« New Bout of Inflation in EverQuest | Main | Free Speech & Football »

Dec 16, 2003



Dan Hunter>MMOGs are businesses where consumers have low switching costs, and where the quality of the community seems to be more important than the quality of the physics engine (else, why could EQ and UO still be making money?)

Maybe they're better designed?



Hold on they are not all like that..

This may be the case for all smaller MMO* but certainly at the other end of the spectrum we have ATITD.

As many know law making is an intrinsic part of the game and law making has an impact on code. The developers get do get a veto on things if they are simply not possible to do with the game engine or similar but if a law is passed and they don’t code it the do explain why.

The community have noticed that maybe they are just not coding quick enough so there is a law currently up for vote so that if pharaoh is in-game and has not coded something that has been passed for a certain amount of time then citizens have the right to whip him (there has to be a suitable associated emote for pharaoh ).

Following the IRC chat with the marketing people (OK person) on how the game should be marketing and how to retain noob’s an island training ground was created rather then throwing them into the thick of things.

The latest is that a player delegation is having a meeting with the devs on game improvements so a document is being put together by the community first: www.atitd.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=16928

I really can’t imagine ATITD banning a player account without extensive discussion – can of course ATITD is unusual in that the demi-pharaoh (an elected player) actually has the power to terminate a player account.

I’d be interested to know if other VW have this intense level of dev \ community interaction – of course ATITD’s advantage is that there are not half a million players, and as we know this type of interaction does not scale, but as Dan has noted, the idea of participation does.



Dan: "MMOGs are businesses where consumers have low switching costs, and where the quality of the community seems to be more important than the quality of the physics engine (else, why could EQ and UO still be making money?)"

Doesn't your second clause (especially the parenthetitical) suggest that leaving the community represents a significant switching cost? Hmmmm. Maybe they are not so low.

Are Maxis's reasons really that opaque to you? I doubt it. I think that you really want to argue the reasons. Call it playing the TSO meta-game (the one to which you are not required to subscribe).

Ludlow, et. al., certainly have not shown any particular objectivity or inclination to engage in reasoned debate. Nope. Just whineplay.

Maxis is smart not to take Ludlow's bait--that is, Ludlow's cries of censorship establish only that he is a master baiter.

Jeff Cole


Dan and Jeff, Mr. Wright probably find the TSO meta-game amusing. It sure amuses me :)

Most likely, the PR and legal staff probably have more profit enhancing things to do.



Not really on topic, but I thought this from our reader emily0 was wonderful:

"I am the creepiest person because it'd be just up my alley to obsessively read an online newspaper about daily life in a simulated real-life environment for a game I've never played."


As Morpheus said (before the Matrix became a parody of itself):

"You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes...."


Jeff, even if we grant your (to my eyes) dubious premise that..

"Ludlow, et. al., certainly have not shown any particular objectivity or inclination to engage in reasoned debate. Nope. Just whineplay."

...Ludlow et. al. are not the only ones asking EA for some form of explanation. Was salon.com merely engaged in whineplay? How about the BBC or Detroit Free Press or any of the other news services now investigating the story. Or how about the moderators at Terra Nova. Is it really the case that *everyone* in the world is just engaged in whineplay and hence, that they don't deserve a reply from EA?


Oh! for Pete's sake ...

Asking for an explanation per se is not whining.

I do not contend that you don't deserve a reply *because* you are whining.

I contend that you do not deserve (read: are entitled to) any explanation. Period. You may (or may not) be entitled to a refund for that unused portion of your subsciption period that you prepaid; but, you are not entitled to an explanation.

I cannot see what Maxis could possibly gain from mixing it up with you (or the BBC, DFP, etc.).

The market is perfectly capable of determining the propriety of Maxis policy (the ultimate peer review, perhaps). I suspect, however, that (1) those involved in the seedier activities in TSO hardly care, and (2) the others, hardly aware. Enjoy the fifteen minutes.

I am truly sorry that Maxis didn't give you the mad props you feel you deserve. Really. I am. Fo' shizzle.

