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Aug 09, 2005




As to the "win," I think it depends on context. If you assume he really knows what he's talking about, he's right in a lot of ways. If you don't, he's very mislead.

Also depends on the game in question. But there are "winners," in various regards, imo. It's a perjorative in this case - I kind of mean "teh winnar" :)


"Sorry? There's a winning player in MMOGs? Maybe I haven't been playing these games enough but I've never met a winning player, or even a winning guild."

There might not be winning players as such but there are definitely winning guilds on many servers. If you get into a situation where one guild can monopolise content, dominate PvP and attract the best players because of this then the group of guilds just below them (that are always losing out) will end up co-operating so they can compete. By pooling their resources they have a better chance of beating the top guild to content, winning in PvP or whatever. This may not strictly be conspiring but such a "second tier" that works together to win very definitely exists in my experience.


Babylona> If you assume he really knows what he's talking about, he's right in a lot of ways.

How so? I take Stephen's point that a guild can monopolize resources and effectively crowd out other players. But this is conceptually different from winning, isn't it? I'm not sure what you mean by winning in this context.


To imply you can't win in a MMOG is to imply you can't lose, and I believe both exist. While winning in the traditional "Game Over" sense doesn't exist, there are ways to achievement in several MMOGs that do define a winner, just like there are things that can occur to produce a loser.

I believe winning and losing can only be tied to PvP games though, I have never seen a game designed so that someone playing against an AI wins or loses so dramatically that they can be coined "the winner" over other players.

I think what needs to be determined is what winning in a MMOG is. If you remove the finality of winning and losing from the definitions of winning and losing, example in the traditional "Game Over" sense, what definition would you use for winner and loser? I know I have won Lineage 2, it is like pornography, you know it when you see it, I have achieved everything someone could possibly achieve and at this point my real motivation for playing has become waiting to "lose" something among all of which I have gained. Since I know I can only lose, and I am unsure what I could still gain, I feel I have to be a winner.

However I don't know what the defintiion of winning is so I can't be certain I am using the right term.


I think Mr. Louise's point was addressed at MMORPGs. His point does not apply to MMORPGs, but do apply to the games he has cited where there is a clear end state.

Don't you hate it when your competitor has a winning streak? The longer the person has a winning streak, isn't there a greater desire to take him down?

This type of battle is being playout in the RL with CNOOC's bid for Unocal, with the dynamic between the US and UN, with the control over .com addresses, with the control and use of 3G IP rights, with the control over AID drugs, etc.



I definately think that this is applicable to the competition of guilds. Being the top guild is as close to winning an mmo as you can get. To what extent the other guilds are willing to conspire against the top guild is entirely dependent on the level of competition. In a game where most of the content is instanced, the only competition is over bragging rights and possibly recruits. However, in an environment where one guild can essentailly monopolize content that is highly desired by the other guilds, I believe you will find significant conspiring.


I would assume that "winning" and "keeping the game alive" in the context of MMOGs refers to states that are inconsistent with their "conventional games" namesakes.

Winning in a MMOG can represent a state of repetitive success within the game - in such quantities that it becomes hard for other players to "catch up" or overtake the winning player. It is kind of like setting a world record at something - temporarily you've achived a "winning" state which isn't easily overthrown. The keyword here is "temporary".

There is also a "keep-alive" element embedded into MMOGs, but it deffers ratically from the meaning that most would put into the words of "keeping the game alive". If a MMPOG is hogged by "winners" that are not easily overthrown (and are perhaps rude or unfavorable to newbies) the game has a chance of dying. Other (loosing) players stop playing the game because they are not enjoying enough success. New players wont join because they see in-game barriers and obstacles that have been created by the culture that surrounds the game. So it becomes crucial for smaller fractions (or lesser players) within a game to overthrow the powers that be in the sake of keeping the game interesting and "alive".

This is my take on the situation. And I might be very very wrong.


Doesn't sound like any of the MMOGs I have ever played. It sounds more like someone who is conflating two very different phenomena (online gaming and MMOGs) to try to make a broad, over-reaching, and essentially incorrect point.

