« Edge Places | Main | Seeking legitimacy? »

Dec 10, 2004

Comments

1.

Although this may or may not be successful for a MMORPG based world, I would have to challenge the immediate assumption of fraud in a world that is not subscription based. In the almost two years of participation as a member of There (including 6 months on the Member Advisory Board) the number of cases of fraud (at least that the community was aware of) has been very limited, and seemingly intended to improve the defrauders game experience. In fact, the There economy is quite stable, with a healthy secondary exchange market and a significant number of successful product designers, some of which are even making a living from it.

So while "pay as you go" may not be for everyone, I believe it does appeal to a a large population, usually overlooked, that are not willing to make fixed monthly contributions to a game they may or may not have time to fully enjoy every given month. Now this might also imply that these people are less active than those who have time to play every day, but this (at least in the case of There) is often offset by higher average income levels to actually spend on things.

Given that There is one of the few worlds out there with this philosophy currently, it is hard to say which potential market is in fact bigger, though demographically, it would seem casual computer users still outweigh "full time" ones, so maybe the problem is just finding something with enough appeal to attract enough of them.

2.

I've spoken to the people at Red Bedlam about this at some length, albeit several years ago when they first started up. I only had one consultancy session with them, but I'm probably still under some kind of NDA so I'll have to be careful about what I say in case I inadvertantly reveal any secrets.

Basically, I agree with what Dan said about their approach.

The philosophy of "the more you play, the more you should pay" can easily be addressed by charging per hour rather than charging per month. This has proven unpopular in the past, for two reasons: it usually works out to be quite expensive; it's hard to budget for. Now you can address the former concern by reducing the price, but then you may not get enough to break even; you can address the latter concern by putting in price caps, but then you have to charge more to those who don't meet the caps so they pay for what you lose supporting those who meet it.

There is another way to tackle the problem of budgeting, namely to make people pay in advance: they buy how much time they want to use and then buy more (or not) when they run out. This is how "pay as you go" mobile phones work, for example, and it's basically a credit system. Players don't get a nasty surprise when they find how much time they've run up, because they pay in advance for it. Fundamentally, Red Bedlam's model is also credit-based: you buy in-game currency using real-world currency, and when you run out you can either buy some more right away or stop playing so much until you can afford it. It's not a per-hour fee, because you don't have to spend your money; however, if you want to "consume content" then you will find yourself paying.

OK, so what can you do with your money in Roma Victor? Well, you can buy in-game products and services with it. The principle of charging people for virtual goods as a business model as one that can work, as it does most visibly in Achaea. Although I have some concerns with this model insofar as the hero's journey goes, nevertheless it provably works. Achaea is one of the best virtual worlds out there in terms of content.

This isn't quite what Red Bedlam are proposing, though. In their model, you buy game money using real money, then buy game objects using game money (thus preserving some veneer of role-playing, although yes, it's one that's still fairly transparent). The big difference is that the price you pay for the virtual goods depends not only on regular market forces like supply and demand, but also on a global price meter with Red Bedlam's fingers on the control knob.

Here's how it works. Suppose that people are buying objects in-game, but not in sufficient numbers to pay the system's running costs. The developers might turn the knob to the right and all prices will rise by the amount indicated. Actually, it's not quite like that - they cut down the in-game money supply rather than raise in-game prices directly - but the effect is the same: your game-won sesterces won't buy as much as they did before, so you'll need to purchase more using real money in order to get the stuff you want. This will hopefully raise the developers' income enough to pay the bills. Similarly, if the company is making money hand over fist, they may decide to lower prices so that the game becomes more attractive to potential players, with a view to making the overall size of the economy grow as they new players sign up and start buying stuff. It's like the way that governments raise or lower taxes.

There are some problems with this...

Firstly, although formally you should raise the price of playing when you're not making enough money, the temptation is to lower prices instead in the hope that this will attract more players. This can lead to a downward spiral. Similarly, if you're making money from the current price level, there's a temptation to raise prices even more so you make even more money. How will Red Bedlam decide which way to turn the dial?

Secondly, the players know that prices can rise and fall through market forces, but they also know that Red Bedlam can manually influence the prices. Every time that prices go up, Red Bedlam will be accused of profiteering; every time they go down, the harder it will be to raise them again later. Note that this is irrespective of whether prices rose actually rose because of market forces rather than twiddling of the price-determination knob.

Thirdly, there's the actual cost involved. The reason that pay-per-hour broke down was because the high-usage players found they could play per-month at a much reduced cost. Eventually, economics won out and they switched to those products (games, virtual worlds, ISPs) instead. If people find they're paying a lot more in Roma Victor than they would pay elsewhere, they may switch to some other virtual world instead. They don't do this in Achaea for a number of reasons, some of which would translate into Roma Victor (social capital, feeling of personal/financial investment etc.). However, if Roma Victor can't gets its hooks into its high-usage players deeply enough, they'll cash in their sesterces and leave for somewhere less expensive.

Fourthly, there's the fraud issue that Dan mentioned. Red Bedlam has put a lot of effort into ensuring that there won't be dupe bugs or any other kind of bug that could introduce new money into the economy "free". They have monitoring systems to alert them the moment the economy misbehaves. They should be OK. Nevertheless, anything that allows people to convert in-game currency to real-world money is setting itself up as a target (and is one reason Achaea doesn't do it). If it turns out that people can, say, set up up a bot to do things that Roma Victor "rewards" with sesterces, then people will do this (whether or not it makes the game more fun for everyone else) and cash the resulting sesterces fortune in for a real one.

There are a number of minor issues, too, but I won't go into them here (this post is too long already!). I would like to say, however, that given Roma Victor's humble beginnings it's a real testiment to the dedication and drive of Kerry Fraser-Robinson and his team that it's got this far at all; other, much better-funded virtual worlds have long fallen by the wayside. They must be doing something right..!

Richard

3.

Richard Bartle wrote:

> Firstly, although formally you should raise the
> price of playing when you're not making enough
> money, the temptation is to lower prices instead in
> the hope that this will attract more players. This
> can lead to a downward spiral. Similarly, if you're
> making money from the current price level, there's a
> temptation to raise prices even more so you make
> even more money. How will Red Bedlam decide which
> way to turn the dial?

> Secondly, the players know that prices can rise and
> fall through market forces, but they also know that
> Red Bedlam can manually influence the prices. Every
> time that prices go up, Red Bedlam will be accused
> of profiteering; every time they go down, the harder
> it will be to raise them again later.

How is this different from the marketing of any other product in any other industry? Theoretically, it is necessary only to determine (or estimate) the consumers' price elasticity of demand to maximize revenue. As for the perception of 'profiteering', doesn't every producer face this dilemma?

> Thirdly, there's the actual cost involved. The
> reason that pay-per-hour broke down was because the
> high-usage players found they could play per-month
> at a much reduced cost. Eventually, economics won
> out and they switched to those products (games,
> virtual worlds, ISPs) instead... However, if Roma
> Victor can't gets its hooks into its high-usage
> players deeply enough, they'll cash in their
> sesterces and leave for somewhere less expensive.

But remember, at twenty hours a week, most players pay far more in time opportunity costs than they will ever pay in subscription fees. Subscription rates could double, and the total cost of play wouldn't change that much for most. If players perceive this game to be more fun than others, why wouldn't they pay 50% or 100% more?

4.

Jeremy Neal Kelly>How is this different from the marketing of any other product in any other industry?

It's because you're selling product (virtual goods) to support a service (the running of the virtual world) that gives the product its value. If the product sales aren't making enough money to cover the service expenses, then dropping the prices will attract more players, sure, but that will also increase the service expenses. I agree, though, that other industries have to make much more difficult decisions than this.

>As for the perception of 'profiteering', doesn't every producer face this dilemma?

Yes, but do they face it daily for the same product? I think Red Bedlam are more likely to do their tuning on a weekly basis, but still, how many producers change their product prices that often?

>If players perceive this game to be more fun than others, why wouldn't they pay 50% or 100% more?

Oh, they probably wouldn't. In the past, though, we've seen an 80/20 rule operating (80% of the traffic is generated by 20% of the users); if this happened here, the top 20% could expect to be paying 400% more than they would in a fixed-price game. It may not happen, or it may be that they make money from their activities, but nevertheless it must be a concern. There is a limit to what people will pay to play these virtual worlds before they switch to an inferior but less expensive one.

Richard

5.

Richard Bartle wrote:

> Yes, but do they face it daily for the same product? I
> think Red Bedlam are more likely to do their tuning on
> a weekly basis, but still, how many producers change
> their product prices that often?

Gas stations come to mind, and when prices are high, consumers react just as you suggest (grumbling about collusion, et cetera).

> Oh, they probably wouldn't.

Did you mean 'they probably would'? I'm confused by 'though' in the next sentence.

> In the past, though, we've seen an 80/20 rule
> operating (80% of the traffic is generated by 20% of
> the users); if this happened here, the top 20% could
> expect to be paying 400% more than they would in a
> fixed-price game.

Absolutely, but I'm saying that they already pay 400% of what others pay, in the form of play time opportunity cost. If the price rises still higher, they will certainly play less, but if they like the game so much, they probably won't quit.

6.

Jeremy Neal Kelly>Gas stations come to mind, and when prices are high, consumers react just as you suggest (grumbling about collusion, et cetera).

That's fine for gas stations as they all have the same approach. With virtual worlds, it's like Roma Victor is a regular gas station and all the others are gas stations where you can pay a flat fee and fill your tank as many times as you like for the next month.

>> Oh, they probably wouldn't.
>Did you mean 'they probably would'? I'm confused by 'though' in the next sentence.

What I meant was that high-usage people probably wouldn't leave even if they were paying twice as much as they would in a different virtual world. I was agreeing with you.

>Absolutely, but I'm saying that they already pay 400% of what others pay, in the form of play time opportunity cost.

That's true, but they don't see it that way - they see it as having fun for 4 times as long.

>If the price rises still higher, they will certainly play less, but if they like the game so much, they probably won't quit.

All I can say here is that they did in the past when the big switch from pay-per-play to a flat rate fee happened.

Richard

7.

Richard Bartle wrote:

> All I can say here is that they did in the past when
> the big switch from pay-per-play to a flat rate fee
> happened.

I assume you mean what happened in 1996, when AOL switched to a flat rate, and the other ISPs followed. I don't know much about this era, but as I understand it, most 'premium' game services cost several dollars an hour before the flat-rate revolution. If this company's claim that "€10's worth of Sesterces should allow [players] to enjoy life... for at least a month" holds true, then we're talking about 15 or 20 cents an hour.

8.

Wow, this site just noticed Roma Victor? At least Bartle still remembered talking to them years and years ago. They sure made a big deal of the fact that The Richard Bartle deigned to impart their wisdom upon their complete lack of a product.

Not even worth a second look. You either have a team who can make a game and decide how things should work, or you don't. Complicated entertainment created by committee rarely works out. I'd wish them the best of luck, but I suspect that they are in fact doomed beyond my ability to bless their efforts. Plus I think it better to just point and laugh.

9.

J.>They sure made a big deal of the fact that The Richard Bartle deigned to impart their wisdom upon their complete lack of a product.

