"Worst. Presentation. Ever."

Richard Bartle recently posted the presentation slides from his IMGDC keynote.

Note: bad presenters slam their entire presentation script into each Powerpoint slide, then read droningly from each slide, word for word, as if their audience were a crowd of illiterates waiting for the shaman to explain the pretty picture pages. Bartle is not a bad presenter. Thus the slides are more a hintbook into the presentation (and somewhat amusing that way) than an actual talk transcript. Still, it’s fairly good, and he makes some good points.

  • Cloning WoW is expensive, you will probably fail, and the result isn’t very good from a design standpoint anyway
  • There’s a vast difference between user-created content (such as City of Heroes’ architect system) and user-generated ‘content’ (such as the Eve Great War) – the latter is compelling and why people come back to MMOs
  • Elder games to date kind of suck thanks to the adherence to theme park-style game design as opposed to free-from social world design
  • This happened historically in the MUD development era, which no one knows about because for decades designers have ignored everything that happened in game development before the debut of their favorite MMO (note: Bartle was probably far too polite to actually say this)
  • The fairly obvious solution (which of course, no one has actually attempted) is a hybrid/balanced game akin to early MUDs where users begin on a theme park and graduate to an Eve-style freeform/social/user generated game
  • Alan Moore’s “Lost Girls” is pretty raunchy.

All seems very obvious (note: the best presentations point out obvious truths that everyone seems hellbent on ignoring for some reason in an amusing fashion). F13 didn’t get it.

Nothing in that presentation that hasn’t been stated by any armchair developer with more than 6 months gaming experience under their belt.

Physician, heal thyself.

This seemed like a thinly veiled attempt to make EVE/Shadowbane (that’s right, I said it) look good. Oh, and an excuse to use a lot of abstract terms in different combinations.

I think i’ve suddenly realized the attraction of being an academic. You can write “from on high” about the problems inherent in a topic without feeling obligated to present detailed solutions.

He’s spent thirty plus years saying the same crap and never putting his hat in the ring even though he could go to any publisher with a proposal, assemble a team and get funding. That’s the difference between us schlubs here and him: he could actually make the game he thinks is going to change the world and get all those subs but he refuses to do so.

Today class, we’re going to go to my ivory tower, built from MUD, and I’m going to show you my gold throne where I sit when I want to watch the peasants try to make something that I so obviously perfected 30 years ago. After that I’m going to snort blow off a co-eds thigh, give a speech somewhere I really shouldn’t be since my last real game came out before the NES was even an IDEA let alone a console that was ready for worldwide release that would change the world. Afterwhich I’m going to say a bunch of really profound, obvious shit and show you a square I came up with back when such a thing may have been relevant. After that? Yea, you guessed it. I’m going to ride naked on the back of my golden eagle that I have named Fame.

Wow. Whole lotta nerd raging going on. Almost as if someone threatened to take their candy!

So, to retort: almost everyone in that thread (including the moderator, and not including the post I’m about to cite below) is full of self-indulgent whiny bullshit. As someone who has built a career on self-indulgent whiny bullshit, I feel uniquely qualified to recognize this in the wild. Let me respond to the more obvious bullet points:

  • No, Bartle hasn’t worked on WoW. Amazingly, this does not disqualify you from commenting on MMO design (note: as far as I can guess, very few WoW game designers are posting in that thread. Ghostcrawler was probably busy.)
  • Yes, most of what he said was painfully obvious. Guess what: people are still funding WoW clones. Guess it wasn’t painfully obvious enough.
  • I find it deeply ironic that the sort of game Bartle advocated in the close of his presentation is actually fairly close to what the F13 hivemind would be quite excited over! (Hint: it was called Ultima Online)
  • No, Bartle can’t just walk into a game publisher, announce in a booming, stentorian voice “I WANT TO MAKE TEH GAME” and be given a $50 million budget. If you seriously believe that is how game development works, you are actually the target audience for those “tighten up the graphics on level six” game school ads.
  • The slams on his credibility are especially amusing. You do realize he worked on the first MUD, right. You know. The first one. PATIENT ZERO. This does give you a bit of credibility. At least for those people who don’t believe game development history began with the launch date of their current favorite MMO. It doesn’t mean that he is a Design Moses that comes from the mountaintop and shoots lasers from his eyes at gilded cow idols, but it does tend to get him invited to give presentations and it does mean he has things to say during them. Funny, that.

That being said – there was one valid point missed in the clouds of eloquent butthurtery.

So his proposal is to begin with a hand-crafted, polished, broad, directed experience (WoW) and then segue into an open-ended deep sandbox with nebulous emergent content (EVE). This is justified by his belief that content creation is, well, hard, and he dismisses user-created content as a potential solution pretty much out of hand. Well, I disagree. I don’t believe that “emergent” gameplay compares favorably to hand-crafted polished content.

You hear about these really cool world-changing political shifts in EVE online, and they sound really awesome, but the vast overwhelming majority aren’t playing at that level– they’re mining, or killing pirates, or PvPing, or trading resources. And that level isn’t really about the game anyway, it was “played” on bulletin boards and IRC chat channels. The game was incidental, a justification.

I don’t play games to chat with old friends, or collect cute pets, or decorate my in-game house with crazy furniture or play wacky dress-up. I don’t want to be a miner, or a crafter, or a cog in a wheel of a giant corporation. I don’t want to have to “find the fun”. I pay the devs for that, it should be handed to me on a silver platter. I want to be the hero that saves the day, exploring dangerous new continents, every day overcoming new challenges, progressing through a well-written story. That’s what I pay for.

Now, that’s just me. Some people dig all that crap, and I have no religious objection to that. But it’s not my bag. I want to be the hero.

And that is a coherent summary of why World of Warcraft is a raging success years later, and why many developers who presumably know better are afraid to veer from that paradigm. Many – probably most, in fact – players *want* to be content consumers, not content generators. They want to log in, be entertained, and log out.

The problem here is that this means they aren’t the target market for a virtual world. They want a game. So: how do you craft a virtual world that *also* is enough of a game to keep that person and his millions of cohorts entertained?

*That* is what we should be discussing. Not the length of Bartle’s neckbeard. (Note: most of the neckbeards come from forum posters, not game designers. Really. I checked and everything.)

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99 Responses to "Worst. Presentation. Ever."

  1. Saben says:

    I will have to disagree with the last statement on what should be discussed. I don’t see the need to marry the game concept to the virtual world one. I would like to see someone take another shot at a more pure virtual world, and worry less about incorporate game elements in it. It seems the focus most of the time is primary on developing games and maybe add some virtual world elemtents, time permitting. Let the content devourers play something else, chanses are alot of the milions of cohorts are just playing while waiting for something better, and a virtual world might be it.

  2. tmp says:

    It’s interesting Bartle is so quick to write off user-created content basing it pretty much purely on Sturgeon’s Law, when the very same law applies to all; this including the content made by ‘traditional’ means.

    Lot of existing content is “inconsistent, derivative, unimaginative” shit. Being done by _DESIGNERS_ didn’t help it much.

  3. Viz says:

    Er, yes, yes it did. That may not be a function of the designer’s skills, but it is a function of the designer’s desire to not TOTALLY BREAK THE GAME.

  4. Arrakiv says:

    While, like Saben, I am interested in seeing some more pure virtual worlds out there, but when it comes down to it – more so on this particular topic – I have to agree with Scott. In fact, I pretty much agree with him on basically everything in this post, crazy as that is.

    Also just to pick out a quote:

    “The fairly obvious solution (which of course, no one has actually attempted) is a hybrid/balanced game akin to early MUDs where users begin on a theme park and graduate to an Eve-style freeform/social/user generated game”

    I would love to see something exactly like that. You enter into the game with the familiar theme-park style (and you can roll up new characters to experience it again – somewhat akin to what you’d do anyway in an MMO these days), but then you’re presented with the sandbox. Honestly, EVE itself would likely have benefited from something like this: you’d still have everything that EVE has to draw in its current crowd, but it’d be a heck of a lot less daunting for a lot of people. Plus, those who are less interested in the sandbox game could largely limit themselves to a theme-park experience (potentially). This would be more preferable if you could ‘escape’ the theme-park at any point.

  5. Realist says:

    Given that there are millions of users, even if only a small percentage are “content generators” the amount of potential content is huge. Natural selection will provide quality control. If they content they create is good, players will select it, and the person who created the content is rewarded with recognition for their contributions. Creating content can be fun if you enjoy that type of thing.

  6. tmp says:

    Viz :Er, yes, yes it did. That may not be a function of the designer’s skills, but it is a function of the designer’s desire to not TOTALLY BREAK THE GAME.

    Hence my “didn’t help it much” rather than “at all”. But if we’re now setting the bar merely at “should not break the game” then hey, i’m not sure whose side of the argument it supports.

  7. mystery says:

    Natural selection will provide quality control

    That really hasn’t been the case in the past. Look at the module list for Neverwinter Nights/NWN2, as a good example. 9/10ths of those are absolute, game-breaking crap, and not worth the download. Does that cause them to be de-listed? No, it’s still a whorehouse of bad content, just looking for a John. You could say this about any user-content driven niche of the internet, not just virtual worlds. Look at Youtube, for example. No, wait, save yourself the trouble and go on believing that the human race is worth saving.

  8. Matt Mihaly says:

    Mystery wrote:

    You could say this about any user-content driven niche of the internet, not just virtual worlds. Look at Youtube, for example.

    Yeah, look at Youtube. It’s entirely user created content and according to Alexa is the 3rd most trafficked site on the internet.

    Facebook (#5) is also completely user created content.
    As is Wikipedia (#7)
    And MySpace (#9)
    As is MySpace (#9)

    Clearly, user-created content is totally uninteresting to people.

    –matt

  9. chabuhi says:

    I agree that natural selection does not do a very good job of weeding out the garbage. On the other hand, I do think it is pretty easy to find ways to filter out the crap and find the cream of the crop.

  10. sidereal says:

    You know what I’m sick of hearing?

    Self-righteous ‘We solved this in MUD’.

    I played MUDs. I played MUSHes. I played f&%*ing MOOS. I know whereof I speak. The entire audience for MUD was a population of a few thousand self-selecting college student D&D players who had enough free time and body odor to play a shitty form of D&D purely in text over a 28k modem. The audience is absolutely and totally unlike the audience for modern high population MMOs. SOLVING GAMEPLAY PROBLEMS FOR THEM TAUGHT YOU NOTHING RELEVANT TO TODAY.

    NOTHING.

  11. mystery says:

    purely in text over a 28k modem

    Man, were you ever late to the game.

  12. DrewC says:

    Yes, this is what the industry should be talking about. Content generation costs are the number one problem that forward looking game designers should be thinking about.

    While natural selection will “find the fun” in the process it will expose a whole lot of dedicated content consumers to a whole lot of bad game play. Which is exactly what they don’t want. So you need three elements: your content creators, some kind of content filtering or testing, and then your content consumers.

    The problem is that people, on a whole, are terrible at rating things in the abstract. If you ask people to rate anything on a scale of 1 to 10, you get huge clusters near 1 and 10, and a giant desert in the middle. The solution is to get people to rate things comparatively: which is better X or Y.

    You can see this in practice with Pirates user content system. We allow players to submit flag and sail patterns that their ships can display in game. Users can log into a web page and rate these patterns, and based on those ratings we move the patterns through the approval process. Pre-launch and at launch we used an abstract “rate the pattern 1 to 5” process. The result was a cluster-fuck. Players traded ratings (vote for mine I’ll vote for yours), players voted based on what they thought of the person who submitted the pattern (that guy’s a douche on the forum, I’m rating his flag a 1), and even players not gaming the system tended to rate everything either a 1 or a 5.

    When we revised the system we turned it into a simple comparison. You’re presented with two images and you select the one you think is better. That’s it. The result was massively improved sorting. Quality images immediately bubble to the top (they’re better than 99.9% of everything else out there) and junk immediately sinks to the bottom.

    So how do you apply that to content? There isn’t an easy way to ask someone to quickly compare two pieces of content, especially when we’re talking about content that might take 30 or more minutes to consume.

    Even if you can solve that problem, you still have to go back to the original problem of setting up three distinct classes of player in your game: content creator, content tester, and content consumer. Plus all of the associated problems of putting content creation in the player’s hands. How do you balance population across all three? How do you encourage people to fill the needed class? How do you divide dev support across them? Do you monetize all three classes the same way? Who owns the IP of the content your content creators create? How do you filter it for obscenity/copy right?

