little things" were going to generate a small, "random" encounter of some kind that might provide a positive or negative (depending on the roll) push towards (A) or (B).

Based on this habit of mine -- to roll dice on quirks and disads when "nothing was happening" -- after awhile, one of my players came up with the theory that I was making "luck rolls," and that one character in every party that I GM'd should have the "Luck" attribute. So they always did that. Which was fine... and it didn't hurt anything... but it had nothing to do with what I was doing.

More complex contingency = heightened chances for superstitious behavior.

70.

:)

thought of something to add...

the way i see it, the reason AD&D, and other pen&paper/tabletop RPGs used all manner of numbers and formulas was to prevent situations like:
player1: "bang! i shot you and you're dead."
player2: "no you didn't. you missed me, because i ducked."
player1: "you didn't duck fast enough, so i hit you in the head!"

there was just no other conceivable way of fairly determining the outcome of each event during play.

so why do we see MMOs/CRPGs laden with numbers?
are we too hung up on old traditions of knowing the damage numbers of our swords? or how much XP we need for the next level? or even what level our characters are?

were the numbers the focus of those old pen&paper games, as they are for so many MMOs/CRPGs?
i don't think they were.
at least not for those who truly appreciated their Roleplaying sessions.

all those numbers were needed back before we had computers.
but it's no longer 1975.
we have pretty advanced home computer technology which can do all that determining for us.
so let's let the computers, code, and mechanics determine the outcomes of events.

don't show players more than they need to see.

71.

One night when some guildmates and I were trying to farm LBRS for something or another, one of us announced on TeamSpeak that he was going to get a beer. Our guild leader announced she was doing likewise. Then we all grabbed a drink. As soon as we were slightly lubricated, whatever we wanted dropped.

Three or four weeks later, we went back to farm my main toon's Tier 0 shoulders. We ran it 11 times using a shortcut to get to the mob that dropped what I wanted. The first ten times he dropped nothing useful. The 11th and successful time, I was in the middle of a glass of wine.

Now I drink a glass every time we go to LBRS.

72.

Great examples from pen-and-paper RPGs. If anyone is interested in an examination of how this development of "superstitions" while game playing may be better understood as players' ongoing efforts to (re)make a reiable understanding of the world, including lots of pointy-headed stuff on Anthony Giddens' theory of structuration, you can check out this article I wrote (long ago now) about Greek poker-players' shifting understandings of their own relationship to the emerging outcomes of the game. As a bonus, it's a really good example of nearly impenetrable writing, and includes the word "paradigm" in the title to boot! Here is the ref:

Fateful Misconceptions: Rethinking Paradigms of Chance among Gamblers In Crete. Social Analysis, Issue 43(1), March 1999.

73.

kohs said:
"knowing that sword has a damage output of 50-120.
knowing that skill gives you +3% to attack speed.
knowing that monster has 250 hitpoints.
knowing you need 500 more XP until you advance to the next skill or level.

those types of things prevent immersion for the average player."

but how else to convey information to the character?

I can't physically feel the sword. I can't touch the blade to see if it sharp enough to cut through leather.

I can't feel how fast my character is running. I can visually see my character run, but the difference between a 3% buff and a 5% buff might not be visable on my screen.

Numbers are one way the game conveys information that we can't obtain through our senses. Until the day I can slide my finger down the blade of my sword and see the blood trickle from the cut, I want the damage ratio to be displayed clearly.

That being said, there should be an option to turn 'numbers' off.

74.

Wee! Some great discussion here...

My two cents as a long time MMO player (Meridian 59, UO, all that good stuff)...

I think it all boils down to a humans need to make sense of their environment. In the real world, you have religion and science. While it IS a spectrum, such as people who are devout in their religion and do not believe science, or scientists who believe some religion, and so forth, there really isn't a group of people who are atheist and don't accept science.

This translates directly to MMOs. In systems that do not have hard scientific data readily available, people turn to superstition. In systems that DO have that data available, such as WoW, you have a turn towards science, in most cases a severe turn.

When that data is available you get min-maxer mentalities, even though there may be a plethora of different ways to play a class in WoW and be a benefit to your group, there is a LARGE percentage of the playerbase that will only except cookie cutter class templates into their groups.