I believe the space of MMOGs and virtual worlds do have a lot to tell us about both global and local politics, but it seems to me that there is a lot of reading back into the game here.

Mostly his insights seem to apply to most competetive ventures. Ironically, MMOGs seem to complicate the easy comparison he wants to make, rather than reinforce it.

I think Mr. Louise's point was addressed at MMORPGs. His point does not apply to MMORPGs, but do apply to the games he has cited where there is a clear end state.

I'd have to second Galrahn on this. His point may be easily understood where there is a clear win state, however he is applying it to real life political situations, which rarely have a clear win state.

The winner is as much peception as anything else. Often it will depend on a particular context of action. To take WoW as an example. In PvP many consider the horde to be the winner.. As a contributing factor to that shaman are also seen as winners. That guy who has all the latest uber gear from the new instance may be considered a winner. The guy with the highest PvP rank, etc.

This has certainly become less applicable in MMOGs, since direct competition for resources has been greatly reduced. It was much more noticable in EQ.


winning = pwning


If you do graphing of network effects and leader boards on various systems in games, you'll see exactly what he is talking about. It's everything from the top merchants monopolizing sales to top PvPers winning a disproportionate number of battles to top guilds acquiring the most members and dominating the social scene to top creators of clothes cornering the market.

What rears its head is the classic Pareto curve, which may not declare a single firm winner, but certainly does create "winners" and "losers" relative to the mean.


Louie's statements that "there's always one player who wins all the time, and everybody resents it" and "there is a second-tier group [of individual players who] conspire how to take down the first player" make perfect sense if you look at the games he named. They're not MMOGs in the "persistent world" sense; they're single-player games that have a multiplayer component tacked on.

In those games, you certainly do often have one player who consistently excels, and several other players who are almost as good who think about working with each other to beat the top player.

Nor is it crazy to recognize this behavior in MMOGs if you substitute "guilds" for "players." Often there's one group that dominates a server, and a few others that will sometimes cooperate to try to outperform the top group.

You can even see this in business. Is there any serious disagreement that the clear "winner" in the field of operating systems and applications for PCs is Microsoft? And have you noticed how Sun and Oracle and IBM will occasionally announce some new "standard" (to whose development Microsoft was pointedly not invited to contribute)?

The idea that there's usually a "winner" of these kinds of games doesn't seem strange to me at all.

Bill Gates 4 teh win!



Several years ago I took a turn at running a guild on a DAOC server. In the world of guilds there are definitely winners and losers. There was strong competition for who could run the best raids, help thier members level fastest, get the best loot and simply have the largest number of players. In DAOC the guilds also had ranks in the realm wars and we were always very pleased when we moved up, or upset when we moved down.

All the guilds I was aware of had competitive strategies to establish themselves as winners either in the larger public sense by gaining high rank or large numbers, or in the internal sense "we are a small guild of friends" which is a way of re-inforcing a sense of group superiority.

Pretty much everyone playing the game was aware this was going on. DOAC and the guild status thing was a lot like Boston and the Red Sox. Everyone knows its going on, most everyone participates to some degree and a small number of outcasts pretends they don't care.

Winners and losers has social meaning as well as meaning in the classic "I scored more points than you and won" sense. In the social sense there are winners and losers in all multiplayer games.

And to be very specific I did see the behaviors described above in the DAOC guilds.


We are conflating all kinds of meanings of winning here, all of them are correct given the context and use of the term, but what’s the right context. Louise states:

    "But there's always one player who wins all the time, and everybody resents it.”
So in this context winning has to be a state resented by all. I don’t know of an MMO where this exists. In none of the 5 or so MMOs I play on do I have any idea who the top money owners / guilds / PVPers are, and if I did I would not care let alone resent it or let it change my behaviour in anyway. Now for those that are playing the economic or GvG game I guess there are current winners, the question is whether the impact of this is sufficient to structure the rest of the society in such a way that means that it’s a good analogue for the things that they are attempting to model.


