[MUD-Dev] Advancement considered harmful (long)

Zak Jarvis zak at voidmonster.com
Sat May 27 22:56:39 CEST 2000

> From: Brian Green [brian at psychochild.org]
> Sent: Saturday, May 27, 2000 6:39 PM

> I've been doing some heavy-duty thinking lately.  Luckily for the list,
> I'm "between game jobs" currently, so I'm not bound by a draconian game
> company NDA; I am free to share my ponderings with others in a forum
> such as this.  I've been reading the boards over at xrgaming.net, so

Ah, so we're LUCKY to get this eh? Weell... Be that way!

Seriously though, it's a subject I've considered long and hard. I'm only
going to comment on the parts that really caught my eye. It's always good
though to see someone else who rambles at length in the same way I do. :)

Comments and thoughts follow:

> <snippage>

> I can imagine that there will be a cry from all the people that like to
> play "solo".  This is probably going to be a fairly unpopular opinion,
> but I'm actually coming to the point where I think it's a waste of our
> time to try to accommodate such players.  Again, what's the point of a
> playing a "massively multiplayer" game if you don't want to interact
> with the masses of other players out there?  There are plenty of single

Often, societies can be more clearly seen by their outcasts. If there is no
place for the outcasts in a multiplayer game, they leave and take an
important social function with them. This is the same reason why I believe
in a soundly developed framework for underworld and criminal activity in
the game, and a structure which limits it to the people who are serious
about it.

Plus, soloing can just plain be fun. The trick here isn't to design systems
that only work in groups, but design systems which are enhanced by groups
and *sometimes* limited. It's also important to have activities which are
purely solo activities.

There are few things I dislike more in a multiplayer game than being told
to Make Friends, or Else. It was one of the things that quickly turned me
off of EQ. Well, that in conjunction with the extreme stratification
between levels.

> <snip>

> Now, imagine that this is applied to other areas, like a party system
> that shares experience (xp).  I don't get xp from doing things myself
> (which in most games my companions get a portion of), but rather, I get
> xp for what they do.  If I were a fighter, I wouldn't get xp for killing
> stuff, but I might get xp from the Cleric who heals me, or from the Mage
> able to cast attack spells because I'm protecting him, etc.  Likewise,
> these other characters would gain xp when I am able to kill monsters; of
> course, their contributions of healing and attack spells helped me kill
> the beast that earned the xp.

I think you will find that the psychological benefit of this kind of
sharing is more than outweighed by the players sense of having been cheated
out of his or her own accomplishments. Plus, if the fighters are
super-efficient, they get no experience because the cleric isn't healing

> I'm sure people will call foul, saying that this system is exploitable;
> I ask them to consider two things.  If we are going to remove the
> disparity of power between extreme levels, then advancing levels is a
> more harmless activity.  Exploiting this system merely to gain levels
> doesn't affect the game as a whole.  Plus, consider that this system is
> essentially the same as what we currently employ in most of our games,
> only that xp gained benefits others rather than ourselves; the benefit
> is, of course, that we have encouraged cooperation.

The problem with this theory is that it's based on the assumption that
players born and raised in North America will be interested in that sort of

In my opinion, you *can* encourage cooperation in multiplayer games, but it
needs to be done under the guise of teamwork and not self-sacrifice. What
you've described is very effectively the latter, even though I don't think
that was your intent.

Here's an alternate way of achieving what you're talking about, without the
baggage of personal loss:

Let's say it's a typical fantasy game.

There are plenty of orcs to fight, and most fighters can deal with them on
their own (see my previous comment about soloing). However, there are also
chimeras which wander the deep forests, and the chimera is invulnerable to
physical attacks *and* to magic. However, the mages can cast spells onto
them which let the warriors hit them with ease.

>From there, you make different grades of creatures which require different
levels of cooperation (AC actually does a pretty good job of this). Some
creatures absolutely require teamwork, others can be done solo but are more
efficiently dealt with through teams. Some can only be defeated with magic,
others only with weapons.

> Use the Asheron's Call allegiance system as a model.  A player can
> gather subordinates, which provide "xp" for the patron through their
> actions.  Now, for a few variations.  The "higher" a player is in the
> hierarchy, the higher his maximum "level".  So, a grunt would max out
> after gaining level 2, his superior would max out at level 3, HIS
> superior could reach level 4, etc.  Also, apply the "party xp" idea
> outlined above for all the subordinates that work together under a
> single patron.  So, a group of grunts working together would gain xp
> from each other's actions.  Helping the group means advancing yourself.
> If the leaders of two groups of grunts work together, they can gain xp
> from each other's actions, IE, leading their groups.

So no matter how much work I put in, and how much glory I bring to my
group, I'm stuck at level 2 forever because I don't want the responsibility
of underlings? How do I ever get a sense of advancement?

Let's say I get that sense of advancement through items.

Does this mean that use of items is in no way restricted by ability?

AC's system works *because* rank and level are decoupled.

> So, how do you keep people from getting bored in such a system?
> Obviously, players are going to learn quickly that higher level does not
> directly make you a more powerful person.  This is where Raph Koster's
> concept of "elder games" steps in.  In the ideal design, by the time the
> player gets tired of trying to advance himself within the hierarchy, she
> will be more interested in social games than advancement games....
> Politcal maneuvering to benefit an ally or harm an enemy might be more
> important than organizing the underlings to raise xp.
> <snip>

I think the most important aspect here is the assumption that it's bad for
players to burn out on your game.

I would argue that is not the case at all.

My feeling is that player burnout is completely inevitable. It's a
fundamental aspect of online games. Players continually discover that the
experience of playing never lives up to the expectation that *this* game,
really and truly will be a satisfying alternate world. Unfortunately, no
matter how well realized, *no* world can remain satisfying forever.

What I personally hope to do is manage the players expectations, and let
them burn out with grace when the time comes.

In my experience with online games, the proportion of players who can be
satisfied in a single game -- well, forever -- is roughly the same
proportion of people who can sustain lifelong monogamous relationships.
Pretty small. It simply is not our nature to be satisfied thusly. For that
to work, we'd need to have personalities which didn't evolve. I'd find that
pretty boring.

Now that I've at least attempted to shoot all kinds of holes in your
proposal; I think it's a very worthy goal. It's one of the reasons why Dark
Zion really catches my fancy.

-Zak Jarvis

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