I've seen people say they may give the game a chance and try it because I've been advising its developers. I advised them by commenting on some documents and having a several-hours meeting with their MD. I didn't even charge them, as they had no money. About half of what I said to them, they decided not to act upon; the rest, they did.

I'd really like to see Roma Victor succeed, but whether it does or not has almost nothing to do with my input.

Richard

10.

The only thing I'm commenting on is their outreach. Their Web page about it made it sound like you were joining their team:

http://www.roma-victor.com/news/press/showpr.php?pr=011005a

I suspected all this time that the truth was pretty much what you just said, though.

11.

I don’t have the time to treat this subject properly, but I did want to at least comment on a number of myths that I too often see when this topic comes up.

Let’s start with this one:
“First off, for a game that is so heavily-invested in role-playing, it's a little odd that they want to breach the membrane between VW and RW right from the get-go.”

So I’m not sure I agree with the assumption being made here. If this statement were carte blanc true, then you would expect that it could be easily applied to all places that this happens. For example, the collector’s edition pets in WoW. My guess is that you will see quite a few CE pets on RP servers. If I interpret your our assumption correctly, because members had to pay for this pet ($30), the fact that they have the pet breaks the RP experience. My experience is that it doesn’t. More often I’m opt to say, ‘wow, cool pet!’. Frankly, I think its more about game design than it is about RL links that breaks the RP experience. In the case of WoW pets, they have made them purely status symbols and as such, I have yet to hear any comments about these pets ‘breaching the membrane’. I think it’s also safe to say, that WoW isn’t the only company that is rewarding ‘higher spending players’, and I rarely hear any complaints about WoW rewarding these high spenders, especially compared to some of the other core issues in other games like bugs and balance.

“the beauty of the current subscription models is that you just give them your credit-card number, and know that $12.95 comes out every month.”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Pay-as-you-go plans also have huge benefits, like making it very easy to customize your experience to meet your budget. To plug There.com here, one of the things that our members seem to really enjoy is the fact that they *don’t* have to spend money every month. Many members will buy a buggy one-month, and then drive it for 6-8 months having all kinds of fun. If they see something they like, they can buy it, but there really is no requirement to spend money month after month. Again, from everything I have seen in the industry, the real question on pay-as-you-go worlds has much more to do with design than it does with the players’ reaction to the basic concept.

“You don't have to keep wondering how much is going to be withdrawn,”

Who’s to say that RedBedlam doesn’t set up automated purchases for members? Again, its more about how you do it, not if this can work.

“how your in-world balance is doing, etc.”

Which subscription game is that where players don’t worry about their in-game balance? It’s not a $800M+ secondary market because subscription based games have figured this problem out.

“Also, the experience of the Second Life tax revolt demonstrates that an obvious resource tax (such as the one proposed here) is probably going to be deeply unpopular.”

So, the problem with taking an event out of context is that rarely are you going to see the core issues involved. The SL tax revolt was a much deeper issue than the resource tax. If we are to assume that their members are ‘happy’ today, we also have to assume that they figured out a solution that didn’t include eliminating the ‘pay-as-you-go’ concept, as clearly the experience of someone that buys a whole island can be much different than someone who just gets the basic land grant. Again, it’s all about the design.

“every time I see a proposal that places a strong connection between real world currencies and vw currencies, I can hear the mental wheels of every scammer, duper, and Eastern European mafiyoso start to whir.”

From a development view, I think some would argue that the connection between real world currencies and vw currencies has little to do with whether or not you are using a subscription model, and much more to do with how you are designing exploits out of the game.

Maybe it’s the Austrian-libertarian in me, but I might also argue that legalizing a $800M black market has a higher chance of reducing many of the problems this industry has with the fraud, etc. than ignoring it. How big would the secondary market for in-world currency be if you could buy it legally from the developer or a well known authorized 3rd party?

The argument that typically follows this is, “but legalizing currency purchases ruins the RP” to which I would again reply, “not if its done right”. The other interesting thing here is that once we agree that it’s a design issue, we would then want to return to the question, “why not legalize this?”

(note: I’m not saying that currency purchases should be legalized in all games, or in all cases, I’m merely saying that this should be an option that a new developer like RedBedlam should consider these days, and if they decide to go down that path, the path isn’t doomed top dismay as some would suspect, it just means that you do some things differently.)

“The unintended genius of the current crop of MMORPGS is that, in insisting that you can't buy/sell vw assets, they can minimize their involvement in fraudulent activity.”

Again, are we assuming that “buying assets” is the only way to do this? At minimum both rentals and licenses can be ‘sold’ without any transfer of ‘ownership’. Again, there are ways to solve these issues, if in fact this is the core issue. On the other hand, I think I would view the question of, “does this effect gameplay” as a much bigger issue than how do you write the legalese that protects both the developer and the player.

“Rather than having to guarantee the investments of players, they can just say that the players shouldn't be engaging in this kind of behavior, and wash their hands of it.”

Again, not sure if this is an issue. If RedBedlam would like to price a sword for $2 that a warrior can use to fight his way from lvl 15 to lvl 20 with, can’t they deliver that very item? Where is the need for a guarantee of investments?

Richard>
“The philosophy of "the more you play, the more you should pay" can easily be addressed by charging per hour rather than charging per month. This has proven unpopular in the past, for two reasons: it usually works out to be quite expensive; it's hard to budget for.”

On the topic of “unpopular”, again, I think it’s very easy to get the “pay-as-you-go” model wrong, and when you do it is very, very bad. That said, there are plenty of examples in other industries where they tried ‘pay-as-you-go” got it very wrong, and then had another company figure it out and make something that their customers really enjoyed. I think the current example that is being thrown around business magazines is cell phone ring tones.

“The principle of charging people for virtual goods as a business model as one that can work, as it does most visibly in Achaea. Although I have some concerns with this model insofar as the hero's journey goes, nevertheless it provably works. Achaea is one of the best virtual worlds out there in terms of content.”

Two things here.
One, the hero’s journey. Personally, the journey for me is more about making the best of the resources that I have available. Also, ‘money’ has a huge role in many hero’s tales. Do we really care if Han Solo was helping Luke because he needed money to pay off a debt? Do we really think of him as ‘less of a hero’ because he starts the story with his own spaceship? Or more of Luke because he starts with almost nothing? For me, the hero question, in most games that I play, has little to do with one’s access to resources and much more to do with who you are and what you do with what you have. And that has very little to do with whether a business uses a subscription model or a pay-for-the-sword model.
Two, let’s talk content.
I have little surprise to find evidence between using a pay-for-the-sword model and a statement like “best … in terms of content”. The information that the pay-for-the-sword model provides the company that uses it is priceless. You can’t get that kind of information from any other source, and if you’d like I could go into a full lecture on why we use it in the real world, which really has some nice content too.

“In their model, you buy game money using real money, then buy game objects using game money (thus preserving some veneer of role-playing, although yes, it's one that's still fairly transparent).”

Again, I think I would argue that just because it’s transparent doesn’t mean that it breaks the chance to role-play. If I go to a renaissance fair and see one guy with a really cool outfit (that obviously costs a lot) do I then say, ah, that guys can’t role-play, he’s spent too much money……

I think we are also making an assumption that the role-playing quality on subscription servers is high, which may not be the case. In fact, I might argue that a person’s ‘role-playing’ experience is much more dependant on the design of the game and the group of people that you decide to hangout with than it is about what business model the company is using.

“The big difference is that the price you pay for the virtual goods depends not only on regular market forces like supply and demand, but also on a global price meter with Red Bedlam's fingers on the control knob.
Here's how it works. Suppose that people are buying objects in-game, but not in sufficient numbers to pay the system's running costs. The developers might turn the knob to the right and all prices will rise by the amount indicated.”

It is totally amazing that with all the time we spend talking about economics, that many people in this industry don’t understand even the most basic of economic principles when it comes time to apply them to their own business model.

Any basic review of very simple supply and demand charts and the concepts behind them would lead one to believe that price adjustments should be about finding price equilibrium and not about turning some dial. Most industries look at supply and demand, and then determine price and product. Why is it that our industry tends to first pick a price ($12-15/month), and then try to manipulate both supply and demand to cross at that price. In fact, it has been said a number of times, that the whole problem with the subscription model is that the price is always wrong. It’s often too expensive for many players and much too cheap for most of the rest. As such, I’m a bit reluctant to say that the pay-for-the-sword model has a lower benefit to problem ratio than a subscription model. And again, I think its much more about design, than the basic model behind it. And, again, I will openly admit that the pay-for-the-sword model is very easy to get wrong and we have no lack of bad examples.

“Similarly, if the company is making money hand over fist, they may decide to lower prices so that the game becomes more attractive to potential players, with a view to making the overall size of the economy grow as they new players sign up and start buying stuff. It's like the way that governments raise or lower taxes.”

Again very sad that this is how we view companies in our industry. Where is the commentary of what they will do in terms of content when the find out that players really like fighting in castles, or find out that players really want the game to go faster because the are buying higher swords, or when the developers find out that players really, really, really want to customize their in-world house, etc, etc, etc. From your description, you would think that they were spending all their time preparing for the weekly meeting on how many radians to turn the dial.

“If people find they're paying a lot more in Roma Victor than they would pay elsewhere, they may switch to some other virtual world instead.”

Price matters? If its that important, why not a model that you can really get granular with?

“They don't do this in Achaea for a number of reasons, some of which would translate into Roma Victor (social capital, feeling of personal/financial investment etc.).”

You don’t think maybe its because Achaea has the “best content”?

“I think Red Bedlam are more likely to do their tuning on a weekly basis, but still, how many producers change their product prices that often?”

This sounds more like an implementation problem than a business model problem.

“Oh, they probably wouldn't. In the past, though, we've seen an 80/20 rule operating (80% of the traffic is generated by 20% of the users); if this happened here, the top 20% could expect to be paying 400% more than they would in a fixed-price game.”

So, another particularity of this model that we may be over looking here is that there is a difference between paying a flat rate for content consumption, and a smart system that works in variable pricing. What’s the difference? Personally, I view the main difference being the assumptions that the two concepts are based on. Flat-rate consumption is based on saying the more you eat the more you pay. It’s like charging for soda at 1 cent for 5 mL. You want 250 mL, no problem, its 50 cents, you want 1000mL, no problem, it’s $2.

Variable pricing on the other hand, (note I will admit that ‘variable pricing gets abused by many companies and as such has a bad rep, and maybe there is a better term, but anyway…), variable pricing is based on a completely different concept. Its based on the fact that demand curves are, well, curves. The value of any product has a wide range of value to all the potential consumers of that content.

Again, an easy example is the collector’s edition of Wow. Blizzard recognized that they have players that are willing to pay a little more than others. Are we really saying that it was unfair that all those players got ‘better maps’ than other players and that since they paid for those ‘better maps’ that it breaks the game play, and since they also got in-game pets and we know in-world who has those special maps, that we would expect the players to be up in arms about members with collector’s edition pets playing in RP servers? Huh?? I don’t think so. What about EQ2’s pay-for features? Should we let guilds with paid-for features play on RP servers? I’m thinking yes. But, if we are saying that paid-for premium services ruin the RP, than why aren’t they restricted from RP servers? Or are we saying they should be?