When I first read this post I was first set back by the words "CIA-funded venture capital firm" and then ofcourse this 'winning' theme. Which I have to say, is extremely American. But then I'd be starting to ramble about politics, and that's not what this blog is for!
I really think that to answer any such question of 'winning' in MMORPGs we should be looking at brilliant Bartle's classification of MUD'ers and then glorious Mr. Yee's work to see what players themselves categorize as winning. I mean, many players don't even categorize synthetic/virtual worlds as games, then what does 'winning' have to do with it?
My personal belief is that players do set their own personal goals, and therefore feel they win...when accomplishing them. But no end-state-sort of winning, just the same satisfaction as when you've finally finished that paper you were struggling to write, in the 'academic' game (sorry, working on defining the words game and play at the moment, and just can't help myself). So basically, yeah! We can learn a lot. Cause, now this may be because I'm European, but I do believe countries set out to accomplish goals, and work their hardest to become the best or at least among the star players...and yeah...do create coalitions to make sure they can. Most hillarious example of this must be the Kyoto deal! But again...I'm rambling politics again!
But it is clearly evident that Mr. Louie doesn't really know what he's talking about, although it has definately brought about a very intriguing discussion here in Terra Nova!! I'm learning to expect nothing less!!!


Terra Nova readers should not blame Gilman Louie for conflating MMOGs and the games mentioned; that was my erroneous gloss.

As for the point about "winning" in a continuous game with no end-point, a book that helps clarify this confusion is James P. Carse's "Finite and Infinite Games" (Ballatine, 1986). Finite games have winners and losers; infinite games are more mysterious and unscripted, and don't have strict winners and losers -- but certainly their participants can feel otherwise.

It's hard to know how literally to apply the MMOG metaphor to international politics, which obviously has significant differences. Still....


Winning in a MMOG is much like winning in RL. It's not about seeing the "You win!" just before the end game credits, it's all about having the better gear, faster horse, bigger house. It's about being better than the other player. And you can most definitly be a loser in a MMOG.


Drawing general conclusions about human behavior and motivations by studying today's commercial MMOGs would be like drawing general conclusions about human behavior and motivations by studying the television show "Fear Factor". The sample is so deeply flawed, and the conditions in which that sample voluntarily agrees to be constrained so artificial and distorted, and the environment so utterly and completely corporately owned and profit-driven, that any "human nature" conclusion beyond "this is how people attracted to this kind of MMOG can behave in this kind of MMOG under these kind of rules and constraints" is highly questionable, if not downright irresponsible.

Homeland Security's color-coded alert system is hardly a good basis for complex human social interactions or understanding of the world--yet you just know game designers absolutely salivated when that insulting metric came out. Simple, unambiguous and discrete. Fits in a database. Are we Orange today, honey, or Yellow? Gotta wear my matching socks.

Just like "Reputation" as an artificial metric translated into a hovering, color-coded name tag, numerically effected by other numerically quantifiable database updates--rather than "reputation" as that ineffable, intangible yet nontheless real and critical judgement that helps guide our daily interactions with others.

In fact, that is illustrative of the real danger here: rather than learning about life from a video game, our view of life is being reduced to the parameters of a video game.

My country 'tis of thee,
Plus-four Agility,
To thee I sing.

Those are hardly conditions conducive to the voluntary formation of constructive, sustainable free societies--nor to learning what makes them form, last, and have meaning.

The fact that people create (at times, lasting) social bonds at all in these environments is a testiment to humanity's determination to persist in connecting with others, even under the most hostile conditions. To the extent anything resembling "societies" evolve in commercial MMOGs, they evolve despite, not because, they are in those MMOGs.

(Unless your idea of an ideal social experience is being dropped by parachute into the middle of Baghdad with a large sack of gold coins and a pen-knife, and being told to "have fun buying up Iraqi oil assets". Oops, there goes our sample.)

In short, MMOGs are excellent testbeds for the study of human pathology, for the study of human adaptations in pathological environments, and for the study of the curious things game designers think make people tick. They are not worth spit for learning about how to build real civic society (except, perhaps, as examples of what *not* to do).

