Game talkMore on ‘flation and the future

 Posted by (Visited 13349 times)  Game talk
Jan 202007
 

This post starts out being about very gamey things like damage per second, and ends up on a speculative note. So if you’re the sort who comes here for stuff about social virtual worlds, read on, because this is relevant to you too. 🙂

Over at The Cesspit, Abalieno argues that “the mudflation from the perspective of those who build these kinds of games isn’t THE PROBLEM. The mudflation is THE SOLUTION.” The logic is simple:

  • it’s inherent in the model
  • consumed content leads to shared experiences, and being able to go back and see something that was once powerful and is now trivial helps that, and both of these feelings are core to the value offered by this style of game
  • by rendering older content “useless” from a game point of view you re-establish the horizon for players, making the game have fresh goals

All of this is true. But…

Mudflation really is a problem. It has a few side effects that aren’t desirable:

  • It makes the games less accessible to new players. This happens for a few reasons.
    • Static content gets scaled off of the original values of things. In a mudflated scenario, it doesn’t get updated, typically. This means that your starting cash remains the same even as the value of a gold coin goes down; it means that the ideal level 5 weapon is something nicer than it used to be, because it’s now a level 10 weapon that has been discarded by a ;evel 15 player, rather than being the weapon that designers specced for level 5.
    • New users now have less “buying power” so to speak. Yes, it’s overall easier for them to kill things. But the net effect is that it’s harder for them to reach the “new standard of living” because successful players accelerate faster off the intended difficulty curve. The game was specced for level 5 players tackling level 5 monsters with level 5 swords. But one guy gets a level 10 sword, and he cuts through the level 5 mobs like butter. Quickly he’s level 10 with a level 15 sword. The rest of the level 5 guys who want a level 10 sword have to try to obtain it based on friendship or based on the currency value. But the currency is deflated, and they only earn currency at the old-school level 5 rate. The result is more grinding for cash or XP.
    • Social contacts get harder early in the game, because users accelerate out of the shared low level experience quickly. Your odds of making friends in that newbie experience are lower because people are just there for less time. It pushes towards coming in with friends, basically.
  • It shortens the overall player lifespan in a game.
    • Everything in the game gets easier, so people max out faster. That much is obvious.
    • You end up in a high-level rat race, as a developer. All the content that is there gets deflated, meaning it’s faster to get through. Since the bulk of your users are rushing to high level, you logically spend your time making more high level content. You can add more on the end, basically laying more track in front of an onrushing train. Going back to make the base levels less deflated is hard, when you spend all your time working on new endgame material.
    • But you can’t make content as fast as it is consumed, especially since the rate of consumption continues to rise. Each expansion you make must be scaled to the new competence level of players — not just their actual level, but the new reality of how fast they can chew through it. This means that when you make five level 60 expansions in a row, the last of them is MUCH harder than the first, even though they are nominally all the same.
    • This means that as you seek greater challenges, you are more at risk of altering the fundamental gameplay. You switch to gameplay involving new challenges altogether: large-scale group coordination being the most popular (raids, politics, guilds, etc). This then alienates those players who aren’t after this different game, but want more of the same old game mechanic.

Remember, all of this happens even without expansions. A better way to put it might be that expansions are a solution to mudflation. Or some of mudflation, anyway.

Now, there’s something to what Abalieno says when he comments that in many ways this lifecycle is the lifeblood of the subgenre.

The mudflation isn’t a side effect, it’s exactly what the devs WANT. It’s the lifeblood of this model. Fighting it from the design perspective not only doesn’t work quite well, but it’s even counterproductive. The mudflation here is the *goal* and justification…

So the recipe is: we exploit it till we can. When it breaks we make another.

Basically, the logic here is that you milk it while you can. It presumes that the train does catch up to you eventually, and that therefore you should embrace the decay, so to speak. The goal then shifts to playing a game of timing: can you lay the last track just as your audience finally gets bored and is ready to move on to the next thing? (Which you presumably have sitting ready in the form of a sequel).

This timing trick is of course fiendishly difficult. But more importantly in terms of responding to Abalieno, it’s not at all “embracing” mudflation, which he suggests is what Blizzard is doing.

Mudflation is a side effect. It has some negative consequences, yes, but there are also positive effects to mudflation. For example — a repeat player will find the game easier to rush through to get to what they want to play again, so they aren’t quite as bored silly by grinding levels over again. A new player who is given lots of cool stuff feels prized and welcomed, and the older player giving it feels like a mentor. Older players can go back and see a dragon they once battled endlessly and barely beat, and now crush it like a bug, and feel like gods.

So it’s a side effect. As a side effect, you can either embrace it, or fight it.

The main reason why most everyone fights it (and WoW is BUILT on fighting it — soulbinding, bind on pickup, level restrictions, moving people from zone to zone so that they don’t revisit older dead content, tiered equipment, extremely limited economy with virtually no trade, etc) is because embracing it is too damn expensive.

To embrace mudflation, you have to instead say, “OK, we’re going to constantly render our content obsolete” and keep adding stuff. You would encourage hand-me-downs to players rather than restricting trade. You’d literally destroy old areas rather than keep them around. And you’d go ahead and change what newbies start at to compensate — let them start at higher levels, basically.