I know this quite intimately because I played a druid, a feral druid. >.<

Blizzard did well in designing WoW's talent system, for example in the game you can have two different priest characters, one shadow(damage) and one healer spec and they will excel at two completely different things. However Blizzard failed by providing access to nearly every piece of information about an item. Compounded with sites like Thottbot, nearly all of the games storytelling and intrigue is ruined by even the most casual of players doing things NOT motivated by their personal intrigue but because of getting the most benefit from the least time required.

What that meant as a feral druid is that even though I could tank with the best of warriors and DPS like the rogues, there was a min-maxer attitude instilled in the vast majority of players, especially those who raided, that only resto druids were good in raiding. While I DO admit there has always been a problem with druid loot itemization and other things relating to our feral output, this assumption is unfounded as quite simply, priests are the king of healing ability, followed VERY closely by paladins.

In the upcoming expansion, a LOT is being done to make feral and even balance spec even more viable in the game, through talent and skill changes and better itemization. However the old myths that "druids cant tank" or "druids cant DPS w/o dumping aggro" will still prevail.

This sort of mentality is one that I never experienced in Meridian, or hell even SWG (Pre-CU). Of course not only did those systems do better at keeping your disbelief suspended, but they ALSO didn't encourage the playerbase to discriminate against others based on stats/gear/etc. I knew plenty of groups in SWG who welcomed dancers that had teras kasi skills learned. Sure there were other class combinations that vast outperformed them in combat, but as Master TKA they were still very good at doing damage. Furthermore the player herself had built a character that could do what she liked doing. There weren't even level restrictions/penalties on grouping. Thus the game ENCOURAGED all players to work together, which is a good thing!

I have been playing a LOT of Monster Hunter Freedom on the PSP lately. I find it very interesting, and very fun. However in the game there is precious little information on how to do things like take down a dragon for example, or knowing what items to combine to make a desired potion. A lot of the intrigue for me is finding out for myself how to do things based on what I observe, as the game does very well in showing a monster react when you hit its weak point, or how it acts as it becomes closer to death. However you never actually see a Boss HP bar, it's all in how the monster is animated and how its AI reacts.

Sure I could go on Gamefaqs and find this info but I dont need to, and won't, as its a single player game. In an MMO, and especially if its a stats/item driven game like wow and if you are guilded, this information is FED to you, forcefully, by the playerbase.

So to answer the first question...

Yes, yes superstition and not knowing how the mechanics work in an MMO IS a very good thing. Afterall, do we not play MMOs to escape reality? Don't we WANT a little magic out of it? In systems that give you all the hard data you get a playerbase that continues to play not because they are thrilled with the storytelling or intrigue of the world but to get yet another piece of loot to further min/max their character. Which is I think precisely what has gone all wrong in the modern MMO.

75.

Interesting.

I can only add my favorite references along these lines: the Gilovich+ 76’ers hot-cold shooting study and Piatelli-Palmarini. And this: Seems to me like there was an undue (and unrealistic) amount of weight given to “form” in the Championship Manager game design. You could have a single English team, doing battle in the Premiership and the Champions League, and that team would get on a streak in one competition and win every single game, and have a spotty performance in the other competition and lose to schoolboys – same team and players, same week of play, vastly different results depending on, apparently, the effect of a series of wins (or “form”) on subsequent performance. I always thought it would be interesting to compare the English public’s notion of hot-cold/form in sporting events with the American’s public’s notion of hot-cold streaks/form – but I don’t think anyone has.

I do agree that superstitions (as opposed to, I suppose, realities) tend to rule in games. This is, I would suggest, even more true as regards designers than players. As this thread indicates, there are incentives to design toward (rather than away) from player expectations. These incentives are then put on top of a variety of superstitions that designers (being human beings) hold just like everyone else. Which means that a simulation of reality is likely to be regarded as more “real” than reality… and that a simulation of a simulation is likely to be regarded as more “real” than a simulation… and that a simulation of a simulation of a simulation… and you can take it from there.

76.

I think kohs missed my point (likely my fault, not his). If you hide the numbers, lots of people work intensely to figure them out anyway and then lots of people discover that their characters and gear sucks because they didn't know the numbers when they were making decisions about their character. Some of those decisions will be irreversible, so people are stuck with gimped characters or are forced to reroll. Letting people know how the game actually works prevents this. *Nothing* prevents the numbers from being figured out, it's just a matter of when -- before people get screwed by the opacity, or after?