    It’s a complex and interesting problem.

  13. TPRJones says:

    That really hasn’t been the case in the past. Look at the module list for Neverwinter Nights/NWN2, as a good example. 9/10ths of those are absolute, game-breaking crap

    True, but there are ways to fix that. Off the top of my head, make it so that prize awards are not coded by the player-builders, but are either chosen from pre-made sets or are generated dynamically based on the difficulty of the content. Once you level the rewards-system playing field, then that leaves content quality as the defining element for player-rating systems to manage the content.

  14. TPRJones says:

    SOLVING GAMEPLAY PROBLEMS FOR THEM TAUGHT YOU NOTHING RELEVANT TO TODAY.

    While I wouldn’t put it so strongly, I do admit there is some truth to this. If you were working on cell-phone design you wouldn’t turn to Alexander Graham Bell for advice.

    Has Bartle done any game design since the early 1980s?

  15. Realist says:

    Shouldn’t it be relatively simple to write a fitness algorithm that filters out most of the crap and leaves the content that’s worth trying? Genetic algorithms have been around for a long time. Why not apply something like that here? If we can design AI to interpret ancient hieroglyphics, surely we can design a system for automatically filtering user generated content.

  16. mandrill says:

    This is relevant to a recent post on my blog, but only in passing. I will link it here and allow you to judge for yourselves.

    You’re back from reading that? good… now

    Richard Bartle is just a man. A man we should be grateful to, yes, but still just a man who had an idea. The Nerds who are raging should get a little perspective and the Bartlites who are worshipping should get a life. Anyone can have an idea, and if they’re lucky, and talented, and determined, but more often than not all three are required. They can make that idea a reality. Bartle did this, and he now lives off the back of the fact that he did it in order to inspire others to do the same. Fair play to him I say. He also does it to promote discussion and debate, because these are the seeds that new ideas spring from, unless any real discussion is flooded by the QQ emo-tears of the weak, and burned by the flames of the unnecessarily angry. By all means argue about it but please be civilized about it.

    As to the whole “EVE itself would likely have benefited from something like this”. It now has it, in a package which is combined with the whole ‘user created content’ thing in the form of Epic Mission Arcs. There’s only one at the moment and it takes about a week to complete (for a new character, maybe a bit longer) and is a kind of bridge between the tutorials and the self directed gameplay that is empire mission running/mining/ratting. Even these three activities are only a step on the road towards low security PvP (either as a pirate or someone who fights pirates). Which again is only a step on the road to the grand strategy of the 0.0 wars and all the intrigue, politics and metagaming that they involve.

    With the addition of players being able to create their own Arcs (soon[tm]) I foresee that there will be a multitude of training programs, application processes and improved tutorial missions created by players, for other players to complete. EVE is like that. So the content creation will not be separate from the conten generation but becom a part of it and add to the depth and richness of the eve universe.

    EVE already has what Mr Bartle proposed, its just that its not obvious, and neither should it be. You should not notice the point at which the devs stop holding your hand and you begin to choose your own path and make your own way in the world. It should be a choice that you make naturally and almost unconsciously, if you ever make it at all. The option should always be there to remain holding hands with the devs and riding in their theme park if you want.

  17. sidereal says:

    @mystery

    purely in text over a 28k modem
    Man, were you ever late to the game.

    Actually I played hardwired to a VAX. The populations at that time were not in the thousands. But thanks for the peen-waving! Brings me back.

  18. geldonyetich says:

    The way I look at it is more of a question of finding a compelling purpose behind the game, but the way Bartle puts it is nicely framed in a more productive direction.

    Personally, my feebly empowered dabblings in BYOND have mostly been experimenting with this very desperado: dynamic, implicitly user-generated content, because it’s both something oldbies can appreciate more.

    One model I think is really interesting along these lines is what the roguelikes have been up to.

    How many times can you get the Amulet Of Yendor in Nethack befire you find the quest boring and derivative? Therein lay an answer of excellent content generation and player significance, if you can harness it right.

    Then we look at something like Dwarf Fortress which pretty much endeavors to create a massive world with a real history that players are empowered to build onto.

    Next generation MMORPGs, with real compelling purposes behind them, here we come.

    EVE Online still sucks eggs to play, however. Freedom-imbued outside layer, crappy barely interactive inside layer.

    (P.S. There’s a lot F13 doesn’t get.

    How to treat eccentricity that may well be emerging from underlying genius without demonizing and rejecting it like a paranoid medieval villager, for example. There’s an important difference between “usefully cynical commentary” and “this thing that does not conform to us – bring fire!” A difference that they’ve yet to grasp, partly out of addiction to the enjoyment the spectacle of burning strange things brings.

    You can call my history with them bias, I call it informed opinion. They stopped being a place developers should pay attention to ever since they decided the hate needed to be put on a pedestal.)

  19. Guy says:

    Was the reason MUDs had the transition from theme park to sandbox because the design/code/designers were more flexible and responsive to the needs of the few gamers that played them? After all, changing modern MMOs is a huge deal, a multi-million dollar affair that can still only manage incremental changes, not just because of restricted budget and not enough time to deal with the huge code-base, but also because managers and executives don’t want risks taken in a multi-million dollar venture. Whereas with a MUD, as the soon as a critical mass of players got bored, the designers could start adapting the game to interest them again.

  20. TPRJones says:

    Was the reason MUDs had the transition from theme park to sandbox because the design/code/designers were more flexible and responsive to the needs of the few gamers that played them?

    Sort of. It would be more accurate to say that as the players got bored with the game, they would start to join the developers and become one of them. Or go start their own MUD themselves.

  21. Blackblade says:

    TPRJones :
    SOLVING GAMEPLAY PROBLEMS FOR THEM TAUGHT YOU NOTHING RELEVANT TO TODAY.
    While I wouldn’t put it so strongly, I do admit there is some truth to this. If you were working on cell-phone design you wouldn’t turn to Alexander Graham Bell for advice.

    While I understand your point, I personally don’t view this as a good analogy for two reasons:

    1) As for the guy who works on cell phones, what precisely is he doing? Is he writing firmware for the machine? Did he develop the transmitters and receivers? (Sorry, I know nothing about how a cell phone works specifically, but hopefully you get the gist of it.) What role he plays in the creation of cell phones matters. The guy working on the cell phone might not have the faintest clue about how the fundamentals of a simple phone might work because technology and it’s advancement has allowed for him to be completely removed from that knowledge, hence, he might benefit from asking old Bell a question or two.

    2) In such a hypothetical scenario, who’s to say that Bell didn’t have other ideas, but not the technology to make them happen? How many fundamentally good ideas did Da Vinci have, but didn’t have the means to see them realized?

    Richard Bartle may be a man,who only did something important once way back when, and is resting on those laurels (If someone holds that viewpoint) but that fact alone doesn’t dilute his credentials. Great Thinkers aren’t always Great Do-ers: Application and Theory are worlds apart. Who knows? Maybe his ideas and theories are right on the mark (And I agree with a lot of them), but it’s how they are IMPLEMENTED that matters.

  22. Vetarnias says:

    Interesting discussion here, and I would like to know whether there is any significance to the font used by Dr. Bartle on his slides. Maybe he’s considering turning this into a webcomic or something.

    A few points:

    User-created content: I understand it’s quite fun for a player to feel he/she can contribute something to a game, but I never quite see the point to it. For instance, if I create content, my reasoning goes something like this: First, it must be for a charitable cause for me to volunteer my time. Second, if the cause isn’t charitable, I must get paid for it. Third, if it isn’t charitable and if I don’t get paid for what I make, I should have the possibility of putting a big Circle-C on whatever I make. And player-created MMO content meets neither criterion. The cause isn’t charitable, I don’t get paid, and it’s your intellectual property. So I tend to view a game relying too much on player content in a very bad light — unless I benefit directly. That’s why, in the case of Pirates of the Burning Sea, I submitted my own flag and sails, but I would never design a ship to be added into the game (if I knew how, that is), as other players have done.

    Then there is the question of reconciling “sandbox” with “linear” games. The train analogy, while clear enough, is confusing in other respects. I know I’m just a player and everything, and only playing MMO’s since 2007, but it does seem to me that EVE is just another stagnant world (a la Shadowbane) just waiting to happen. Though I don’t play it, I was very concerned over that little cloak-and-dagger thing back in February. What if the Goons had won the game? Sure, yeah, freedom. If you’re a Goon leader, it’s as good as it could get, but for the rest of players, what does that mean? Would EVE still be alive then?

    Complete freedom is what Darkfall advertised. What happens when that big alliance with powerful guilds started years ago wins over that other big alliance with powerful guilds started years ago? Sure, fredom is fun. But look who is really taking advantage of it: the same usual suspects who apparently take pride in having their guild grow its e-peen from game to game. It’s like the free market: You want to just open that little store to sell candles and party supplies, and here comes Wal-Mart right on the outskirts of town. Complete freedom isn’t so great anymore when you know that it will always be the same people benefiting from it.

    No wonder ordinary folks stick to WoW, and why some of its most rabid fanboys take pride in their casual victory over the hardcore, usually by hiding behind numbers.

  23. Yeebo says:

    He really missed the boat on “user generated content.” One of the reasons that MUDs worked so well was that users that were interested in becoming admins could crank out new content fairly quickly. He must be aware of this, I wonder why he so opposed to user generated content now?

    In addition, the first example of this sort of design paradigm being applied to an MMO, the architect system in CoH, has been a raging success. I’ve been playing through nothing but user generated story arcs since they opened our accounts for free earlier in the week. Some of the best storytelling in MMOs is available for free in cohesive bite sized chunks in CoH. I do not exaggerate when I say that the user generated story arcs I have played through make the bulk of quests in MMOs like WoW (or even the developer generated content in CoH for that matter) look absolutely amateurish.

    A player can spend weeks tweaking a single story arc until they have created a compelling piece of fiction. No developer has that kind of luxury with a particular quest chain. And it really shows.

  24. geldonyetich says:

    I suspect a lit of the impetus behind the rejection of user created content was the recent release of Issue 14 on City of Heroes.

    The users were provided all the tools they needed to create user created content and, just as Bartle outlines in his slides, easily 99% of that content was self-serving crap that only the creator cared about.

    It wasn’t so much a raging success. I think that the user populations have, any anything, slightly decreased during prime time. Raging successes should increase the number of players, you’d think. Right now, most people have moved back to doing mission chains because they’re more accessible, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, affairs. Even Alice hates to be cheated by fickle fate.

    Bartle’s completely right that there’s a big difference between letting people add whatever versus having changes come about as the result of their actions as a meaningful consequence.

    This is why City of Heroes would have been a lot better off with what I recommended, a change in the opposite direction, instead of letting people wander off into their own Architect Entertainment pocket dimensions they would be introduced into a mechanic that makes meaningful changes to the actual city.

    It’ probably too late for City of Heroes. The AE buildings aren’t going away, the instancing damage is done for good.

  25. Informis says:

    “[….] a hybrid/balanced game akin to early MUDs where users begin on a theme park and graduate to an Eve-style freeform/social/user generated game”

    One might argue this is exactly what DAOC was. Level up, gear up, and it’s off to the frontiers with you, where you consume user generated content (AKA other players) before they consume you. Of course, the frontiers could be considered another ride in the theme park, but you could conceivably do it forever without running out of “content.”

  26. Heartless_ says:

    Meh, Bartle is right. I thought and tried to prove he was wrong, but man do I feel stupid after watching WAR flounder post-launch. Ah well.

  27. Stormwaltz says:

    The fairly obvious solution (which of course, no one has actually attempted)…”

    Ninth Domain, 2003. Unfortunately, we were de-funded after six months.

  28. michael, St E says:

    Yeebo: “In addition, the first example of this sort of design paradigm being applied to an MMO”

    Second? Ryzom Ring.

  29. geldonyetich says:

    Informis :
    One might argue this is exactly what DAOC was. Level up, gear up, and it’s off to the frontiers with you, where you consume user generated content (AKA other players) before they consume you.

    If you’re counting other players as being user generated content, you’d hardly need to go off to realm PvP land to do it, you’re getting ample amounts of that in Barrens chat.

    “Content” is a difficult label to adequately encapsulate sometimes, but player characters wear that label poorly for some reason. Perhaps because it seems redundant for player characters to be content consumed by player characters. Perhaps because players seek something outside of eachother, or else they might as well just be in a chat room.

