[MUD-Dev] Thought Experiment: Permanent Monster Death

John Buehler johnbue at msn.com
Thu Jan 8 10:01:09 CET 2004

Jeremy Neal Kelly writes:
> From: games at anthemion.org

> I almost agree with your conclusion, but I think your reasoning is
> a bit off.  Specifically, it is not just a question of cost, since
> consumers will obviously pay more if they perceive an increase in
> value. The problem with GM involvement is one of efficiency.

> You suggested that 50 GMs would be needed, and that their skills
> would be relatively expensive; let's assume that salary, payroll
> taxes, and miscellaneous costs would amount to $100,000 per year
> per GM. That's $5,000,000 per annum.  Let's assume also that your
> game has 'only' 100,000 players. The per player cost for GM
> content would thus come to $4.17 a month. This sounds (relative to
> a $10 or $15 subscription fee) like a lot of money, but is it? As
> I've argued elsewhere
> (http://www.anthemion.org/PlayTimeExcerpt.doc), the real cost of
> MMORPG play is not the subscription fee, but the opportunity cost
> of the player's time. What is four dollars compared with 80 hours
> of play time? So I think the cost of your 50 GMs would be fairly
> trivial. But what would players actually get for their four
> dollars?

> What we normally think of as content (i.e., aesthetic, play, and
> technical content) is non-rivalrous; a single unit can be shared
> by many players without lessening its utility to any of
> them. Thus, a unit of content investment by the developer results
> in a unit of content enjoyment for many thousands of players.
> This is a phenomenally efficient use of developer resources (and
> indirectly, player fees). While GM participation can also be
> considered a form of game content, it is rivalrous content, or "
> at best " imperfectly non-rivalrous content. Consider: how many
> players can meaningfully interact with a GM at the same time? Ten?
> One hundred? This is the real problem with GM content. Though such
> interaction is doubtless more compelling than static content, it
> cannot be reproduced arbitrarily. If a dollar of GM content can be
> experienced by as many as one hundred players, and a dollar of
> static content by as few as ten thousand, then GM content must be
> one hundred times more compelling to be cost-effective.

A possible solution to this is to move GMs to a level where they can
rely on NPC AI for the nitty-gritty actions, freeing the GMs to
operate larger numbers of NPCs.  By doing this, larger numbers of
players are impacted by what one GM does.

This doesn't permit things like players 'talking' to one NPC.  But
as you've pointed out, that's just not economically viable for
reasons of scale.  A GMs greatest entertainment value comes in
initiating new behavior from large numbers of NPCs.

This can include the operation of a town.  Imagine a GM breaking out
the Caesar III town-management interface and directing movement of
goods from one warehouse to another.  That will mobilize some number
of NPCs to new activities.  Perhaps the GM declares a festival for
the town.  Again, the NPCs know what to do.  The better the AI for
the NPCs, the more leverage the GMs have for entertaining the

This can also include larger PvE encounters.  If 30 players are
challenging a large group of NPCs, a GM can certainly step in and
give the NPCs a hand in entertaining those players.  And there's
nothing saying that the GM needs to be devoting his or her full
attention to those players.  The goal is to mix things up for the
players.  Move squads of NPCs here or there.  Try to flank the
players, etc.  It's a GM breaking out the Command and Conquer combat
interface and directing his forces against the enemy - run by a
bunch of players, not the computer.  It's RTS versus RPG.

> Ultimately, this is simply another comparison between
> pen-and-paper RPG and MMORPG, though this one suggests that the
> relative popularity of MMORPG can be explained not by form, but by
> simple economics.

If RPG game companies put more effort into the NPC behaviors, I
think that GMs would begin to find that they could have a grand time
entertaining the players.  It's just a matter of time.

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