UO is certainly focused on being a world first, and a game second. The social aspects also fall secondary to this. Hence the lack of easy-to-implement, obvious social enhancers such as long-distance communication, embedded mail system, and global chat spaces. All of these things are major social enhancers, but (usually) outside the fiction and reductive of a game OR world experience.
One reason btw why we went with this approach was that a focus on world tends to capture the “explorer” types as Bartle defines them, or in Bettelheim’s terms, encourages open-ended play. Or to put it in other words, having a varied, evolving setting (even though it only evolves in that “middle layer” of NPCs/creatures/economy) encourages roleplay, encourages exploration, encourages alternate styles of achievement, and rewards it with changed circumstances rather than with a milestone.
The problem with “game” style design in a mud setting is that you run out of game. Games are finite. In a fiscal sense, you wanna keep folks around as long as possible, of course, to get their money, and the more “infinite” the game is, the better. Remember that most mudders only play for around 3-6 months, and even dinos tend to give up after 2 years or so.
One reason why there may be so many [“game-oriented” text muds] is that when you beat one, but have not exhausted the desire to play, you must find another, so that you have fresh milestones to conquer. Many muds try to compensate for this by adding levels, races, and other small milestones (beat the game as a thief! Beat it as an elf! We have 10,000 levels–at which point the milestones become insignificant or repetitive enough to be meaningless).
It is difficult for a player of any (using game in a broader sense now, as in game design, as opposed to “game”-style design, boy I hope that made sense) to make the transition between methods of approaching the game. For one thing, not many games have the flexibility to be played in truly different ways. One of the reasons why Sid Meier is a master game designer is that he has a knack for open-ended play that has milestones that can be freely ignored. Yet it is rare to see a Civ player who plays once for conquest and again for cooperation and again for mastery of a particular area and again for social stability etc etc etc… the game design supports it, the individual player does not. But the audience does.
…It’s great for me to log into [UO] and try to go make a living as a tailor who wants to be a bard, have the character respected and in demand for the character’s skills (everybody wants to look special, so everyone wants custom dyed clothes), be frustrated because there’s a shortage of dyes in town, ponder getting backing to bring a trade caravan into Trinsic to see if I can make a killing on dye pots, and go kill a bear in the woods that I KNOW won’t be there tomorrow. There’s something oddly liberating about how different it feels to take for granted sim-based design rather than static environments. How many of you are working on this sort of thing in a text environment, where it could be pushed so much further than in graphics? (The possibilities boggle the mind there)… I’m curious, because I’d love to see what designs you come up with.