Because of designers' obsession with reducing all human experience to (easily programmable) unambiguous binary decisions (kill--not kill, eat--not eat, steal...steal more) MMOGs are anything but model virtual societies--more like virtual Disneylands, with a death sentence (to steal a line from William Gibson, who was talking about Singapore at the time). The reason other folks like to reduce all human interactions to profit-loss transactions stems from the same obsession with encapsulating all of human experience in a simple, understandable (and, thus, ultimately controllable) model. Humans keep eliding such binary reduction, yet game designers keep pursuing it.

Not that studying MMOGs is not interesting or a valid area of research, nor that one cannot learn things from studying them.

Just don't have any illusions that what you learn about human behavior there there is any more generally applicable, or any less drastically distorted, than what an anthropologist could generalize from a stint at Club Med, or at the Betty Ford Clinic--or at Guantanamo Bay.

I suppose some good came out of Freud's study of pathology, but the general conclusions he drew about basic human motivation have been largely discredited, precisely because his sample was so flawed and unrepresentative.

To paraphrase Jaron Lanier (speaking as someone who loves virtual reality and virtual experiences as much as he does, and who has made my life's work to build ones that matter), the best thing about MMOGs is when you log off. It makes you appreciate the richness and complexity, and "non-binary-ness" of real life.


David Bollier> As for the point about "winning" in a continuous game with no end-point, a book that helps clarify this confusion is James P. Carse's "Finite and Infinite Games" (Ballatine, 1986).

I've cited Carse's book here on TN before, but is it really applicable in this context?

The key intentionalist distinction between playing a finite game and playing an infinite game is that the finite player is explicitly trying to achieve an end state using the game's rules, while the infinite player plays to keep the game from ending. But how does this apply to the individual and group/guild winners (by whatever definition) of the various online and MMO games? How many of these winners are infinite players?

I'd feel like I was making a reasonably accurate guess if I said "none." All the winners and would-be winners I've heard describing their goals make no bones about it; they want to be on top and want to be acknowledged as being on top, whether the game is one that resets or a persistent world that (theoretically) will go on forever. These folks aren't playing to enable other players to do well -- they're playing to position themselves permanently at the top of the pyramid.

And there's something very similar that can be said about this style of gameplay and the Prisoner's Dilemma, in particular Robert Axelrod's "Evolution of Cooperation" version. Most of the winner-type players I've encountered would choose the "defect" option 10 times out of 10; the notion that it's a winning strategy to do reasonably well over the long term by helping others do reasonably well over the short term would simply be incomprehensible to most of these folks.

I don't say that in a completely pejorative way. After all, it's not like they've had the chance to play many games that rewarded them for letting other people or groups win -- how many such games have designers ever produced for people to play? Other than the case of guilds, in which you do well to the degree that you help your guild do well, aren't virtually all current major games specifically designed to reward competitive play (including play between guilds)?

It would be interesting to see a complex game world that was intentionally designed to allow the emergence of an infinite game, in which the group wins that best enables the gameplay of other groups. If someone is aware of any such game, current or past, I'd sincerely appreciate hearing it described.




The game you ask for is probably not marketable :)

The best I can think of is a balanced game that have periodic "acts of god" events that keeps the "evolutionary" process going. An example of this for a binary state is the progression of Lorenz's Butterfly Effect.

Complete balance (equilibrium) is boring and not fun. Persistent relative "win" is also boring and not fun. Even matched play is fun, but kinda hard to do when there are multiple players. So "acts of god" semi-reset events helps to create that infinite gameplay.



Complete balance (equilibrium) is boring and not fun.

Were the system (game world) be at equilibrium, but does the player have to know it? In other words, is it possible to create the illusion of a finite game within an infinite one?


Just to get this out of the way:

galiel> Homeland Security's color-coded alert system is hardly a good basis for complex human social interactions or understanding of the world--yet you just know game designers absolutely salivated when that insulting metric came out.

I'd point out that game developers were using the simple IDSA and only slightly less simple RSAC classification systems long before the Dept. of Homeland Security existed. Are those advisory metrics insulting, too? To whom?

Frank> The game you ask for is probably not marketable :)

That thought occurred to me, too. ;-)

Which leads me to add that I'm not anti-competition. From a design perspective, competition is a useful organizing process. It's often worth having competitive systems in a world because that's an effective way to efficiently distribute finite resources.