This is what pen and paper gaming does to handle the situation in long-running campaigns.

But building a pen and paper module is far cheaper than making an expansion. So even if you fully expect to use “exploit it till we can. When it breaks we make another” as your model, you are caught in a horrible trap: you aren’t able to make the stuff fast enough. So what you do is fight a rearguard action, expecting to lose. This is what Blizzard is doing, what EQ is doing, and so on.

If mudflation were the desired effect, then Blizzard would make all items tradeable, because that would speed up mudflation. They don’t do so, because they actually want to regulate mudflation, to stretch out the milking period as long as possible.

The question is whether there are alternative models altogether, which offer the good qualities without the bad. Honestly, I am not sure there are. Even user-content-creation worlds suffer from something analogous to mudflation. There, it’s called “progress” instead, and really, that’s what mudflation is: a society of players mastering their environment, “discovering” new technologies (OK, so these are actually handed them in dollops by the content creators), and applying them to render what was once a challenging environment into something tame.

In the end, the reason why we fight mudflation is because games are predicated on solving challenges; tame environments aren’t as fun. If you break down the list of approaches to managing mudflation that I listed in the other post, you arrive at the conclusion that they represent the following:

  • restrict players from helping each other (limit trading, twinking, use soulbinding, etc)
  • prevent players from actually improving (limit DPS increases, distract them with cosmetic enhancements, etc)
  • beat them down when they do improve (decay, drains, etc)
  • force them to do something else (alternate advancement, elder games, etc)
  • occasionally make them start over altogether (wipes)

We can turn this around to speculate on what a model not vulnerable to mudflation might look like:

  • It would encourage cooperation, twinking, mentoring, and trading.
  • It would want players to actually grow much more powerful than the initial game state assumed
  • It would allow the gains of the past to be preserved
  • It would let you pursue a given path infinitely, rather than making you “switch careers,” because it keeps adding fractal detail
  • It would never make the barrier to entry higher because of all this stuff — in fact, ideally, it makes it lower
  • It wouldn’t spend all its time adding content at the high end
  • It would not assume that the experience has a finite lifespan

It’s rather hard to conceive of a game that can offer this, but it’s easy to see that user-driven worlds might. (Cue someone bringing up Second Life in three, two, one…) The trick for the gaming audience would be to make that act of creation into a game somehow, so that they feel like they are actually being entertained.

  31 Responses to “More on ‘flation and the future”

  1. 01/21 06:15 links for 2007-01-20 (Feedster on: second life) 01/21 06:15 links for 2007-01-20 (Feedster on: secondlife) 01/21 05:39 More on ¡Æflation and the future (Feedster on: second life) 01/21 05:21 Briefing: Code for ‘Second Life’ opened to public (Paintball layouts for myspace) (Feedster on: second life) 01/21 05:20 Virtual world used to raise awareness of real world social issues

  2. I’d love to write a blog post on this but I don’t have time.

    Our text MUDs don’t really experience mudflation. For instance, Achaea, the one I’m the most familiar with:

    Certainly encourages cooperation, mentoring (formal system for it), and so on.
    Doesn’t add levels to the upper end (well, we did, once, about 8 years ago).
    The barrier to entry is no higher now than it was previously (probably lower due to better documentation).
    If you gained level 90 5 years ago, you are no less powerful than someone else who gained level 90 today.
    We build way more new content at the low and medium end than the high end.
    It doesn’t assume a finite game experience.

    However:

    It does not add fractal content to allow infinite pursual of any particular path.
    Player power is capped. (I don’t see why this is a requirement unless you assume that game-oriented virtual worlds must be about endless power accumulation.)

    Why does it work? Roleplaying. I realize that’s probably not scalable, but it’s not as if the problem doesn’t have a mostly-implemented solution on some scale. Roleplaying really bridges the gap between game world and user-created-content world, as it is game-oriented user-created content.

    –matt

  3. If you only add content at the middle and low end, not at the top, then you would get really really slow mudflation, I suppose. And then you have an infinite game, RP, as your core mechanic.

    Is someone of level 10 more powerful today than someone of level 10 when the game launched?

  4. Well, the caveat I have is that we launched Achaea with less levels than I intended for us to have, and a couple years after launch we upped the level cap to 100. It’s stayed there ever since, and that was 1999.

    It’s really hard to say whether someone of level 10 today is more powerful than someone of level 10 when the game launched because so many other factors have changed in the meantime as to render the comparison kind of difficult. We had one class at launch, for instance, that was intentionally overpowered in a strict sense, but we required people to roleplay the class in a way such that they couldn’t abuse their power. That didn’t scale well, so now someone of that class of level 10 is weaker. I’m sure other classes are stronger by some measure.

    However, a level 10 person with the equipment he or she is likely to have at level 10 today is no more powerful on average than in 1999, I’d say. It’s a little hard for me to even get my mind to make that comparison as levels aren’t nearly as important in Achaea (and the rest of our text MUDs) as in the DIKU derivatives. People heavy into PvP often go up and down in levels like yo-yos, as dying costs a fair amount of xp.