In fact, notwithstanding Hunter's blind faith in democracy and a communities ability (and right!) to govern itself, the MMO* that breaks the market wide open is going to be one that keeps a very short leash on the troublemakers and muckrakers. See also Fascism is Fun.

Jeff Cole


Jeff says:

"In fact, notwithstanding Hunter's blind faith in democracy and a communities ability (and right!) to govern itself, the MMO* that breaks the market wide open is going to be one that keeps a very short leash on the troublemakers and muckrakers"

It will be interesting to see *how* this breakout MMO will keep a shorter leash on muckrakers than Maxis does, and even more interesting to see how, in the age of the blog, keeping a leash on muckrakers will even be possible. In case you haven't noticed, in my case it didn't exactly work out very well for Maxis.

But if, some day, there emerges a MMO that is even more stifling of free expression than Maxis and *if* it is the great breakout that you say it will be (no doubt attracting all the gamers that enjoy being gagged by large corporations), I'm sure that you will quite enjoy yourself there Jeff. I'll probably be playing a smaller, friendlier game myself. But have fun roleplaying a drone in an Orwellian nightmare. I'm sure you'll fit right in.


Nah, it worked out as good as it was gonna for Maxis. They had no real upside (though the inches of press are probably not too bad ... the whole there is no such thing as bad press cliche).

You have a sympathetic story (second-hand hearsay though it is), you couch it in academic reasearch and the first amendment ... and, voila!, what's not to get all worked up about?

But they minimized the damage. In fact, in the long run, I imagine that You, the royal, will actually end up rehabilitating what little damage you might have inflicted. If only because You just won't shut up.

This whole brouhaha is based on Candace's indignation at Maxis not sending a reply to her e-mail stating, essentially, "I am outraged with you because I heard that a guy got a message from another guy who claimed to have beaten his sister and that the first guy e-mailed you about the second guy and that you sent the first guy a form reply. Unless you respond to me, I will assume the worst."

Forget about the fact that Maxis might well expose itself to liability for discussing the issue with Candace (or disclosing information to either of you). Given Candace's and your tone I am hardly surprised that Maxis would not discuss with either of you the situation.

You, again royally, imply that had Maxis simply sent a message to you (or Candace) that said, "Thanks for the heads up, we're on it," then everything would have been ok. I doubt it. Then it would have been, "well what do you mean by 'on it'?" ... etc.

And how are you gagged? Would that you were. You seem to have more than ever to say. Certainly, you have access to many more "Phantoms," now. You haven't been particularly concerned with veracity, so now you should be all set.

Indeed, you should be as free as ever, now!

Jeff Cole

ps. Greg: Gimme the blue pill. Yes, the blue one. No, I don't want the red one. Dammit, gimme the blue one ...

pps. Pete: When you've been banned from all the smaller, kindler, gentler games, shoot me a tell in OrwellOnline® and I'll give you my uber Drone template (unless the bastage devs have already nerfed 'em).


"...the MMO* that breaks the market wide open is going to be one that keeps a very short leash on the troublemakers and muckrakers."

Hmmm...just like all the most tightly regulated and narrowly scrutinized and censored message boards are always the most popular? Just like kids always prefer to play in the presence of as many neurotic adults as possible? Wrong, unless your goal is to populate your virtual world solely with ultra politically correct types, who believe that no one can have fun unless nobody else is having fun. Sesame Street Online will eventually be available for the overly sensitive.

Of course, In Mr. Cole's ideal universe, he'd have no presence at all, on this message board or on his beloved OrwellOnline. Why? Because even if everything he says is correct, he's kind of a prick. And that violates the EULA.


Moderator Warning: Jeff (or should that be "Cole") and Peter can take their disagreement off to some more amenable thread (here at TN, or elsewhere). I think we're all familiar with your points of view by now. Oh, and yes, this is a form of censorship. The irony is not lost on me.

On the substance of this thread, it's been educational as usual. Yes, Ren, ATITD is different. I hadn't thought of them. Though I think it is a special case, no? The point of the world is the political wrangling. This isn't so in all other worlds/games.