    DAOC did have some dynamic content in the swapping of keeps and relics. It wasn’t quit enough

  30. Yeebo says:

    @Michel SE: ahh you got me there. I never played Ryzom.

    @Geldoney: Different strokes for different folks I guess. I really have thoroughly enjoyed the player written story arcs I’ve played in the last few days. I’ll admit that I haven’t strayed past the first two pages of five star rated arcs, but I really have been genuinely impressed with the ones I’ve gone through. The number of story arcs users have generated is staggering. Even if we assume that 95% of them are crap (probabaly a fair estimate), that’s still a hell of a lot of new good content.

  31. tmp says:

    Vetarnias :User-created content: I understand it’s quite fun for a player to feel he/she can contribute something to a game, but I never quite see the point to it.

    It seems you’ve answered your own question — “it is quite fun for a player to feel they can contribute something to a game”. Fun is pretty good reason/point to it, especially considering that’s why people play games in the first place.

    There’s other benefits for some too, like using this kind of creation as portfolio or way to gain recognition… but fun itself is fine, too.

  32. Vetarnias says:

    tmp :

    Vetarnias :User-created content: I understand it’s quite fun for a player to feel he/she can contribute something to a game, but I never quite see the point to it.

    It seems you’ve answered your own question — “it is quite fun for a player to feel they can contribute something to a game”. Fun is pretty good reason/point to it, especially considering that’s why people play games in the first place.

    Well, it’s a bit hard to explain, but I know that contributing content to someone else’s intellectual property, without financial compensation, is something I would never do.

    To an average player who likes the game, I can see why it’s appealing to see your own stuff in the game. Not to say I’m above average or anything, but I don’t see why *I* should bother when I could just churn out cheap fantasy novels based on my ideas. (Maybe if there were a thin chance I could put creating user content for other people’s MMO’s on my resume without being laughed at, just maybe, I’d do it, or if it opened doors in the gaming industry. Even then, what the hell could I do if I can’t code my way out of a paper bag?)

  33. TPRJones says:

    Vetarnias: I can see your point, but think of it more as being a DM for a D&D group. A DM creates a world that the group plays in, even if it’s based on prior art in the form of a module. In much the same way making a good user-generated event/dungeon/whatever in an MMO that you enjoy would let you give pleasure to the friends you have in the game.

    Plus if you are particularly good at it, it can buy you recognition and renown among the playerbase. Not all payments come in the form of cash.

  34. unwesen says:

    I actually think a hybrid approach to an elder game should work, in which players are eased into content creation right from the start, and can pretty much decide how much they want to create and consume at any level.

    Examples of such systems are found all over the web — many websites offer the ability to first vote on content, then submit new content, and finally sort through the submissions and put a selection of them up for vote.

    I’m thinking a similar approach could well work for game-themed virtual worlds.

  35. DoubleD says:

    I used to create text based muds in my college youth using PennMush as a code base. I’ve read Bartle’s book on designing virtual worlds and agree with pretty much a large chunk of it. Developers do not learn from the past mistakes. I’ve pretty much seen all the drama in text based worlds evolve into the graphical realm, and watch current companies re-do the same mistakes we done 10 years ago.

    In any case, His slides were entertaining and I do believe a hybrid approach is the way to go. I like the idea of having the complexity shielded at first. Like layers of an onion the user can peel away at and get deeper into the game.

  36. Vetarnias says:

    @TPRJones
    I also see your point, but I’m not sure it’s similar to being a DM in a D&D game. The worst that could happen with a D&D game is that one of your friends steals your story and does something with it. Wizards of the Coast cannot suddenly show up on your doorstep and claim copyright to your entire D&D campaign plot because it was first “exhibited” using their game system.

    I understand that there might be some recognition from the playerbase, but then what? You can brag about it, I guess, which risks alienating some of your supporters. But still, because you’re an amateur modder, your fame is pretty much linked to the fortunes of the game you’ve modded, unless you can build a following for when you’ll strike out on your own. But you will have to strike out on your own sooner or later, and I don’t see many of those people showing much interest in that.

  37. […] gotta keep em separated” Lum has a post up today breaking down a recent Bartle presentation about game design. F13 community quotes are included in […]

  38. Freakazoid says:

    So if you haven’t worked on an MMO, what other qualifiers allow you to give presentations at game conferences? I think my armchair development ranting is as good as his. I think I deserve a shot at giving presentations in a room full of people who probably aren’t really listening.

  39. BridgetAG says:

    “After that I’m going to snort blow off a co-eds thigh,”

    Having spent a few interesting evenings with sober and fascinating RB amidst drunken colleages, this line just completely cracks me up!

  40. EpicSquirt says:

    Traditional, subscription based MMOGs are dead to me, people who say WoW or nowadays EVE too much are the dinosaurs of the future.

    The whole presentation was a waste, well not all of it, “make something new” is actually a good advice.

    To those who said that DAoC and user generated content in one sentence. that is just cynical, please make a reality check, DAoC is a very static game. EVE had its potential for a pure world, affected by actions with a possible extinction etc., but that chance is gone now, dying and then buying billions of ISK or exploiting moon mining isn’t content.

    Today 6 of my players died (perma death) in a Blood Bowl (beta, upcoming video game) match. Imagine that happens to your star players on whose you’ve been working for 3 years. Blood Bowl is round based, and this needed when dealing with perma death, so how about an MMORPG where the world is very dynamic, where the market simulation is in real time but the actual combat takes in (dynamic and big) instances (size depending on game) and is round based (like all the pen & paper RPGs were)? There would be a reconnection-mechanism needed, so if your link drops in fight, you’d have 45 seconds or something to reconnect.

    The power pyramid in this game would be very nice, since there is potential death, players would play differently, the more powerful a character becomes, the less risk the player would take in order to avoid to trash something that he has spent years on. A dealer like class would actually have a higher life expectation than a front-line samurai/mage/decker/whatever.

    The only real value would be life and not some meaningless grind to level 80 and then some random 4394535 vs 5 fights (common fantasy MMOG) or 5 Titans on a gate and 11 additional ones cloaked ready to gank a Shuttle (EVE).

    I am too old today for a lot of that stuff which I’ve played in the last decade, I don’t understand why not more players don’t get more ambitious. Way better games are possible, but hey, billions of flies eat shit so they can’t be mistaken.

  41. Gx1080 says:

    Well, i liked that presentation (at least the PDF of it). And, yes everything that he said is obvious but theres a universal truth:
    “Some People need you to state the obvious”. You know, i believe that a world with less WoW clones would be better (Unlike Tobold).

    Second, despite the fact that EVE is already all of that, first that was integrated way too late in the game design aka it already have a fame of NOT being user friendly. Second, the players of EVE shoot CCPGames in the foot for saying: “this game is for teh hardcore, noob”. People like that hurt the game just for e-peen stroking.

    Third, i always will believe that WoW has that many success because they were in a moment of the MMO history when nobody else knew how to make a game appeal to the masses, aka the gived EQ without most of the soul-consuming gring (the little few is in the endgame).

    Now, in a few years games like Wizard 101 and Free Realms will be treated like royalty because a)They will be the firsts MMO that many people have played by then, and b) they will be massive behemoths because they were the first in a market.

    About the user created content, the hate that many designers have to it (besides the ego of said designers) is that a)Its a variantion of the HOLY AND SACRED DikuMud style. b)Said content in the majority of the cases (but more that the <1% that Bartley said)will lack certain standards, like proper gramar, coherency and not being fan-made pr0n.

    Asking the players to create the chunk of your game will piss off most of them, and its lazy. As someone wise once said “you cant copy a feature in the game without understanding the problem that said feature solved” or something like that. Making players action have a meaning in the game IMHO should be hold until at least the middle game, aka when players are confortable with their class/stuff and it should be gradual, not just being thrown in the abyss (Hint: EVE didnt do the second one).

    But well, most people like games that are just like single-player games, just with other people. The problem is that people play those games and then stash them for eternity, and a MMO its a constant world. So, basically: An MMO cannot be like a single player game, despite the fact that most people would like that.

    So, what you do then, its fairly simple: you choose a market and start from there, and for for the love of god, dont insult the guys in other markets (Unfortunately, in the PVP based games, your own community will do just that. You need to resign that a PVP based game will be a niche game)

    And a hint: a good market is one that nobody else had seen, aka DONT CLONE WOW OR ANY OTHER GAME. Free to play MMOS fail for that and for being korean grindfests.

  42. First of all, context is important. This was a keynote at the Indie MMO Conference. This wasn’t a keynote pitched to a bunch of people with $50M budgets, it was for people actually going out there and doing their own games on small budgets. Richard intended the talk to be inspirational, showing people actually doing something that their options aren’t just sandbox or theme park, but that they could do both and the reasons why the two rarely meet is because of some obscure schism back in the days of text games. For indie developers, this type of information can be enlightening. For bitter board warriors, maybe this isn’t such a surprise.

    tmp :
    Lot of existing content is “inconsistent, derivative, unimaginative” shit. Being done by _DESIGNERS_ didn’t help it much.

    Yeah, but most professional designers live under the ultimate content-moderating system known to man: the paycheck. If a designer truly does not pull their weight, then they run the risk of being fired. Yeah, maybe not every nugget they produce is gold, but despite what you think there aren’t necessarily a large group of people ready to take their place.

    TPRJones :
    While I wouldn’t put it so strongly, I do admit there is some truth to this. If you were working on cell-phone design you wouldn’t turn to Alexander Graham Bell for advice.

    That would be a great analogy if we were talking about tech. We’re not: we’re talking about design. A better analogy would be phone color and material.

    DIKU phone: We like black, too! Hooray black!
    EQ1 phone: The phone I used was black, so I’ll make my phone black, too.
    DAoC phone: It’s a black phone made of plastic. It’s the EQ phone, but without all the metal suckiness!
    WoW phone: Our black wireless phone is made of precision, shatter-proof plastic that could never hurt you. Ooh, shiny!

    On the other side of the divide you have:

    MUD1 phone: metal painted black, because that’s what we had and it looked acceptable.
    MUSH phone: Black sucks! We’re using unpainted metal!
    SL phone: Brushed metal phone with the option to have furry art laser-engraved on the side. So nice!

    So, along comes Dr. Bartle saying, “You don’t have to have a black phone! And if you use metal, you can still have color on your phone. Don’t just blindly copy what people have done before!”

    Has Bartle done any game design since the early 1980s?

    Yes. Just because he doesn’t brag about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. As Stormwaltz points out, a lot of games don’t see the light of day. I also did half a year of lead design on a project that got canceled when the company I was working for sold itself but forgot to keep a license to work on the game I was designing!

    Vetarnias :
    I also see your point, but I’m not sure it’s similar to being a DM in a D&D game. The worst that could happen with a D&D game is that one of your friends steals your story and does something with it. Wizards of the Coast cannot suddenly show up on your doorstep and claim copyright to your entire D&D campaign plot because it was first “exhibited” using their game system.

    The issue here is one of publishing. If you published work that was derived from D&D, they most certainly can come along and claim authority over it. There were quite a few “net books” back in the early 90’s that TSR tried to get taken down for various reasons, primarily because they felt it hurt their bottom line to have competing products. No, your house rules were safe if you just shared it with your friends, but once you put them out in the open things changed. (TSR was going through a lot of financial problems during this time, before being acquired by WotC.)

    This is one reason why the d20 Open Gaming License was a profound change: it gave people permission to make and publish derivative works, but not to include the core or setting-specific rules. The goal was that more content would get more people involved and sell more core books and perhaps more D&D materials. (Of course, 4th edition and the scouring of 3.X edition stuff shows how much they thought of that effort.)

    Freakazoid :
    So if you haven’t worked on an MMO, what other qualifiers allow you to give presentations at game conferences? I think my armchair development ranting is as good as his. I think I deserve a shot at giving presentations in a room full of people who probably aren’t really listening.

    I was the speaker organizer for the conference. I handled the speaker proposals and sent out information to the people accepted to speak. Perhaps you should have visited the IMGDC site and submitted a proposal? Just understand that a bearded guy named “Psychochild” is going to visit you after-hours of the conference with a bat if your talk sucks. 😉

  43. Keybounce says:

    geldonyetich :
    How many times can you get the Amulet Of Yendor in Nethack befire you find the quest boring and derivative?

    Wait … you’ve done it more than once? Yeish, how much time do you spend on NH?