    I think perhaps one of the tricks is that our games are not heavily equipment-oriented. Most NPCs/monsters don’t drop anything but gold upon death, and weapons/armor are largely either made by players or purchased from us. Further, NPC prices for many other essential goods are fixed and have remained so, ensuring that essentials will never become unaffordable.

    Come to think of it, there probably is a certain level of mudflation at the high end in terms of wealth. I am fairly sure that how much the richest player in the game is worth has risen over time. Some of that would be explained by a larger population statistically creating more individual outliers, but probably not all.

    I’m not even sure if that’s mudflation though, since most things you spend gold on are fixed. Credit prices on the credit/gold exchange have remained pretty stable, aside from a couple notable drops in the value of gold per credit when we introduced a couple new ways to gain gold (for the longest time, dead NPCs/monsters didn’t even drop gold). Prices fluctuate, but within a reasonably narrow band.

    After writing this post, I’m still not really sure if we have mudflation or not. I do know it’s sunny outside though, so I’m off!

  5. Oh, and of course, roleplaying is of course a game system that has fractal detail by nature. 🙂

  6. Way back in the day when I was playing and writing for Shadowdale MUD, we kept running into mudflation even though there was generally a player wipe every 3-4 years (associated with a new codebase, usually).

    Where it bit us was itemization. Basically, there was no standard for itemization other than what was already in the game. So a builder building a new zone would make the items in his or her zone as good as or better than what was already out there at that level. This all seemed fine at first, but over time as more builders made more zones, all slightly one-upping each other with itemization, it got to the point where player power started to noticeably increase when they went and got items from the newest zones. Eventually this led to a culture of farming.

    Now what was interesting in Shadowdale is because the mudflation moved at such a micro pace, and was confined to items only for the most part, occasionally someone would rediscover a powerful item from an old zone that had been basically forgotten by everyone playing, and chaos would ensue as people frantically started looking for the place where they had found that item. This eventually led to two competing groups of players in SDmud – the self-described “explorers”, who went around looking for old zones and forgotten items, and the “powergamers”, who went around farming the known spots to get the best and most powerful items for their characters. The powergamers weren’t fans of the explorers, because every so often the explorers would change the rules of the item acquisition game by uncovering something crazily powerful, and then wouldn’t share the knowledge with anyone they didn’t think was worthy. At the same time, the explorers resented the powergamers for always going to the easy, popular, farmed places, and never venturing out and experiencing the game world as an explorer did. It was a really wierd social dynamic.

    One of the interesting things that SDMud did do to combat the spread of powerful items was a feature called rarity. Basically, if an item was powerful enough, it was flagged as rare, and only a certain number of that item could exist in the game at any one time. So maybe only 25 Swords of the Dawn would ever enter the game, and after that, they just didn’t drop. If one left the game for some reason, then the next time someone killed the mob that dropped the sword, well, they’d have a very nice surprise. Liberal use of rarity slowed down the cycle, but it didn’t stop it, because builders kept adding new zones and new more powerful (if rare) items – so eventually, even if everyone didn’t have a Sword of the Dawn, they had an equivalent item.

    If we assume that a game is adding content, then ideally the goal should be to add the content in such a way that it takes 3-5 years for existing content to become obsolete – at which point it should be slated for revamp anyway. Revamping old content is something that should be done a lot more often – One of the things that bugs me about MMOs is that after a few years, there’s all kinds of really great areas that could be revitalized and reused with very little development effort, but they never seem to get touched. If no one goes to the gnoll caves outside town anymore, because there’s better hunting elsewhere, then the enterprising developer should view that as an opportunity to inject a little storyline into the game world. The gnolls, having been left alone for so long, have grown a little tougher and more organized, have a new chief and a powerful shaman, and decide to start attacking the town, which of course requires players to defend it and then counterattack the caves. This does a few things for players. First, it makes the world feel a bit more dynamic, immersive, and alive. Second, the nostalgia value of fighting off their old foes can’t be understated, especially if players recognize named gnolls that they once hunted in the attacking force. And third, it revitalizes the old content (the gnoll caves) and makes them a viable place for players to go again.

  7. Just a different perspective, as always …

    I’m not convinced that the side-effects of WoW are entirely undesirable and I’m not sure that WoW is trying for the same goals as you are and thus I think some of your analysis is off.

    It makes the games less accessible to new players.

    At this point most of the players coming into WoW are coming in due to friends, friends who will be more than happy to help them get up to speed. WoW has succeeded in a large part due to extreme accessibility. I think it actually makes sense for them to accelerate the early game a bit at this point.

    It shortens the overall player lifespan in a game.

    You seem to be only looking at one variable: the time to reach the original level cap. On top of that there is now new content and a new level cap. Also, I think that, at this point the population of people who want to do the whole 1-60 game of WoW has been pretty saturated. I’m not sure that this is a priority for them anymore.

    can you lay the last track just as your audience finally gets bored and is ready to move on to the next thing?

    EQ has done a pretty good job of this.

    When it comes to “embracing” mudflation I think you and Abalieno are both a bit right. I think that some of the effects of mudflation are exactly what Blizzard wants at this point but I don’t think that means that they want to entirely open up the floodgates. New content for level 60 has a different effect than getting rid of soulbind.

    In other words, I’m saying it’s not a matter of either/or. It’s a matter of how much and where. And, even though WoW isn’t a world for me, I think that their strategy to date makes sense for their audience.

