« A beardy gathering | Main | Martha's Avatar »

Mar 02, 2005



Maybe they're flip sides of the same coin?

Damion is suggesting that the world should be designed so that players at the top provide benefits for players lower down.

I agree with the idea, but (cynically?) I'd say that players at the top usually impose more headaches on those below. Good design can mitigate this... and maybe even eliminate it, although I don't know how.

If they're flip sides of the same coin then maybe a designer (through skill and/or choice) can decide which version of the pyramid they want to model, the one where players on the top are servants, or where players on the bottom are servants... Or someplace in-between? (Sounds like RL: Is the president of the US a leader, or a public servant?)

Another difference to note:

Damien puts "altruistic" players on top, like devs and volunteers. Of course, devs are working for money, but they are altruistic in the sense that they want all the other players to have a good time. Same with volunteers. Guild leaders are less altruistic since they mostly care about their guild-members' fun. Damien's casual players, are obviously more "greedy" because they are in the game soley for their own enjoyment.

I was assuming that altruism is a scarce commodity, and that greed (the norm) would be distributed equally about the pyramid. (Altuistic people would have more beneficial impact at the top of either pyramid.)

All of the 6 numbered conclusions seem to apply to both models.


Constructing hierarchies based on numbers is a bit dangerous. It means you'll always be able to construct a pyramid and it is rather tempting to try to squeeze it into some kind of reflection of power-relationships. If we are talking about a single particular design where there is a motion from the bottom to the top it becomes a bit less problematic, such as the lower levels in Farmer's social dimensions. But then you primarily have a classification scheme where the lower levels are approaching "abstractions" of the higher levels. E.g. writers are also readers.

The core problem when starting to reason about design from such models is that you end up with a circular argument.

1. The designers design power hierarchies

2. The analyst identifies various hierarchies pointing out the relationships between groups.

3. The designer feels encouraged to design even stronger hierarchies.

Uhm, maybe he shouldn't have designed the hieararchical structures in the first place? ;-)

The typical MMORPG hiearchy of functional power will of course influence many other relationships in the design:

1. Designer
2. GM
3. volunteer CR
4. In-power players (e.g.uberguild guild leader)
5. powergamers (masters the game)
6. wanna-be powergamers (learning)
7. non-powergamers (not really interested)


Despite the apparent differences between these pyramid models, I suspect a deeper (though perhaps not precise) commonality. Namely, a question related to many recent discussions we've had about the tensions of "game-y" vs. "world-y" worlds: should stories, the more structured games and play, and their content minions emerge from the 'invisible hand' of worlds, or should they instead impose form onto the anarchy of worlds?
Part of what I'm getting at was that, the higher-up you are in the tree, the more likely you are to be entertained by 'world' features. Playing in a virtual world isn't for everyone, but those that do like playing in a virtual world have the ability to benefit the play experience of everyone else.

This was my primary revelation from reading over Mike's work, and it suggests that instead of a World vs Game debate, we should be discussing 'How much World do you need to attract the top of the pyramid, without alienating the Game-y base?'



should stories, the more structured games and play, and their content minions emerge from the 'invisible hand' of worlds, or should they instead impose form onto the anarchy of worlds?

It would be nice if you could figure out a way to make the fun features of the game emerge from the complex interaction of game entities as if by magic. However, I'm not sure that this is even possible as VWs are so chaotic by nature.


I think that there is one MMO that often gets overlooked/ignored because of it's low relative population and unique gameplay: World War 2 Online (http://www.wwiionline.com).

A little background: World War II Online is recreation of the battle or France at the end of 1939. At the beginning of each map the front lines are reset to a period-correct state and the forces are released. On one side stand the Axis (represented by Germany) and on the other the Allies (represented by Britian and France). At a tactical level it s a recreation of warfare at the FPS level but integrating infantry, armor and air (and to some extent navy) forces on one large theatre; there are capture points and bridges to be destroyed. At the strategic level there are Attack Objectives to be deployed by the player run High Commands, factories that produce research points and equiptment that can be researched over time.

As relating to this article is the seemingly impossible task faced by the developers of WWII Online. Personally what I see above reminds me of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs as applied to a game player structure. The problem the WWII Online developers face is that scheme does not fit when broken down into such a context as player reward.

So many players in todays games are being lumped into the casual gamer market where solo play, non-intrusive play or success oriented play dictates a level of enjoyment by these players. As you climb the heirarchy through the power gamers, power guild leaders, volunteers and developers you progress farther from that stable base putting more resposibility on the player to determine their own version of 'success'.