    ===
    Blood Bowl? Where! How do I get in! Which version? (Admitedly, rules version 3 was very, very long ago, but I did keep up back in … I think open rules version 5, with the pre-game balance system).

    Oh — for those of you who don’t know, the “perma-death” of blood bowl was the whole point for us. How many kills per game can we get? Can we hurt teams so much that they cannot continue to play, at which point we just restart the league again.

  44. geldonyetich says:

    Keybounce :

    geldonyetich :
    How many times can you get the Amulet Of Yendor in Nethack befire you find the quest boring and derivative?

    Wait … you’ve done it more than once? Yeish, how much time do you spend on NH?

    Honestly? I never survived doing it even once. Stockpiling wands and engraving elbereth can only get you so far in the game.

    However, the thing about Nethack is that every time you dive for the amulet, you’re going to have a significantly different experience.

    It’s the same reason Blizzard is still selling new Diablo Battlechests – well, no, not because it’s cheap, but because people still aren’t bored of plumbing the depths of Tristram.

    If you don’t think there’s a lesson to be found there, you’re giving up too easily.

  45. GregC says:

    While everyone should have some respect for Richard, I kind of wish he had the same respect for people who actually make games these days. To say all the problems were solved back in the “good ol’ days” of MUD is wrong.
    MMO games today are becoming more and more mainstream. Anyone who reads this blog – or knows it exists for that matter – are not part of the emerging MMO market. These are the people who play a game like WoW and never bother to worry about the latest patch made their DPS drop by 0.01. They login – play – have a good time – log out. It is just a game. These same people back in the days would never have played a MUD, or even played UO or Everquest 10 years ago.

    From my arm-chair it easy to say “doing this or that would be the way to go!” but from my office chair – where reality lives – there are things like time, budget, and actual reality. You make decisions that best fit in the time, budget and reality – not always the decisions you want make. I am sure many designers – including guys working on WoW and the numerous other MMO games in development would love to do some of things Bartle talks about being the “right” thing.

    Bartle gets paid to speak, those of us who make these games get paid to do. We live in different worlds. Until Richard gets back in my world for a while or at least offers some solutions – I don’t really pay much attention to what he he has to say

  46. geldonyetich says:

    That might be a misconception about Bartle. I don’t think it’s that he’s trying to say the problems were solved in the good old days. I think he’s actually trying to say that problems could be solved if we reexamine our fundamentals.

    He brings up examples from the good old days because these are examples he’s witnessed first hand, and he’s trying to support his premise. You’ll note that he brings up examples in modern games as well.

  47. Melf_Himself says:

    Seriously, who played MUDs? I just went on a mini-rant, felt good:

    http://word-of-shadow.blogspot.com/2009/05/stay-awhile-and-listen.html

  48. Mark Asher says:

    I agree with Bartle that it’s hard to compete with WoW. I also think that looking at new ways of creating content is something to consider, given the reality that most MMOs won’t have the budget to create enough developer content to hold players more than a few months.

    I think, however, that most players want the polished content that the developers can create. We’ve had games with user generated content — A Tale in the Desert and Shadowbane come to mind. Players end up competing and the losers end up unsubscribing. Bartle needs to tell us how to come up with user generated content that doesn’t turn on players being competitive with one another.

    It may just be that when it comes to mass market MMOs, WoW does most things right. That might be hard for some people to accept.

  49. UnSub says:

    Matt Mihaly :
    Yeah, look at Youtube. It’s entirely user created content and according to Alexa is the 3rd most trafficked site on the internet.
    Facebook (#5) is also completely user created content.
    As is Wikipedia (#7)
    And MySpace (#9)
    Clearly, user-created content is totally uninteresting to people.
    –matt

    All those sources you mentioned are free and I can check them out in 30 seconds or less, as well as end up spending hours on them. User-created content for MMOs usually isn’t 1) free or 2) that quick.

  50. Experiment 626 says:

    geldonyetich :

    (P.S. There’s a lot F13 doesn’t get. ….. They stopped being a place developers should pay attention to ever since they decided the hate needed to be put on a pedestal.)

    If that asshole Schild wasn’t around, F13 would be 100% better off. Why the community over there tolerates his shit as much as they do is truly a great mystery.

  51. Klaitu says:

    Three words:

    Bring back Abyss.

  52. Melf_Himself :

    Seriously, who played MUDs? I just went on a mini-rant, felt good:

    http://word-of-shadow.blogspot.com/2009/05/stay-awhile-and-listen.html

    So I kind of find it hard to believe that the developers of, say, Everquest, sat down and played MUDs and became influenced by their awesome gameplay.

    Are you trying to be funny here? Because that’s literally exactly what happened. Everquest was almost a system-for-system copy of Sojourn, Brad McQuaid’s favorite DikuMUD. It was copied to the point that there was talk of a lawsuit, actually. Everquest is the MMO most directly similar to an MUD – to the point where many of the system messages are identical to those in other DikuMUDs, and was explicitly designed to be a MUD with a modern (for its day) 3D client.

    If you’re being actually serious, you’re inadvertently proving my points in a very elegant manner.

  53. Iconic says:

    I’ll echo that. EQ was often referred to even by its own users as DikuMUD 2.0 or similar. Every one knew it was a direct ripoff of Diku, but no one really cared because hey, 3D graphics and hey, you weren’t forced to be the victim for sociopathic gankers.

    At that time, the standards for MMO success weren’t very high because you had one or two competitors, tops.

  54. Warrior says:

    Until Richard gets back in my world for a while […] I don’t really pay much attention to what he has to say

    Insight and inspiration can come from anyone, even from people who aren’t immersed in your particular job.

  55. neispace says:

    >>The slams on his credibility are especially amusing. You do realize he worked on the first MUD, right. You know. The first one. PATIENT ZERO. This does give you a bit of credibility. At least for those people who don’t believe game development history began with the launch date of their current favorite MMO.<<

    Just because he worked on the first MUD doesn’t matter. Nolan Bushnell worked on what is close to the first video game and see how relevant he is to gaming theory today. F13 was saying more that the problem was not that he didn’t have MUD achievements, but that is all he has, he has no real experience shipping a product or working with modern MMOs. Yet he is still a pundit being paid money to give keynotes.

    I have no bones in this myself, I’m just a player appreciating reading the theory in this, but the best test of Bartle’s theory is for him to get investors up and to make an MMO. If the guy working on love can, he should be able to.

    It’s an odd thing, I mean if he knows the solution, why not make it? He’s far better connected than the average forum junkie to do so.

  56. Richard Bartle says:

    Vetarnias :I would like to know whether there is any significance to the font used by Dr. Bartle on his slides.

    I use that font for all my presentations, and have done for several years. I also use the same black-and-white colour regime, the same text box and the same comics-style white-on-black transition boxes in the top left corner.

    On the practical side, it means my slides are readable even under harsh lighting conditions. It means that projectors that miss off part of the screen don’t miss off my words (because the text box is smaller than the screen). It means I can rip a slide out of an earlier presentation and it’s compatible.

    Other fonts and colour regimes would do this too, of course. The reason I designed one that looks like it came out of a comic is to state that what I’m saying is informal. Take it and do with it what you like: the aim is not to indoctrinate you, it’s to prompt you to think.

    Richard

  57. Richard Bartle says:

    GregC :To say all the problems were solved back in the “good ol’ days” of MUD is wrong.

    It is indeed. I don’t actually say that, though, do I? Did you notice that part where I said that Alice worlds really suck at keeping newbies? Where gave that EvE Online learning curve slide I ripped off from Damion Schubert’s site? See, what I was saying there is that today’s MMOs do something well that the old ones did badly. They solve a problem that wasn’t even recognised back then.

    I am sure many designers – including guys working on WoW and the numerous other MMO games in development would love to do some of things Bartle talks about being the “right” thing.

    So am I. I would ask, though, why, if they feel this way, they don’t say it at conferences themselves, or at least blog about it. If it’s such a universal feeling, it shouldn’t have to be down to me to say it – they can write about some “ideal” MMO just as easily as I can.

    It may also be worth remembering that I was speaking at IMGDC, not at GDC. My audience was people who are working on or interested in indie MMOs. They are never, ever going to be able to make a WoW clone. They have big problems in creating good content in sufficient a quantity that people won’t play it out in a month. This was a talk to them; it was not a talk to people who have publisher money and a 200-strong development team behind them.

    Bartle gets paid to speak

    No he doesn’t. I speak at IMGDC because I’m passionate about the future of virtual worlds. This is why Jess Mulligan and Damion Schubert were also there; we don’t get paid to speak, we do it because we believe in it.

    The same applies to all such events. My expenses are covered (although in general I still wind up out of pocket), but there’s no fee involved. Very, very occasionally, academic conferences will provide a small remuneration, but that’s only happened maybe twice in the past 5 years.

    Don’t think that I’m raking money in from being on some kind of conference circuit. I speak for free, gratis.

    That way, no-one can ask for their money back, heh.

    Richard

  58. dartwick says:

    Great post Lum.

  59. Freakazoid says:

    Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green :
    I was the speaker organizer for the conference. I handled the speaker proposals and sent out information to the people accepted to speak. Perhaps you should have visited the IMGDC site and submitted a proposal? Just understand that a bearded guy named “Psychochild” is going to visit you after-hours of the conference with a bat if your talk sucks.

    You make that sound pretty easy. I’ll consider it the next time around, though I generally never have the money or time to travel outside of the northwest.

  60. Garthilk says:

    Hmm,

    Just because you worked on the first Model T car, doesn’t make you a mechanic for my 2009 Corvette. The idea that because you made the first MUD somehow makes you qualified, is a poor idea. Instead, your ideas and concepts should be vetted against the peer community rather than just stamp validated by a single blog.

  61. GregC says:

    @Richard Bartle
    To be fair Richard – I did not mean you get paid to speak at things like IMGDC – what I mean is you do not earn a living – as far as I know – actually making the things you constantly speak about.

    My greater point is this: I do think your tone (from my perception and a lot of other people’s perception) is often “I know better – we did this and that in MUD” – but you never actually made a modern MMO game. So while you insights from MUD days are useful, to an extent, you really miss the realities of modern development and outside of the type of player who reads this blog you are often missing what the average MMO player does/needs/wants from their game.

  62. Tim says:

    Here’s something Richard has that has to be said: he’s clever, he’s funny, and he’s enjoyable to listen to. The sum of what makes someone an interesting presenter is not just what’s on their slides, it’s how they are when up on stage combined with the slides.

    Richard is like (ok well he is) a teacher. Good teachers spin raw information in a way that makes you pay attention so you will walk away with new thoughts and ideas in your head. Good teachers get you to think. I think Richard does this very well.

    Richard makes me think, and he makes me laugh (QBlog == best personal blog ever). I don’t read what he (or anyone for that matter) posts and think, “Yes I agree with this” or “No I do not agree with this”, because there is absolute right or absolute wrong in this business. Richard (and others)makes my thinking open and expand — adding a few more ideas and thoughts to stir around in the pot so I can form (and reform) my own conclusions.

    Or something like that.

  63. Takamura says:

    I think the slides were reasonable and generated discussion and thought, as intended.

    No rational person would think Richard Bartle is the Messiah of Games, but rather another developer with a lot more experience than some dev teams combined. Doesn’t mean he’s always “right”, but it does mean we can learn what we wish from his experiences.

    What I want is to hear the soundtrack along with the slides! I hope it was recorded … as Lum stated, the slides alone from a good presenter are lacking. Any link?

  64. geldonyetich says:

    I think the main critique I’d level against Bartle here is that speaking in abstractions is easy.

    The devil in the details, and one can’t help but feel a bit of contempt to the academic at the podium when you’re down and dirty in the trenches. Sure, they might have a point, but the inspiration is the easy part, perspiration is what you need the most help with.

    My other main critique with Bartle is he tends to categorize things. Killers, Socializers, Explorers, Achievers. Dorothy, Alice, Wendy. It’s a popular thing to do, particularly in Western thinking: apply a label so you can manipulate things easier and produce results, and we praise you for it. It’s very reassuring, if nothing else.

    However, the loss of fidelity that may come with label is problematic. Especially if the label is taken too literally as a substitute for the thing it describes. In sorting our players into categories, be fairly certain you’ll eventually reach a point where you satisfy no real player.

    @Experiment626
    You know, there’s really not much I can say without appearing to try to turn this into an F13 hate thread. It’s really better to let the inmates enjoy their asylum without putting expectations on them.