  8. People heavy into PvP often go up and down in levels like yo-yos, as dying costs a fair amount of xp

    Could it be that moving a step closer to permadeath minimizes the effects of mudflation?

    Do you also have limited lifetimes on items?

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  10. Could adding scaling content solve the problem of developers having such a powerful incentive to exclusively develop end-game content?

    By this I mean give instanced content a range of levels that it’s experienceable with and develop an algorithm to scale it according to the characters that are experiencing it. It seems that the Heroic Mode system is a stab at this but it could be taken further. (I have to use WOW examples as that’s the only MMORPG I’m familiar with, I apologize for any terminology that doesn’t translate to other games.)

    Let’s say you have instance content like the Scarlet Monastery, a mid-range dungeon. Instead of the level 35-45 range that SM is currently recommended for, allow characters to experience it up through level 55 or 65 (or whatever). Scale opponents by the party’s average level or item level, and the rewards by the same (for bind on equip items) or the item recipient’s level (for bind on pickup items each person would roll on a version for their level).

    Set a maximum and minimum level that mobs and rewards are capped for the instance. Rewards that the character keeps would not update as the character increases level, so there would still be incentive to run the instanced content again at higher levels. Once the mechanics are in place, it may even become economically feasible to develop mid-game raid content that scales to the end-game; beneficial in a game like WOW that is constantly seeing an influx of new players and old players making new characters to play with friends who have just come to the game. Reworking SM Cathedral as a 10 man raid that characters level 40 to 70 could enjoy would breathe a lot of life into largely-existing content.

    I see this with the potential to also solve the problem (although not everyone would call it that) of high-level characters walking lower-level ones through lower-level content; would a well-equipped level 50 character walk a level 20 character through an instance when the opponents they face will be in the level 35-40 range and the 20 can’t use any drops anyway?

    I am not a game designer, however, so maybe there are other problems associated with this that I don’t see. There would be player support for it however, this is something that other players have eagerly suggested to me with the release of the BC content (to keep UBRS worth running for example).

  11. One of the interesting things that SDMud did do to combat the spread of powerful items was a feature called rarity.

    This was a common feature in the text muds that MMORPGs just aren’t using.

    I’m not convinced that the side-effects of WoW are entirely undesirable and I’m not sure that WoW is trying for the same goals as you are

    I am not knocking WoW at all… I think they’re doing quite a good job with mudflation, overall.

    At this point most of the players coming into WoW are coming in due to friends, friends who will be more than happy to help them get up to speed. WoW has succeeded in a large part due to extreme accessibility. I think it actually makes sense for them to accelerate the early game a bit at this point.

    Accelerating the early game, sure. But you never want to assume that people will come in because of friends. Instead, what they did was add two new player races, thus ensuring that the hollow world syndrome is greatly minimized for new entrants, because a sizable percentage of current players made new characters. A nice, simple trick that is very easy to do.

    You seem to be only looking at one variable: the time to reach the original level cap. On top of that there is now new content and a new level cap.

    That buys a certain amount of time, sure. Whether the reduced longevity is equal to the amount of new content is always an open question for a given game. In the case of WoW, I think they’re proabbly fine — the new expansion adds something like 25% as much playtime as there was already, and I doubt WoW has deflated by 25%.

    EQ has done a pretty good job of this.

    EQ has had its ups and downs with it. For a while, a huge number of players actually bounced off the high levels and chose to restart instead.

    In other words, I’m saying it’s not a matter of either/or. It’s a matter of how much and where.

    Absolutely.

    Could adding scaling content solve the problem of developers having such a powerful incentive to exclusively develop end-game content?

    The sort of scaling content you are describing has been done with expansions such as Lost Dungeons of Norrath in EQ, where it was done for randomized instances. Various muds also tried it.

  12. […] https://www.raphkoster.com/2007/01/20/more-on-flation-and-the-future/This post starts out being about very gamey things like damage per second, and ends up on a speculative note. So if you’re the sort who comes here for stuff about social virtual worlds, read on, because this is relevant to you too. […]

  13. Other than closing an economy, disallowing all cross player trading (forcing them to go thru an npc merchant, with fixed buy/sell ratios) any current mmo with an economics model will experience mudflation. Most economies encourage farming at the top of the level band, creates hollow mid and low end population, and a lack of tradeskilled goods useable for the low end players, making it even harder to get into the game without being twinked up to speed.

    What I’m not seeing any MMO’s doing, is controlling servers to counter the destructive effects of mudflation –

    Imagine:
    Day 1 – brand new server world…
    day 60 – server closed to new accounts…(current players can still create new characters on the server)
    day 180, 270, 360 – servers judged for viable population – if server population is less than 60% of day 60 count of unique accounts, it’s merged with another server of similar age (within 60 days of start date)

    Every 60 days or so, you open and close servers… keeping the low end game viable for all players. Server first item finds, unique boss fights, etc, continue to be viable content, as it never becomes trivialized for new players before they experience the full value of the content.

    Your high end content player will suffer some attrition, but will see an influx of other players at the same or similar levels upon merges.

  14. BlackAndy wrote:
    Could adding scaling content solve the problem of developers having such a powerful incentive to exclusively develop end-game content?