It's also a useful tool for allowing players to rank themselves, which is very popular. ("Rank" being a finite resource.) Not having competition in a game would probably make it highly not-popular.

What I object to (and where I think I agree with galiel) is when competition is the only organizing process designed into a world. What about cooperation? What about consensus? Without these things, virtual worlds become severely distorted reflections of the the real world.

Not every virtual world needs to try to be a simulation of reality, but as galiel points out, the more a world constrains human action, the harder it gets to draw meaningful conclusions about human behavior in that world. (I'd also argue that designing MMOGs around this cramped concept of necessary player abilities causes MMOGs to be less fun than they should be, but that's more debatable.)

I don't think there's any difficulty in having truly finite games within an infinite game, any more than I think you can't have competition in an infinite game. You can -- it just can't be the whole game as is the case today.

So what rules would be necessary to create such a virtual world? Is there a technically efficient and functionally interesting way to allow competitive action in a cooperative context?

And would it sell?



In designing single-player games and small scale multiplayer, designers can focus on gameplay and a focused experience.

In designing a massive multiplayer games, the dynamics are too complex and chaotic to make an effective infinite gameplay environment. You'll probably really have to force one common goal (other than the infinite grind) on the players.

For a common goal that has the sense of grind that paying customers appear to have a love/hate relationship with could be the ancient Ascension game. Everyone help and hinder each other level up to reach Ascension/Nirvana/Etc. There may be a competition as to who attain Ascension first, but it's cooperation toward the common goal.

So Bart, ATITD is probably the closest answer to your question.

But personally, without Hackensack it's not for me either :)



Nate> Were the system (game world) be at equilibrium, but does the player have to know it? In other words, is it possible to create the illusion of a finite game within an infinite one?

I think it is possible to create a reality of finite game within an infinite one. One way to slow RT down to discrete phases even if the phases were one second each. Example RTS is just the acceleration of turn-base strategy (TBS) phases from discrete to continuous.

Going back to the Ascension game, one way to modify current level-based MMORPGs is to cap level gain per month (not that this is something that should be done). The MMORPG world is still infinite, but the goal of the finite game is to level up to the cap each month. Some will get there earlier and others will get to it at the end of the phase.

The alternative utilized is continuous RT-based skill gain (EVE-online).

So the world can have internal chao but system-wise equilibrium.



I keep thinking about Reiner Knizia's The Lord of The Rings board game in this discussion. Never been so impressed by how a game can get all the players to work together and not against each other. But ofcourse there is a common enemy (Sauron). Just thought I'd mention it, cause it's a brilliantly designed game and although not having all the criteria you require in this discussion, it certainly deserves an acknowledgement for a step in the 'right' or noncompetitive direction.


It would be interesting to see a complex game world that was intentionally designed to allow the emergence of an infinite game, in which the group wins that best enables the gameplay of other groups. If someone is aware of any such game, current or past, I'd sincerely appreciate hearing it described.

You didn't ask about "future", so I'll just say, "stay tuned". :-)

What I object to (and where I think I agree with galiel) is when competition is the only organizing process designed into a world. What about cooperation? What about consensus? Without these things, virtual worlds become severely distorted reflections of the the real world.

Precisely. I'm not anti-competition either, at all; it is an essential driver of human evolution, after all.

However, as I am sure you will agree, the industry-common logic that says, "competition is real, it exists in the real world, therefore MMOGs that solely or even primarily design for competition are valid models of the real world"--that is the prevalent problem.

The reasons all current MMOGs are anchored around zero-sum, usually violent competition, are complex, ranging from the technical through the economic to the political, but I am convinced that the primary reason is that is it just easier to write/code/model/control win-lose.

Over time, designers convince themselves that competition that is all there is (or, more accurately, that one can simulate all human interactions as a relatively short combination of binary profit-loss choices).

Current MMOG design treats human ingenuity (which is intangible and not discretely measurable) as a problem to be contained, combatted and constrained. But human ingenuity is the essential engine sustaining human society.