As for Cole's comment that I have a blind faith in democracy, I can only point to published work where I argue that democracy is a crock (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=400000). My point actually wasn't about rights, entitlements, or democracy. I'm more interested here to ask why unresponsiveness is seen by developers as the best response. And yes, Cole, I do know why Maxis _thinks_ that this is the best solution: it's the one that they think carries the lowest risk.

Maybe it does. Maybe Cole is right that no players care. I think that a number of players do care--and I think that more will care in future--but that's probably just my "blind faith in democracy" talking here. I thought that it might have something to do with the creation of community, which seems to operate in some worlds. When you have community you tend to get expectations that stem from this, including political commitments about talking to the people who make decisions affecting your environment.

It seemed interesting that the consumer behavior literature would lead to the same conclusion as a number of political theories. And equally interesting that developers don't share the view.


Dan Hunter> Maybe Cole is right that no players care. I think that a number of players do care.

Agreed, but it's also interesting to me how casually we accept the idea that the proper approach to judging Maxis' response is to discuss whether or not a certain statement was in Maxi's interest. But people working for Maxis, being people, have ethical obligations that are independent of their own and Maxis' well-being. "Caveat emptor" and "I plead the fifth amendment" may or may not be in somebody's self interest, but they independently also may or may not be the right thing to do. And in this case, I think these more general categories give us clearer criteria than the specific categories invoked by the notion of Maxis' self-interest. Clearer criteria are important (was it Right or was it Wrong?) in that they allow us argue for a more nuanced regime, one that isn't Orwellian but in which some behavior is controlled. Because that's what we're seeking here: control on egregious griefing and exploitation (especially as it pertains to out-world consequences - beatings, disrupted sexual development), without control on a free press. I don't know whether controlling griefing, exploitation, and the press, respectively, is in Maxis' self-interest, but I do know that doing so is right, right, and wrong.

The argument for democracy here is that it allows us to construct a nuanced control regime in a way that isn't perfect but does meet most everyone's standards of acceptance. Far better than the blind eye that Maxis is turning; also far better than ColeWorld, where everyone does what they're told.

And for the record, I do have blind faith in democracy.

As for Maxis' inability to correctly assess the popularity of its decisions, don't forget that, without exception I believe, every soon-to-be- formerly Soviet government, when first subjected to free and fair elections, was reasonably, and laughably, confident of obtaining a majority. One of the flaws in any system that fails to aggregate popular interests in some automatic form (elections, markets) is that leaders basically have no idea what the people are really thinking. Look at games: Nobody ever patches one aspect of gameplay and then waits to see if anyone leaves. No, the game is in constant flux and they have no way of knowing whether nerfing Cleric spell damage is costly in any way. If for no other reason than information aggregation, in-world player democracies might make a lot of sense.



Call me Jeff. Please. I called you Hunter only because I grew up with two Dan's, so we all called them by their last names .. one was Dan Hunter. Cole's fine, too. Or even "Dah" (that's what my middle brother called me before he could pronounce "J").

That's the thing 'bout irony ... it's so ironic. I wish you Mods would censor a bit more (not directed at anyone in particular, and including yourselves). Ironically, it may yourselves that you are most able to censor. The further irony is that you have given Peter and me three different threads in which to tussle (the necessity of the number of threads being my initial issue). Man, isn't it ironic?

To which thread should I post? Oooh ... is it "Censorship in TSO"? ... "Alphaville Herald Hits the Big Time"? ... "Free Speech & Football"? ... no, wait, I know, "EverQuest to Launch Casino" because of the whole "I'm gambling this is the right thread." I suspect none of the threads are really appropriate, though, given that it spams the "Recent Comments."

So, Pete, kisses? Maybe we could share the camp?

Anyway ...

Yeah, just like the Mystere incident ruined Sony/Verant? Oh wait ... nm ... bad example. Sony's biggest mistake was commenting and quasi-capitulating. Our own Dave Rickey defended Mystere as RP'ing (the story was posted in a discussion forum on a public board).

I cannot believe that you think there is a better approach for Maxis. This is it. Show me a single credible PR source that thinks responding to this is a good idea. To put it Posner terms, which approach do you think gives Maxis such a better outcome that it warrants the extra risk--which one(s) has (have) the (a) greater expected value? There isn't one. Peter and his apostles aren't going to be convinced. Maxis is convicted.

