Myschyf’s Roundtable: Economic and Political Systems in MMORPGs

This roundtable was done as part of a series of talks hosted by Myschyf of The Rantings of Lum the Mad. As with the first one, this one included a number of notable online game designers who mostly knew each other and therefore ribbed each other a lot.

Myschyf’s Roundtable:

Economic and Political Systems in MMORPGs


  • J. Todd Coleman (“Warden”) is one of the founders of Wolfpack Studios, Inc, a privately held corporation located in Austin, Texas dedicated to producing games in the MMORPG market. The founders of Wolfpack hail from a long history of MUD and MUSH implementation, starting with a Scepter of Goth system in the late 80s. Over the last decade, they have assisted in the programming, building, and/or management of a handful of popular MUDs, including Chaos Mud, The Ways, Lost Souls LP, Moment in Tyme, Amber MUSH, Patternfall MUSH, Star Trek MUSH, Age of Chaos and Mortal Kombat.
  • Tommy Strand works at Funcom where he is the Producer and Lead Designer for Anarchy Online. He has 10 years experience in commercial graphics and single player games. As a 3D artist he worked on Casper (Publisher: Interplay) and Dragonheart (Publisher: Acclaim), and was Associate Producer for Pocahontas (Publisher: Disney). Four years he started working on MMORPGs and, after working on a different title for 1 year, he was asked to join the AO team as lead. With no prospect of a private life for still some time his every waking moment revolves around Anarchy-Online.
  • Dave Rickey (“Mahrin Skel”) was a Web Server programmer and part-time game journalist for the Vault Network, then the Assistant Head Game Master for EverQuest. He is now the Economy Designer and a World Builder for Dark Age of Camelot at Mythic Entertainment. He is also known in the fan community as Mahrin Skel, or “that pompous blowhard who never shuts up.”
  • Jonathon Baron (“Blue Baron”) writes:

       Let’s see….following four previous careers (photography, journalism, congressional aide, and freelance writer), I stumbled upon online games and was snatched from my otherwise normal life by the possibilities they contained. I may have been a tad delusional, but working as a liberal on Capitol Hill during the height of the Reagan Revolution required that mental state at times. What astonished me about online gaming was that so many of the irrelevant, petty reasons people treat each other badly could not come into play in the online world. Each person’s place in every community came directly from their conduct alone.
    Working up the ranks from volunteer to employee, I got my first paying gig from Kesmai in 1992 and was hired, full-time, in 1993. Although the products I lead – successive versions of Air Warrior: Air Warrior for Windows for AOL, Air Warrior II, Air Warrior III – were hardly revolutionary, they were evermore informed by their medium, and I learned a lot more about the medium by designing and producing them. More importantly, I was working with probably the most brilliant, and certainly the least recognized, pioneers in the field. Several of their games that have come and gone have more medium innovation and savvy than any titles available today. Their sin was timing.
    While at Kesmai I developed the company’s guidelines and standards for evaluating made-for-medium games, plus I gave several long winded lectures on the subject at Game Developers that many people, to their credit, were polite enough to endure from beginning to end.
    Late in 1999 I went to Origin to work on that seekret project that everyone knows about that perished for reasons beyond my feeble comprehension. A second, somewhat secret effort similarly suffered a short sword neck thrust. Thus I fled Texas.
    I now work for Infogrames on yet another hush hush sort of thing, but this one is the best opportunity I’ve had in my career. I’ve gone from forlorn hope to praying that getting what you wish for is actually a good thing.

  • Scott Jennings (“Lum the Mad”), who was eerily quiet for most of this chat, edits “The Rantings of Lum the Mad“. In real life he is rumored to hold a grossly overpaid data entry position when not crushing promising gaming companies underneath his iron heel.
  • Raph Koster (“Holocron”) is Lead Designer for Star Wars Online, a wholly owned subsidiary of Verant Interactive, Sony Online Entertainment, and LucasFilm. Before that he worked on a Privateer Online for Origin Systems, Inc. Before that he was lead designer for Ultima Online. He is known in the mud world as Ptah, former implementer on LegendMUD. Raph is also an active member of the MUD-Dev list, a regular speaker at the Game Developer’s Convention on online community and design issues, and maintains a page of online game design writings.
  • Rich Lawrence (“Twist”) is the project lead for Freelancer Online at Digital Anvil. I asked him to write up a short bio and he sent me this:

    Well, let’s see. First computer (a TRS-80) purchased with money from paper route at age 11. Sold a sprite library I wrote later that year for twice what I paid for the machine. This set a bad precedent of convincing me computers could make me wealthy. It’s all been downhill from there. After the usual college noise, worked for Commodore for a bit, then got into network programming, particularly wide-area stuff, for SynOptics (Bay Networks) and Cisco. Left Cisco in ’94 to work for Kesmai, since the entire time I was working for The Man I was writing and playing multiplayer networking games at home. Worked on a whole host of projects at Kesmai, including Air Warrior, Poker (don’t laugh, at the time the most commercially successful online title available), most of their third-party stuff, and a couple of unreleased games. Since then have moved to Digital Anvil, where I am project lead on Freelancer Online.