Back to Roma Victor, how sure are we that if Roma Victor charged more for black leather armor than they did for brown leather armor (with the same stats) that this would ‘for sure’ ruin any chance that anyone had to role-play in that world? If we are not so sure, how come the conclusion that this is “a bad idea for RP” is so strongly recommended here.

All that said, I guess I should also say, that I have yet to even look at more than the front page of Roma Victor, and who knows if they even have a game that finds a niche in this market. However, I will say, that it's somewhat unfortunate to see how quickly this business model is being dismissed here.

-bruce

12.

bruce> All that said, I guess I should also say, that I have yet to even look at more than the front page of Roma Victor, and who knows if they even have a game that finds a niche in this market.

You should do that.

So far I've found that those with the most "innovative" ideas about how to "solve" the problem of in-game and real-world economy overlap, have the least clue about how to make game-worlds fun, interesting or long-lasting. I'd rather not waste my time getting academic about stuff that has no basis in reality (except more questions about whether it would actually work given what's already known about MUD and MMOG players) when there's so little indication of lights on upstairs.

13.

J.> I'd rather not waste my time getting academic about stuff that has no basis in reality

Two quick notes:

a) You may be on the wrong site.

b) I think the point I was trying to make is that Blizzard (who knows a little about making fun games) rewarded 'high (US$) spenders' just a few weeks ago in a way that was totally visible in-game (collector's edition pets) that also gave players a small competitive advantage (better maps), and there was little if any complaints from 'hard core' role-players playing specifically on servers designated for 'role-play'.

This goes against almost every assumption that the original post was based on, and as such, I'm recommending that it might be better to not dismiss small developers taking the risk to push the evolution one more step.

-bruce

14.

Bruce Boston>One, the hero’s journey. Personally, the journey for me is more about making the best of the resources that I have available.

That's not a hero's journey. The hero's journey is a quest for self-actualisation; making the best of resources is merely a strategy for dealing with obstacles (unless the resources you're talking about are your own, internal ones).

>Also, ‘money’ has a huge role in many hero’s tales. Do we really care if Han Solo was helping Luke because he needed money to pay off a debt?

Star Wars is Luke's journey, not Han's.

>the hero question, in most games that I play, has little to do with one’s access to resources and much more to do with who you are and what you do with what you have. And that has very little to do with whether a business uses a subscription model or a pay-for-the-sword model.

If a virtual world were to give away swords (or any other virtual objects) for free, with no effort, that would put everyone on a par with the rich kids who can just buy what they want. Now does it look like a hero's journey?

>If I go to a renaissance fair and see one guy with a really cool outfit (that obviously costs a lot) do I then say, ah, that guys can’t role-play, he’s spent too much money……

For role-players, yes, who cares? There may be some envy involved, but that shouldn't detract from the role-playing. You can role-play being a court jester from a wheelchair.

It's not role-players it bothers, though, it's gamers. If people were allowed to wear medals they bought in shops, then the next time you saw someone with a chest full of gongs would you think that they were brave or that they were rich?

>Any basic review of very simple supply and demand charts and the concepts behind them would lead one to believe that price adjustments should be about finding price equilibrium and not about turning some dial.

Yes, well, Red Bedlam are going with the dial model. They have an economist on board with real-life experience (I think from the North Sea oil industry), so they are better placed than most companies to get this right. That doesn't mean they will, of course; we'll have to wait and see.

>Why is it that our industry tends to first pick a price ($12-15/month), and then try to manipulate both supply and demand to cross at that price.

Because there are overheads that need to be met, which this price point satisfies while also makibg a modest profit. I agree that there's no requirement that everyone pay the same amount, though, which is what the industry standard model is at the moment.

>From your description, you would think that they were spending all their time preparing for the weekly meeting on how many radians to turn the dial.

Well, that was because this thread is "Currency and the Membrane". I'm happy to talk about adding more content that players will readily pay for (which could be good, done thoroughly, but is in danger of being used like political contributions otherwise: "add more land because a few people will pay lots for it", rather than "add more things that people can put on their coats of arms because they all look similar right now").

>Price matters? If its that important, why not a model that you can really get granular with?

Price matters, but stability of price also matters.

>You don’t think maybe its because Achaea has the “best content”?

There are other textual worlds that also have excellent content. Achaea is one of the best, but I'd say that was mainly because it has professional, full-time content developers who know what they're doing, rather than because its business model encouraged adding "best content". Of course, its business model is providing the funds, so indirectly it is a contributing factor. It's not so important that the designers lose sight of what's fun, though (which is why people play, and which doesn't necessarily correlate with what they'll pay money for).

Richard

15.

Richard Bartle wrote

>You don’t think maybe its because Achaea has the “best content”.

There are other textual worlds that also have excellent content. Achaea is one of the best, but I'd say that was mainly because it has professional, full-time content developers who know what they're doing, rather than because its business model encouraged adding "best content". Of course, its business model is providing the funds, so indirectly it is a contributing factor. It's not so important that the designers lose sight of what's fun, though (which is why people play, and which doesn't necessarily correlate with what they'll pay money for).

I think it's a combination of the fact that we know what we're doing and that we simply do things differently than virtually every other virtual world out there. It's not possible to find a similar experience in the graphical world and there are maybe 5 text worlds I know of that have a focus anything like the focus of Achaea. (Four of them being owned by us.)

So, you can't just leave and go play a new game, because you can't really find a similar experience. I also think our business model is one reason for our success. Starting a new subscription-based game in text without some kind of huge and obvious selling point (like a big license) would be -very- hard to do successfully at this point.

--matt

16.

Richard> "The hero's journey is a quest for self-actualization; making the best of resources is merely a strategy for dealing with obstacles (unless the resources you're talking about are your own, internal ones)."

Sweet! These are the very points that I think are at the very heart of my questions around the 'quest for self-actualization'.

1) First off, is the quest that players are taking in MMOGs a 'simulation' of a quest for self-actualization, or are they their own 'actual' quests to learn more about themselves? From the passion that many gamers put into these games, and how they now starting to effect their real-world relationships, status, use of time and value systems, I'm wondering if there isn't a shift from the former to the latter in the minds of many gamers.

2) Are we assuming that all 'quests for self-actualization' start from a point of poverty? Are we saying that they all start (for every person) at the same point? Are we saying that they should all progress at the same rate?

2b) What I often hear as being described at 'a hero's journey' often looks like a 'rite of passage', where I would agree that these things should be commonized, but come-on, we have gamers that have been playing MMOGs for thousands of hours, at what point do we stop requiring them to re-do yet another 'rite of passage' and let them start on their own 'quests for self-actualization'?

3) Don't we also expect that (based on a fair amount of evidence) that even when a group of players start at the same point, within a very short period of time they are all at different points along the progression trail. And, if the point of playing in a MMO is to interact with others, shouldn't we expect that the bulk of anyone's interactive experience in an MMO is going to be done with players at very different levels than your own? (Especially when we consider that we expect a wide range of starting dates.)

4) Is it really only 'internal resources' that we care about in the 'quest for self-actualization'? If so why? Why is it ok, to bring an inert ability to speed-type into the game, or the ability to memorize the of stats of everything ok, or a group of 500 friends ok, or to bring 80 hrs a week of playtime ok, or the ability to set-up professionally developed custom UI interfaces ok, but to bring an extra 5 gold pieces a month of disposable income into the game 'not ok'. Why?

> Star Wars is Luke's journey, not Han's.

Some might suggest otherwise:
http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~sparks/sffilm/mmswtab.html

But back to your comment...
So co-journeying isn't possible? Or in your mind was Han disqualified because he already had money? Or was he already too far down the path of his 'quest' to say that Star Wars was an accurate account of his 'quest'? I don't think we can say that he was already at a state of 'self-actualization', or that he didn't find out some very interesting things about himself throughout the journey. So what makes this a 'quest' for Luke and not Han?

> If a virtual world were to give away swords (or any other virtual objects) for free, with no effort, that would put everyone on a par with the rich kids who can just buy what they want. Now does it look like a hero's journey?

I don't know? But, let me check. Cost of a football to football player, free. Cost of a basketball to basketball player, free. Cost of a baseball bat to baseball player, free. No heroes in professional sports?

What about the converse? Cost to first professional climber to climb Mt Everest? Plenty. Cost to first women to fly across the Atlantic? Plenty. Cost to first person to travel to the south pole? Plenty. No heroes here either?

So back to the economics stuff...

>Price matters, but stability of price also matters.

So, which major subscription game is it again that's figured out how to keep prices stable?

>For role-players, yes, who cares? There may be some envy involved, but that shouldn't detract from the role-playing. You can role-play being a court jester from a wheelchair.

So two votes for money doesn't necessarily disallow role-playing? Dan, any response?

>They have an economist on board with real-life experience (I think from the North Sea oil industry), so they are better placed than most companies to get this right. That doesn't mean they will, of course; we'll have to wait and see.

Agreed.

> but is in danger of being used like political contributions otherwise: "add more land because a few people will pay lots for it", rather than "add more things that people can put on their coats of arms because they all look similar right now".

While I agree that the danger exists, I'm not so sure how high the risk is. For the most part, there is some pretty good evidence that people are fairly capable of voting for fun with their wallets. I'd go so far as saying that gamers are better at voting for fun with their wallets than they are with forum posts. Can we count all the 'fun' ideas that players came up with that had a shelf-life of 2-3 weeks?

>Of course, its business model is providing the funds, so indirectly it is a contributing factor. It's not so important that the designers lose sight of what's fun, though (which is why people play, and which doesn't necessarily correlate with what they'll pay money for).

matt> I also think our business model is one reason for our success. Starting a new subscription-based game in text without some kind of huge and obvious selling point (like a big license) would be -very- hard to do successfully at this point.

While the link may look 'indirect' on the surface, I think for those who have tried this method and gotten it to work, it's 'very' hard to justify going back to a subscription model.

I'll also admit that today it's not so obvious 'why' this is, but over time as we see more and more reasons come out, my guess is that within a few years, we wont be calling it an 'indirect' link any more.

-bruce

17.

Bruce Boston wrote:

While the link may look 'indirect' on the surface, I think for those who have tried this method and gotten it to work, it's 'very' hard to justify going back to a subscription model.

I'll also admit that today it's not so obvious 'why' this is, but over time as we see more and more reasons come out, my guess is that within a few years, we wont be calling it an 'indirect' link any more.

Well, I'm pretty sure I can tell you what the link is in our case. It's that the text market isn't large enough to support the kind of buzz and advertising budget necessary to get people to plunk down a credit card to subscribe. We're also unable to impress anyone easily by just, say, showing them a screenshot, like large graphical games are able to do.