Again, I think you are more interested in having the argument but really only with Maxis involved. It's not about a reasoned exchange of ideas at the end of which, if no resolution, both parties agree to disagree. It's about beating up on Maxis. All of this sound and fury is all about baiting Maxis. Peter feels wronged and wants to be heard. People who support him agree with him and won't listen. There is no rational debate to be had, here.

If the fact that the whole thing arose from, to quote REO Speedwagon, "heard it from a friend who ... heard it from a friend who ... heard it from another you've been messin' around," doesn't convince people, then what could Maxis possibly offer the debate? Has the BBC or DFP actually looked into the foundation of this story? You think the BBC would publish my story if I called and said, "a friend of a friend told me Osama bin Laden is in his bedroom watching cartoons!" Do you think they would even call the friend of my friend?

Fer chrissakes, I wish all of my motions for summary judgment attacked such a flimsy cause of action.

I worked in the music industry for nearly 15 years before I even hit law school. If the local rag (weekly or otherwise) thinks you screwed the hometown band, it doesn't matter if you give them a million rational reasons how and why you didn't: you screwed the band. Trying to explain it only makes it worse. I've lived it more than once. I let a an indie band walk and keep their record nearly $15k into it. Free and clear. They ended up releaseing three records from that material. Still, I was the asshole. I gave that band $15K (and everything they made selling those three records) and I was the asshole.

Ask Sanya if maybe some of her rants don't seem a little extreme and unreasonable after her tenure at Mythic.

So, there is no other approach that makes sense for Maxis. "Maxis censors free speech and the president is the debil," is news. "Peter Ludow is a kook," elicits--if it even get read--a "who?" or a "huh? wha?"

Still, Dan, why isn't the market the best measure of whether Maxis's polices are appropriate for heir community. Or, maybe, why isn't it best that the market determine if Maxis's policies result in a community that supports their business?

Peter pulled Maxis and Maxis pwned Peter. Wipeout. Maxis doesn't have to explained why it pwned him.

As for the ColeWorld, while I am flattered to be in the company of Bartle-world and Harvey-world (though mine is at best text to their graphical splendor), but I like the ring of OrwellOnline better. And, tsk, tsk, it's not that everyone does what they're told ... And Dr. Ted, at some point you're going to have to reconcile that controlling griefing (good), exploitation (good) is going to sometime involve controlling the press (bad). Ooh ... how my head hurts.

Brian posed some well-reasoned posts to which noone has reasonably responded. Yet, I can troll Pete, Ted, Euph, and you.

inc 1 ... add 3 ... cast CH now!

ps. Ted, you fundamentally confuse "paying to democratically participate" and "paying and expecting to have fun and not to be unreasonably abused." I imagine that the vast majority of players are much more often feel "unreasonably abused" by other players rather than by the developers. Unfortunately, those players that feel unreasonably abused by the developers, like most whiners, neither put up nor shut up.


Dan > On the substance of this thread, it's been educational as usual. Yes, Ren, ATITD is different. I hadn't thought of them. Though I think it is a special case, no? The point of the world is the political wrangling. This isn't so in all other worlds/games.

To drag my earlier question back into this, I know that ATITD is relatively unique in that the design of the game is part of the game through the law system.

But the underlying question I was trying to ask was whether Maxis’s stance is a function of scale?

Do all large MMO* have this kind of attitude and do all (or at least a significant number) of smaller MMO* \ MUDs etc have the kind of developer player relationship that ATITD does - not putting design into the game, but having an active dialog with customers.

evil_marketing_ren hat back on:

A general problem with service design is that the customer relationship cost as a percentage of total turnover can be a U curve – that is for a few customers its very high as revenue is low, then there is a happy medium where the user base is a nice size, then you get into to mass market consumer products where the customer base is just so large that generally to control cost the level of service has to go down to a bare minimum – hence no comment could simple be a function of the fact that to comment you have to enter into a dialog and entering into a real dialog with thousands of customers is v expensive, and ultimately my not be cost effective.