    However, I have to say this much in reply: ditching Schild wouldn’t change much, you do him too much credit. F13’s asshole factor is sustained via committee action, and the committee appointed by a core philosophy favoring charismatic fools.

  65. Richard Bartle says:

    GregC :
    @Richard Bartle
    To be fair Richard – I did not mean you get paid to speak at things like IMGDC – what I mean is you do not earn a living – as far as I know – actually making the things you constantly speak about.

    OK, well that’s indeed correct. I’m on several advisory boards for MMO developers, and I do get periodic consultancy gigs advising other people who make these things (although they’ve dried up with this economic recession), but I don’t make money from making MMOs myself. I did do that for a dozen or more years (albeit with textual worlds), but I had to stop when the dot com bubble burst.

    The reason I don’t make them is not because I don’t want to make them, or am incapable of making them: it’s because I would have to persuade someone to cast a “rain of money” spell on me. Despite what many forum ranters seem to think, I can’t just knock on a publisher’s door, say, “Hi, I’m Richard Bartle; if you give me $50m I’ll make you an MMO”, and expect to get it. I especially can’t do that in England, where I live.

    My greater point is this: I do think your tone (from my perception and a lot of other people’s perception) is often “I know better – we did this and that in MUD” – but you never actually made a modern MMO game.

    So you want me to make a modern MMO game just so I can say the same things I would have said anyway? Yeah, right – and then 3 years later you’d tell me I had to make another one because the one I’d made was out of date…

    Some things, we did do in MUDs. Plenty more things we didn’t. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to raise my hand occasionally when people are asking questions to which we do already know the answers, though. It’s not as if I do it the whole time – it’s just that people don’t notice when I don’t do it, they only notice when I do.

    Also, beware of using this “your time has passed” argument: as I am now, so you shall be. If you believe that it’s valid to discredit someone for having been around too long, your own words can be used against you in a decade or two when you too, have been around too long…

    So while you insights from MUD days are useful, to an extent, you really miss the realities of modern development and outside of the type of player who reads this blog you are often missing what the average MMO player does/needs/wants from their game.

    I see the realities of modern development. Sure, I don’t roll up my sleeves every day and sweat blood writing code, but I do get to see what goes on in studios first hand.

    As for what “the average MMO player” does/needs/wants, I’m pretty sure I have a better sense of that than you do as I actually take trouble to watch what people do, think about why they do it, unearth what their deeper needs are, assess their more immediate wants, and I’ve done so for 30 years. I don’t use “the average MMO player” as a cipher for “me”.

    Look, this may surprise you to learn, but I don’t actually want to be relevant. Things should have moved on much further than they have now – my job should be done. People younger than me should have taken the baton and run with it. We should have glorious new worlds, original in ways old-timers like me have never conceived. I shouldn’t have to tell people how things are, I should be reading what young turks are saying and think, “why didn’t that occur to me?” or “I can’t wait to see this!”.

    To be fair, there are indeed people who fit this bill – there just aren’t enough of them, and half are probably in China. So it falls to me to keep lighting occasional small fires, in the hope that someone, somewhere, will catch a spark and it will ignite their imagination.

    So long as what I say can cause people to think more deeply about MMOs, I’ll continue to say it. I’ll endure the ad hominem attacks from people who have completely misinterpreted my words, or who haven’t read them in the first place, or who are just regular griefers, because I’m passionate about the future of MMOs. I want to see better virtual worlds.

    If you don’t think I’m relevant, don’t read what I say. I prepared that talk for a conference at which you weren’t present; you had to go out of your way to read my slides. Why are you complaining?! No-one made you read the slides – you’re moaning because some of the other people who read them thought the slides made a reasonable argument.

    When I think I’m no longer relevant, then I’ll retire; and, because if I’m no longer relevant it means virtual worlds will have moved on in beautiful and exhilerating ways, I really, really DON’T want to be relevant.

    Richard

  66. Richard Bartle says:

    Takamura :
    I think the slides were reasonable and generated discussion and thought, as intended.
    What I want is to hear the soundtrack along with the slides! I hope it was recorded … as Lum stated, the slides alone from a good presenter are lacking. Any link?

    The talk wasn’t officially recorded by the organisers, no. I did see a camera in the audience, but whether the resulting recording has made it to the Internet I have no idea. I would expect that even if it has, the jets roaring overhead every minute would make it a little hard to hear in places.

    Richard

  67. Richard Bartle says:

    geldonyetich :
    I think the main critique I’d level against Bartle here is that speaking in abstractions is easy.

    It’s also necessary when you only have 45 minutes to make your point from a standing start…

    Besides, if it’s as easy as you say, how come we haven’t seen this point made multiple times before? Speaking in abstractions is only easy if you make those abstractions in the first place.

    The devil in the details, and one can’t help but feel a bit of contempt to the academic at the podium when you’re down and dirty in the trenches. Sure, they might have a point, but the inspiration is the easy part, perspiration is what you need the most help with.

    It’s mildly amusing that industry people complain I’m an academic; academics complain I’m an industry person…

    The people in the IMGDC audience were smart cookies; they didn’t need me to tell them the details of how to implement any of these the ideas – as designers, the possibilities would just open up before them. If what I said was appropriate to their MMO, then they’d be the ones who’d know best what to do with it in their situation, not me. In fact, some of them did know, and we discussed it afterwards.

    I wasn’t giving a technical talk. I was giving a keynote to a group of indie developers. Like it or not, I’m in a position where I can help move MMO design forwards; I want it to move forwards, and that’s what I hoped in some small way my talk would achieve. If you want technical talks of more immediate use to you, then you were wise not to attend my keynote; it wasn’t that kind of talk. If you think IMGDC should have technical keynotes instead of rabble-rousing ones, take it up with the organisers.

    My other main critique with Bartle is he tends to categorize things. Killers, Socializers, Explorers, Achievers. Dorothy, Alice, Wendy.

    Yes, go on. My player types, these world types, and ..?

    Well?

    From two examples separated by over a decade, you can discern a tendency to categorise things?

    However, the loss of fidelity that may come with label is problematic. Especially if the label is taken too literally as a substitute for the thing it describes. In sorting our players into categories, be fairly certain you’ll eventually reach a point where you satisfy no real player.

    Ah, how soon people forget…

    Before that player types paper appeared, the vast majority of virtual worlds were created by people who took the view that what they liked, all their players would like. They didn’t consider that people play virtual worlds for different reasons; they didn’t consider that a healthy virtual world needed a variety of players holding different ideas as to what’s “fun”.

    Loss of fidelity? We had no fidelity at all before!

    Richard

  68. Cedia says:

    Richard, I just want to say thank you for another enlightening and thought-provoking discussion. I’ve been playing MMO’s since The Realm 1.0 in 1995, and I’ve pretty much played all of them. UO was my favorite back then, but I’ve recently discovered that it is indeed true that “you can never go back”.

    My husband, who is also another long-time MMO player, and I had a discussion in the car today in response to reading your slides, and we both came to the conclusion that the industry is not going to change for another ten years, or possibly more, until all the players of today get absolutely disgusted with the whole quest-level-quest-getphatloot routine.

    Personally, I’m looking for more storyline involvement, and I’m hoping that BioWare can pull off what they are trying to do. I just hope that they don’t water down their experience too much due to the inevitable WoW children screaming because there is “too much reading”.

    Anyway, to get back to what you propose, I think probably the best MMO would have both tracks, if you will, going at the same time. Have it be sandbox enough for those explorer type people, but also have the hand-holding thing for those who like their fun guided, and have that happen throughout the game, not just beginning or end. My husband and I both very much switch between these two playstyles on a daily or sometimes even hourly basis, and we’d really like to find one game that we can sink our teeth into instead of having to play two or more just to get what we like to do.

  69. Informis says:

    geldonyetich :
    “Content” is a difficult label to adequately encapsulate sometimes, but player characters wear that label poorly for some reason. Perhaps because it seems redundant for player characters to be content consumed by player characters. Perhaps because players seek something outside of eachother, or else they might as well just be in a chat room.

    I will go out on a limb here and posit that, short of opening up development tools to the public, there is no more cost efficient way to keep players playing than to divide them into two or more groups and pit them against one another. Ironically, the games that take this approach (pvp + tools) the furthest are FPSes, which don’t make more money the longer you play.

    New content like zones, monsters, and quests are consumed and digested before the patch even leaves the test server, and are obsolete a few months later. Killing other players has been compelling content since killing things became possible.

  70. Mist says:

    I have two gaming subscriptions. One is to WoW, and one is to EVE. I’m not in a major 0.0 alliance in EVE, but I clone jump back and forth between my low sec missioning hub with my cheap ships and my high sec hub where I keep my expensive ones. I’m an unguilded level 80 in WoW, though I used to be an officer of a top 50 US raiding guild. Both games, currently, still offer me a ton of content. Both games are absolutely incredible at what they do. If a game existed that had what I like about both of those games, I would play it instead, and save 15 dollars a month.

    I don’t really know what the above really means in terms of design, but I like what Bartle has to say here. I think if a game started me off on a directed path, gave me lots of fun, polished content along that path, then started to diverge at the endgame into something more emergent, I’d really enjoy that, and so would everyone I’ve ever played games with. DAoC was somewhat like that, WAR could have been that, except lacking the whole polish part, or the fun part, or the open ended part at the end. Shadowbane was not that, not polished, little non-emergent content to speak of. AoC was not that, despite being advertised as such.

  71. dartwick says:

    Richard, I agree with your presntaion points pretty much and wish there was an avatar based game like that.

    But a comment.
    I guess you didnt understand that comment on your player types.
    The general feeling among gamers I know is that they are arbitrary and lead what developers who pay attention to them astray.

    To better tools for development they should be closer to real psychology, because the motivations in game are the motivations of the people behind the toon.
    Particularly confounding is “killer.(since no one dies in 99% of MMOs its really about either dominance or achievement)”
    Particularly broad and vague is “achiever.”

  72. geldonyetich says:

    @Richard Bartle
    An honor.

    Ironically, it seems I’ve over categorized you in assuming you’re prone to over categorization. In a way, this is the point I’m trying to make: categorization based off of observed tendencies is an easy mental pitfall.

    To an extent, this is intelligence: we observe and categorize what we observe so we can understand how to act. What bothers me as pertains to online game design is the impact of the loss of creature.

    I can design a game with an understanding that some people want to explore or that some people want to have their hand held and fear dynamic content. However, this introduces the same trouble as trying to design a game for the casual gamer:

    When I’m inventing games to be played by a categorization of people as I imagine them, there’s a possibility that no real person will be entertained.

    That, I think, is a real trap much of the industry is in trouble with. The artists have lost the creature. Their eyes are set on pleasing a body of people they think they understand, but understanding people isn’t that easy, and the categorizations break down.

  73. Richard Bartle says:

    dartwick :
    Richard, I agree with your presntaion points pretty much and wish there was an avatar based game like that.
    But a comment.
    The general feeling among gamers I know is that they are arbitrary and lead what developers who pay attention to them astray.

    At the risk of starting a whole new anti-Bartle thread…

    The player types are not arbitrary. They arose from my summarising of a lengthy discussion, and at that point they were indeed arbitrary (in the sense that they could have been incomplete, or overlapping, or just one of many ways of partitioning players’ motivations). However, the addition of a theoretical mechanism to organise them removed this arbitrariness.

    The theory as published is complete (for people who play MMOs for fun), because there’s no room for adding a “fifth type”; if you think there is an extra type that the theory can’t account for, OK, produce it. The theory will instantly fall apart, and hopefully we’ll get a better theory in its stead. I have to say, though, that in the dozen or so years since the paper was published, we haven’t seen such a “fifth type” that actually holds water.

    The player types are also non-overlapping. You can’t be two types at the same time. You can be transitioning between them, but you can’t be both a socialiser and an explorer, say. There are other typographies which have types I don’t have, notably Nick Yee’s (which has “immersion” as a motivation). However, players can be trying to become immersed while being an explorer at the same time.

    The accusation that this is just one way of describing players is valid. There are others out there. None that I know of have any underlying theory to explain why things are the way they are, nor do they offer any predictive capability; often they’re just lists of player personalities that the author has generalised. That doesn’t mean they’re incorrect, but it does mean they don’t offer my player types theory much competition. It’s fine to say you’ve noticed (or discovered through thorough statistical analysis) a particular set of common play styles, or common needs, or common attitudes, but knowing they exist isn’t in itself of much use: you need to know WHY they exist if you’re to make much capital from them.