And you know, there are some people who simply LIKE the model. I know that as a player of graphical and text MUDs I object to games whose designs are entirely predicated on spending time. I'm busy. I don't want to feel disadvantaged because some loser without a life can out spend me in time. I like the idea of being able to even the playing field somewhat by spending money, but I'm also scrupulously honest and will not knowingly break any contract that I agree to, including EULAs. Thus, unless the EULA doesn't prohibit Ebaying or unless the publisher/developer is willing to sell stuff to me, I'm shit out of luck. I don't speak for anyone but myself there, of course, but I'm quite sure I'm not alone in this feeling (well, I may be relatively alone in actively seeking to be honest about EULAs, but I know I'm far from alone in not wanting to deal with competing sheerly on the basis of spent time.)

--matt

18.

Bruce Boston>is the quest that players are taking in MMOGs a 'simulation' of a quest for self-actualization, or are they their own 'actual' quests to learn more about themselves?

Definitely the latter. If the character takes the journey it's simulated, but I mean it's the players who are taking the journey.

>I'm wondering if there isn't a shift from the former to the latter in the minds of many gamers.

It doesn't really matter whether they recognise it or not; recognition you're on a hero's journey is not important to it.

>2) Are we assuming that all 'quests for self-actualization' start from a point of poverty?

No, but I'm saying that once you're in the "other world" of adventure you can no longer use what you have in the mundane world to assist your quest. If you can, it's not an "other world", it's the same world, therefore you're not going to get a hero's journey out of it.

>Are we saying that they all start (for every person) at the same point? Are we saying that they should all progress at the same rate?

No.

>2b) What I often hear as being described at 'a hero's journey' often looks like a 'rite of passage'

Virtual worlds have been described like that, too (I first saw it in Frank Schaap's thesis. I don't see them that way myself, though - a rite of passage to what?

>at what point do we stop requiring them to re-do yet another 'rite of passage' and let them start on their own 'quests for self-actualization'?

They already started on it before they played. The virtual world segment is only part of the hero's journey.

I don't think we're in disagreement here: we both want virtual worlds to be detreadmillised...

>if the point of playing in a MMO is to interact with others, shouldn't we expect that the bulk of anyone's interactive experience in an MMO is going to be done with players at very different levels than your own?

Yes, of course. There's nothing that will cause virtual worlds to fall apart if players interact with players at different levels.

>4) Is it really only 'internal resources' that we care about in the 'quest for self-actualization'? If so why?

Because that's where the self-actualisation takes place - in the self.

>Why is it ok, to bring an inert ability to speed-type into the game, or the ability to memorize the of stats of everything ok, or a group of 500 friends ok, or to bring 80 hrs a week of playtime ok, or the ability to set-up professionally developed custom UI interfaces ok, but to bring an extra 5 gold pieces a month of disposable income into the game 'not ok'.

Firstly, some games do make the ability to speed-type less effective (mainly because macros can type faster than people).

In hero's journey terms, spending more money a month affects two things: 1) your hero's journey, because you're bringing real-world resources into the world of adventure; 2) everyone else's hero's journey, because you're making their growing sense of heroic self worthless. If heroism can be bought, it's not heroism.

>Some might suggest otherwise:
>http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~sparks/sffilm/mmswtab.html

Uh? The above link looks to me to be describing a straight hero's journey for Luke. Where do you get the impression it's a hero's journey for Han?

>So co-journeying isn't possible?

No. Several people can coincide on their own hero's journey, but they don't get to be a hero together.

Actually, that's not quite right. I'm beginning to suspect that if the player identifies with a group more than with their self, then the group can undergo a hero's journey as if it were a player. It's a lot more complex than that, and I don't have a sense of what it feels like, but it could be happening. It's a deeply cultural thing, though: I believe it may happen in among players in the Far East, but I haven't come across it in the west (people are too individualistic here).

>Or in your mind was Han disqualified because he already had money?

In my mind, Han was disqualified because he didn't undertake most of the major steps of the hero's journey. Where, for example, does he have atonement with the father?

>So what makes this a 'quest' for Luke and not Han?

It's a quest for Han, but it's not a quest for self-actualisation. Luke is the one following the hero's journey, not Han. This doesn't mean that Han isn't a good or interesting character, or that he doesn't have a story arc; it just means that he's not on a hero's journey (or that if he is, this is only a fragment of it).

>Cost of a baseball bat to baseball player, free. No heroes in professional sports?

There are, yes. But how about cost of buying a sprint record? Cost of bribing a referee? Cost of buying a weighted baseball bat?

>Cost to first person to travel to the south pole? Plenty. No heroes here either?

All this proves is that it's expensive to get a shot at a hero's journey in the real world. Virtual worlds have a cost, too (the monthly fee), it's just so much less than for these activities.

>So, which major subscription game is it again that's figured out how to keep prices stable?

Most of them are stable for months if not years at a time. I mean price to play (subscription fee), by the way, not in-game prices.

>So two votes for money doesn't necessarily disallow role-playing?

It doesn't disallow it, but it may cheapen the experience. Role-playing is more fun if everyone is role-playing, but if they're more into costume-purchasing rather than role-playing then it's less fun for those with whom they play.

>I'd go so far as saying that gamers are better at voting for fun with their wallets than they are with forum posts.

I agree, but with virtual worlds we find that many of the people doing the voting are voting for what they think is fun now, rather than what will actually be fun later. This is at the heart of my recent paper about design by newbies.

>I think for those who have tried this method and gotten it to work, it's 'very' hard to justify going back to a subscription model.

I agree that it's hard to switch to a subscription model from a pay-for-objects model. It's also hard to switch to a pay-for-objects model to a subscription model. You have to start with one and then stick with it.

Richard

19.

First, let me say thank you for this, this has been one of the best discussions I’ve had on this topic, even if we may be way off from what the original topic may have been here.

Richard> Where do you get the impression it's a hero's journey for Han?
Richard> This doesn't mean that Han isn't a good or interesting character, or that he doesn't have a story arc; it just means that he's not on a hero's journey (or that if he is, this is only a fragment of it).

So I think I would agree that Han’s journey is obviously much less detailed than Luke’s, but I still think there may be a quest that he is going through as well.

Two better references to people suggesting that Han may be on a journey of his own might be:
http://www.qui-gonline.org/features/herosjourney.htm
Quote: 'In Star Wars, that would be Luke Skywalker, though taking the entire six-episode saga into account, his father Anakin Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi to an extent, as well as Han Solo, have Hero Journeys of their own to carry out.'
http://www.fiu.edu/~northupl/StarWars.html
Quote: 'Note: Han, Lando, Vader, and even the droids have hero journeys of their own.'

Richard> I agree, but with virtual worlds we find that many of the people doing the voting are voting for what they think is fun now, rather than what will actually be fun later. This is at the heart of my recent paper about design by newbies.

Again, I think I’ve said this before, but I think the conclusions that you came to in “Design by Nebiews” are short-term effects of the industry being so young. In areas of Asia, MMORPGs are looking more and more like professional sports, and while some professional sports may have rules that make them Newbie friendly, the endgame is anything but for new comers. I think even here in the West we are headed down that same road, with it being very easy to pick-up and play many newer MMORPGs, but the endgame is getting very close to an ‘All Pro’ sport.

Richard> The virtual world segment is only part of the hero's journey.
Richard> No, but I'm saying that once you're in the "other world" of adventure you can no longer use what you have in the mundane world to assist your quest. If you can, it's not an "other world", it's the same world, therefore you're not going to get a hero's journey out of it.
Richard> In hero's journey terms, spending more money a month affects two things: 1) your hero's journey, because you're bringing real-world resources into the world of adventure; 2) everyone else's hero's journey, because you're making their growing sense of heroic self worthless.

So I’m starting to think that MMORPGs may not be the ‘right tool for the job’ in creating the Hero’s Journey. In fact, I think it would be magnitudes easier to accomplish the design requirements we are talking about here in a PS2 console type environment. From reading a number of other posts, I'm also starting to think that the part of real life that many gamers don't enjoy are the 'real life' people themselves, which is exactly who we are trying to port to the virtual world with MMOGs.

Richard> If heroism can be bought, it's not heroism.

Totally agree, heroism can't be bought. But I don’t quite see the problem here. Even in the real world where someone may have access to loads of cash, heroism can’t be bought. Would anyone really think that a multimillionaire in RL that bought really cool looking armor and couldn't play worth a damn was a hero in a virtual world? It also sounds like we are arguing that we want to avoid *some* select RL resources being brought in (money), while we are ok with a slew of other resources being brought in (high end computers, scripting ability, faster connections, 500 close friends, 80 hrs a week of playing time, etc, etc).

I think we may be trying to solve a problem here that a) may not exist (even in RL), or b) could just as easily be solved through design. Again, if we are going to assume that someday the journey is going to be ‘de-treadmilled’ and that it’s going to be protected from other people messing it up, (twinking, MUD-flation, PVP, Camping, etc, etc, plus all these issues to the exponent of massive 5000 member guilds), I have to assume that we can add a design request to allow variable payment plans in these worlds that doesn’t mess-up the ‘game’. (assuming that we aren’t already doing this, which I think have already started; examples, eq legends, eq2 guild sites, wow collector’s edition, etc, etc)

>Cost to first person to travel to the south pole? Plenty. No heroes here either?
Richard> All this proves is that it's expensive to get a shot at a hero's journey in the real world. Virtual worlds have a cost, too (the monthly fee), it's just so much less than for these activities.

From the developer’s point of view, the costs aren’t the monthly fee, they are everything that goes into making the virtual journey possible. I’m a still a bit perplexed though why we are ok with paying an a tent company more to buy a better tent for our RL journey, or a bat company more to buy a better baseball bat for our journey, or a training company more to buy better training, but when someone suggests selling a set of virtual black armor for a higher RL$ price tag than virtual red armor, we get all bent out of shape. I think the first argument is that in RL quests our ‘life’ may be at stake, but I think I would make three comments. 1) In virtual worlds, even at 30hrs per week for 2-3 years players are putting quite a bit at risk, and 2), isn’t risk part of being the hero? 3) Do we really have to make all things equal or just the ‘money’ thing?

-bruce

20.

Bruce Boston>So I think I would agree that Han’s journey is obviously much less detailed than Luke’s, but I still think there may be a quest that he is going through as well.

He's going through a quest, but it's not a hero's journey.

>http://www.qui-gonline.org/features/herosjourney.htm

This is stretching the hero's journey more than somewhat. It's fine for Luke, but for Han? The best we get is "Han Solo is given the task of protecting Leia, and encounters a beast (the space slug) and a labyrinth (Cloud City) along his way until he is eventually swallowed by the ultimate Whale, the carbon-freezing chamber where he is frozen and appears to possibly be dead." Not only is this is completely the wrong order for a hero's journey (you have to get reborn before the road of trials, unless you think the slug is somehow a guardian for Cloud City), it doesn't include any of the other major steps (woman as temptress, meeting with the goddess, atonement with the father etc.). It's a quest, and he may be transformed as a result of it, and it may even be a fragment of a hero's journey; it is not, however, a hero's journey.

The slug episode is more like a "belly of the whale" in style (very reminiscent of Jonah, Sindbad etc.), except the rebirth leads to nothing - they don't reappear in an "other world", they just reappear.

>http://www.fiu.edu/~northupl/StarWars.html
Han may well have a hero's journey of his own, but we don't see it in the movie. He certainly has a story arc (along classic Syd Field lines); perhaps that's what the author of that site means?