With WWII Online, being a focused PvP arena, the developers face the difficult task of dealing players constant losses while attempting to maintain the business. Every few months one side has to be faced with the prospect of loosing the war or experiencing a game dictated by loss sometimes outside the control of the player. Granted, even though WWII Online has beaten the odds after a rather stressful launch, the player bas has not grown beyond a seemingly critical 10k subscriber base and I believe it is because of that 'success level' factor.

This topic relates back to the success topic from a few days ago but I believe that WWII Online does illustrate a number of points that relate to both - almost to show an opposite viewpoint on the same challenges that have been raised here.

Instead of a stable base of success that is relatively easy to achive amongst the casual gamer WWII Online has the carefully balance game play experience against success and/or failure while not removing the challenges that the game presents. The developers talk to the player base on a very regular basis (daily in the bublic forums, weekly in the newsletter and announcement forums) and to the squads on a regular basis.

In addition to this are the unique high commands (though this may occur with Guild Wars). The High Commands for both sides are completly player manned and run. Currently these Hight Commands determine equiptment lists and Attack Objectives and in the future will be called on to manage deployment of brigades and more detailed unit deployment lists.

Anyhoo.. I am probably starting to ramble.

My point: I think that we, as gamers or (you as) game developers, are being trapped into a frame of mind based on relatively easy success to maintain subscription levels. Although it is all well and good to fit models to the behaviour of gamers it is important to maintain perspective and keep up the level of challenge and communitcation. And I wanted to being a relatively little MMO game of a different mold into the spotlight here.


Fridge wrote - I think that we, as gamers or (you as) game developers, are being trapped into a frame of mind based on relatively easy success to maintain subscription levels. Although it is all well and good to fit models to the behaviour of gamers it is important to maintain perspective and keep up the level of challenge and communitcation. And I wanted to being a relatively little MMO game of a different mold into the spotlight here.

Two thoughts:

1) I am interested in different player models because I see them as tools for trying to understand "what's going on". The more (reasonable) models, the more choices for tools I have.

WWII online, and some other small VWs (like ATITD), are signficantly different than the "standard" VW, and it would be interesting to work out the principles that explain why they work. I am especially interested in the smaller VWs because I am writing a VW targeted at a smaller/niche market; the reason I worry about the mass-market VWs is to ensure that I don't accidentally place myself in their path and get trampled.

2) "maintain subscription levels" - This is somewhat off topic, but subcription levels are not being maintained for any VW, and the numbers in Sir Bruce's chart are correct but misleading...

The overall market for VW gamers is growing 30%-50% a year. For an invididual VW to "tread water" it too must grow by 30%-50% a year. After a growth spurt in their first year, most VWs seem to just level out and maintain their existing population numbers. Which means that if the overall VW playing population weren't increasing by 30%-50% a year, they would be LOSING 20%-30% of their population a year.

Note: In my previous post, the term "self centered" would work better than "greed", as an opposite to "altruism".


I wouldn't put "powergamers" in a pyramid above "casual gamers". I don't think that is the idea of the original pyramid. The pyramid is one where the upper layers create content for the lower layers. Like craftsmen creating goods and selling them to the casual players. So as long as the "powergamer" is just consuming content (albeit at a faster rate), he is on the same level as the "casual gamer".

Developers should encourage content creation by players, by giving them the tools to create content. For example by making it possible for a crafter to create an item that an adventurer at the base of the pyramid would want to use. But this process shouldn't be forced; making all items in the game come from crafters is usually over-doing it. It forces people that would prefer to be just adventurers to play as crafters instead, just because there would be a shortage of items otherwise.


Tobold> So as long as the "powergamer" is just consuming content (albeit at a faster rate), he is on the same level as the "casual gamer".

You need functionality to "produce" by crafting, so you need to powergame... by design. I don't really agree that casual players don't produce though. There just aren't that many interesting creative outlets in MMORPGs... again by design. Etc. (the same goes for single-player versus multi-player, and game-like versus world-like)


Isn't what we're really talking about here "influence on the game world"?

Let's suppose there existed a mainstream MMOG that offered powerful content creation tools to its players.

If influence on the game world is what we're trying to measure, then a chart of influence would look like an inverted bell curve, with peaks at both ends. At one end are the few players with enough time/motivation/creativity to use the tools to create highly popular content. But at the other end are the many players who don't use the supplied tools but who nevertheless influence the game world to a significant degree through their massed (albeit uncoordinated) actions.

Looking at player activity as a pyramid seems like a good model if the question is "how much can certain types of players contribute to the game world?" But it may not be the best model if the question is really "how much *do* certain types of players actually affect the game world?"