Immersion-wise, you're already sitting in front of a computer hitting keys and wiggling a mouse. If you can get over that, I'm not sure how a few numbers make it any harder. Plus, what dave said -- I totally agree. The numbers allow immersion because they tell you about the world you're in, in a deeper way than just the graphics engine can.

77.

When it comes to showing numbers in MMO's rather than showing abstractions - for the most part, showing numbers mirrors the real world, the thing we know the most. We know if we grind for 8 hours flipping burgers we're going to make $6 / hour, for a total of $48 for that 8 hour grind. A huge chunk of the world is deterministic - we know if we do (X) we get (Y) result.

Oddly enough, it's usually the bad things that feel random - on the way home from grinding, you have a simple fender bender that ends up costing $250. Monthly, you paid $40 just in case such a thing should happen. Even in real life, we try and hedge our bets against bad things that can happen, and use setups that help to reduce the impact of such seemingly random events, even to the point of superstition sometimes - wearing a St. Christopher's medallion may help you make long journeys safely is a great example of a superstition. Not a whole lot different than making sure to wear you Epic'ed Frostwolf Pendant because you get better drops in Lower BlackRock Spire.

Humans like deterministic setups, where action (X) creats result (y). We set up the world so as much as possible is broken down to numbers - let's face it, your landlords doesn't look at the envelope you hand him with cash in it and say "It feels light", he says your short $30. If you go to a personal trainer, he doesn't say "You're a little heavy", he says "You're 30 LBS over weight" (and that you're a little heavy, just to add color to the statement ;-). Further, he'll tell ya "If you put in 6 hours of work out a week, we should be able to remove that first 10 lbs in 8 weeks."

Even skills are broken down into scores often in real life. IQ? ACT? SAT? Numbers of intelligence, wisdom, etc. Strength? Easily reduced to a number.

Hiding numbers does little for most people. And when the process of doing (X) results in (Y) we're happy. When (X) results in sometimes (Y), but we have some understanding of "sometimes (Y)"'s process, we're still pretty happy. If we don't... well, we make it up. Chariots drag the sun across the sky when we don't understand processes, to pick on an old superstition :-)

78.

Ken Fox said: Have any MMOs intentionally screwed the reverse engineers by giving players individual (unique) randomization formulas? For example, one player could have damage slightly improved based on dexterity and another by charisma.

Andrew Tepper of "A Tale in the Desert" is notorious for doing this sort of thing. It is infuriating if you try to play one of his games simply for entertainment.

79.

When it comes to showing numbers in MMO's rather than showing abstractions - for the most part, showing numbers mirrors the real world, the thing we know the most. We know if we grind for 8 hours flipping burgers we're going to make $6 / hour, for a total of $48 for that 8 hour grind. A huge chunk of the world is deterministic - we know if we do (X) we get (Y) result.

Oddly enough, it's usually the bad things that feel random - on the way home from grinding, you have a simple fender bender that ends up costing $250. Monthly, you paid $40 just in case such a thing should happen. Even in real life, we try and hedge our bets against bad things that can happen, and use setups that help to reduce the impact of such seemingly random events, even to the point of superstition sometimes - wearing a St. Christopher's medallion may help you make long journeys safely is a great example of a superstition. Not a whole lot different than making sure to wear you Epic'ed Frostwolf Pendant because you get better drops in Lower BlackRock Spire.

Humans like deterministic setups, where action (X) creats result (y). We set up the world so as much as possible is broken down to numbers - let's face it, your landlords doesn't look at the envelope you hand him with cash in it and say "It feels light", he says your short $30. If you go to a personal trainer, he doesn't say "You're a little heavy", he says "You're 30 LBS over weight" (and that you're a little heavy, just to add color to the statement ;-). Further, he'll tell ya "If you put in 6 hours of work out a week, we should be able to remove that first 10 lbs in 8 weeks."

Even skills are broken down into scores often in real life. IQ? ACT? SAT? Numbers of intelligence, wisdom, etc. Strength? Easily reduced to a number.