Can't you find a web site that actually maps out Han's hero's journey, instead of merely saying he has one? Luke's is mapped out in the above sites in some detail, but why isn't Han's?

>In areas of Asia, MMORPGs are looking more and more like professional sports

They may well be, but as I pointed out in my "Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades" paper that's one of the ways that virtual worlds can end up if they're pushed too far in one direction. This doesn't mean they can't succeed and make millions, but it does mean that they lose some of what makes virtual worlds themselves unique experiences.

>So I’m starting to think that MMORPGs may not be the ‘right tool for the job’ in creating the Hero’s Journey.

I think they are, but if enough people act like they're not then they won't work as such. We'll have like sports, or chat rooms, or pastimes, or games, but not the whole that the constituent parts can't deliver except when mixed in the right proportions.

They are the right tool, but they're being repurposed as tools for other activities.

>From reading a number of other posts, I'm also starting to think that the part of real life that many gamers don't enjoy are the 'real life' people themselves, which is exactly who we are trying to port to the virtual world with MMOGs.

Ah, the ol' "These multi-player games would be great if only it weren't for the other players" argument!

Yes, this is the case. If people in a virtual world think they're playing a different "game", or think they're working, or think the virtual world is just an extension of reality, the borders will come down, the magic circle will shatter, and people will start to wonder what all the fuss was about virtual worlds. They won't be special any more.

The moment you can't use virtual worlds for identity celebration is the moment I lose interest in them.

>Totally agree, heroism can't be bought. But I don’t quite see the problem here. Even in the real world where someone may have access to loads of cash, heroism can’t be bought.

But what looks like heroism can be bought, which makes what is heroism look like it was bought, which makes it not heroism.

>Would anyone really think that a multimillionaire in RL that bought really cool looking armor and couldn't play worth a damn was a hero in a virtual world?

No. However, if enough people did it then nobody would think anyone they saw who was wearing cool armour was a hero - even those who were heroes.

As I say in my book, you're not a hero if you do something brave that you could have done without being brave. Swimming across a crocodile-infested river when there is a bridge next door makes you stupid, not brave. People who buy high-level characters are erecting bridges next to the crocodile-infested rivers - they're making brave people look stupid.

>It also sounds like we are arguing that we want to avoid *some* select RL resources being brought in (money), while we are ok with a slew of other resources being brought in (high end computers, scripting ability, faster connections, 500 close friends, 80 hrs a week of playing time, etc, etc).

I wouldn't allow all of those in, either, or at least I'd reduce their effects to level the playing field.

>if we are going to assume that someday the journey is going to be ‘de-treadmilled’ and that it’s going to be protected from other people messing it up, ... I have to assume that we can add a design request to allow variable payment plans in these worlds that doesn’t mess-up the ‘game’.

Sorry, I don't know what you mean here.

>I’m a still a bit perplexed though why we are ok with paying an a tent company more to buy a better tent for our RL journey ... but when someone suggests selling a set of virtual black armor for a higher RL$ price tag than virtual red armor, we get all bent out of shape.

Because it's like you buy the better tent and someone else buys an RV.

>1) In virtual worlds, even at 30hrs per week for 2-3 years players are putting quite a bit at risk

Only if they can lose what they have (eg. via PD). There's not a lot of risk if it's just a matter of time before any half-brained player will reach the end.

>and 2), isn’t risk part of being the hero?

Yes indeed. This is one reason why virtual worlds with very little in-context risk dilute the hero's journey.

>3) Do we really have to make all things equal or just the ‘money’ thing?

As many opportunities should be equal as we can make them, so long as in doing so the challenge is not removed entirely (which would also block any hero's journey).

Richard

21.

Richard> He's going through a quest, but it's not a hero's journey.

Fair enough.

Richard> Because it's like you buy the better tent and someone else buys an RV.
Richard> No. However, if enough people did it then nobody would think anyone they saw who was wearing cool armor was a hero - even those who were heroes.

Who says that RVs need to be for sale? Or that 'black' has to be the coolest armor? These sound like issues that have fairly simple design solutions. For example, I think it's possible to charge a little for red armor, a little more for black armor and have blue armor only obtainable through 'heroism'. Again, the notion I'm testing here is the premise that no matter how you do it, there is 'no way' to allow RL$ into the virtual realm without 'ruining' the role-play and/or gameplay.

-bruce

22.

Richard wrote:

In hero's journey terms, spending more money a month affects two things: 1) your hero's journey, because you're bringing real-world resources into the world of adventure; 2) everyone else's hero's journey, because you're making their growing sense of heroic self worthless. If heroism can be bought, it's not heroism.

Richard> He's going through a quest, but it's not a hero's journey.

I generally agree with you, Richard, but I have to ask, "So what?" If you're worried about bringing real-world resources in, do you object to players bringing more skill, eloquence, education, or intelligence into the game? I mean, I can purchase skill, eloquence, and education by paying teachers to impart it onto me and then bring it into the virtual world with me. Is it so much less objectionable to buy something with money and bring that into the world instead? Would you prefer it then if I bought a car with money and then traded the car with another player in exchanged for a bunch of in-game items? ;)

Richard, you talk about how you object because it ruins the Hero's Journey. I disagree, at least in the big games where Ebaying is a 'problem.' There is no Hero's Journey in them. There's a bunch of leveling up. I'm not claiming our games have hero's journey (I haven't thought about it much, and don't care one way or another), but the games where Ebaying seems to actually be most prevalent are the games with the least opportunity for a hero's journey generally speaking.

I think another thing to think about is that your insistence on 'equality' seems a lot more appropriate if you're treating it like a sport than if you're treating it like a world.

--matt

23.

Bruce Boston>Again, the notion I'm testing here is the premise that no matter how you do it, there is 'no way' to allow RL$ into the virtual realm without 'ruining' the role-play and/or gameplay

Cosmetic changes aren't so bad. Something that allows you to change your regular armour into functionally identical armour of a different colour is probably OK as it has no tangible effect on gameplay or sense of achievement. If it does have an effect in either of those two areas, then it rewards releative real-world wealth in a context where it should mean nothing.

Richard

24.

Matt>If you're worried about bringing real-world resources in, do you object to players bringing more skill, eloquence, education, or intelligence into the game?

Education should not be necessary beyond a certain minimum standard. If the virtual world rewards people who have been externally educated in certain fields, then that's generally unwise(unless there's a way for people who don't have the benefit of such an education to get the same rewards).

Skill, eloquence and intelligence, however, should be brought in. These are aspects of identity, and therefore people who embark on a hero's journey can be expected to have to come to terms with them. That's what the hero's journey is about.

If you're saying that it's unfair that clever people have an advantage over unclever people, I'd counter that this is what identity exploration helps reconcile. If you're saying that by the same token it's therefore fair that wealthy people have an advantage over unwealthy people, I'd say that no, it isn't, because wealth isn't an internalised aspect of identity.

>Is it so much less objectionable to buy something with money and bring that into the world instead?

Yes, it is, in the same way that it's more objectionable in the real world to trick someone out of a car (using your superior intelligence) than to buy it using money. The two concepts do not always go hand-in-hand in the real world, so you can't say they should always both be available in virtual worlds.

If you (as a developer) want your virtual world to be commodified, that's fine. It's when developers don't want it commodified but it's commodified anyway that I object.

>I disagree, at least in the big games where Ebaying is a 'problem.' There is no Hero's Journey in them.

Well, there would be if they actually had an end, but of course they don't. Also, they don't have a hero's journey because of the eBaying...

>I'm not claiming our games have hero's journey (I haven't thought about it much, and don't care one way or another)

If there's a limit to what can be bought by any player each month, and this maximum expense is well within the reach of every player every month, well OK, you could perhaps get away with a hero's journey even in the Achaea model. This would be because the players count it as part of the cost of playing, like ISP fees and or subscriptions, and because everyone has access to the same resources and everyone can afford them it doesn't undermine their sense of achievement.

>I think another thing to think about is that your insistence on 'equality' seems a lot more appropriate if you're treating it like a sport than if you're treating it like a world.

For a good many players, it is a sport, or at least a game.

Richard

25.

Heh, I don't see how RL$ may have a direct effect on hardcore roleplay. You cannot buy creativity. Mature roleplayers value other capable roleplayers, not their gear... Mature roleplayers in MMOs don't care in-the-RP-sense about what non-RP players do if they can ignore them. OOC-stuff is part of the equation, they learn to focus on the IC-stuff (or treat OOC as IC gibberish).

Besides, the advantage of having RL$ is already present in most MMOs:
1. some players have faster/better hardware
2. some players can afford expansions
3. some players can afford multiple accounts
4. some players can afford to not work in
week-ends, thus get into more raids etc

Does this affect the player's sense of achievement? I don't think so, but it definitively affects gameplay.

Players also have the means to provide themselves with a sense of achievement by deliberately making the game harder for themselves, e.g. choosing suboptimal choices for the worst class and never using heals. In the end "a sense of achievement" is something the user is more in control of than the designer. Maybe he should be. Maybe more energy should be put into teaching players how to motivate themselves?

26.

Richard> because wealth isn't an internalised aspect of identity

-So, just to test this a little-

How sure are we that wealth isn't part of the human identity? Do people treat both the rich and the poor with the same expectations? Do both the rich and the poor have the same expectations of themselves?

I think it would be fairly easy, and maybe interesting, to do a study of classic literature from Charles Dickens to the Bible that showed that wealth may indeed be part of identity.

At minimum I think it may be safe to say that some journeys may be more difficult with access to wealth.
"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." John 10:25
How could this journey be harder for the rich, if wealth wasn't part of one's identity?

-bruce

(I guess I should note that I don't think this is universal, ie I think I'm ok with proposing that wealth can be thought of as part of one person's identity and not another person's, similar to other identity aspects like intelligence)

(I'll also note that by making the above argument, in no way do I believe that 'rich players' should get any sort of gameplay advantage in game worlds, I'm merely taking interest in the above suggestion that wealth is not 'an internalized aspect of identity')

27.

Bruce Boston wrote:
I'll also note that by making the above argument, in no way do I believe that 'rich players' should get any sort of gameplay advantage in game worlds,

Rich players already have all the advantages in these games. It is wealth that gives one the excessive leisure time necessary to sit around and play these games to begin with. These are all games for the idle rich, basically. Half the world's never made a phone call. If you have access to the resources to play these games and the idle time to play them, you're rich by any comparitive global standard.

--matt

28.

Richard Bartle wrote:

Education should not be necessary beyond a certain minimum standard. If the virtual world rewards people who have been externally educated in certain fields, then that's generally unwise(unless there's a way for people who don't have the benefit of such an education to get the same rewards).

Skill, eloquence and intelligence, however, should be brought in. These are aspects of identity, and therefore people who embark on a hero's journey can be expected to have to come to terms with them. That's what the hero's journey is about.

You think that eloquence is a part of identity but education isn't? How does one gain skill except through education?

What you seem to be saying is that you want a game where success is determined by certain inalterable real-life factors (except that those factors can all be increased by spending money irl). I'm saying that I see no reason why an intelligent person 'deserves' success in virtual worlds any more than a rich person does.

