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Jan 26, 2006



>>"It’s kinda like the way that rare hair dies operated in Ultima Online: no ostensible value, except by way of a signifier that “I have it, and you don’t”. "

I think this is the major motivating factor in today's mmorpgs. It's why people go through unenjoyable parts of the game... so they can show off. Levels and titles are just an extension of this too. If it's rare, then it is valued. Being a Dread Lord or Glorious Lord in UO represented a rarity.

In the real world people work more than they need to, in order to buy fancy clothes, fancy houses, and fancy vehicles. Do most of them enjoy their work so much that they are doing it for fun? No, but they sure like to show off. The same motivations and willingness to endure drudgery apply to mmorpgs.


Now I want to know more about the guy with the 10000 white shirts... :)

Its funny no one mentioned SWG, which in its pre-NGE state provided the most expansive example of being able to decorate your character/change their appearance since thousands of items of clothing and an extremely flexible character appearance system were both available in game. As a one time Tailor/Image Designer in that game, I can attest to a steady stream of customers in game who wanted nothing more than to make their appearance highly distinct from everyone elses, often with absolutely no in game beneft at all. Usually they arrived with a very clear idea of the "look" they wanted, and luckily the game was flexible enough to make that very possible. Sadly in the new version of the game with its emphasis on extreme simplicity of gameplay many of those people have left - including my Tailor/Image Designer (a professional combination which is also now impossible).

As well - again, prior to the NGE - the Creature Handler profession enabled players to tame multiple pets from amongst thousands of in game creatures, some of which were extremely rare. A Master Creature Handler could have up to 22 pets if I recall correctly, and as some were extremely rare tames, this was the entire focus of some Creature Handlers who would strive to tame a full menagerie of 22 of the most rare creatures in the game. I only met one person who ever had a full set of ultra rare pets and he proudly showed them off to me one after another. Some of these pets were also sold for large amounts of ingame money to other Creature Handlers. I did a brisk but brief trade in Female Narglatches at one point when I tried CH out. They were only moderately rare but in demand and commanded reasonably profitable prices.

All in all a fascinating discussion, and its too bad the rest of it was lost to the Caribbean :P


That level of specialization is totally missing from WoW, agreed. I think the game, and its playerbase would definitely benefit from that kind of customization, perhaps to a lesser degree in order not to frighten off more 'casual' players. Heck, all MMO's could use that kind of stuff. It is unfortunate that SW:G could not redeem itself enough to be truely, consistently fun for many types of players.

I really like this topic, and that conversation is exactly what I picture mentally when I read other TN posts.


I was also surprised by the lack of mention of SWG, as there are many aspects that add elements to this discussion (alas, the stigma and pain of the NGE can make this a taboo topic in polite circles..)

I recall when the "rebel endor helmet" (no combat value, and coloration was slightly off from any match with other attire) was taken out of the quest rewards, sparking a massive demand for it. (made my first million-cred sale... back when a million meant something... on my helm)

Similarly, rare painting rewards... heck, even the rare "broken imperial communicator" junk became regular trophies for player homes.

More relevant to this conversation, I vaguely recall the uproar that came when reward tables were changed, and some of the previously-rare items became rather commonplace. The "elites" were in an uproar over the devaluation of their precious status symbol. The attitudes- even the demand for compensation- and the accusations that SOE somehow was obligated to provide compensation- struck me as amazing.

So, when "rare" items develop such value, should a developer be mindful of the world's valuation and keep items rare? Is it more important to keep a persistent world view to lend to the sense of stability in the virtual world, or is it better to shuffle up things, keeping the haves and the "wanna haves" constantly hunting for things of value?


i read this and am reminded of the differences between western and eastern MMORPG players: individualism vs. collectivism. a westerner wishes to distinguish her character by looking different. an easterner wishes to distinguish himself by looking the same. generalizations, but true: compare SWG's wide open character creation/paper doll system vs. FFXI's, which is probably the most limited/restricted in the current market except the original Lineage.

how does one design a game like WoW, where solid revenue numbers come from both sides? can one play both sides and get away with it?

using WoW, as an example, i think they're successful for the western masses in providing a large selection of clothes for the casual, yet fashionable night elf. end game, however, it still goes back to cookie cutter images: the one set to rule them all, and in the dungeon bind them...

corollary, but the high end raid game in the u.s. i would say is very similar to the asian "communal" game -- teamspeak instead of PC bangs, but still, hive mind, one goal, toe the line, militaristic, specialized roles, sacrifices for the group, etc.

WoW has broken both occidental and oriental markets. bigger players with more experience have failed. only FFXI has succeeded, to a smaller extent. what did blizzard and square do differently...?


Have a brand that was already established in both markets?

FWIW, for its time, UO also had success in the Asian market (Japan primarily).

I've heard unsubstantiated rumors, though, that there were "many thousands" of UO players in China on gray shards years ago.

UO (and SWG to a lesser extent) both had a LOT of the "everyone in a guild dress alike" thing, using the same tools.


The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently... and Why, by Richard Nisbett (Amazon link)

I've recommended this book before. If you're interested in both theoretical and practical aspects of US/Asian (or West/East) divisions in thought, culture, and practice, I highly recommend it. It's not a "game development" book by any means, and at times you do have to step back and recognize that even it was written by an analytic (rather than synoptic) Western male, but even so this book can help Westerners and Asians understand the surprisingly deep differences in their basic patterns of thought.

I believe it is possible to design games that appeal to men and women, Westerners and Asians -- but the current lack of success in doing so from either side of the Pacific (StarCraft and World of Warcraft being two notable exceptions) should illustrate how deep the differencees in thought and concepts of what's fun truly are. Doing what we've done in the past isn't going to get us there.


nice post, Dan, good wrap of that discussion. My only correction would be to the broken link to my Theory of the Gaming Class article, which can be found here for anyone who's interested. ;]

Now to attend to my sunburn...


What happens when a game has a lot of customization options and goes both East and West? Do the Eastern markets reject it as too individualized or do they just create mostly matching characters once a norms is established, i.e. paper doll by practice, if not design?

Paging Jessica Mulligan . . .

I think WoW's success is *despite* the lack of customization, not because of it. I base this sweeping generalization solely on my wife's reaction to the character creation screen.

Oh, and on my normal curve hypothesis above, I'm going to add to it further by saying that if customization comes in, the curve gets pressed down flatter (kurtosis for stats geeks), but stays normal.


Raph: well that's the thing, i think the Star Wars franchise is a much larger franchise in Asia than the Warcraft or Final Fantasy... in the states and in europe, think SWG brought a lot of new blood into the MMO market. you know the numbers better, but i think it didn't make as big a footprint in Asia...

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