[MUD-Dev] D&D vs. MMORPG "complexity"

Dave Rickey mahrinskel at brokentoys.org
Mon May 19 21:19:40 CEST 2003

From: "Jeff Cole" <jeff.cole at mindspring.com>
> From: Dave Rickey
>> From: Jeff Cole
>>> From: Dave Rickey

>> Boundary conditions may be only unimportant "extremes" irrelevant
>> to general principles for an academic.  But when you're building
>> systems from scratch that actually have to work, rather than
>> observing systems that already exist and will continue to
>> regardless of your conclusions, it is even more important to
>> account for the extremes than to explain the general case.

> I don't disagree that a design need consider the boundary
> conditions--both theoretical and practical.  However, you were
> offering examples at the extreme in support of what I inferred to
> be your assertion of very general principles.

I am having trouble following your reasoning here.  We're still
having a conceptual break over the "irrational" economic behaviour
of players, I'm claiming that the irrationality that economists
dismiss as "extreme" and discard from their theories, is actually
inherent to the system and will break systems that are not built to
account for them, and pointing to Camelot as an example of a system
that did *not* break.  Economists have been able to dismiss it
because the real economy does not have to run according to their
theories, and factors outside of the scope of their theories
counteract it sufficiently to make their theories close enough for
the purposes of choosing what to observe and making general
short-term predictions.  However, when you're building a system from
scratch, there *are* no factors outside of the scope of the system,
and if your theory doesn't account for the extreme cases, it's not
going to work for your general case very long, either.

You seem to be defending the traditional view of irrationality being
only the result of inadequate information, so any irrationality in
Camelot *must* be the result of inadequate information, and
therefore "built in" (since we controlled most of the information
availability).  This is an easy position to defend and a difficult
one to falsify, since information for all economic actors at all
times can never be truly complete in practice.  Am I correct (both
in my assessment of your argument, and of the essential core
strength of it)?

My response is that the very act of assuming only "rational"
participants in economic activities is an extreme case, since many
very visible economic transactions in both virtual and real systems
show irrationality, and in fact people are clearly not rational in
many of their decisions (economic or not).  The assumption has been
useful in allowing the theories to be reduced to manageable
equations, but it should not be surprising if it turns out to be a
source of systematic error.

If, in fact, there is such a systematic error, the MMOG's would seem
to be a good environment for finding it.  The number of participants
is limited, the interaction with outside influences is comparatively
minor, the ability to manipulate the core scarcities and inherent
demands effectively limitless, and the information available to an
observer far closer to complete, than in any real system.  So, are
we arguing over the specifics errors of the theories on which
Camelot's economy was built, or the general question of whether game
economies can offer economic insights not accessible to economists
that restrict themselves to the real world?

The existence of the first I am quite willing to grant, there were
and are many shortcomings in the Camelot economy (although I still
do not believe "forcing" irrationality was or could be one of them).
The second, at a minimum, is not yet resolved.

>> That was then, this is now: Even with complete information,
>> players still make irrational decisions.

> Perhaps here's the rub: a designer cannot force players to make
> rational market decisions, but a designer can force players to
> make irrational market decisions (by preventing them from making
> rational market choices).  That is a bit over-simplified, though,
> and I hesitate to state it--because the sets of players in the two
> instances are not identical.

> While a designer can't force player to make rationally their
> market decisions, a designer can and does profoundly affect such
> player's ability to make the rational market decision.  The design
> challenge is to maximize players' ability to make rationally their
> market decisions.

> Player's still don't have anywhere near complete information in
> Camelot.  Information-hiding with respect to the goods was just
> one example.  Efficient information propagation applies to all
> aspects of the economy as well as the game.  Camelot is still much
> closer to incomplete than complete on the spectrum.

I would argue that their information *is* much closer to complete
than is normally available to economic actors.  After all, the
equations behind the system would fit on a single sheet of paper,
with room left over.  Last I checked, what little had not been made
available to them, they had deduced from what was (in fact, some of
it did not match the equations on that hypothetical sheet of paper,
in nearly all cases the players were right and the system as
implemented did not match the system as concieved).

>> Such as what?  For example, right now in Camelot, player-crafted
>> dominates for those pieces that *can* be crafted, but that's only
>> 8 out of 14 slots, the other 6 slots must be filled with
>> dropped/quested pieces (and the 8 crafted pieces spell-crafted to
>> match up with them).  Isn't this "complementary"?

> Perhaps it's "complementary" in some sense, but not as I mean it.
> To cop from a commercial (BASF, I think?), crafters' motto should
> be: "We don't make the loot, we make the loot better."  That
> captures the spirit in which I mean "complement."

> Your argument is that because crafting competes with (and almost
> completely destroys demand for) drops for *only* 8 of 14 slots,
> it's "complementary."

> As for "fundamental change in the approach to economic
> game-space," I would expand the statement by deleting "economic"
> so that it is clear that economy should be a fundamental concern
> with respect to the entire game design.  At least insofar as the
> general game-space has a profound effect on the demand for items.

> Consider the faux-diversity of Camelot's character stats/skills
> (both inter- and intra-realm).  The benefits (if any) are
> ephemeral.  The costs are great.  It decreases potential demand
> for drops.  As a result, Mythic's item-guy(gal) is *way*
> overworked (the random item generator helps a bit)--and (s)he
> can't really compete with spellcrafting because (s)he must
> "balance" potential utility among multiple classes.  Such design
> also severely restricts "fun" on the cooperative servers.

I'll grant this, resolving the problem of drops and crafted having
to compete on the same scale was never really resolved.  It's my
belief that as long as they *are* competing on the same scale, the
problem is unsolvable, one or the other will always dominate.


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