If there's a limit to what can be bought by any player each month, and this maximum expense is well within the reach of every player every month, well OK, you could perhaps get away with a hero's journey even in the Achaea model.

Even in the Achaea model? I don't think I'm really going out on a limb here to say that the Achaea model (not the business model, the game model as a whole) permits some semblance of a hero's journey to a FAR greater extent than the grindy games like WoW or EQII do. Certainly there is a far greater potential for meaningful discovery of identity than in games where your main activity is increasing the values in some data registers.

--matt

29.

Ola Fosheim Grøstad>Heh, I don't see how RL$ may have a direct effect on hardcore roleplay.

It doesn't, but then hardcore role-play is a different kind of identity exploration to that of a hero's journey. When people play a character who doesn't change (ie. hardcore role-play) then they can learn about themselves by seeing life through the eyes of that character, however they can't ever change the character so that eventually they and the character match; that only happens in non-hardcore role-playing, of the kind that is the default in virtual worlds (ie. where the character and the player can both change).

As I say in my book, both are valid forms of role-playing that can lead to a deeper sense of understanding of the self, but the hardcore one is, er, harder to do.

>Players also have the means to provide themselves with a sense of achievement by deliberately making the game harder for themselves

Again, this doesn't make for achievement, it makes for stupidity. You haven't overcome an obstacle if the obstacle is only there because you deliberately put it there. It's OK for training purposes, but it's not the same as living it. If the brakes on my car failed and I didn't panic but instead fought to bring it to a stop using other means, putting myself at risk to avoid hitting pedestrians, would I be brave? Yes. If I'd cut the brake cables myself, deliberately, would I be brave? No. I'd be stupid.

>In the end "a sense of achievement" is something the user is more in control of than the designer.

But it's the designer who decides whether you win or not. That's the force behind the (usually not present) "atonement with the father" step.

Richard

30.

Bruce Boston>How sure are we that wealth isn't part of the human identity?

You could argue that any environmental factor is part of it. However, only the internalised parts go on the hero's journey. If wealth is important to your identity, then you seek wealth in the virtual world, you don't bring the wealth with you.

Richard

31.

Matt Mihaly>How does one gain skill except through education?

Through learning. Learning and education are not the same thing. You don't have to be taught to learn.

>What you seem to be saying is that you want a game where success is determined by certain inalterable real-life factors

No, no, many of them are alterable - in fact undertaking the hero's journey allows for them to be altered. However, they won't be altered if the virtual and the real world don't separate.

>I'm saying that I see no reason why an intelligent person 'deserves' success in virtual worlds any more than a rich person does.

It's not that they deserve success, it's that they deserve to complete the journey, and this applies whether or not the player is intelligent. An intelligent person may finish quicker, just as someone with more time may finish quicker, but that doesn't invalidate the experiences of other players. If an intelligent person finishes their hero's journey, then you finish your hero's journey, you've achieved what the intelligent person has achieved: you're equal, in a sense, for having finished the journey. You're both heroes.

A rich person doesn't finish the journey, because they don't go on the journey. They take a short-cut to the end point. They're not heroes, because they haven't finished the hero's journey. When you finish, are you a hero? You're equal to the non-hero who bought "success".

>I don't think I'm really going out on a limb here to say that the Achaea model (not the business model, the game model as a whole) permits some semblance of a hero's journey to a FAR greater extent than the grindy games like WoW or EQII do.

Yes, it probably is. I think (correct me if I'm wrong) you have the possibility of "winning" the game, by retiring from effectively playing it and switching to the creation/GM/event side. This would work as the atonement step that Wow and EQ2 don't have.

>Certainly there is a far greater potential for meaningful discovery of identity than in games where your main activity is increasing the values in some data registers.

There are different ways to discover identity, and the hero's journey is but one of them. That said, it's one that fits the virtual world model (Achaea's included) very well. It's just that it could fit even better.

Richard

32.

Richard: When people play a character who doesn't change (ie. hardcore role-play) then they can learn about themselves by seeing life through the eyes of that character, however they can't ever change the character so that eventually they and the character match

Hmm, but the character do change. Both the mentality + social relations, stats change too of course if the action are undertaken in a D&D style RPG. I think I disagree with your idea about the player changing and soforth, but that's a bit too much to get into here... :)

Again, this doesn't make for achievement, it makes for stupidity.

I knew it, all sports are about stupidity! Not to mention the guys that try to get listed in the Book of World Records.

What's wrong with bragging about taking down the Blue Dragon with no armour and no heals?

You haven't overcome an obstacle if the obstacle is only there because you deliberately put it there. It's OK for training purposes, but it's not the same as living it.

Well, I disagree. Players don't always play the game at the easiest setting (I do, but then I don't really care about gameplay). I don't think the players that choose new and more challenging settings are stupid, I think they are mature players. They know that they are responsible for their own fun.

If I'd cut the brake cables myself, deliberately, would I be brave? No. I'd be stupid.

Base jumpers are both brave and somewhat... stupid. But that is just morale. For them there is a valuable aesthetic in increasing the risk for fatal failure.

But it's the designer who decides whether you win or not. That's the force behind the (usually not present) "atonement with the father" step.

You seem to take the view that the player is the reader of the authors work. I disagree that this view is generally valid. A mature player is competing with himself. What you would call Explorers. What if the game design can encourage "mature playstyles"?

33.

Richard wrote:

Yes, it probably is. I think (correct me if I'm wrong) you have the possibility of "winning" the game, by retiring from effectively playing it and switching to the creation/GM/event side. This would work as the atonement step that Wow and EQ2 don't have.

But it's the designer who decides whether you win or not. That's the force behind the (usually not present) "atonement with the father" step.

Nooooo. All but three people in the last 8 years who have become GMs did so via completely OOC methods. It's got nothing to do with "winning."

I also strongly object to the idea of me as a designer telling players how to "win." Ideally I'm looking to create worlds, not games, and you can't 'win,' in some objective sense, in a world. I aim to enable players to decide what winning means for them. Perhaps winning means they become a Dragon (achieving the highest level). Perhaps winning means becoming the leader of one of the city-states. Perhaps it means being the best roleplayer. Perhaps it means being the best explorer, or the best questor. Perhaps it means being the best combatant. It's up to the player, not the designer, in a world, at least.

--matt

34.

Richard wrote:
Matt Mihaly>How does one gain skill except through education?

Through learning. Learning and education are not the same thing. You don't have to be taught to learn.

Right, you don't have to be taught to learn, but you can pay the right teachers to vastly accelerate your learning process. Sounds a heck of a lot like Ebaying. You don't have to do it, but you can pay the right people to help you along faster. What's the real objection?

--matt

35.

Richard wrote:

If an intelligent person finishes their hero's journey, then you finish your hero's journey, you've achieved what the intelligent person has achieved: you're equal, in a sense, for having finished the journey. You're both heroes.

I'm sorry, but to equate heroism with leveling results in the entire notion of heroism have absolutely no value, to me at least.

--matt

36.

Ola Fosheim Grøstad>Hmm, but the character do change.

That's not what I meant by "change". The character can change, but only within character. In other words, you're always playing the same role with the same character. If the boundaries of the character changed (eg. moved towards the player) then that wouldn't be hard-core role-playing any more.

>I knew it, all sports are about stupidity!

No, they're about games. I make no claims that sports players are heroes (although they may be idolised as such by some people). In some sporting contexts they could do heroic or brave things. The goalkeeper doesn't need to dive down at the feet of the oncoming attacker and risk getting a broken nose, but if they didn't then the whole team would suffer. A school team goalkeeper would probably be stupid to risk that kind of injury, but a professional goalkeeper probably wouldn't be because there's so much more meaning attached to success or failure.

>Not to mention the guys that try to get listed in the Book of World Records.

I thought the Guinness Book of Records stopped accepting wilfully dangerous stuff some time ago? They may have restarted, of course. Personally, I do think "longest time sitting in a cage with 5,000 deadly scorpions" is indeed stupid, but then I don't know what the gain would be for the risk (eg. money that could really make a difference).

>What's wrong with bragging about taking down the Blue Dragon with no armour and no heals?

Nothing. Brag away. Whether people think you're brave (eg. the blue dragon attacked you out of nowhere when you had no armour or heals) or stupid (you dropped off all your stuff to attack the blue dragon) is up to them. If it were some kind of competition between players to see who could kill the toughest monster unarmed, it could be a bit of both.

>Well, I disagree. Players don't always play the game at the easiest setting

They're not in competition with anyone else, so why should they? If they were in competition with someone else, and that someone else was playing at the easiest setting, then why wouldn't they?

Maybe we should go with some kind of golf-like handicap system.

>You seem to take the view that the player is the reader of the authors work.

The player is the consumer of the designer's product. Whether that makes them readers or not depends on whether you're a narratologist or a ludologist.

>A mature player is competing with himself.

A very mature player is not competing at all.

Richard

37.

Matt Mihaly>Nooooo. All but three people in the last 8 years who have become GMs did so via completely OOC methods.

OK, I stand corrected. In that case, that "atonement with the father" step is as hard in Achaea as in EQ.

>I also strongly object to the idea of me as a designer telling players how to "win."

You can't but tell them how to win. Any design with any kind of achievement metric (points, power, items, status, whatever) is telling players that they can win by maximising that metric. If you don't put in possessions, you're not telling players that hoarding objects is a way to win; if you do, you are - whether you want to or not.

>Ideally I'm looking to create worlds, not games, and you can't 'win,' in some objective sense, in a world.

Of course you can't win worlds. You win whatever goal-oriented aspect of it that drives your play (whether this be killing monsters, court intrique, creating satisfyingly large amounts of lutes or whatever). When you win that, then you move on to the "world as just a world" view. Most long-term players end up there (and most others would, too, if they didn't quit out of frustration beforehand).

>I aim to enable players to decide what winning means for them.

This sounds all very egalitarian and empowering, but I believe you're actually doing them a disfavour. If they choose their own goals, then they don't get the atonement step unless they're very sophisticated individuals.

The (nominal) designer is the most important (if abstract) person in the virtual life of the player. The whole world is shaped by the designer's thought. The player's experience is entirely dependent on what the designer has caused to be implemented. The player operates only within the parameters that the designer has laid down. These may be very wide parameters, but they're still parameters.

Except, that's not really how it is. The player is in control of their own experience, and the designer is merely a convenient parameterisation tool. The player's experience is their own to determine, not the designer's. The virtual world is just another world that the player can inhabit when they want the experience that the virtual world offers.

Now how does the player come to realise this? Well, they could work it out on their own, but that's easier said than done. They first must recognise that they are ready for it (many don't), then they must reject the designer's take on things (resenting the designer in the process), then they must assert their own view (which may or may not be positive).

In the hero's journey version, the process is triggered by the designer's acceptance of the player. You formally "win" (recognition), the designer relinquishes their view (realisation), and you get a positive "you are the master of your own life" view at the end of the transformation (result).

