Lum the Mad

This is the first in a five part discussion on current problems and proposed solutions in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMRPGs).

Let's begin our discussion with a few archetypes of online game players. You may fit in more than one; hell, I suspect I fit in all of them.

The Combatant: This player sees his preferred game (almost always, UO) as a test of skill. He is, almost without exception, interested only in the PvP aspect of the game; the AI of the monsters in UO are a joke and he sees nothing "fun" about standing on a cliff and EV'ing demons all night. (He tried EQ, but returned it three days later.) He doesn't consider himself a PK, although there may be times when he has killed players in dungeons who thought he was. He's a hunter; and the best hunters always seek the most dangerous prey.

What does the Combatant think is good about the game(s) he plays?

UO: The Combatant is almost always in a guild of other players, people he considers friends and spends a good deal of time with, inside and outside the game (IRC, ICQ, face-to-face get-togethers, etc.). By co-operating with his guild mates, and acting as a coordinated team in battle, in a persistent, constant test of skill against hundreds of other like-minded individuals, he feels that UO offers a playing experience unlike any other on the market today. The recent Siege Perilous shard (a special shard designed for veteran players with especially difficult combat and economy aspects), the Combatant feels, was tailor-made to what he looks for in an online game, and despite the subsequent problems it is almost always the shard he plays on exclusively, to the point of giving up well-established characters on other shards.

EQ: The Combatant found very little to like about EQ. It wasn't his game.

What concerns the Combatant about the game(s) he plays?

UO: The main concern of the Combatant right now is probably the reputation system, which he feels unfairly victimizes those who engage in PvP. While the guild and chaos/order systems attempt to repair the damage the rep system inflicts, the guild combat interface is byzantine to the point of ridiculousness, and chaos/order battles almost always devolve into who has the most allied "uninvolved" healers. Many combatants exploit the rep system to report murders whenever possible, so as to deny their opponents time in game. With the new strictures against macroing, the Combatant is concerned that he is being shunted towards the Red PK/stat loss door against his will.

EQ: The Combatant was unhappy with EQ. The PvP system was generally poorly thought out, and the level limits on who could attack who encouraged newbie killing while limiting true guild to guild combat. Due to EQ's harsh restrictions on co-existing 3rd party programs such as IRC and ICQ, the Combatant finds EQ's guild structures to be sorely lacking.  What information has been released about Tallon Zek (the new "Race War" PvP server) does little to convince him that EQ has a place for him.

The Lewter: This player wants to win. The score is kept in many ways: number of houses/castles, the best equipment possible, cash on hand, reagents, whatever. She seeks to gain "lewt" with a minimum of effort and fuss. Since players always carry more "lewt" then monsters, players are thus her target.

What does the Lewter think is good about the game(s) she plays?

UO/EQ: The Lewter doesn't think about the game that much. "It's Just A Game" The Lewter may well be in a guild, but her ties to the guild usually aren't as strong as other player types.

What concerns the Lewter about the game(s) she plays?

UO: The Lewter is quite unhappy with the rep system, since the penalties for killing another player are now greater then the benefit of the lewt that he carries. The Lewter feels that he is unfairly targeted by OSI; when the Lewter was a thief, thieving was nerfed; then the ping-pong murder counts made Blue PKing impossible. The Lewter talks quite often about quitting UO. The Lewter was distinctly unimpressed by Siege Perilous' release, since there is no way to rapidly build a character to mastery.

EQ: The Lewter is generally happy with EQ, although the recent Lore Item patch put something of a dent in her spawn camping. Although the design of EQ means that she is hunting monsters now exclusively instead of players, this hasn't even registered with her - to her, that is just where the most lewt happens to be.

The Roleplayer: This player sees the game that he plays as a role-playing game. He is almost always in character and can be at times indistinguishable from an NPC.

What does the Roleplayer think is good about the game(s) he plays?

UO: The Roleplayer is almost always a fan of the Ultima game series and enjoys the immersive factor of a persistent Britannia. He is also a veteran of paper-and-pencil role-playing games and seeks to transfer that experience to this new and experimental milieu, which almost always involves participating in/running quests. The Roleplayer often seeks to become a member of the UO support team so that he can facilitate these quests ("become the dungeon master").

EQ: The Roleplayer on EQ is almost always a disaffected UO Roleplayer. He moved to EQ because of the PK switch which prevented random victimization.