    My player types theory has some traction because designers (the people for whom it was primarily devised) have found it useful. That’s the ONLY reason it didn’t sink without trace. If nothing else, it allows them to communicate with non-designers using a common vocabulary.

    As for leading developers astray, again, recall that back in the mid-1990s developers didn’t move at all. On the whole, they designed games that they wanted to play, and if you didn’t play for the same reasons as them then times were going to be lean. At least my player types theory alerted some of these up-coming designers to the notion that, you know, we may whinge about these carebears or these spreadsheeters or these griefers, but things wouldn’t really be the same without them.

    That said, there is a plausible argument that says that the reason my player types theory applies to MMOs is because so many of them were designed according to its principles that it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This means that what was originally intended to free designers has wound up constraining them. This is, in fact, an argument with which I have some sympathy.

    If you believe that my theory is leading designers astray, then the solution is to present a new theory – or even a manifesto of ideas around which a new theory can later be developed. We need to know: what’s wrong with my theory (not merely that it is wrong – WHERE and HOW it leads people astray); where designers should be heading instead (and WHY); some indication of the steps designers should take to get back on track (not merely that they should get back – we need to know HOW to get them back on track).

    If you can say that, then we’re in with a chance.

    My player types theory should have been superseded a long time ago. That it’s still valid is a constant source of disappointment to me. I was hoping that by now we’d have much better ideas of how and why players do what they do, and therefore better virtual worlds as a consequence. Judging by new research that’s coming out, it’s looking increasingly likely that my player types model is correct; that doesn’t mean it’s always useful, though (after all, 2+2=4 is correct, but you wouldn’t use it as a basis for MMO design).

    Particularly confounding is “killer.(since no one dies in 99% of MMOs its really about either dominance or achievement)”
    Particularly broad and vague is “achiever.”

    You know about the 8-types version of the theory I developed in my book 6 years ago, right? There’s an unadorned summary of it here: http://mud.co.uk/richard/VWWPP.pdf .

    Richard

  74. Richard Bartle says:

    geldonyetich :
    @Richard Bartle
    An honor.

    Er, if you say so…

    I can design a game with an understanding that some people want to explore or that some people want to have their hand held and fear dynamic content.

    Indeed. Again, though, I feel obliged to point out that in the context in which the original paper was presented, many designers did not have that understanding..! It may seem blindingly obvious now that people play MMOs for different reasons, and that part of what makes an MMO is how these different people get along (or not) together, but back then no-one talked about this kind of thing.

    When I’m inventing games to be played by a categorization of people as I imagine them, there’s a possibility that no real person will be entertained.

    The pendulum swings… Back in the day, people created MUDs that they, personally wanted to play, because at least then they were certain that someone would like it..!

    That, I think, is a real trap much of the industry is in trouble with. The artists have lost the creature. Their eyes are set on pleasing a body of people they think they understand, but understanding people isn’t that easy, and the categorizations break down.

    Good designers actually do understand people; it’s difficult, yes, but it’s in part mitigated by the fact that “MMO” is short for “MMORPG”. When you’ve spent several years role-playing, you find it a lot easier to slip into someone else’s skin than if you come to it without that experience. Once filtering experience through someone else’s mindset has become second-nature, many of the issues around designing for those people go away. The key lies in ensuring that you have the right feel for your target audience(s) to start with. If you don’t, then yes, you will make a complete hash of it.

    I said “feel” there, because this isn’t an intellectual thing, it’s an emotional thing. Knowing what the player types are is just a pointer as to where to look; to make a success of it, you have to get inside the heads of these people and sense what’s driving them. If you stop at the categorisation and only look at it analytically, then yes, I agree, you’re going to produce something soulless.

    Richard

  75. dartwick says:

    I was not familiar with the advanced categorization. And indeed its a better fit although it may simply be the more catagories you add the more it covers.

    But it still doesnt suit the underlying issue.
    Games are aimed at real people and could be better designed with respect to human psychology not “avatar psychology”(which is basically a filtered reflection of why the human is doing what he/she is doing.)

    Probably a better system would matrix, motivation by preferred mode of opperation..
    Power, security, achievement, grouping, and knowlege, and indexed by socializing, work, violence, research/searching, deceit, and theft for instance.
    Im not supposing those are the best categories but I am suggesting the format more closely can represent why and how people will play games.

    Anyway I didnt mean this as an attack. I really liked the points of the presentation and the original 4 groups have surely given some much needed perspective to developers who were often making games for themselves rather than an audience..

  76. Gx1080 says:

    You know, “player types” could be called “markets” in other industry.
    And a point that Mr. Bartle nailed is: Before doing any game, including MMOs you research your market, what they like?, how are the computers that they got?, things like that. From there you can start building.

    Im going to say the next the nicest way possible:

    You NEED to make a game that your market like and they can play. That means: MAKE A GAME FOR THEM, NOT YOU. Sorry, but if you want to make money in this or any other entertainment industry you are going to suck it up and make things that are NOT for you.

    And Mr. Bartle nailed other thing: Why, for ****s sake the developers do not make a proper market research?(And, no a poll in your website/forums doesnt count). Why we are still with abstract terms like “player types”?

    Guess what, WoW is teh giant because they researched their market and discovered that people would play an EverQuest without the soul-consumming grind and that they wanted to see what hapened after Warcraft III.

    Wizards 101 is at 1million accounts (altough the number of active accounts is a tight secret) and Free Realms is the bomb, because they also researched their marked and discovered that: a)A lot of kids want to be Harry Potter and/or hang out in a fantasy world. and b)Their parents are not going to pay 15$ a month unless you disguise that with microtransactions.

    Research your market. There should be already proper investigation models that everybody can download on PDF. Those models doesnt exist. As an effect of that, designers just “guess” and WTF the 20-30 male community knows about the things that small children want? Or what females want?, just for a few examples.

    Guess what: You dont know ANYTHING about that, so you should do market research because the other people that plays the game are the ones that pay your god damn salary.

    And this IS an attack on rant mode because gentlemans, you have to hush up or being in the worst side of the crisis. Your choice.

    /end_rant

  77. Gx1080 says:

    Another thing: Hiring a peron in your market that are not qualificated and asking your family/friends doesnt count as a market research.

  78. Baredil says:

    dartwick :

    Games are aimed at real people and could be better designed with respect to human psychology

    I think just about every post I’ve read, here and elsewhere, that comes out against the Bartle types does so with some variation of this idea; an objection to the idea that human psychology can be so completely categorized into such a small range of types. Humans are much to complicated for that!

    I hate to break this to you, but you are not a unique and beautiful snowflake. Human behaviour can be quite predictable in a disturbingly narrow range of ways. Psychologists and marketing departments have known this for decades. Asimov predicted it in the 1940’s.

  79. Gx1080 says:

    Baredil :

    dartwick :
    Games are aimed at real people and could be better designed with respect to human psychology

    I think just about every post I’ve read, here and elsewhere, that comes out against the Bartle types does so with some variation of this idea; an objection to the idea that human psychology can be so completely categorized into such a small range of types. Humans are much to complicated for that!
    I hate to break this to you, but you are not a unique and beautiful snowflake. Human behaviour can be quite predictable in a disturbingly narrow range of ways. Psychologists and marketing departments have known this for decades. Asimov predicted it in the 1940’s.

    You hit right in the target. IMO, the anti-Bartle guys that you mention use that as an excuse for: I want to design games for me. Oh please, cry me a river (QQ more, noobs). Videogames can be for all audiences, not just your WoW copies/PvP harcordness.

  80. geldonyetich says:

    At the risk of conducting binary thinking, it seems to me that over the past few comments we’ve come down to a matter of two differing design philosophies.

    On one side, we have those who believe they can predict their audience’s whims enough to fairly categorize and develop for bodies of audiences. “Don’t fool yourself – unique and beautiful butterflies are a myth, people are easily categorized if you try.”

    On the other side, those who believe that the individual members of an audience can have such a broad range of varying interests that categorizing them does not do fair justice. “Don’t fool yourself – categorizations rob us of awareness of the presence of what constitute a unique and beautiful butterfly.”

    It’s easy to take past successes and claim that one or the other method is supported. However, whenever I see two defined sides, I’m becoming increasingly aware with the wisdom of age, the answer probably lays somewhere between the two views.

    Just where is hard to say, but I do know the path is critical thought. The truth comes from continual critiquing, and the one who is most certain or demanding of their convictions is often the most in danger of being deluded.

    I’m really neither anti-Bartle or pro-Bartle here in my critiques, continual critiquing is just what I do. I think we landed at a great compromise and a point where I’m going to try to build:

    Knowing what the player types are is just a pointer as to where to look; to make a success of it, you have to get inside the heads of these people and sense what’s driving them. If you stop at the categorisation and only look at it analytically, then yes, I agree, you’re going to produce something soulless.

  81. […] Broken Toys » “Worst. Presentation. Ever.” […]

  82. Tesh says:

    Somewhat tangentially, Wiqd and I have rambled a bit about “classless” design as well as a handful of other design concepts that try to go past what the “accepted MMO design handbook” might suggest. “Me too” design is increasingly shallow, unprofitable and stagnant (the natural result of a saturated market). The genre really should be growing and learning, innovating and mutating, but we just tend to get WoW clones, even if it’s just the business model that’s mutating. (Runes of Magic being the poster child there.) That’s unsatisfying as a designer and as a player.

  83. Alex says:

    I would say players change types when it is no longer efficient to find new content for their playstyle. Lets say I’m an 80% achiever, and go around whacking goblins with a sword and taking their shiny thing. Each goblin I kill gives me less benefit then the last, both in satisfaction, and the percentage it increases my wealth. Obviously the next step would be to kill bigger, differently colored goblins; but as time goes on, it becomes harder to find challenging goblins to whack.

    At this point there are maybe 10 things I could in the game that would provide satisfaction to the achiever side of my personality. Meanwhile there are hundreds of things to do that would be satisfying to my socializer, explorer or killer sides.

    Basically, if it is going to take 20 hours to achieve something new vs. 1 hour to explore something new, the disparity in effort will overwhelm the playstyle I am predisposed to unless I have no interest in exploring at all.

  84. […] It’s a small world, I suppose, that my blunderings on the Internet result in trading words with any world renowned names in the game industry.  The place?  This comment thread. […]

  85. VPellen says:

    I am reading all of Bartle’s comments while listening to “Rule Britannia”.

    It is awesome.

  86. VPellen says:

    Richard Bartle :
    If you believe that my theory is leading designers astray, then the solution is to present a new theory – or even a manifesto of ideas around which a new theory can later be developed. We need to know: what’s wrong with my theory (not merely that it is wrong – WHERE and HOW it leads people astray); where designers should be heading instead (and WHY); some indication of the steps designers should take to get back on track (not merely that they should get back – we need to know HOW to get them back on track).

    My head is flowing at the moment, so please forgive me if I end up overlooking things you said or misinterpreting things you’ve said in the past. Being a destructive rather than constructive thinker, I can’t offer many solutions, but there are a few oddities your playertypes model that bugs me.

    The main thing that gets me is that while you often call out other people’s player types for being somewhat arbitrary, I fear you might be guilty of the same thing on a lower level; The axes around which your playertypes are defined also seem rather arbitrary.

    The main issue I have is that you said that the playertypes are non-overlapping. In this, I must call bullshit. Why would they be? Your model, as far as I can tell, is based on what people find “fun”. The primary axis of the model is, as far as I can tell, Players and World. Everything else is fairly subservient to these two; A “players vs world” chart of player division might work, but dividing players by “actinging” vs “interacting” is pretty bloody obscure, and defining players by “explicit” or “implicit” is even worse. What’s bugs me even more is that if people cared dominantly about the players, they’d pick chatrooms. If they card dominantly about the world, they’d pick a single player sandbox game. You say that you can’t be more than one type, but the whole appeal of virtual worlds is that you’ve got other people within a world. Am I missing something horribly obvious here?

    The types model is useful in the same way any arbitrary player types model would be useful; It teaches that people have different motivations and intents, that they find different things fun. But the more I think about it, the more absurd it seems to divide people based on their preference of “world” vs “people” in a medium which depends entirely on the unity of world and people. The playertypes model likely gained popularity not so much because it was brilliantly correct, but because.. well, because you were there first, the theory was there first, and you’re quite a good speaker.