    I think one of the best aspects of WoW is that you move around and see a lot of different areas. I knew my time in WoW was limited when I found myself thinking, “Not another BRS (or Scholomance, or whatever) run!” when my guildmates decided what to do that evening. The problem I’d see with your suggestion is that the low-risk option is then to keep farming the zone you are familiar with. In fact, people would work out which zones scale the most unfairly so that the instance with the best loot/time ratio would be overused. People would complain about “grinding” and get bored quicker.

    In the end, you’d still have the same necessity to add more content for the people bored with existing content.

    Brew wrote:
    What I’m not seeing any MMO’s doing, is controlling servers to counter the destructive effects of mudflation.

    I don’t see how this truly prevents mudflation. Assuming players are able to keep their accumulated items and equipment, you’re just ensuring that merged servers automatically have mudflation problems. I guess if you split people up you water down the major mudflation issues, but communities like to stick together for the most part so you’re just going to be hurting community. In the end, I fear you’d only end up alienating people by tearing apart and sewing the communities back together on a regular basis like this.

    My thoughts.

  15. On rarity, I’d point to The Sleeper as the sort of problem that rarity gives you. What percentage of the server gets to do more than look at the Legendary Blade of Ownage? And why are they paying full price?

    On revitalizing old content, they are doing that in EQ, and every update is met with a certain level of hostility as familiar areas become strange. I can hardly wait for the uproar when Blackburrow gets new graphics.

    It seems to me that every answer to mudflation is a choice of trade-offs, rather than a true solution. I wonder if giving the players a greater sense of agency in the change process (ala the battle for Trinsic as it might have been) might make some mudflation solutions more palatable, or even desirable.

  16. […] Home &middot About &middot News &middot Podcast &middot Blog &middot Forum &middot Login &middot Register Raph’s Website – More on ‘Flation https://www.raphkoster.com/2007/01/20/more-on-flation-and-the-future/ "This post starts out being about very gamey things like damage per second, and ends up on a speculative note. So if you’re the sort who comes here for stuff about social virtual worlds, read on, because this is relevant to you too." Submitted by brent on Jan 21, 2007 09:44:12 CST (more) (comments) karma: 0 / clicks: 6 / comments: 0 Comments: To post comments, please login. VirginWorlds MMORPG News [Jan 21] Nerfbat – That Epic Feeling […]

  17. Following on the BlackAndy and Psychochild thread:

    Note that the combination of Cavern of Time and selectable dungeon difficulty can result in a structure where all the old content can be theoretically replayed at the approporate scale in terms of risk and reward.

    Add dynamic changes to dungeon, replayability will be enhanced and appropriately scaled.

    Just like RL ‘flation, it’s not about embracing it or preventing it; it’s about managing it to provide market stability or another desired objective.

    From this perspective, I think Blizzard is doing a decent job in keeping paying players and managing the ‘flation. They might have done a bit too much on the loot, but they did keep the level cap to 70 and use some of the basic ‘flation fighting designs.

    Frank

    Frank

  18. There is certainly high-end deflation in WoW. All the level 60s who spent countless hours grinding instances are now having to cope with new items from the 60-70 content that are more powerful than their prized purples.

    Is there really any deflation in the rest of the game, though? I played a new character from level 1 to level 9 on Tuesday and Friday. Yesterday I played another new character from 1 to 10 on a different realm. (I hate shards) I couldn’t tell any differences between those experiences and the ones that I had back in September. The only difference I could tell between these recent characters and the ones I created right after launch were that the game was a bit more streamlined and I had more of clue what I was doing.

    How is this supposed mudflation in WoW actually affecting newbies?

  19. psychochild:

    I guess if you split people up you water down the major mudflation issues

    I didn’t propose splitting the community up. I’m in favor of keeping a community togethor. By keeping the community closed off from newbies, you prevent them from doing damage to new joiners coming into a mature economy. It prevents the hollow world problems in low end and mid games as well. It preserves the integrity of the whole game for new players.

    Closing a server after 60 days of open enrollment also has the benefits of stopping BotFarmers from joining up to an inflated server to farm, and sell gold… sure, you’ll have some from the initial open period, but as those get cleaned out, their damaging influences will die down…(till somebody leaving the game sells them their characters) – however, that would be miniscule to the quantity of farmer teams that are run regularly by the major Bot Teams today.

  20. You’d want to allow existing players to create new characters on the server, as long as they had at least one there before it was closed to newbies. Otherwise (1) everyone will create excess guild bank/mule characters before it closes, most of which will not do anything but inflate the character count, and (2) players starting new characters will be forced to start them on new shards, making it even more difficult for them to play with their friends from the old shard.

  21. How is this supposed mudflation in WoW actually affecting newbies?

    It has essentially no effect. Raph is pointing out the “social” kind of mudflation. But WoW keeps the social aspects so chained down and bland that they basically have no real impact on the game. It preserves and defends it’s “game” aspects so that they are bullet-proof.

    So even the negative effects are reduced.

  22. Raph wrote:

    roleplaying is of course a game system that has fractal detail by nature

    Not really. A quick trawl from some old SWG logs produced this little gem.