(It is not just game designers who fall into this trap; many (though by no means all) economists and political scientists do as well. Which is why phenomena such as Wikipedia or Project Gutenberg make certain people so uncomfortable, and why they try so hard to discredit them--these human endeavors just don't fit into the simplistic, mechanistic models of "rational" human behavior.)

Our GDP doesn't measure how well we teach our children to share and be honest with others; it doesn't measure the degree to which we do or do not abuse our spouses, verbally or otherwise; it doesn't measure how happy and fulfilled we feel on an average day; it doesn't measure how valuable our daily television entertainment really is; it doesn't measure how many locks we have on our doors; it doesn't measure how many of our citizens understand the critical issues a citizen needs to understand to sustain a healthy democracy. It doesn't measure how curious we are. Yet these mostly unmeasurable variables are essential parts of our lives and determine to a great degree the viability and sustainability of our societies.

We measure the success of a nation based solely on what can be monetized.

Our elections measure one winner and one loser.

Our religions have unambiguous right and wrong, saint and sinner.

Is it any wonder current MMOGs are entirely designed around binary thinking?

This leads inevitably to pretending that big chunks of inter-human behavior (such as emotional ties, nobility, trust, generosity, hate, anger, fear and, yes, love) simply do not exist, for the purposes of design (how do you quantify my love for my childen in a database field?). And, when these behaviors "intrude" upon the design (because the players, being actually human, refuse to be constrained within the designer's binary choices), developers tend to view those behaviors as disruptive to THEIR design--as damage to be corrected, or even as attacks to be repelled and punished.

If it can't be measured, it doesn't exist.

The fact that developers tend choose to ignore and often be hostile to whatever can't be put in a database table means that today's MMOGs are no more useful simulations of reality than their NPCs are useful simulations of real humans.

Current MMOG design is all about control, while human societies are all about synergy (the benefit of interacting outweighing the benefit of being solitary). Healthy, consensual societies form organically, and they thrive and are sustainable only as long as it is advantageous for most of their members to continue to coexist.

History shows us that tightly controlled, constrained and engineered societies don't work very well, and yet that is precisely how one can best describe current MMOGs. In fact, that is the whole point of current design--to make people play the way the designers think they should play.

Until a VW comes along that can't be unplugged, because it isn't "owned", that is not all about control and does not exist to provide corporate profits, that does not artificially impose a hyper-capitalist and/or hypercompetitive zero-sum gameplay that accounts only for the quantifiable, that *is* designed to facilitate and afford constructive, sustainable, human society, to celebrate and empower the ineffable and unmeasurable, and not to thwart it or at best ignore it. (which is why I began with, "stay tuned")


NOTE: In this entire argument, I speak very carefully of "current", "commercial", "MMOGs." I obviously don't think this is an inherent problem with persistent virtual worlds, per se. Quite the contrary.

Virtual worlds provide the potential of not only interesting places to study human social behavior, but promising environments in which people can, relatively safely, experiment with new, improved forms of human social organization. They are spaces where people can experience a level of diversity and variability that can help counteract our natural tendency to cluster around people like ourselves.

The problem is that this wonderful tool is being squandered by catering to and actually designing for the worst in human behavior, rather than enabling the best. And that is because current MMOGs are corporate-owned products designed first and foremost to maximize investor profits. There is no "when in the course of human events" behind Everquest, abstract rhetoric and/or sales pitches to the contrary.

It is interesting that the immediate response to Bart's suggestion of a different rule-set is "it's not marketable".

Someone remind me, please where in "When in the Course of human events.." it talks about investor ROI.

And someone remind me how many new free societies choose Microsoft's corporate charter as their model, vs the US Constitution.

Taking virtual worlds and using them solely to make money is a sad waste of a magnificent empowering technology. Note that I said "solely", before someone named Sir something accuses me yet again of being a utopian communist ;-)

Some of us are pursuing a different model for building virtual worlds. Time will tell whether the worlds we offer are better microcosms of human society--not to mention whether they are more fun, and attract and hold a larger audience than current murder-and-loot designs. Until there are alternatives, no one can *really* say, "this is what the people want".

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