What concerns the Roleplayer about the game(s) he plays?

UO: The Roleplayer is angered by those who seek to interfere with his game, be it by attacking them when they have no desire to engage in PvP or by simply standing around during quests making smart-alecky OOC comments. The Roleplayer feels that OSI spends entirely too much time catering to PvP players (spending development efforts on combat systems, etc.) and not nearly enough time developing the underlying plot structures behind the game and the mechanisms for carrying these out.

EQ: The Roleplayer is concerned about the lack of drama and persistence within the EQ world. Although Norrath has a rich background story, this is almost completely ignored by everyone else within the game, a fact which vexes the Roleplayer to no end (some have resorted to hectoring other players unmercifully in /shout channels to "keep it in /ooc"). The Roleplayer is almost always interacting more with the game system itself (especially as manifested in the Quest system) then with other players.

The PK: This player sees the game as an arena that she can dominate. She is strong, others are weak, and she has no problem with showing the results of this equation in action.

What does the PK think is good about the game(s) she plays?

UO: The PK is without fail in a guild of other players (solo PKs tend to die quickly). The "brotherhood" of this guild relationship is similar to that of the Combatant, albeit not as well organized usually, since PKs tend to target those who don't fight back. Many PKs (although by no means all) take a perverse enjoyment from causing pain and suffering to other players. The PK is attracted to Siege Perilous because of the lack of stat loss, although the hunting grounds aren't as rich since most on Siege Perilous are experienced Combatants.

EQ: The PK generally isn't that fond of EQ, since the PvP switch protects most of those who are weaker than she. The pvp only servers (Rallos Zek and Tallon Zek) are somewhat better, although the weak pvp system within EQ serves as a deterrent here as well.

What concerns the PK about the game(s) she plays?

UO: Two words: rep system. The PK also feels that the Roleplayers in UO are unfairly the "favorites" of the GMs and OSI. Because of this, many PKers target Roleplayers whenever possible (it helps that many Roleplayers have little or no PvP fighting skills) and the hatred Roleplayers feel towards those that PvP is increased. Because of recent punitive measures towards PKs (including the mass banning of a particularly antisocial PK guild) many PKers are discussing leaving UO en masse or already have.

EQ: The PK dislikes most of EQ's pvp systems, especially level limits. The looser level limits on Tallon Zek may be of help to her here. Overall, however, most PKers who have left UO for EQ have eventually returned to UO.

The Hunter: This player enjoys fighting monsters ("PvM"), usually as part of a group. 

What does the Hunter think is good about the game(s) he plays?

UO: The Hunter enjoys the cooperation involved in building characters and taking on the strongest monsters. The introduction of T2A probably saved thousands of Hunters from leaving UO out of boredom, as most Hunters now band together to take on the strongest creatures there (Terathan Keep, Ice Dungeon, etc.) Many Hunters are in guilds although quite a few Hunters operate solo.

EQ: The Hunter thoroughly enjoys EQ. Everquest has a PK-switch in place that prevents Hunter victimization and Everquest in general is optimized for the Hunter style of play. By now he has a group of friends of approximately his level with whom he hunts on a regular basis.

What concerns the Hunter about the game(s) he plays?

UO: The Hunter dislikes being attacked by PKs/Combatants while hunting; his skills are usually not as finely tuned as the other two groups and thus takes a beating at their hands, losing the valuable equipment he was using in the process. (Lewters especially love to take down a group of Hunters for this reason.) Many Hunters have left UO for Everquest.

EQ: The Hunter is in general happy with EQ, although the overcrowding at popular spawn points ("camping") is an irritating problem. The Hunter generally is familiar enough with the game to avoid the worst campgrounds, however.

The Merchant: This player is a vital part of the economic system of her preferred game (almost always UO), be it via operating vendors, working trade skills, or (often) both.

What does the Merchant think is good about the game(s) she plays?

UO: UO is without a doubt the only game in town for the Merchant. No other online system offers such a comprehensive system of player-driven economic supply and demand. The Merchant may have tried Everquest briefly, attracted by the presence of a PK-switch, but quickly returned to UO as Everquest's trade skills are in an extremely primitive state.

EQ: There is almost nothing to attract the Merchant to EQ beyond the existance of a PK switch which prevents her victimization.