Hiding numbers does little for most people. And when the process of doing (X) results in (Y) we're happy. When (X) results in sometimes (Y), but we have some understanding of "sometimes (Y)"'s process, we're still pretty happy. If we don't... well, we make it up. Chariots drag the sun across the sky when we don't understand processes, to pick on an old superstition :-)

80.

numbers do NOT mirror the real world.
having to deal with numbers takes me out of immersion.
i'm sure there are plenty of others who feel the same way.
yes, there are many people who don't feel that way, but that's likely because they're so desensitized to the standard D&D/pen&paper system, or they just REALLY like numbers.
which is fine. but there are still many people, like myself, who are not comfortable with numbers because they actually DON'T relate to the real world.

a sword is a sword is a sword.
it's either sharp, dull, or all dinged up.

there are different types of swords which are suited for different things.

long, heavy swords which are good for hacking off limbs, or busting up armor.
short, light swords which are good for stabbing.

if you show me two rapiers, unless one is completely dull or dinged up and bent, there will be little difference in how much damage can be done with either.
they're both quite "stabby".

the difference in damage is usually in the skill of the user.

81.

This is correct, in my opinion. While much of the contingencies that designers write into games may be able to be reproduced quantitatively with precision (leaving aside the fact that very quickly, even if they could, it would exceed human capacities to apprehend), many contingencies in them are *not* amenable to precise quantification to a high degree of reliability. As Kohs' comment suggests, the performative contingencies of one's own actions (and others) are not usefully quantifiable in most cases, nor are our guesses about specific (as opposed to aggregate) points of view of other human beings. Chess is a good example. It may be a closed system when considered algorithmically, but the fact that people cannot solve that puzzle means that social and performative contingencies creep into its actual practice (that is, when it's human beings playing).

82.

Hmmm... depends on what you mean by "numbers."

Kohs says, "a sword is a sword is a sword," then goes on to say, "long, heavy swords are good for..." The terms "long" and "heavy" imply quantitative states. As would other descriptors of the sword; sharpness, brittleness, hardness, etc. Also the "skill of the user" is, in a way, quantifiable as well in real life. Two men with exactly the same weapons and armor? Yeah, their skill will determine the outcome. One guy with full plate kit and a nice, new, sharp, steel broad sword vs. a nude man with a short, dull knife... there can be a bit of a skill drift between the two, and Mr. Tank can still win the day.

This is another one of those areas where it would be great to be able to turn a layer on or off; the numeric layer. For some players, knowing exactly which combination of skill, armor, advantage and weapon is a great part of the fun. Class maximization... yummy for them. For me? It always seemed very... toy soldier. And especially when you're playing with others in an MMO, you can't control what goofy s**t they're gonna do... so why try to stand on such a narrow line? Have fun. Wear the armor that you think looks cool. Learn the skills that seem interesting. This is roleplaying; do that. If it feels like work? it's probably work. But that's me...

I like it when the game spits out wierdness. When you don't find the same thing in the same place every time. But that's me. I also like candlepin bowling. Go figure.

83.

yes, "long" and "heavy" do imply quantitative states.
but those are the types of numbers we're very familiar with.

if you walk up to a person who's never played an RPG, handed them a sword, and told them "this sword is 4 feet long, and weighs 10 pounds" they'd understand perfectly.
but if you handed them the same sword and said "this sword has a damage range of 50-120, +3 against bears, with a speed modifier of 5%" they would probably look confused.

so why don't we see any RPGs which instead of telling us the latter, tell us the former?


obviously i don't find fun in min/maxing or number crunching to find the "best" armor, weapons, or skill-set.
look where that got SWG.
a million Teras Kasi Masters running around in Composite armor kickboxing all over the Star Wars Universe.

would we have seen that if the numbers were hidden in SWG?
i doubt it.


i'm with you when you say that in an MMO, you can't control what the many thousands of other players will do. in fact, the majority of them have proven they will min/max as much as possible.
so in my opinion, hiding the numbers will avert that and cause people to actually wear what they think looks cool or learn skills they think seem interesting.
of course all those who would've been min/maxing will still choose their gear and skills on what they think is "best". but without the ability to crunch the numbers, you'll see much more variety in their choices of gear and skill.

and if this type of setup frustrates those types of players, they'll probably give up and go play a game which does allow them to crunch numbers.

which is fine for everyone really. the number crunchers get what they want, and the Roleplayers get what they want.

it would probably create a better environment in both types of MMOs.
in the "numbers out in the open" MMO, less players who are looking to Roleplay, and more players who are looking to be the "best".
and in the "hide the numbers" MMO, less players who are looking to "win the game", more players who are looking to immerse themselves in a fictional World.