>Perhaps winning means they become a Dragon (achieving the highest level). Perhaps winning means becoming the leader of one of the city-states. Perhaps it means being the best roleplayer. Perhaps it means being the best explorer, or the best questor. Perhaps it means being the best combatant. It's up to the player, not the designer, in a world, at least.

Of course it is, but the player never gets that recognised. The designer is still operating as a patronising, paternalistic force. "I give you all these choices" rather than "You have choices beyond those I give".

Let's say a player does achieve their goal to become a Dragon. What happens next, and why does it happen?

>Right, you don't have to be taught to learn, but you can pay the right teachers to vastly accelerate your learning process. Sounds a heck of a lot like Ebaying.

That's right, which is why I'm not happy if players can greatly improve their play by being taught in the real world. There are certain minimum standards of RL skills that are required to play (eg. competence at a keyboard), but if RL education beyond that greatly improves your ability to play the "game" then the designer is doing something wrong.

>I'm sorry, but to equate heroism with leveling results in the entire notion of heroism have absolutely no value, to me at least.

I'm not equating heroism with levelling, I'm equating it with having completed the hero's journey. Levelling is just one way that people can progress, just one goal that the virtual world may recognise. You could have a hero's journey in a virtual world with no levels and no character skills, so long as there was a valid and untained metric that players can use to recognise their progress towards "winning".

Richard

38.

Richard> Personally, I do think "longest time sitting in a cage with 5,000 deadly scorpions" is indeed stupid, but then I don't know what the gain would be for the risk (eg. money that could really make a difference).

But there still is a sense of achievement if you can pull it off...

>If they were in competition with someone else, and that someone else was playing at the easiest setting, then why wouldn't they?

But the Hero's Journey doesn't require competition with other players? Where does the Hero's Journey fit in, in a multi-player game?

>Maybe we should go with some kind of golf-like handicap system.

That is certainly an option in PvP oriented games with titles: The higher the PvP-title, the more vulnerable you should be, and therefore the more player skill you would need to gain new titles.

Something I dislike about the level based RPG mechanics is that the game system rewards the highly skilled players with better defense and attack stats as well. Quite the opposite of handicaps.

AO does at least have a slider where you can set yourself as defensive or aggressive.

The player is the consumer of the designer's product. Whether that makes them readers or not depends on whether you're a narratologist or a ludologist.

I am not sure if it is such a great idea to grant the designer so much control. In this view one often ends up putting the players on rails... That doesn't seem to be what you want, but how can you prevent it if players are primarily seen as consumers? What you seem to want is then to have strong clear goals with a ritual when the ultimate goals has been conquered.

Is it sufficient that it is announced to the world that you have reached the top of the ladder? In that case, AO and other games do have your Hero's Journey...

A very mature player is not competing at all.

Right, those players are designing their own MUDs... :-D

39.

Richard Bartle wrote:

This sounds all very egalitarian and empowering, but I believe you're actually doing them a disfavour. If they choose their own goals, then they don't get the atonement step unless they're very sophisticated individuals.

Ok. I don't have a problem with that. I'm just out to create a fun experience.


That's right, which is why I'm not happy if players can greatly improve their play by being taught in the real world. There are certain minimum standards of RL skills that are required to play (eg. competence at a keyboard), but if RL education beyond that greatly improves your ability to play the "game" then the designer is doing something wrong.

What? Come on, you can't really mean that. There is an enormous amount of room for design flexibility, and I don't believe I've ever seen or heard of a design that is 'wrong', only a designs that do a poor job accomplishing a specific goal (which may be to see how a social experiment plays out, may be to make money, may be to just entertain you-as-designer, etc).

I'm going to go ahead and say that there's nothing wrong with a game like Quake just because it rewards people whose reflexes are highly 'educated', just as there's nothing wrong with a virtual world where success can be achieved through leadership. One of our most successful players of all time, for instance, did so well largely, I believe, because of his education as a military officer. He had been shaped via very specialized real-life education into a great leader and as such had enormous success in the politics of the game. I see this opposite from you: I think that's really cool, both as a player and a designer.

--matt

40.

Matt> He had been shaped via very specialized real-life education into a great leader and as such had enormous success in the politics of the game. I see this opposite from you: I think that's really cool, both as a player and a designer.

I believe one of the german Meridian59 servers "died" because of a similar situation. If you can get too far ahead (ingame skills or real skills) then you risk having a single dominating group outcrowding everybody else and in the end starving themselves out of people to bully. ;) Kind of cool, well, as an anecdote...

41.

Just to avoid a heated argument. I think there are three different design ideals in play here.

As I understand Matt, he is in favour of having in-game intervention. Using admins wielding IC powers. I.e. moderation/balancing by intervention. Which is a decent strategy, also employed in table top RPGs. Richard seems to be in favour of moderation/balancing by design. Then there are different ideas about setting goals, to have a game you need the larger goal(s) to be visible to all players, hence provided by the designer.

The differentiating dimensions are then:

1. design vs intervention
2. global goal vs local opportunities

From the "global goal" perspective it makes sense to assume that everybody should have a chance to reach the end. Relying on intervention to get that system into balance makes little sense as that would be interfering with the Hero's Journey. If assume the "local opportunities" perspective then the relying on design becomes more problematic as you cannot predict what goals the users set. You basically don't exactly what you are trying to support by design. If you open up the design to allow for potentially bad situations you also potentially open up for many more good opportunities for interesting situations. Hence, by adding intervention you can let the users aquire more goals.

Unfortunately, that leaves me in the pit as I am interested in design and local opportunities; hence without intervention.

42.

Ola wrote:
Relying on intervention to get that system into balance makes little sense as that would be interfering with the Hero's Journey.

I don't understand this emphasis on the hero's journey, myself. Players are looking to have fun, and the hero's journey hardly encompasses fun, though it may be one way for some people to have fun.

--matt

43.

Players are looking for something meaningful to do, so I guess the presence of a visible end has its uses... even if it isn't fun.

I am not sure how compatible this design philosophy is with providing players with a sense of ownership and responsibility for the community, though. If the fun in the action is the sole responsibility of the designer and getting to the end is all that really matters, what does this do to how players view each other?

44.

Ola Fosheim Grøstad>But there still is a sense of achievement if you can pull it off...

A momentary one, yes, and it can be quite a thrill. It's not a strategy for living your life by, though.

>But the Hero's Journey doesn't require competition with other players? Where does the Hero's Journey fit in, in a multi-player game?

The other players make it a world, and they validate your journey. They are what give it meaning (or remove it).

>Something I dislike about the level based RPG mechanics is that the game system rewards the highly skilled players with better defense and attack stats as well. Quite the opposite of handicaps.

Again, this is something that (ideally) should peter out as you rise levels, so that a highly-skilled player of level X can beat a medium-skilled player of level 2X, because the differential in character abilities between levels X and 2X isn't 2. In practice most level systems don't make it 2, but they make it approach 2.

So yes, I agree with you. The point is, I guess, that those high-level players aren't necessarily highly-skilled, they just want to think they are. Giving them higher character stats (or access to better kit) maintains that delusion.

>I am not sure if it is such a great idea to grant the designer so much control.

It's not granted, it's just there - whether the designer likes it or not.

Besides, in RL people ascribe much greater controlling powers to their preferred deity. Many traditional MUD admins are styled as "gods", and for much the same reason: they have absolute power over their world. This is irrespective of whether the power is desired or sought.

>In this view one often ends up putting the players on rails...

No, you're assuming too much. The designer creates the world, therefore all activity that goes on in that world does so under the designer's aegis. This can be very wide-ranging stuff, which doesn't feel like running on rails at all. However, because there are constraints inherent in all world designs, there are limits to what players can do. Strictly speaking, this could be described as running on rails, but it doesn't feel that way any more than real life does (for which the same logic applies).

>What you seem to want is then to have strong clear goals with a ritual when the ultimate goals has been conquered.

No, I want them to develop strong goals, not necessarily clear initially, that can be recognised when attained. There's no ritual, just a crossing of the finishing line.

>Is it sufficient that it is announced to the world that you have reached the top of the ladder? In that case, AO and other games do have your Hero's Journey...

No announcement is necessary, although a visible sign is good. What is necessary is for the "game" part to be over, eg. no matter what you do, you never get any more points, never go up any more levels, you basically retire. It could be done with a simple command that says, "OK, I'm done". Players who want to play on (who aren't "done") can do so, and rise further levels, but above the victory threshold they always have that "I'm done" command available to them. That would be enough.

>As I understand Matt, he is in favour of having in-game intervention. Using admins wielding IC powers. I.e. moderation/balancing by intervention. Which is a decent strategy, also employed in table top RPGs.

That's a valid way to do it. It's too repressive for my own tastes, but plenty of people like a more collaborative or semi-passive approach.

>Richard seems to be in favour of moderation/balancing by design.

I'm for freedom. I want people to be able to feel free in virtual worlds, because that helps them become freer in the real one. If it all could be done by design, that would be great; however, it can't, because there are people who don't get it, or don't want it, or don't want others to have it, or just want to make a quick buck and are racking their brains for half-decent excuses to do so. Intervention is therefore necessary. The difference between my vision and Matt's is that in his, intervention is itself part of play; in mine, intervention is for dealing with non-play.

>Then there are different ideas about setting goals, to have a game you need the larger goal(s) to be visible to all players, hence provided by the designer.

All in-world goals are provided by the designer at some level, because they depend on the world. This is another "like it or not" thing: even a designer who wants players to develop their own goals is providing them with goals ("decide what to do with what I've given you, then do it").

>If assume the "local opportunities" perspective then the relying on design becomes more problematic as you cannot predict what goals the users set.

You can predict most of them. This is just as well, because when a virtual world is being designed/written you need a sense of what players will be doing in it (which is to say, what you'll be allowing them to do in it).

Richard

45.

Matt Mihaly>There is an enormous amount of room for design flexibility, and I don't believe I've ever seen or heard of a design that is 'wrong', only a designs that do a poor job accomplishing a specific goal

That's pretty much what I meant. The designer is off target if they create a game-like world such that people with real-life training can excel at in a way that others can't.

If it's not a game-like world, or if the excelling happens in a non-game part of the world, that's fine. People who have been taught programming will have a big advantage over ones that haven't in a virtual world where they can create their own behaviours for objects, for example. If that doesn't give them any gameplay advantage, that's fine; if it does give them a gameplay advantage, but the virtual world is oitched at people with programming skills (or people who want them) then that's also fine. If it's pitched at the general population, though, I'd have to wonder why the designers wanted it that way.

>One of our most successful players of all time, for instance, did so well largely, I believe, because of his education as a military officer.

Great for him, great for you, great for all the players who he led. Great for the other players who couldn't get to be leaders because of this guy's dominance? It depends on how much he was at the centre of all things.

Personally, I love the idea that successful 500-player guilds can be run by 14-year-old schoolkids. If they don't get the opportunity because guilds are dominated by people with special training in some appropriate field, I'd be against it. If they still have the opportunity to develop as individuals and become successful guild leaders, that's fine.