Moreover relationship marketing theory tells us that its probably better to have something like a ‘no comment’ policy, where you kind of annoy a bunch of people a bit, than looking like you are going to enter into a dialog about things, raise expectations, and then fail to follow through.



Pertaining more to the matter at hand there is a growing number of miffed players over at Horizons who feel they're being ignored by the new customer service rep, Gale, who has posted a grand total of 6 messages since her introduction into the world of Istaria. 3 of which were her stating "Welcome", "This is what I do", and "Yes, I'm still here".

Not a very comforting thought to have when you're trying to get some answers about the game and there's one half hearted CS rep at work.

Speaking of which, the launch of Horizons went over relatively well, they had some server downtime early on but other than that they've been pretty good about no ground breaking bugs (with the exception of a money rollback due to a LARGE exploit).


In spite of Edward's recent comments, we're still conflating 2 different interests here, arguing the merits of ideals in terms of pragmatics--which is about as productive as arguing religion vs. science. Finding an "obvious" reason for Maxis' silence is easy. But Dan's original post is implicitly interested in improving the paradigm. The superficial question, "Why won't they comment?", merits an equally banal response. The more interesting underlying issue is: Given that we would like for them to comment, can we build a system in which it would be in everyone's best interest to do so? Questions like this can be asked precisely because the territory is largely unmapped, and regulations haven't yet solidified. This forum's value is its ability to generate forward-looking discussion, rather than pedantic explanation.

You may now chuckle at my idealism.


Euph > Given that we would like for them to comment, can we build a system in which it would be in everyone's best interest to do so?

Hmmm, how to square the circle, making right actions self-rewarding. Now that's a tough problem. The closest answer (that I've seen anyway) is the concept of enlightened self-interest from the theory of infinitely-repeated games ("games" here in the sense of game theory, not games people actually play). In an infinitely-repeated game, actions that seem immediately counter to self-interest may be taken because they serve some longer term goal. So, yes, perhaps it hurts Maxis today to comment. But if we create a world in which a reputation for commenting properly has benefits, then it makes sense for Maxis to go ahead and take the the short-run PR hit in order to preserve a long-run reputation for responsiveness.

Actually, I think such a system is already in place. In the long run, integrity is always in your self-interest. The problem isn't with the system, it's with human perception. Despite Watergate, politicians still stonewall certain issues. Despite Big Tobacco's lawsuits, corporations still cover up ugly practices. Most people don't realize how closely integrity and well-being are aligned. (I guess a short explanation, if you are hip to this jargon, is that discount rates are too high. But perhaps rational choice itself isn't the right model for these kinds of decisions.)

So the problem isn't building a system that incents Maxis to engage with this issue, it's making Maxis aware that not engaging in this issue is not very smart.


"Most people don't realize how closely integrity and well-being are aligned."

If I may take a moment to over-generalize: I agree with this statement, but it's worth bearing in mind that those qualities are relative. "Integrity" in its colloquial usage is certainly not to one's short- or long-term benefit in an authoritarian, corrupt regime; it'll get you killed. Only in an open, free system do the two (in their casual sense) reinforce each other.

"Integrity" in the structural sense, however, can also mean "playing by the rules of the system", which in general also will lead to one's relative well-being. If all MMOG developers choose to maintain stony silence on such issues [à la OrwellOnline], then the integrity and well-being of that system is still maintained...but without that "democratic" feedback loop, productive change slows to a crawl, even if the developers are well-intended.

So it's not a matter of Maxis seeing the light of Truth, and the error of their ways, so much as them casting a vote for which manner of well-being they envision. Developers and players alike will continue to cast their votes until we've constructed implicit norms. This is a non-issue for many TSO players, but it does feed into holistic perceptions, and can't yet be written off as business as usual.


It's like the old gag question, "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" Answering either "Yes" or "No" to this question gives the wrong impression.

The problem here is that Maxis' response goes out to hundreds of thousands of people. The interpretation of any response is going to potentially make Maxis look bad. Did they know about the "child pornography" and do nothing about it? Were they so out of touch that they did not even know what goes on in their own game? Damned if you do....