The former perspective gives you a big-at-one-end model, which means a developer gets more bang for the buck by focusing support on just one group of players (whichever group, top or bottom, that may be). The latter perspective suggests that you don't want to cater to just one group; you have to focus on *both* the "top" and "bottom" groups -- those who are directly influential through valuable contributions, and those who are indirectly influential through sheer mass of numbers.

Call it the Law of the Excluded Middle....



Flatfingers, I think it is a mistake to exclude the middle. Many people like to dabble, they write diaries, they tell jokes, upload screenshots, engage in debates, participate in events, complain about their boss/sister-in-law on guild-chat... Those are valueble and productive direct contributions. Wouldn't indirect contributions would be things like: a clueless player walking into a PvP district, purchasing items from player-run shops etc. I.e. making a contribution without trying to make one. Or are you thinking of anyone being part of a chain as indirect contributors?

For a producer-consumer analysis I think a network is a better model than a pyramid. A food-chain analysis is an interesting starting-point, but still problematic. We had lots of these type of discussions in the 1990s on MUD-Dev (not sure who brought the food-chain metaphor up first, maybe Mike Sellers).

The problems with the food chain is obvious, the bigger layers are disposable food for the predators and all they get in return is crap (fertilizer)... ;-)

You are right in stating that the pyramids can provide good models for economic analysis. E.g.:

1. CR volunteers (save sallaries)
2. players playing a premium (get extra)
3. regular subscribers (get money)
4. players on a free account (hook'em)
5. not-yet-players (attract 'em)


Ola, let me try to restate my modest proposal: Developers don't need to explicitly allocate development resources to players of middling influence because these players will be served by focusing development resources on the players with the most influence -- the content-consuming masses at the bottom and the good-content-producing few at the top.

Serving the bottom means spending development resources creating basic game features intended to give the typical player new things to do. The majority of MMOG players today (I think I'm safe in saying) are game-y, not world-y. They're not interested in producing content for others; they only care about consuming content for themselves. Given that these players are probably a significant majority of a mainstream MMOG's population, you have to focus on directly giving them content because they're where most of your revenue comes from. For a commercial game, you *have* to do this, so it's what most developers do. Thus, by providing content for the masses, the more creative players get new features to play with as well.

The next step -- serving the top -- means spending development resources creating content-production tools for the few most creative and energetic players. These highly effective players will then help you create desirable content that filters down to all players. It's money up front to build the tools, and money to review player-created content, but the advantages are that you get more content than you could create yourself, and the content is likely to be very popular since it comes from actual players who know the game well and have worthwhile ideas.

By directing resources to these two areas of service, you satisfy the middle (least influential) group of players as well. To state it baldly, you don't have to directly spend time and money creating content for them because they'll be getting content from the top and the bottom.

That's the theory, anyway. It would be interesting to hear whether it seems too Machiavellian, or if it's in fact how most of the big players already operate.

("Excluded middle" was perhaps too misleading a term to use, even as a joke....)



Ah, ok, I think it is fair to say that designers might _want_ to exlude the middle. Not because the middle doesn't want to create, but because the designers refuse to give up control. MMOs are very much designer-controlled environments. There is no room for true emergent behaviour (despite some authors claiming the contrary).

Let's look at another pyramid (from top to bottom):

1. The servants: Players who are motivated by creating new situations for other players. Players who focus on making the society work, throwing parties etc.

2. The self expressionist: Players who create as an expression of their own identity. Not necessarily for others to enjoy, although others take interest in it, if they are interested in the person/personality etc.

3. Dabblers: Players who find it interesting to play with the creative opportunities, but doesn't really feel any need produce anything specific.

4. Non-creative: Players who are less in
clined to spend time on creative opportunities.

From a designer's perspective only the top level is managable while retaining quality-control in a less restricted design. As you put it, you need to keep the volume low so you can review the content. The servants are less problematic as they are inclined to take what other players actually would find interesting into account.

The selfexpressionist are also capable of creating great content, but they are very likely to produce content that will either not fit with the world theme, or create provocative content. This group is very difficult to control for various reasons. One reason is that censoring their output would be an attack on their identity.

The dabblers will produce lots of crap if they are giving full freedom to create, but they can produce interesting content and variety with limited creative outlets, such as configuring the looks of their house.

So in short, the designers want to exclude the middle, but that doesn't mean that the middle want to be excluded. BUT I don't think the middle is satisfied by such designs.


Just to clarify: I don't mean that level 4 implies no creativity. It just means that being creative isn't a major activity for them. They might be innovative when creating their avatar, but they don't go looking for new cloths every day.

Level 1 and 2 would be "serious leisure" and level 3 and 4 would be "casual leisure".


Quite Good and Quite Nice Site

The comments to this entry are closed.