  • Phil DeLuca (“Ketjak”) started in the game industry in May, 1994 as a product support lead for Kesmai Corporation. He immediately went to work assisting in the design of the next version of Kesmai’s MultiPlayer BattleTech. Over the next five years he learned valuable lessons about community development and the game production from his fellow multiplayer game developers and by participating in the communities of various multiplayer games.He wound his way through an Associate Producer position and became a Producer in early 1999, always serving as a designer in addition to his production duties. In November, 1999, Phil decided to try his hand leading full-size teams making stand-alone games at Red Storm Entertainment. He recently moved to Seattle, Washington to work at Humongous Entertainment with industry veteran Jonathan Baron.
  • Damion Schubert (“Ubiq”) is Lead Designer for Ultima Worlds Online: Origins: Nexus: TGFKAUO2. He used to work on M59. Nothing more is known about this man.
  • Paul Sage (“Sage”) Possibly the most mysterious man participating in Roundtables today. Despite repeated requests he failed to deliver a bio so I feel perfectly justified making up stuff about him. Currently Lead Designer for the UO Live team (that part is true), he spends his evenings plotting ways of separating Jinx from the evil clutches of Sarah Michelle Gellar (could be true — we really don’t know what he does in his free time). He and his lovely wife recently introduced a GM Drooler named Daniel into the world (also true) who adores Happy Fun Balls — so he has our approval. We here at LumCorp hear this was the inspiration behind the new, almost invulnerable Sageling monster class making an appearance in UO soon.
  • Derek Sanderson (“Windfeather”) is a systems designer for Ultima Worlds Online: Origin. He has been designing massively multiplayer online games since 1995, working on titles such as Simutronics’ DragonRealms and GemStone III before joining Origin in 1999. A political science major and former Army interrogator, Derek’s expertise lies in designing social systems that handle how players interact with each other rather than the game world itself.

Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.
John Kenneth GalbraithI have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.
Charles DeGaulle

Myschyf I’d like to get started as some of the participants have to leave very soon. So welcome to the Roundtable on Economic and Political Systems in MMORPGs. Beginning with Paul I’d like to go down the list over to the right and have everyone introduce themselves. Even our celebrity spectators. So, Paul?PSage Hi. I’m Paul Sage, and I am the Lead Designer of Ultima Online

Myschyf Raph? 
Myschyf nudges Raph
Some people are silent at the absolute wrong times 

Ubiq Raph is just some guy.

Tommy Hi. I’m Tommy Strand, Producer and Lead Designer on Anarchy Online and as far as I know the only European here today.

Raph I’m Creative Director on Star Wars Online, and was formerly lead design on UO.

Myschyf Twist?

Twist Rich Lawrence, Director for Freelancer Online. I think that makes me The Man.

Myschyf Ubiq?

Ubiq I’m Damion, lead designer of Ultima: Something Or Other, previously a lead designer of Meridian 59 (RIP)

Tommy smiles.

Myschyf Warden?

Warden Todd Coleman, VP of Marketing for Wolfpack Studios. (Is that ominous music I hear?)

Myschyf Windfeather?

Windfeather I’m Windfeather. I design stuff, such and other for That Ultima Game. I am at the beck and call of Ubiq.

Raph And he has no real name

Tommy hehe

Windfeather Oh, er. Derek Sanderson. Not the hockey player.

Warden Windfeather is his real name. His internet nick is ‘Bob Smith’

Myschyf laughs 

Ubiq We call him ‘That Ultima Designer’ in the office.

MahrinSkel coughs

Windfeather I’m changing my name to a symbol.

Tommy A feather?

Myschyf Ketjak?

Ketjak Uh, Phil deLuca, Producer at Humongous Entertainment.

Myschyf Blue?

Blue Baron I’m Jonathan Baron and I’m wearing underwear today.

Raph How unusual. 😉

Myschyf hehehe ok

Twist You’ve changed since we last talked Jonathan

Tommy Boxers or briefs?