I'm particularly sympathetic to Maxis here because I've been in this position in my own game. Player A accuses player B of cheating. Assuming our detection tools aren't 100%, even if we don't find evidence of cheating we can't say, "This person is not cheating" because they could start cheating tomorrow. We can't say, "This person may be cheating" because then player A accuses us of being soft on cheating. The worst that can happen is that player A accuses us of being soft on cheating without proof; all we have to do is point to the cheaters we have banned in the past as proof that we are not. Would a definite answer be more satisfying to player A? Sure, but we would prefer not to get caught in that trap, especially since player A could be trying to deceive us to get us to ban someone truly innocent of all charges.

Touching on games theory as Edward did above, sometimes the best strategy to win is to not play the game. Yeah, it might be unrewarding to those that do want to play, but it is a valid strategy.

In short, I agree with Jeff above. ;)

My thoughts,


I heard that everytime Integrity has led a raid on the Market, the entire raid wipes out at the entrance. Doesn't even make it to the middle-management boss-mobs.

Apparently, after zoning in, they can't get organized because everyone is always complaining about the loot rules.

This last time, I guess Idealism (who's still using dial-up) lagged and pull nearly the whole first level of drones.

At least, that's what I read on Integrity's blog.

Jeff Cole


Brian 'Psychochild' Green>It's like the old gag question, "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" Answering either "Yes" or "No" to this question gives the wrong impression.

Someone at the State of Play conference said that to me and I replied: "No. She hasn't stopped burning my dinner".

Fortunately for me, US lawyer humour and British pedant humour does intersect at that point, otherwise I'd have been a gonner...



Just off the phone with Mark Ward of the BBC, who's been working on this story for a week. Despite repeated attempts, he was unable to get a response from EA/Maxis. No real surprise, I guess. (His story goes up on BBC.com on Monday.)

Clearly they are going to just shut up and wait for the storm to blow past. The question is, will my server survive the click-throughs from the 30 million daily viewers of BBC online?


An interesting thought comes to mind with all of this talk of pseudo-law in these games. Has it ever occurred to these developers to include some sort of representative government? Mind you, there have been attempts at a minimalist legal framework, but the truly ground breaking stuff, such as true democracies, republics, etc. haven't been on the page, as far as I can tell. At the very least, I would think they could institute a rough form of "justice" through the use of a wild west style government (wanted posters and the like - that sounds like a lot of fun). Even feudalism might be interesting - a group of warlords with underlings, etc. There are those of us out there who would enjoy the intellectual gymnastics involved on pursuing a sort of order on this rampant chaos (or at least have a load of fun trying to do so). It may also have the welcome side effect of reducing the disruptive impact of malicious players - or increase the fun they would enjoy. After all, for some, part of the fun here is breaking unwritten rules.


Poster> An interesting thought comes to mind with all of this talk of pseudo-law in these games. Has it ever occurred to these developers to include some sort of representative government?

Well yes or no depending on what exactly you mean by representative government.

Clans \ Guilds are governmental in so much as they have forms of control over certain resources (either through design e.g. clan \ guild controlled virtual items or practice – a clan that effectively dominates a shard). This idea is developing with things like Player Cities in SW:G and the politician track. And (yes I had to mention it) AITID has an elected Demi-Pharaoh with powers to kick players out and of course laws are passed by the whole community. Oh and there is always the SSG.

Is anyone playing Horizons ? The FAQ talks about ‘Advanced Community Tools’ – I wonder what they are doing over there.



Oh and the forthcoming Game Never Ending (gne.net) has a heavy political element to it too.


It sounds as if there is some effort on the part of some developers to include some forms of government, but the problem it seems to me, is that these forms tend to be centrally planned (whether in macro or micro form), rather than the inherently more involved and intriguing possibilities of such systems as proportional representation, parlimentary models, or even a republic. Those types of government models may provide for interesting forms of political expression such as coups, back room dealings and deal making, and factionalism. I think it would make for a rich backdrop to these virtual worlds.

The comments to this entry are closed.