84.

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85.

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87.

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88.

I'll preamble this comment with a personal example:

I played SWG fairly heavily, and the period refferanced by Raph and Nick are very clear points in the timeline of the game. There was superstition in the playerbase, there was a huge effort to logically, algorithmically, and by means of various in game methods figure out the "unlock" method.

And MANY of the player base took literally the "unlocking will be an organic process" quotes from the Devs. And yet players who are more technical understand you cannot code "organically" easy and provide parity and fairness in the process. Therefore there has to be an algorithim....

Which lead to any number of myriad "superstitions" surrounding the unlock process by the playerbase.

Comment:

When it was revealed to the player base the very mundane methodology for unlocking Jedi, especially in light of the "anti-grind" comments the magic circle was broken for many players.

Therefore, the after effect of players "monetizing" and "commodetizing" the process cannot be laid at the feet of the playerbase. The subsequent "holocron gifts" for christmas didnt help things much either, it reinforced an already accepted and hard coded method of achieving a goal many players wanted.

The point at which it was revealed that a grind was the only requirment to unlock was the point at which SWG lost "superstition"

Now academically here on terra nova you can clinically dissect "superstition" and its effect, and so far everyones comments have failed to touch on the negative consequences of encouraging the development of myth and superstition that doesnt live up to the embedded mechanics of the game.

Player trust and the magic circle are fragile things where players have an inordinate investment in your game. Manipulating players imagination is one thing, but as a player I'd caution developers against manipulating thier paying customers emotional investments in a game by encouraging superstition.

When the reality does not live up to the expectation, the result can be severe backlash by the player base

This is why WOW might be in for some rough times going forward, when beta testers are resporting common loot drops in low level expansion areas are superior to items hard won from the highest end instances, to players this represents a disregard on the part of the company for players invested time and effort. Even new MMO players understand this concept.

I'm not a developer, so mitigating mudflation is not an area I'm an expert in, however emphirical observation leads me to conclude that there are signs of doscontent and churn in WOW.

89.

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90.

DDO by far has the worst cases of superstition that I've ever seen. The combination of a notoriously fickle d20 with notoriously fickle computer random number generators = breeding ground for all sorts of ridiculous superstition, and that's even before you take into account the fact that the random treasure system is SO random that the odds of getting a very specific item may be on the order of 1 in a million or so.

A couple amusing examples:

From beta all the way through months into launch players were CONVINCED that if you used the diplomacy skill on a chest it would improve the loot you got.. this was SO widespread that you literally could not get in a pick up group without them querying about the diplomacy skills of the party and someone forcing everyone to wait while the highest diplomacy skill player cringed before the chest sufficiently. No matter how many times we posted on the forums that this was a myth and it doesn't do anything, they kept doing it. It got so bad our community relations manager even put it in his sig. Finally we made chests an invalid target for the diplomacy skill, then players whined that all the points they put into diplomacy were worthless because we "nerfed" the skill! Even now I've seen endless variations on the theme, from people being CONVINCED it's based on a certain stat, or a certain class, or amount of times you've repeated the quest, or level of your character, to the point that there is always some voodoo you must do to satisfy someone in the party, if that voodoo does not produce sufficiently acceptable results, they'll switch to another superstition.

We've had similar problems with some of our boss encounters, for example, on my first dragon raid, I was regaled with a long list of things I MUST NOT DO or else the raid would be wiped. Not one of them was valid, but they were incredibly detailed and equally silly. (Things like you can't switch weapons, press hotkeys, cast spells, attack anything but a single leg of the dragon, that sort of thing). It was pointless to argue about, they wouldn't accept the fact that their rules were really all superstitions.

91.

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92.

When it comes down to it, people will always cook up daft ideas - patriarchal gods, cure alls involving the genitals of animals with sharp teeth, I'm A Celebrity Wife Swap Island on prime time telly, etc.
As far as superstition in games go, I'd rather have some guy convinced we have to sidestep into a dungeon wearing purple to win the day than some kill joy with his hacked +million sword of hittingness wrecking it for everyone - in fact I think I'll start a superstition that states if you cheat in a game your eyeballs and testicles swap homes and your forehead skin turns into a scrotum, or that your address shows up on a doggers website. Anyway, I digress and rant...

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