Myschyf Mahrin?

Mahrin Skel Dave Rickey, economic designer and world builder for Dark Age of Camelot.

Blue Baron briefs

Myschyf do NOT ask him which brand! Lets start right in with the questions.

Myschyf Employment vs. entrepreneurship. Most games today have an economic system based on entrepreneurship. In other words, you either make or acquire an item and then you sell said item. However, in real life, at least in modern times, most of us are employees, not entrepreneurs. Is it just easier and simpler to make a game which only encompasses entrepreneurs? What sort of systems could be devised for developing employer/employee relationships within MMORPGs. Would such a system tie in more closely with a political system? How do you see certain political systems furthering both employer/employee relationships and entrepreneurship?

Myschyf Blue would you like to start off?

Blue Baron sure!

Windfeather Maybe we should just argue.

Myschyf hahaha

Tommy in that case .. I disagree!

Blue Baron Employment does occur on some level today. Guilds in UO have, for example, GM Smiths who are, in effect, the team’s repairmen. Many have miners who work for the Guild to provide the Smith with ore to create high quality weapons for the team. The reason employment is not a core mechanic is because even the best online games today rely on happenstance for community formation – they are not well designed community generation engines, and their designs worry too much about pleasing solo gamers. Simply put, the fundamental game mechanic of today’s major online games is the gold rush.

Ubiq *raises hand*

Myschyf ya Ubiq? You wanna just argue too?

Ubiq One of the things that I’ve found is that what employment opportunities actually exist, evolve after the game is live. As designers, you really don’t know for sure which ones are going to be extremely valuable to players.

Mahrin Skel I think it’s possible, it even happens, but not in any obvious cooperative fashion. Economies have usually been afterthoughts, and have not done a good job of creating social challenges that could be met economically.

Ubiq Witness rune libraries in UO, for example.

Mahrin Skel I think it’s possible, it even happens, but not in any obvious cooperative fashion. Economies have usually been afterthoughts, and have not done a good job of creating social challenges that could be met economically. The real catch is, people don’t want to be forced, but they will evolve. The trick is leading that evolution where you want it to go.

Myschyf Paul?

PSage My thought is that it may be semantics, but I don’t feel people want to be “employees” in the strictest meaning of the word. Jonathan’s point about guilds is very valid, and I tend to agree that people work well together, but there is no danger of being fired. It is like a corporation that is truly run by the people involved. I think that kind working together helps to displace the common thought about employees vs. employer relationships. So I think shared efforts toward the goal is what we need to concentrate on encouraging.

Myschyf Raph?

Raph ponders how to break the question apart…

Twist Here comes the book.

Raph OK, to start with, the distinction between an employee and someone who is simply working towards the same goal as you are, under some sort of umbrella, is basically the existence of an enforceable contract. We can and do add contracts to these games. Which is why we see lower level members of guilds working as slave labor to farm items. That sure looks like an employer/employee relationship to me. Possibly one that violates labor laws. 😉

Tommy Good thing avatars have no rights.

Raph So I think we have some of those mechanics in already, as guilds and as other sorts of umbrella organizations. But the issue is that contractual enforcement is lacking. Because ALL forms of enforcement are lacking 😉

Windfeather Exactly…how do you ‘Secure Trade’ an employment contract?

Mahrin Skel How do you enforce a non-performance clause against someone who just doesn’t log in?

Raph Do we encourage entrepreneurship more? Sure. We want to give people the chance to do things they couldn’t do in RL, right? There’s not nearly as much venture capital needed to go mine ore as there is to try your hand at a rl business. 😉 Anyway… you could run into details there… but basically. i think “we have it, it’s just crude right now.”

Myschyf Tommy?

Tommy Having a contract could perhaps be channeled through quests. We have seen quests as sort of employment in games so far. In a political structure where you have people in different parts of the hierarchy you can also use the power invested in the status, for example, in clans to enforce the contract. Secure trade is probably hard as long as the employee doesn’t put something into the pot as well. Say to get the job you have to put in collateral. The entrepreneurship makes it a whole lot easier to reward.

Myschyf Twist?