What concerns the Merchant about the game(s) she plays?

UO: The Merchant wishes PKs/Lewters would just LEAVE HIM ALONE while she mines/lumberjacks/whatever. She is tired of being virtual cattle. If Everquest ever improves its economic/trade skill system there is a very real possibility the Merchants will abandon UO en masse...

EQ: ...however, there is very little chance of this ever happening. The Verant dev team is openly hostile to Merchants. Profitable trade skills are viewed as "loopholes" which are quickly closed. There is currently no trade skill which does not heavily penalize the Merchant financially, and there is no logical reason save roleplaying for any character to use any of them. Interestingly, the Merchant is the only archetype actually warned away in the game's advertising -- early print ads for Everquest began with "If you want to bake bread, play Ultima Online...", with the unspoken assumption that few would want to do so.

The Socialite: This player plays to meet new people, make friends, and interact with them online.

What does the Socialite think is good about the game(s) he plays?

UO/EQ: Socialites are often Roleplayers as well, or associate with them often. The Socialite enjoys meeting people in the popular in-game social haunts (player taverns, etc.). Often the Socialite takes online friendship offline, and  there have been many real-life weddings facilitated by UO

What concerns the Socialite about the game(s) he plays?

UO/EQ: Not much (if he is PKed, he can still talk as a ghost), although he finds most of the other archetypes somewhat rude.

So we have seven completely different player groups, all of whom have completely different reasons for playing, who are often at cross purposes with each other. No wonder we can't stand each other in game!

So the question would be - how do we keep EVERYONE happy and peaceful. I think to look at the answer to this, we need to look at the real world, since online games often act as a mirror - a broken mirror, but a mirror - to our own world. Here's a long thought piece from a friend with some experience in the matter on crime and socialization --

Here are my opinions on some of the issues you have just brought up.

1) Online 'relationships': These can remain in game (in character) or they can extend beyond that realm into reality. I know people who have met online and are happily married. I also know some terrible stories of online relationships. My belief is that it is much easier to have the ability to turn off and on a 'relationship' when it is over a computer. It is a lot less complicated to carry on these types of relationships and often (despite how individuals feel) there is a lot that you cannot get to know about the person on the other side (idiosyncrasies). I have several close online friends who I know a lot about. Even so, online forums really only allow for a limited degree of communication (For instance there is no 'online' body language). In many cases these people enjoy the anonymity and convenience of being online.

As one last comment in this regards: it is much easier to do little nice things for people online then in real life (take sending a card for example). A lot of little differences add up quickly :-)

2) Socialization Online: It is easier to come to know others (and even grow 'close') because of several social differences between the environments. These differences are:

    a) Common interests: (we are all on computers :-P) IRL: you may not find a common grounds as easily and thus it is harder to meet people.

    b) Anonymity: I can log on under a different name and behave totally differently. My actions as 'another person' would not really reflect on me due to the anonymity of being online. I can pretend to be anyone. In fact I could be a female and nobody really knows it (except for my ToM friends who have met me in real life). For instance my girlfriend prefers to play male characters because she finds it is easier to be treated normally online.

    c) People are bolder: they are willing to often break the 'shell' of uncomfortability that sometimes with holds them in real life. This in many respects relates to the above point.

    d) Smaller communities: Many of us are used to existing in very large communities (cities and the like) where you can go down town and not see anyone you know. An online community is not like that in some respects. They are most often a lot smaller. Take a shard like Great Lakes, there must be 30,000 different people (not characters) that play on Great Lakes. Everyone knows someone that knows you *grin*. I cannot go anywhere on Great Lakes without running into someone I know. Now these smaller communities allow for greater socialization. For instance crime rates in smaller communities are significantly reduced per capita to larger metropolitan areas..

So my final comment in reply to your statements is an explanation of 'crime' and why it is so much higher per capita in an online forum then in real life. It really has very little to do with consequences or punishment and crime. Detailed studies show that 10% of people are true 'honest' people who would never (ever) commit a crime even if they could get away with it. 10% of people are true criminals, they will commit an offence in hopes of getting away with it because that is their mentality. 80% of people are opportunists: where they normally would not commit a crime unless an opportunity presented itself where they strongly felt they could get away with it. Many people are good people in nature and not criminals by any means. Yet they still fit into this 80% opportunist category. It is a difficult thing to admit, but let me give you an example here quickly:

Someone receives a dozen boxes of cookies for their company. On the sheet it says "12 boxes of cookies" but when they make a physical count there are 14 boxes of cookies. Its not a big deal, the cookie company over shipped the boxes of cookies. 2 boxes of 'missing' cookies are not worth tracking down in the system and it isn't your companies fault that your supplier over shipped you. You open up one (or 2) of the boxes and share a few cookies with your friends.