    Coreena : Cade, help. Ramona has been kidnapped!
    Cade : Forget it.
    Coreena : You heartless pig!
    Cade : Girl gets kidnapped three times every week, I reckon she likes it.
    —Coreena adds Cade to /ignore —

    A couple of years in, those apparently fractal patterns show a definite repetition.

    But it’s certainly a longer lifespan than levelling.

  23. I dream of a game where players can interact with the world so much that the repetition aspects dissappear.
    When speaking of “roleplayers”, do we tend to forget that in a deeply interactive world players would all become roleplayers to some extent or another? Or is this not accurate?
    Players love to “do” things in these games. In early UO, players teleported on top of roofs and performs mock immitations of, primarily, rock groups. They searched for many things, finding ways to get to spots not normally accessable, finding “rares”, checking out every box and crate and nook and cranny. They wondered over levers and floor tiles meanings. They played tricks such as opening doors and drinking mugs of ale from accross rooms. They played with names on tames, like the Budweiser bullfrogs. They had contests made of mini-games, chess and etc., and even made up their own games like bagball and find the whatever hidden wherever. They colored passersby cloths. They contested with costumes. They pulled pranks.
    Many of these things are undesirable, to be sure. But the point is that players like to do many things and will if they can. But the ability to do so has gone missing. Any of these things I mentioned, as undesirable as they were, if you can immagine a way to allow it without the undesirable parts, wouldn’t the game be so much more fun?

    I’d love to chase a thief accross high rooftops in the image of movies and books, trying to avoid slipping and falling by the use of my movement controls and some luck chances, leaping from one to another by the skill of my hands, hoping to either catch him or outlast him, all the while hoping that town guards don’t end up arresting and fining me.

  24. A couple of years in, those apparently fractal patterns show a definite repetition.

    But it’s certainly a longer lifespan than levelling.

    That’s just some plateaud players who haven’t figured out how to level up. 😉

  25. I’m gonna skip around here so…

    RP is good for keeping things going in what would be an otherwise stale game but only if the players have the tools to do it. That’s why it doesn’t much come into play in games like WoW, because players don’t have the tools.

    Even in games that provide some tools, like SWG, you still don’t have everything you’d really want. For example, I’m part of SWG’s largest roleplaying guild. We routinely have RP storylines going in game, which get written up after they happen and posted as stories for all to enjoy. Quite often we have to go co-opt some NPC bunker or whatever to use for our RP purposes, which means we have to sometimes break character to deal with the NPCs there so that we can tell our story uninhibited. There’s also stuff we’d like to be able to do, like dock with multiplayer ships in space to go onboard, that would help a lot with the RP.

    Will RPers ever have all the tools they need? Probably not without a full suite of user content generation tools, and then you run into the SL problem – without some kind of oversight, you end up with a gigantic culture clash because people will rapidly start to push the borders of your setting’s genre. You’ve got one guy telling stories about princesses and dragons, while another has alien invaders from another planet landing on your world, and so on. It gets a little too diluted and confusing after a while.

    On the item rarity thing and the Sleeper comparison – that is the problem. So if you use that concept, you need to do it enough that lots of players have a chance – instead of 25 items, maybe it’s 250 items. At some point you hit diminishing returns. Likewise, you need to make sure that it’s not always the same people getting the items as new items are added in. For example, let’s presume that Guild A finishes the raids first and gets copies of all the rare items. Later on, you ship an expansion, and Guild A is again at the forefront, and gets the rare items again. Everyone else is still shut out, because everyone wants the rare items from the new expansion, and most players probably aren’t raiding the earlier stuff now, they want to do the new stuff. So that’s the downside to rarity. However, I think it could still be a viable mechanism in a commercial MMORPG, if done correctly. (Side note here: The downside to owning rares in most Diku MUDs was increased rent – the amount of gold you had to pay to keep your stuff when you were logged out).