I don't know how this player of yours behaved, but if he was that good then I should imagine he used his RL skill in part to train others in the virtual world. I'm happy with that. If, on the other hand, he was at the centre of everything and stifled others through his sheer dominance in this area, I'd be unhappy with it. In either case, I'd want to look at the design to see why RL military leadership training was potentially smothering more spontaneous leadership styles.

>I see this opposite from you: I think that's really cool, both as a player and a designer.

You wouldn't if his real-life skill was as corrupt defence attorney for gangsters, who decided that he wanted to ruin your virtual world just because he could. Not all RL skills are positive.

>I don't understand this emphasis on the hero's journey, myself. Players are looking to have fun, and the hero's journey hardly encompasses fun, though it may be one way for some people to have fun.

Ah, "fun". I haven't got my copy of Raph's book yet, but I know that "fun" isn't a simple, easy-to-understand concept.

In some virtual worlds, people will sit for hours mindlessly clicking the same button. Is this fun? It doesn't look like it, and it doesn't feel like it, but nevertheless they keep on doing it. Is chatting to a friend fun? Is bookkeeping for a guild fun? Is losing a fight fun? There are plenty of things that don't look like fun, some of which don't look even satisfying, and some of which appear to be unfun. I'm sure you can think of things that people do in Achaea that don't sound like fun to you.

So why do people do it? Well, with a hero's journey model it can be explained reasonably easily: fun is doing whatever the player needs to do to progress their journey. There are some incidentals (people don't have to spend 100% of their time on their journey), but it's this growing self-discovery, this emerging understanding of personal identity, this implicit sense of the worth of the exercise, that makes their activities fun. Fun is the reward that people give themselves for developing as people.

The hero's journey is just one example of how you can get fun. It fits virtual worlds well, but that doesn't mean you have to use it. Virtual worlds don't have a monopoly on fun, and within the virtual world genre there are different ways to have fun. I personally believe that none of these are as intense or as rewarding as the hero's journey version, because they only offer fragments. Some people seem to like fragments, though; not everyone is ready to be a hero.

I don't think that people who don't want a hero's journey should be forced to have one; that would be ridiculous. However, I do feel that people who do want such a journey should be allowed to have one. Most commodification prevents them from doing this, which is the fundamental reason I'm against it in virtual worlds for which the developers don't want it. A hero's journey is difficult to come by at the best of times; now we've found a way to deliver it to anyone who wants one, we should strive to keep it.

Richard

46.

Richard: A momentary one, yes, and it can be quite a thrill. It's not a strategy for living your life by, though.

Not for most people, perhaps. Although, for some base jumpers it is. Some of them keep doing it for the thrill even though they have kids and have friends who died from it. They'd rather be dead than not doing it. Something about "feeling alive".

Ola>I am not sure if it is such a great idea to grant the designer so much control.

Richard> It's not granted, it's just there - whether the designer likes it or not.

I was thinking from the perspective of the producer/system. Some designs do more to control behaviour than others. Giving up control is hard if you have a vision of what you want the world to be like.

Ola>In this view one often ends up putting the players on rails...

No, you're assuming too much. The designer creates the world, therefore all activity that goes on in that world does so under the designer's aegis.

This isn't what I meant. You can clearly have clear and strong goals, but still provide "organic" gameplay. E.g. toss the players into the jungle and tell them to get out of there alive.

I meant that the games that do provide one visible goal, in my view, seem to end up putting the players on rails. Or... the players put themselves on rails. Providing a single goal makes the "community of practice" a little bit too normative. I.e. if you don't level up in the most efficient manner (even if it is deadly boring) you may be viewed as a bit clueless.

Strictly speaking, this could be described as running on rails, but it doesn't feel that way any more than real life does (for which the same logic applies).

Does it? I don't follow other people's goals... most of the time. The things I can do with just a simple sheet of paper is quite amazing. I think I misunderstood something as I don't see how it compares to my RL.

That's a valid way to do it. It's too repressive for my own tastes, but plenty of people like a more collaborative or semi-passive approach.

Why the term "semi-passive"? I would have thought it was "active"?

Does the presence of admins make the players less inclined to take initiative in relation to the world?

All in-world goals are provided by the designer at some level, because they depend on the world.

Well, I disagree. Especially in the case of roleplayers.

It might hold for most players, but not in general.

You can predict most of them. This is just as well, because when a virtual world is being designed/written you need a sense of what players will be doing in it (which is to say, what you'll be allowing them to do in it).

Yes, that is a key design issue. Even if you do developement on a live system you are still bound by the initial architecture.

This does however speak in favour of Matts intervention approach... If we put aesthetical concerns aside.

47.

Richard wrote

Most commodification prevents them from doing this, which is the fundamental reason I'm against it in virtual worlds for which the developers don't want it. A hero's journey is difficult to come by at the best of times; now we've found a way to deliver it to anyone who wants one, we should strive to keep it.

We'll have to go back to disagreeing about commodification preventing them from doing it. It certainly doesn't prevent -other- people from doing it, and if I want to 'ruin' my own experience, let me. Of course, I don't view it as ruining it. (Also, as I've said before, I'm against breaking EULAs, so would never engage in illegal Ebaying myself.)

Another way to look at it is this: There's nothing holy about the design of a game. Let's say that it turns out that for player X, some part of the game is just too hard. What's the difference between the designer making it easier or the player buying something to make it easier? I don't see a difference unless you assume that the designer has some pipeline into every player's mind such that he can see with total clarity what the best level of challenge will be for that player. Not really a valid assumption, of course.


I'm for freedom. I want people to be able to feel free in virtual worlds, because that helps them become freer in the real one. If it all could be done by design, that would be great; however, it can't, because there are people who don't get it, or don't want it, or don't want others to have it, or just want to make a quick buck and are racking their brains for half-decent excuses to do so. Intervention is therefore necessary. The difference between my vision and Matt's is that in his, intervention is itself part of play; in mine, intervention is for dealing with non-play.

Well, I don't look at it as intervention really, especially given that the interactive Gods in our games are generally -not- the developers. They're not employees. They're volunteers roleplaying with the community as Gods. Yes, they have access to some behind the scenes stuff, but then, so do the players who moderate our forums.

And generally, I don't look at what we do as intervening so much as enabling. Let's say you're a God listening to what players are saying to NPCs. You hear player X talking about something interesting at an NPC. Suddenly, the NPC 'comes to life' as it were and starts responding intelligently, perhaps even leading into a little mini-quest/event for the player. If you want to call this intervention, that's fine, but I really think it deserves to be called enabling instead, since it's opening up possibilities for players rather than shutting them down.

--matt


48.

Ola Fosheim Grøstad>I was thinking from the perspective of the producer/system. Some designs do more to control behaviour than others.

Oh, certainly. However all designs have some control, even ones designed explicitly to allow players to have control.

>Giving up control is hard if you have a vision of what you want the world to be like.

It is, yes. Even if your vision is a world where players are free to do whatever they like, there will be some players whose behaviour is so extreme that they have to be reined in or the world will die.

>I meant that the games that do provide one visible goal, in my view, seem to end up putting the players on rails. Or... the players put themselves on rails.

Whereas those that provide several goals seem to end up putting the players on several rails?

I blame character classes/races mainly for the rails thing. There are too many constraints operating there.

>Why the term "semi-passive"? I would have thought it was "active"?

I meant "active" in the sense of making your own fun, and "semi-passive" in the sense of relying on the co-operation of others for fun. A better way of putting it might be active/interactive, as in my player types model.

>Does the presence of admins make the players less inclined to take initiative in relation to the world?

If whatever you do the admins are watching and trying to figure out ways of making it fun, you're not so much playing in the world as playing with the admins. I dare say that they'd respect a player who didn't want to be interfered with, although in my (limited) experience with MUD1/MUD2 admins seem to think they have a right to make life fun for players, even if those players have different idea of fun to the admins.

>>All in-world goals are provided by the designer at some level, because they depend on the world.
>Well, I disagree. Especially in the case of roleplayers.

What are the role-players' goals, and how do these not derive from decisions made by the designers?

>This does however speak in favour of Matts intervention approach... If we put aesthetical concerns aside.

It speaks in favour of intervention, but whether it's Matt's preferred form or mine is not determined. For me, intervention is to correct unfun; for Matt, intervention is to enhance existing fun.

Richard

49.

Matt Mihaly>We'll have to go back to disagreeing about commodification preventing them from doing it. It certainly doesn't prevent -other- people from doing it

But it does, because it brings the real world into the virtual, it undermines the other players' sense of achievement, and it short-circuits the overall game balance.

>if I want to 'ruin' my own experience, let me.

OK. How about the designer adds a command /level #, which sets the character's level to #. They also add a command to make a copy of any object. This means that every player can play at whatever level they choose, using whatever equipment they desire, with no need to waste money buying stuff from disreputable sources on eBay. What would such a virtual world be like? All players can have anything that can be commodified, for free. Would it be a fun game?

I believe it could be, if players played sensibly. However, I also believe that getting players to play sensibly wouild be a near-impossible task, and people would find their content being consumed away from them right before their eyes.

>Let's say that it turns out that for player X, some part of the game is just too hard. What's the difference between the designer making it easier or the player buying something to make it easier?

The difference is that you stop playing the game if you buy a solution in the real world. If you buy (using virtual money) a solution in the virtual world, you're overcoming an obstacle on its own terms: you're saying something about yourself - that you can succeed on your own merits, without resorting to outside help. You're saying something about yourself if you do buy the help, too, of course...

If it's OK for the player to buy a solution to a problem, why not simply give them it? Click on the button and hey presto! You're a high enough level that the problem isn't too hard any more.

>I don't see a difference unless you assume that the designer has some pipeline into every player's mind such that he can see with total clarity what the best level of challenge will be for that player.

Designers can make their world a rich and varied enough experience that there are always emergent, multiple solutions to problems. Players can then use the one that's most appropriate for them.

>If you want to call this intervention, that's fine, but I really think it deserves to be called enabling instead, since it's opening up possibilities for players rather than shutting them down.

It's enabling so long as it does open up opportunities, and if the players can decide not to take those opportunities. It's interference if the players feel obliged to take the opportunities, even though they were planning on doing something else. Also, as you say, how can anyone decide with total clarity what the best level of challenge for a player will be?

Richard

50.

> There are a number of minor issues, too,
> but I won't go into them here (this post
> is too long already!). I would like to say,
> however, that given Roma Victor's humble
> beginnings it's a real testiment to the
> dedication and drive of Kerry Fraser-Robinson
> and his team that it's got this far at all;
> other, much better-funded virtual worlds have
> long fallen by the wayside. They must be doing
> something right..!

As usual I wanted to stay out of this conversation but couldn't resist thanking you for the kinds words Richard. =)

The fact that Roma Victor did not rely on millions of dollars of investment actually works in our favour as far as this virtual economics debate is concerned.

It'll be a lot easier for us to prove the value of the virtual economics revenue model (from the perspective of both players and developers) when you don't have to bring in some $40million+ in order to break even and prove the system.

-KFR

P.S. I can't stand people talking when they should be doing. That's why I'm so quiet on the topic both here and elsewhere. When I've got a little less 'doing' to do, I'm sure I'll be quite happy to pitch in with our thoughts and experiences. :)

The comments to this entry are closed.