Twist Well I think you have to ask yourself the fundamental question of whether it is desirable to create employment over entrepreneurship in the first place. (hey, I put Lum to sleep!) The general difference being when you are an employee you are working to produce something for someone else, not yourself…players feel more accomplishment in short order as entrepreneurs, as it usually represents tasks they can reasonably complete by themselves in short periods of time, and creates a sense of importance and self-sufficiency within the world. Employment usually implies that you are working towards a larger goal than one person can accomplish, and over a long period of time. This contradicts the quick (relatively) satisfaction most players expect out of their game experience. Put one way, I certainly wouldn’t want to create an atmosphere of *work* in my game. It would truly suck to come home from a hard day of work, log in…and go to work. I would want people working together towards a larger, combined goal perhaps, but without the day to day constraints and compulsory nature of employment.Tommy hehe

Twist If you could define a system in which participation wasn’t compulsory for long periods, and in which the player felt individually rewards (more often than what we think of as rl “work”), then I would put that work in…but otherwise I think it should just be driven by cooperation between players for larger goals.

Myschyf Ubiq did you want to take a stab at this?

Ubiq Players employing other players is, in many ways, the holy grail – at least for one kind of MMORPG design. After all, when players give other players a task, it is something to do, and not only that, it is something to do that adds real value to someone else’s gaming experience. We have a hard time coming up with things for people to do in these games that isn’t the same every time you do it. When an event is born out of human interaction, be it cooperation or conflict, though, it is a little different every time – which makes the game more fun and longer of life.

Myschyf Warden?

Warden There’s a difference between the employer/employee relationship at the individual (Micro) level and at the political (Macro) level. For example, in Shadowbane we’ve spent more of our effort building systems to support the latter. Our political system allow guilds to pledge fealty to one another, thus forming political/territorial Empires. In this case, the relationship is very similar to an employer/employee — the Empire is providing in-game resources for mutual protection and camaraderie. The former we’ve relegated more to “trickle down” effect. Will people perform tasks with/for others? of course. The key, I think, is that these relationships in a *game* should exist in order to make the game more enjoyable (albeit in the long run) for both individuals. In life, it’s necessary for simple survive. Different paradigm.

Myschyf Windfeather?

Windfeather ‘Employment’ is really just a manner of organizing a division of labor in which many people work together to make a larger product or service. For example, I create game designs, our programmers create code, and our artists create art…and so on, until we have a finished game. If I were to model that process inside a game, I could, for example, allow the designer to create a finished product (‘a design’)… coders ‘some code’ and artists ‘some art’… Allow a lead designer class-type to bundle it all together into ‘a game’… ‘Sell’ it to publisher, and so on. But those are al discrete tasks, in which someone is making a piece of the pie. I don’t think an employment over time model will succeed in a game unless the transactions are all instant – as in, you securely trade product/service X for compensation Y.

Myschyf OK! At this point I usually end up opening the floor to free-form discussion — that ‘argue period’ you were all so looking forward to.

Blue Baron I think folks took the question too literally.

Ketjak Yep.

Windfeather Did not!

Myschyf hehe

Blue Baron hehe

Twist I think Blue Baron is wrong. Argument on!

Blue Baron ahhhhh….feel the haaaate 😉

Ubiq Corp Por! IROXU!

Mahrin Skel Are we looking for employment relationships, or just more complex social structures, and we think emulating real-world commerce is how?

PSage I really think that we should leave the relationship up to the player.

Windfeather I was saying I think the entrepreneur model exists because it is the most effective, and, as Rich pointed out, the one that gives players the best feeling of accomplishment.

Ubiq Agree with Sage, though. The activities that are most likely to be valuable are often things we haven’t thought of. And often they are things the system can’t track.

Blue Baron It’s not entrepreneurs or employees……it’s solo focus or team focus. It’s not about work.

Raph Here’s the thing. Employment happens. It just does. In the real world, what makes it something beyond “lemme do this for ya in exchange for money” is a formal agreement. Players make those agreements already.

Mahrin Skel Look at EQ’s “Planes Raids”. The “UberGuilds” exist to make those raids, players take subordinate roles because otherwise the raid can’t be done.

Ketjak It is possible for a player to receive immediate gratification while contributing to the benefit of a larger organization. A hierarchical organization supported by in-game feature sets (i.e. abilities to control or moderate each level of the hierarchy), scaling upward the player’s (and players’) organizations, adds meaning to the player’s participation in group events. Of course, the player and organization each must benefit, or the relationship isn’t sustainable.

Windfeather Hmm…well, I think we are as an industry moving more towards team focus.

Raph They will use whatever tools we provide to make this relationship MORE formal, but the relationships form anyway

Twist but team focus != employment, which is the nature of the question…team focus can exist completely independently of the concept of employment

Blue Baron I agree Twist

Windfeather If you design your systems such that each person can only make a widget towards the whole machine, you – right, as Twist says.