  26. […] MMO Mudflation Thoughts First off you need to go read the post and comments on Raph Koster’s site in this mudflation thread to understand why I think the comments there can’t see the forest from the trees.  There’s a bigger picture to solving or curbing the problem of mudflation.  The problem with traditional approaches to solving mudflation is that they typically cause tangential effects in other game systems.  In order to truly reign in mudflation, traditional MMO game design needs to be rethought.  Short anecdote that I’ll return to later before I get started.  Four or five years ago, I had a chance to sit down with a couple of the old Kesmai guys at GDC.  At the time we were discussing EQ, Asheron’s Call and DAoC.  One of them remarked that MMOs do very little for the newbie experience and over time as mudflation sets in their new users were at a disadvantage.  An example from the old game Air Warrior, which I’ve never had the pleasure of trying, struck a chord with me.  Air Warrior required squadrons to continually recruit new members.  Apparently there was a mechanic in the game that made veterans seek out new members.  The thought here was that this might be a way to help solve mudflation.  The thought stewed a while and has since been added to the design of Ages of Athiria.  From the beginning Ages of Athiria has been designed to ward off the idea of mudflation.  Solving mudflation is not only impossible but its not even desirable.  A healthy economy should see inflation as time goes on.  What it shouldn’t see is double digit inflation, the likes of which happens yearly in every mainstream MMO on the market.  So with that in mind, how do we build a world where mudflation is controlled and tangential effects to other game systems are minimized?  You start by revolving game systems around the economy instead of wrapping an economy around a combat sim/leveling treadmill.  When you think about it, its more natural this way.  Money plays a much more central role in our lives than it does in these virtual worlds. The first thing we addressed was player ownership of stuff in the world.  Our design team loved the Shadowbane city ownership.  It’s the only game we’ve played where political boundaries really meant something.  Eve Online might also be like this but I’ve never played it so I can’t say.  We had to have player ownership of buildings and other major items. (boats, houses, caravans, shops, forges, …)  What we didn’t like was that something that was carefully constructed in four months of teamwork was torn down at 4 AM in two hours one morning.  This made us arrive at analyzing the game play surrounding protecting what you own, including oneself, PvP. First we thought PvP was something that no-one wanted but that thought never truly seemed right.  It’s PvE servers that are the aberration in the landscape of MMOs but they exist because people do not want to be forced into PvP without their consent.  Players tend to take their possessions and achievements seriously and when another player griefs them, they leave the game because retaliation is not permanent.  It’s funny that we let griefers inconvenience our players time but when the griefed ask us to step in and inconvenience the griefer’s time, we step back or implement half-assed bounty hunting code.  We do this because game moderators stepping in to enforce play doesn’t scale and gives off the appearance of favoritism.  Why not put code in place to allow the players to enact a limited form of permanent justice on griefers?  We did that with our permadeath system for criminal behavior.  The permadeath penalty is one of the punishments a player city can dish out for crimes against its citizens.  A lot more information can be found here because this design topic is too big to include in this post about MMO mudflation.  Trust me I am going somewhere with all this background so stick with me. At this point, we’d given the player something to own in buildings and items, told them it would be made part of the world history and everyday game play situations would involve their cities.  We’d given the player run cities a way to protect their citizens against griefing making ownership something much harder to take away.  Now we needed to give all these players something to do.  Adventuring had to be there.  Every MMO needs a combat game in my opinion.   Our combat system started with the idea that a player never has more hit points than they start the game with.  This freezes one aspect of the mudflation game in place taking it out of the equation.  It limits the top end of our itemization as well but that should not be a problem for us because we’ll have more than just adventuring in the game as end-game game play.  The only thing I am unsure about in our design is if players that have been trained through past MMOs to hit harder, crit harder and heal more will be able to find fun in a game where defending your hit points is more important than rolling huge crit numbers.  Will the occasional hit be just as fun as the 75% hit ratios we see today?  I’m not sure.  Anyway, back on topic; Our combat system uses a system of insurance for items.  If you can afford to insure it, then on death your items will not be left on your corpse.  Loss from death has to be real because it makes ownership more real.  Our death penalty will likely only be loss of items as that has the potential for the most dramatic impact on the economy.  This also opens up the idea of artifact items which cannot be insured.  Sure you can own the Sword of a Thousand Truths but you’ll be hunted for it.  Bet you’re glad you belong to a player run city that can enact justice on the person that just ganked you for your sword.  The thing to take away from this is that the adventuring game is intricately tied to the player run city game.  This interdependency is the primary way Ages of Athiria fights mudflation. You’re thinking that none of this has to do with mudflation and I’ll immediately beg to differ.  Fixing the hit points of a character affects itemization which in turn affects player power and more importantly player power bands.  It reduces the bands of player power from dozens to a number far less than that meaning that new players and old players can group together without the game play getting in the way too much.  Our skill system further reduces the gap between bands of player power.  There’s a reason for this and it begins to tie back into the anecdote above.  Defending a city is difficult if only a small fraction of your citizens can participate.  We recognized this early on and began to set in motion game play that would make a city significantly easier to defend.  We deliberately wanted the cities to stay up.  Our ongoing lore depends upon having player run cities large enough to have staying power so our game play design reflects this.  With more of a population’s citizens able to help defend a city, cities should live longer and prosper.  A prospering city is very currency hungry which leads me to my next point. The political game is all about your city’s circle of influence.  Circle of influence is something akin to what we see in the Civilization games and other RTS games.  It marks the economic/cultural border of your player run city.  Within these borders, your city can more readily control resources such as mines and forests through which players or NPCs can be hired/commissioned to extract resources from.  Our AI design for NPC merchants is such that they will seek out the best place to setup shop to sell their wares.  Since our NPCs use player market pricing as their basis for offering goods and services, they factor in the political game when evaluating which player run city they would like to go to to setup shop.  The bulk of the political game is played RTS style, managing incoming/outgoing NPC and PC business owners and steering your PRC toward a prosperous future.  Taxes, justice, military, businesses, inns and all sorts of city needs are all part of this political game.  All of this except taxes requires gold, lots of it.  Taxes are the way currency is drained from the player economy and wars/public works maintenance are the way most of it is expended.  The nice thing about wars and public works is that once the money is spent it’s gone from the game.  Building a campaign to destroy another city is a huge monetary commitment and enough of a drain for a fairly large number of people to remain humble.  Wars should keep money from being stagnant in the world.  If player run cities require so much cash just to operate, then how does the player base actually provide that cash without it becoming a grind? That takes me to our last game play item, businesses.  None of the MMOs out there today give you even the most rudimentary tools with which to conduct business.  Balance sheets, income statements, inventory counts and the rest of the business 101 items are no where to be found in the default UI.  As a trader in WoW I have no idea if I am profitable without take huge amounts of time tracking every click that results in a monetary transaction.  Businesses are a form of our organization code.  Guilds are too as are groups only businesses have the most features enabled.  You can learn more about the basic concepts here.  Businesses were designed with two things in mind, keeping the economy moving during lightly played hours and providing a player with a non-combat oriented fully designed game play mechanic.  The basic premise that led us to formalized businesses is the implementation of mandatory taxation of citizens that can be put in place by a player run city.  We were forced to answer all the questions of expenses and revenue and what was taxable and what was not.  We had to answer the gifting problem as well and close up some loopholes in traditional MMO design that would sink a mandatory tax system from the onset.  In the end, we have a robust design for running a business in our world.  We’ve even taken to the idea that this part of the game should be real time enabled on the web so that the economy has many more participants during the daytime hours when the server is more lightly populated by adventuring players. After all of this, I think we’ve arrived at a world realized enough to keep mudflation at bay.  Player run cities need taxes to wage wars and operate the political game that shapes the lore of our world.  Businesses need the safe haven that player run cities provide; players need the security against griefing which ultimately could result in loss of their prized possessions.  Community sized goals that require hoards of funding should create a scarcity issue between player wealth and city wealth, though businesses ease the burden of getting all that loot from adventurers into the city’s economy.  Adventurers need businesses for equipment, supplies, repairs and places to stay.  Cities need adventurers to keep the roads clear and the monsters at bay so that merchant caravans can be operated in formal trade networks. (The items are physically shipped with the player owned caravan as part of our dynamic questing system.)  The only thing we haven’t done is incorporate the idea from the Kesmai employee into the game mechanic and that is easy to do.  Businesses need new employees that will not cost them as much money to employ.  Player run cities also need new players to bolster their population numbers.  Population expands a city’s circle of influence making it stronger.  Population also generates more taxes which can be used for funding a military and paying for maintenance and upkeep of public works.  What I am hoping comes from all this interconnectedness is a stable, steady inflation effect.  The newbie experience should never be degraded because newbies are extremely important to the end game.  If only newbies were important to raiding level 60 content in WoW; imagine…  Varied game play, real loss and consequence, community goals, interdependent game play mechanics and the ever thirsty money machine of government should give us what we want.  There’s much more to this design that I lead on to in this post.  Head over to http://my.agesofathiria,com to read more on our design and how we think it will seriously curb the mudflation effect. I can only hope that one day we’ll get the chance to show the world we know what we’re talking about.  Filed under: Game Design, MMO […]