    And, as you said, it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not really that surprisingly that an analysis of the players in the first MUD also happens to carry on remarkably well to all its predecessors. But then again, what is a genre if not a perpetual string of duplicates based on an original model? MUD was simple, but it wasn’t that simple. Maybe the key to finding a new model lies not in an analysis of existing MMOs, but through a better identification of the genre itself. Although come to think of it, your book contains a definition of virtual worlds too, doesn’t it? Maybe things go further back than that, though. Who knows.

    Perhaps the issue from the playertype model is that it tries to typify players. It might work far better as a motivational model; Not so much “this player is an achiever”, but rather “this player gets pleasure from achieving.” But then it comes back to the problem of the player types being arbitrary. World and players are very simple and distinct, sure, but it’s never so simple. Interacting with the world in order to act on the players? Or acting on the players in order to interact with the world?

    Great, I’ve gone off on a rambling rant. Bloody hell, I’m going to be up all night now.

  87. VPellen says:

    Maybe players are different from each other in the same way that all people are different from each other, but that doesn’t have to mean that people are different from each other in strange or specific ways just because the world is virtual instead of real.

    Fuck it, I’m going to bed.

  88. Tesh says:

    Shamus has a good article up on understanding player motivations. It’s not a huge comprehensive study, but it’s a good pointer to further discussions.

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/experienced-points/6003-Dice-vs-D-Pad

  89. @neispace

    It’s amazing how people will comment about someone’s experience without really knowing the whole picture. Richard Bartle often consults with MMOG/Virtual World companies when they are building their games, including working with Raph Koster and others you may (or may not) have heard of.

    Also of note, I am the owner of IMGDC and we don’t pay speakers to speak, they do it to give back to the community. You can’t look at Bartle’s slides and assume you have the whole picture, because you simply don’t.

  90. Keybounce says:

    Richard,
    First, I had not seen that 8 person style paper before (I had heard of it, but not its conclusions). I do like it, and especially the “two tracks” — that whole “learning” comparison. That’s nice.

    Second, one of the things I recall from your first (4 suit) paper was that one of the best things you can do to improve the game’s survivability was to increase the explorers, and the worst thing for the game was an increase in killers. If I’ve got that wrong, please correct me. Otherwise,

    It seems that since “Killers” includes “Politicians”, which turns into “Guild leader”, it is really “Griefer”, or “Playground bully” that is the nasty game killer. Yes, that’s actually commonly mentioned on game forums, but I can’t think I’ve seen it stated in a formal paper (like yours) before.

    Equally, since “Explorer” includes both “Scientist” (an early stage alternative of asking a person/cheat site) and “Hacker” (a late stage alternative to knowing the people you play with), those seem to be the key things to strive for. I’m realizing as I write this that people go to cheat sites because the game is too challenging — the “How do I solve this puzzle” issue. In other words, during the “guided path”/”Dorthy” phase, the game needs to avoid the “tomb of horrors” level of challenge on the main path, and actually give you challenges that are solvable. Nor does it make sense to give harder challenges that are worth more points — people will just get the answers from cheat sites. There has to be enough clues/information/details in-game to make cheat sites pointless. The game world itself needs to be understandable from the game. (That doesn’t mean “No hard challenges”; it means “Hard challenges don’t get special rewards)

    And, at the end-game, you then need to make the game world itself the “point of study”, rather than allowing the other players to be what is studied. Again, this gets back to being able to know the game world.

    In between, we need to encourage planners. As you point out, the third box on the top line is where other players recognize you as being good, while the third box on the bottom line is where the game world recognizes you as being good; only that (3 bottom) leads to the end-goal of “Hackers”.

    Now, looking at your other big idea: Games need to start as Dorthy, and go to Alice. When you transition from the game’s guided path to player-generated, emergent content, you are moving into a PvP area of play. How do you manage to discourage the griefers at this point? How do you prevent people from being ganked? As much as you say that this is where history is made, where designed content can not be made fast enough to keep interest up (which are both good points), how do you keep the people who lose from being so devastated that they cannot keep competing with loss after loss? Blood Bowl (I was serious about that in my last post) came up with an incentive/handicapping system to give underdogs in fights a significant advantage so that they would not be hopelessly outgunned. WoW, as I understand it, has nothing at all (but the cost of a loss is trivial). Eve, on the other hand, as I understand it has no handicapping and horrific costs of losing (ships get expensive).

    How do you keep the griefers/playground bullies/gankers from dominating as you leave the guided track? If you need to have something recognize success (stage 3), and that is either going to be the game, or the other players, once you leave the track, what is there for the game to reward, besides kills and possessions? And if the game world truly becomes “neutral”, how do you encourage the bottom row for stage 3 and 4?

    In short, it really looks like the goals of the two papers are in conflict — one says that you want to have the game stop guiding and rewarding you (no more quests, etc), which in turn says that you are going to player-generated feedback of success, and the other says that you want to encourage explorers, which requires game-generated feedback of success.

    So the simple question: Am I misunderstanding something, or have I hit the nail in the crack?

    (Incidentally, how do you go about getting work in the game design field?)

  91. Richard Bartle says:

    VPellen :
    The main thing that gets me is that while you often call out other people’s player types for being somewhat arbitrary, I fear you might be guilty of the same thing on a lower level; The axes around which your playertypes are defined also seem rather arbitrary.

    The types came first; the axes followed. If I’d created the axes first and then described the types, sure, that would have been arbitrary. However, I identified the types first and then looked for what they had in common. The labels on the axes went through several iterations before they were nailed down (see this early version that I wrote for a magazine, for example: http://mud.co.uk/richard/wpm.htm). Thus, the labels could well be arbitrary, but if they are then the player types themselves are.

    The main issue I have is that you said that the playertypes are non-overlapping. In this, I must call bullshit. Why would they be?

    They can be overlapping over time, because people transition between them. At any one moment, however, they are not overlapping.

    That said, my theory is strong at explaining how people change types over a long period of time, but weak at explaining how they change types during playing sessions; it acknowledges that this happens, but can’t explain why. There is an explanation for this, though, which I heard about earlier this year from a researcher in Germany (coming from a psychology background, she’d basically rediscovered the player types model herself). I can’t point you at anything that explains it, though, because it’s not been published yet.

    What’s bugs me even more is that if people cared dominantly about the players, they’d pick chatrooms. If they card dominantly about the world, they’d pick a single player sandbox game. You say that you can’t be more than one type, but the whole appeal of virtual worlds is that you’ve got other people within a world. Am I missing something horribly obvious here?

    Some people do like chatrooms; some people do like single-player games. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    What the presence of other people who don’t necessarily like what you like buys you is validation. The world feels like a world if there are other people there, doing all the interesting things other people do. Even if you hate those other people, you need them to compare yourself against. MMOs are not a medium, they’re places. If it feels like a place, you can visit it as a place; this opens up the whole hero’s journey thing.

    But the more I think about it, the more absurd it seems to divide people based on their preference of “world” vs “people” in a medium which depends entirely on the unity of world and people.

    And yet, if you were to perform a study of tens of thousands of people, asking them a wide variety of questions to nail down what they find to be fun in virtual worlds, you will discover that they come up with the same answers that they always did. Check out Nick Yee’s work: http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/archives/print/001298.php . This maps directly onto my 8-types model (the “immersion” component is how far along the development tracks you’ve gone. Ultimately, using the hero’s journey argument, all players are seeking immersion; the player types just describe what stage they’re at right now).

    The playertypes model likely gained popularity not so much because it was brilliantly correct, but because.. well, because you were there first, the theory was there first, and you’re quite a good speaker.

    All this may well be true, although I don’t personally think my being a good speaker has anything to do with it as it was the paper that sparked all the interest, not the presentations I’ve given based on it (which are few and far between). Nevertheless, just because I was there first and the theory was there first, that doesn’t mean it’s incorrect, it merely explains its popularity.

    Also, there aren’t actually any other theories in this area. There are categorisations, there are diagrams, but none of them come with models that can be used predictively, nor that can explain exactly why people play MMOs.

    It’s not really that surprisingly that an analysis of the players in the first MUD also happens to carry on remarkably well to all its predecessors. But then again, what is a genre if not a perpetual string of duplicates based on an original model?

    I don’t follow what you’re complaining about here. If people want to make something that is a descendant of MUD1, and my theory applies to such things, that seems a reasonable thing for them to do. I make no claims that my theory applies to any other field (other people do – sometimes with good evidence that it does – but I don’t claim that myself). If you’re saying that there may be a class of MMOs out there that have yet to be discovered which, because my theory only applies to those we know about, it won’t apply to, well yes, I guess that would be the case. I’m not saying my theory does apply to those, though, nor does it prevent other people from going out there and making them.

    Jeez, I used to get complaints that my theory was rubbish because didn’t apply to stuff, and now I get complaints that it applies to everything…

    MUD was simple, but it wasn’t that simple.

    It wasn’t simple.

    World and players are very simple and distinct, sure, but it’s never so simple. Interacting with the world in order to act on the players? Or acting on the players in order to interact with the world?

    If you [do whatever] to act on the players, then you’re in the killer quadrant. If you [do whatever] in order to interact with the world, you’re in the explorer quadrant. It’s not what people do, it’s why they do it that’s important here.

    Also, yet again I’m going to say that yes, this model is general, but it’s still a great deal more specific than what went before it. If you want a more detailed model still, OK, let’s see it. If you’re saying that no model can ever be detailed enough so it’s a waste of time having any model, look up what happened to GoPets once they added achiever content to their previously all-socialiser world.

    Richard

  92. Richard Bartle says:

    Keybounce :
    It seems that since “Killers” includes “Politicians”, which turns into “Guild leader”, it is really “Griefer”, or “Playground bully” that is the nasty game killer.

    They’re the most in-your-face variety, yes. However, politicians can be damaging, too. They’re usually fine so long as people do what they say, but some can get mean if challenged. If you object to the way your guild is going and it has a politician in charge, OK, some may talk it through and come to a compromise but others will level all kinds of accusations against you about selfishness, guild drama, being a prima donna – whatever it takes to get people on their side and not on yours.

    I’m realizing as I write this that people go to cheat sites because the game is too challenging

    Sometimes, yes, this is the case. At other times, people do it because they’re not interested in solving the problem, they just want the XP or the loot or the rep or whatever. Alternatively, they may know how to find the answer but it’s just too tiresome to go through the motions. For example, when you make the Fish Feast in WoW, one of the ingredients is a musselback sculpin. Where do you catch these? Well obviously you can go fish for 10 minutes in every zone until you find one that has a ready supply of musselback sculpins, or you can just look it up and save yourself an hour of tedium. OK, Borean Tundra, I’ll go there then. It’s not that finding the solution is too challenging, it’s just that it’s too time-consuming.

    There has to be enough clues/information/details in-game to make cheat sites pointless.

    And explorers redundant?

    Now, looking at your other big idea: Games need to start as Dorthy, and go to Alice. When you transition from the game’s guided path to player-generated, emergent content, you are moving into a PvP area of play. How do you manage to discourage the griefers at this point? How do you prevent people from being ganked?

    You don’t. You give the players the means to do it themselves. You might want to structure things such that greifers can’t do anything that would kill the game off even if they were to organise and purposefully try to do it, but if you remove conflict then where’s the story going to come from?

    how do you keep the people who lose from being so devastated that they cannot keep competing with loss after loss?

    Well ideally they’d have the means to take action such that they don’t lose time and time again. If they still don’t like it, OK, well I guess for them it’s back to Dorothy mode again. There’s no requirement that people switch to Alice mode if they don’t want to.

    In short, it really looks like the goals of the two papers are in conflict — one says that you want to have the game stop guiding and rewarding you (no more quests, etc), which in turn says that you are going to player-generated feedback of success, and the other says that you want to encourage explorers, which requires game-generated feedback of success.

    Explorers don’t need game-generated feedback of success, they just want to understand systems. Those systems typically concern the game world. However, that doesn’t mean they will only look at designer-created content. If an enemy fleet with a particular makeup has been assembled, an explorer would just love to be able to probe it in order to find its strengths and weaknesses, as an exploratory exercise. They would probably feel very satisfied in seeing their ideas turned into action that led to the defeat of the fleet – not because they wanted to win, but because they wanted to be proved right.

    I don’t, therefore, see a contradiction here.

    (Incidentally, how do you go about getting work in the game design field?)

    Same as any other field: talent and luck.