It is almost as if it is a socially acceptable crime. Another example would be speeding. People will speed if they think they can get away with it. If they believe they will be caught they will not speed.

Now I have said all this to point out that in games like UO the opportunity exists. In fact it exists so often that it has almost become the social norm (this is where things become interesting, more on this in a bit). So in reality, due to the nature of an online forum 90% of the people you come across will have a certain degree of 'criminality' to them. If someone found the front door to my house (in UO) unlocked, I bet you 9 out of 10 people would loot the house. They don't know me, its my fault I left the door unlocked etc etc. So while there are many advantages to an online forum, people seem (and often are) more shallow towards each other. The mentality is dog eat dog and the environment will always be like this as long as the 'opportunity' exists.

Sorry if my rant went on for too long. 3 1/2 years of criminology waiting to escape here. If I could offer 1 piece of advice to a company that is considering creating an online environment. I would suggest that they hire a criminologist to review this very situation and come up with some solutions that address these issues:
- Anonymity
- Opportunity
- Community
- Online Penalty

No truly successful society will ever exist (online or not) until someone can address these issues and offer solutions in regards to them. I suspect we could come up with a reasonable set of ideals and solutions for the above listed issue's if that was something that we as a group were interested in chasing (be forewarned this is a HUGE task).

As Raph Koster said in reply to my essay on Anonymity and crime (back about this time last year) "I agree with you, its a tough nut to crack"


And, from the other side, here's another example, posted without judgement;


Lately there was a Quest involving a GM played character who was killed by some kind of evil force and taken over in a new form. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, I was going to the YMCA of Sonoma to pick a fight with a few of the local goers... {Hey I pk and I admit it, get over it} When I got there I saw a few guys entering a gate I followed.. well I was greeted by this ugly bastard {GM} who was playing this Dark One character... well his roleplaying fanatics attacked me. 12 or so of them jumping me constantly. Regardless of odds against me, I was having a ball. These idiots were going gray attacking me, so he easy kills. They were all Mace fighters, and I being a GM Fencer/Tactics/Master Hiding, made quick work of these idiots... well after these pinheads all died.. I proceeded to kill the GM played character, who is invincible. {lol yeah right} After I waxed him I proceeded to collect my loot from the corpses. Well some of the more idiotic roleplayers got mad saying I looted then, when a lovely thief managed to beat me to the punch. I was then placed as a outcast to all of the RolePlayers of UO and pretty much everyone on Sonoma. Yeah you know who I am now don't you? Darklight of the MBR guild. So I go to the YMCA to explain what happened and these jerks kept attacking me, and if you know the YMCA pretty well, you know guards aren't far away. They just kept comming and so did the guards {and the loot}  Then these quote unquote fanatics called me immature, and a grief player, as well as spineless, because I refused to leave guards when they all challenged me to a 1 on 1 fight.. and I mean all of them. Every single guy there.  now momma didn't raise no fool, there was no way in hell I was going to leave guards.  Well after several deaths and the  death of my horse.. I eventually was killed.. awww pity me. But out of it I got a ton of resist and parry from these idiots.  After a while the Owner of the YMCA comes out to talk to me.. I explain my story to them that I was a guy who fell into a quest with a ton of idiots. {I didn't put it so bluntly though} She apologized as did I. And we all kissed and made up.  But still I am being hounded by these morons who actually think they can beat me with their expert mages and master swordsman.. *Sigh* Some people will never ever ever learn.

- Darklight

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to integrate this player into any system that you come up with.

Part Two: 911's A Joke In Your Server

Return, you, to the Rantings of Lum the Mad you will

All original copyright © 1999 Lum the Mad, LLC. Investors are invited to watch for our IPO. Trademarked content on this site owned by its original trademark owners. Stuff I made up still is mine. What's yours is mine. What's mine is mine. In 1999. Hunh. WAR! What is it good for? Absolutely NUTHIN. (Say it again!)