  27. Amaranthar: When speaking of “roleplayers”, do we tend to forget that in a deeply interactive world players would all become roleplayers to some extent or another? Or is this not accurate?

    You may divide roleplayers and non-roleplayers into 4 rough categories:

    1. true roleplayers: these assume a fictional personality and stick to it.
    2. self roleplayers: these align their character to their personal self, but assume the fictional universe.
    3. modal roleplayers: these only assume roleplay during events.
    4. self players: these don’t roleplay per se, but accept the world as it present itself. That is, they interpret the symbols in context. If the fictional universe is close to their real life, they don’t destroy RP experiences for others too much.
    5. ignorant players: these ignore the fictional context altogether and are interpreting symbols solely in terms of power.

    Most players are a mix of 3/4/5… So well, you are somewhat right, but in order to have a consistent role-playing universe you need to limit 4 (inspire them to advance to 4/3/2 which is possible) and squeeze out 5 (which tend to be incapable or inherently unwilling to sustain a roleplaying environment).

  28. Sorry I can´t really follow here…

    New users now have less “buying power” so to speak.

    Isn´t it the opposite actually, or at least the same?

    From your comments I infer that designers leave the early content, the content for new users, alone, as it is. This means that the mobs drop the same items and same amounts of currency and the vendor prices and items sold stay the same all the time. The grind thus is just the similar grind all high lvl players had to go through before, or am I missing something? At this stage, “purchase power” should be exactly the same back then and “today in the time of post-mudflation”.

    Furthermore when there is player to player trade, the “purchase power” is likely to even increase, as former prize items are available for loot prices. Their value has deflated what effectively increases my “purchase power in potent items for my lvl”, right?

    So where does the “less “buying power” come from?

  29. Benjamin,

    Typically, established players benefit lots from hand-me-downs on their alts, but folks truly new to the game don’t as much. The effects of mudflation start at the top of the level range, and are felt less and less as you go down the level scale. At the lowest levels, you often can’t quite feel it — but you can see it around you as alts benefit from it.

  30. I see, but then “buying power” still stays the same while “power distribution” among lower levels is warped by hand-me-down-twinking. Eventually the buying power of those twinks will rise as they can farm for currency more fast.

    So probably I got two things wrong:
    1. I thought of less buying power as 1 gold buys me a loaf of bread today; 1 gold buys me half a loaf of bread tomorrow
    2. New players have less buying power compared to alts, and not in the sense that vendor prices have risen since, or the player to player market items got more expensive.

    Right? 🙂

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