    Richard

  93. Keybounce says:

    Richard Bartle :
    However, politicians can be damaging, too. They’re usually fine so long as people do what they say, but some can get mean if challenged. If you object to the way your guild is going and it has a politician in charge, OK, some may talk it through and come to a compromise but others will level all kinds of accusations against you about selfishness, guild drama, being a prima donna – whatever it takes to get people on their side and not on yours.

    Ahh. Sounds like the “Drama Queens”. I’ve seen guilds with these people at the top, and said guilds have tended to implode.

    I’m realizing as I write this that people go to cheat sites because the game is too challenging

    Sometimes, yes, this is the case. At other times, people do it because they’re not interested in solving the problem, they just want the XP or the loot or the rep or whatever. Alternatively, they may know how to find the answer but it’s just too tiresome to go through the motions. For example, when you make the Fish Feast in WoW, one of the ingredients is a musselback sculpin. Where do you catch these? Well obviously you can go fish for 10 minutes in every zone until you find one that has a ready supply of musselback sculpins, or you can just look it up and save yourself an hour of tedium. OK, Borean Tundra, I’ll go there then. It’s not that finding the solution is too challenging, it’s just that it’s too time-consuming.

    So what you need is some way to find out, in game, where you get musselback sculpins.

    Think of it this way: The world was not created 6 days ago. The people of this world have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. During this time, this sort of thing should be documented and known. Fishing books that tell you where to find these fish. Libraries with reference books. “Old Salts” that you can buy a beer for in the inns and have them tell you legends and lore.

    Instead, these games all take the view that no one has been there before, and you have to find out everything. And once you do, you can’t leave anything written down for the people that follow you.

    There has to be enough clues/information/details in-game to make cheat sites pointless.

    And explorers redundant?

    No. Finding the right balance. Yes, some people will just want to try every place. Some people will go to cheat sites. But right now, it is more of “you have to”, rather than “you want to”.

    What if there’s a large lake, well known to have fish type X, and you can go there and fish. But with all the people going there, it can be fished out — you might have to wait for the respawn.

    Now, you have choices:
    1. Find and read the books of lore in-game that tell you of that lake
    2. Go to a cheat site out-of-game that tells you the same thing,
    3. Explore all the lakes, and find the out-of-the-way fishing hole that isn’t overfished and also provides the goal.

    But wouldn’t it be interesting if …
    4. The game isn’t static — if out-of-the-way fishing hole #1 is heavily fished, it dries up for a while and reduces the spawn rate. But out-of-the-way fishing hole #2 and #3 have been ignored for a few days — they are now spawning. (And if holes 1,2, and 3 all get overfished regularly (they are on the cheat sites), the hidden fishing spots are changed — the fish aren’t there any more, and are now at other spots.)

    Balancing #4 against an increasing server population is the hard part — increasing server population will result in a need to spawn more at the same time that the locations are all being overfished.

    As far as I know, WoW completely ignores the server population issue — if the population is low, harvestable items are in abundance, and if the population is high, there’s artificial scarcity.

    (Contrast: Puzzle Pirates altered their spawn system about 3 years ago to scale with demand because of this issue as they grew.)

    Now, looking at your other big idea: Games need to start as Dorthy, and go to Alice. When you transition from the game’s guided path to player-generated, emergent content, you are moving into a PvP area of play. How do you manage to discourage the griefers at this point? How do you prevent people from being ganked?

    You don’t. You give the players the means to do it themselves.

    Ahh. Any ideas on how? (Serious question.)

    how do you keep the people who lose from being so devastated that they cannot keep competing with loss after loss?

    Well ideally they’d have the means to take action such that they don’t lose time and time again. If they still don’t like it, OK, well I guess for them it’s back to Dorothy mode again. There’s no requirement that people switch to Alice mode if they don’t want to.

    I think it was about a year ago that either baseball or football realized that people didn’t go to see team X, they went to see team X fight team Y; if team Y wasn’t able to fight team X, then team X suffered even if team X was winning. The conclusion was to share more of the revenue with the losing team, and to impose limits on how much the winning teams could pull ahead of the losing teams, to make sure that the losing teams weren’t completely ruined.

    Blood Bowl — “Football in a medieval fantasy setting” — does the same thing — the underdog gets playing incentives that are sufficient, in theory, to close about 80% of the gap between the two teams.

    Paper and pencil RPGs: A good GM will find some way to give the underdog players, and important villains, some edge.

    Computer/MMO RPG’s: What do they have to prevent imbalance? You have two goals: Attract new players that are not yet protected by a guild, and keep those who are in a guild. You might have the goal of keep those that don’t want to be in a guild. But ultimately, what do you do to protect underdogs?

    You don’t. You give the players the means to do it themselves.

    Ahh. Any ideas on how? (Serious question.)

    In short, it really looks like the goals of the two papers are in conflict — one says that you want to have the game stop guiding and rewarding you (no more quests, etc), which in turn says that you are going to player-generated feedback of success, and the other says that you want to encourage explorers, which requires game-generated feedback of success.

    Explorers don’t need game-generated feedback of success, they just want to understand systems.

    Look at the transitions to the bottom 4th position (the “endgame” for explorers).

    You have to go through “Planner”. You have to have game-generated feedback of success.

    (Incidentally, how do you go about getting work in the game design field?)

    Same as any other field: talent and luck.
    Richard

    Keybounce

  94. Alex says:

    “if out-of-the-way fishing hole #1 is heavily fished, it dries up for a while and reduces the spawn rate. But out-of-the-way fishing hole #2 and #3 have been ignored for a few days — they are now spawning.”

    Tragedy of the Commons. There’s no point for an individual to conserve, since somebody else will get the fish you don’t.

    End result: If lots people want to fish, it will be very hard to find a spot where there is anything to catch, plus you’ll spend a lot of frustrated time running from spot to spot.

    Alternatively, if not many people want to fish, the system is irrelevant, and you can catch fish wherever. Only with the exact right number of fishermen would this provide any positive impact to gameplay.

    I’d also argue that arbitrary switches in a resource’s location undermine an explorer’s achievements. If you had to check 100 lakes to find a great fishing spot, you sure as hell don’t want to check the same 100 over again when it moves.

  95. Alex says:

    Keybounce : how do you keep the people who lose from being so devastated that they cannot keep competing with loss after loss?

    The obvious answer is to make losing at pvp fun. Here are some things that make losing fun:
    1. Feeling that you had a chance.
    2. Learning what you could do better next time.
    3. Prospect for revenge.
    4. Going out in a dramatic gesture.
    5. Gracious behavior by the winner.
    6. Team solidarity (misery loves company)
    7. Consequences of losing can be repaired with reasonable effort.

    Not all of these can be coded in, but some can:

    1. Level based handicapping. De-emphasis on grind based factors in combat.
    2. Combat recording and replay.
    3. Bounty system and/or ability to track people who killed you.
    4. Easy communication during a fight. Perhaps some kamikaze abilities as well.

    and most importantly:

    7. A sliding scale of consequences to combat, depending on the context.

  96. Keybounce says:

    Alex :
    “if out-of-the-way fishing hole #1 is heavily fished, it dries up for a while and reduces the spawn rate. But out-of-the-way fishing hole #2 and #3 have been ignored for a few days — they are now spawning.”
    Tragedy of the Commons. There’s no point for an individual to conserve, since somebody else will get the fish you don’t.
    End result: If lots people want to fish, it will be very hard to find a spot where there is anything to catch, plus you’ll spend a lot of frustrated time running from spot to spot.
    Alternatively, if not many people want to fish, the system is irrelevant, and you can catch fish wherever. Only with the exact right number of fishermen would this provide any positive impact to gameplay.
    I’d also argue that arbitrary switches in a resource’s location undermine an explorer’s achievements. If you had to check 100 lakes to find a great fishing spot, you sure as hell don’t want to check the same 100 over again when it moves.

    Interestingly, Puzzle Pirates has solved most of these.

    Supply level of raw commodities (the “fish”) scale based on demand as seen by the shops where those fish are used to produce usable items. When you had foraging for raw commodities (it was removed because of exploits), you could either spend your “labor time units” on foraging, or in shops constructing stuff from the raw goods. Do nothing but forage? Can’t construct. Doing nothing but constructing? Gotta buy the raws from others.

    “End result: If lots people want to fish, it will be very hard to find a spot where there is anything to catch”
    What if the game’s basic rule is that item X will be generated based on player population — if there are 100 active players, then 10 of these will spawn per day. Lots and lots of fisher people, if things are well designed, will happen when there are lots and lots of players.

    Really valuable item used in high-end stuff? Ok, lots of people will want it. Maybe only high-end fisher folks can land it?

    Maybe well-known spot X has a large capacity buffer — 30 unfished fish can swim in it, but it restores fish at a slow rate. Less-well-known spot Y has a small buffer (smaller pond) — it can only hold 2 or 3 unfished fish. But it breeds them faster.

  97. Tremayne says:

    To make PvP fun – the gain (fun) to be had from PvPing has to outweigh the cost from losing (both material loss, and the grief and anguish of not being a winner – which seems to be a real problem for some people 🙂 ). It works if the cost isn’t too bad and the PvP is fun even in the fights you lose. Keep the cost down by minimising how much grief can be caused – e.g. mechanics to prevent being spawn camped – as well as the game penalties for PvP deaths.

    as for players policing gankers – the most elegant method I can think of is a bounty system. The more a player griefs others, the more people who chip in to increase the price on his head – and you get an emergent end game career of bounty hunter.

  98. Owain says:

    Actually, even though Ultima Online had a free for all PvP model with full looting of your opponant on death, loss of gear was a fairly trivial matter because gear was easy to replace. Most folks had a crafting mule who could crank out GM crafted stuff by the ton, so if you were ganked, you typically didn’t bother making a corpse run, since your stuff would frequently (not always) be looted. Instead, you run to town, your house, or your guild HQ, whichever was closest, restock and jump back into the fight.

    Further, the UO respawn system meant that there was no such thing as spawn camping, because you chose where you respawned, either at a wandering healer or in a safe zone, so unless you foolishly res’ed in the vicinity of enemies, you usually never had to worry about res spawn camping.

    Games that require you to camp PvE spawns for uber purple trinkets make the anguish of losing at PvP worse, because not only do you risk the material loss of the item in some cases, you lose all the time invested in acquiring that item. PvE designed this way serves to break PvP.

    The more rules that games impose to ‘improve’ pvp, in my opinion, only seem to make it less attractive. If you don’t want your players ‘traumatized’ by pvp, don’t allow PvP at all. For many players, that is what they want anyway, so let them gather their PvE loot and be happy. If you do allow PvP, make it cheap, and make it easy, and don’t require a lot of PvE to support the PvP. Those enjoy PvP will appreciate it, and those who don’t care for PvP will be playing something else, anyway. Forcing PvEers to live with PvPers makes the PvEers unhappy, and forcing PvPers to grind PvE mobs when they would rather be fighting other players instead doesn’t seem like a brilliant game design either.

    You can’t please all of the people all of the time, which is an old saying I think I first heard in kindergarten, but for some reason, is universally ignored by game designers. Yes, I know game companies would really love to have a zillion subcribers for their one-size-fits-all monolithic game design, but it seems like a waste of development time, money, and effort to build game elements that large parts of your audience doesn’t really want in the first place.

    Instead, I would think that a game company would maximize it’s profits by developing smaller games targeted to different player types. Achiever games for achievers, explorer games for explorers, socializing games for socializers, and killer games for killers. Sure, you will get some crossover, because even in a PvP game, there is some scouting to be done, so killers with a bit of explorer in them will like that, and managing a player guild will appeal to the PvE achiever who also enjoys the socialization part, but trying to include all features in equal measure just doesn’t seem to work all that well.

    Pick a genere, and capitalize on that one facet of play and make those players deleriously happy in that niche. Do that for each player type, and you’ll have a lot of deleriously happy players dumping piles of money on you for the priveledge of playing your games rather than a bunch of disatisfied customers who try your one-size-fits-all game for a while, but who end up leaving for the Next Big Release in a futile attempt to find what they are looking for.

  99. Adam Miller says:

    Conferences and their speakers are about delivering perspectives and information. Working on the first MUD gives you a lifetime license for a unique perspective that some people will find interesting forever. There is not a certification committee that decides who is relevant or not.

    Since the first MUD, the only important progress has been graphics and mass marketing. Everything that I’ve seen in Wow or other MMOs I remember as a feature in earlier MUDs in some form.

    Therefore, I feel that Bartle after all these years, is still very relevant. Regarding repetitious presentations, why not say the same thing repeatedly if nothing has truly changed since you started talking?

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