Mahrin Skel But those same guilds are responsible for the “Slave Labor” Raph talked about.

Ketjak Only because there is no way for the player to contribute beyond item harvesting.

Tommy They are willingly doing the work though.

Windfeather Would we characterize an older player sending a UO newbie into the wilds to harvest logs as employment…?

Blue Baron It’s not slave labor – it’s having a context to advance other than alone.

PSage At some point though, slave labor to some is fun to others.

Tommy Because they are getting paid in the sense they get to stay in the guild.

Raph It’s not technically employment until there’s an obligation for the older player to pay the newbie for it.

Blue Baron Thank you Raph 🙂

Mahrin Skel Then why are the “UberGuilds” so hated? Just because they are more effective competitors?

Raph Isn’t that the reason many hate Microsoft? 🙂

Windfeather Right…it’s an offer to complete a transaction, but it effectively makes the newbie a contractor.

Tommy Having power makes you a prime target.

PSage So it seems like we all agree, unless of course we don’t.

Raph The “slave labor” (about which I was being facetious, mostly) is voluntarily entered into. What makes it less than employment is that often there’s no codified quid pro quo

Myschyf you guys make lousy damn arguers

Tommy I disagree

Blue Baron I still think you’re losing concept focus by taking the question too literally.

Windfeather I think AO’s quest system has that Quid Pro Quo to some extent.

Raph AO’s does, I agree. 🙂 You get *promised* items and money and twinking, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get it

Mahrin Skel How do we create employment contracts, without creating corporate abuse of power, and “black dog” contracts?

Twist Even contracts are relatively broken by the lack of consequences…payment up front is not an option for reasons I shouldn’t have to go into. Payment on delivery will result in a game of trying for minimal compliance always on the part of the worker…wait a minute that’s RL, never mind. : )

Raph I don’t know whether it supports the recurrence that we typically associate with employment, though?

Mahrin Skel FWIW, a “black dog” clause is the original form of a non-compete clause, and essentially you agreed to starve yourself to death if you ever quit.

Tommy We do have the contract and the reward. Windfeather gave me the idea to add secure trade as well in the terms of having the other party put equity into the reward that falls to the quest giver if the quest fails.

Windfeather Doh.

Raph See, there ya go, Windfeather, helping the competition. 😉

Tommy smiles and pets Wind on the back.

Windfeather They would have done it a week after they went live anyway 😉

Myschyf cooperation is a beautiful thing

Tommy The missions/jobs can also be timed

Twist I actually have “missions” with specific goals, unlike most of you, so I am much more on the contract side, and feeling the pain of the ramifications of fair arbitration

Tommy There are recurrence in some of the NPC jobs .. but not in the player ones

Raph Ya know, once upon a time there was this game that got cancelled that dealt a lot with this stuff….Raph whistles in the dark…

Lum …but you’re not bitter!

Blue_Baron recalls painfully

Windfeather Hmm…you could simulate some employment by forcing a player to complete X number of contracts per time period, or lose the ability to contract.

Mahrin Skel What about the “Reagent Cartels”? They were employee/employer relationships in a way.

Tommy A falling reputation that could only be maintained by doing jobs

Twist Great, the first employer we successfully model is the Mob

Raph I always thought of them as a great example of a cartels cornering a “wholesaler” in order to force a “retail” markup.

Mahrin Skel They had schedules, quotas, etc.

Raph That’s the thing — MANY guilds do that now.

Windfeather I suppose you could call that employment…

Raph Schedules, quotas, etc

Warden Man, oh man. I guess my feeling is “it’s a game, not a job.” The only way you’re going to get me, as a player, to “work” for you is to show me how it’s in my best interest, and will be more entertaining for me in the long run.

Raph Warden, I think that’s what these guilds do, they just promise that you’ll get the goodies AFTER you camp something for them, or whatever

Warden While that’s a similar driver in RL for some people (like, um, those that work for game companies) it isn’t necessarily the case over the long haul.

Tommy If you don’t have the money to buy the goodies on eBay you do the dirty work for the mob

Myschyf Can I cut in here please?

Raph Not bad, one hour on the first question. We’ll be here until the weekend!

Warden I agree, Raph.. but I don’t know that you can really scale that to the mass market. Hell, maybe you can, but it sure doesn’t sound like fun to me.

Myschyf I hate to cut discussions short but Blue has to leave in 15 minutes. Do you mind if we segue into question 7 and let Blue go first ?

Raph Well, and those who fall for it from a guild that never does intend to help them sure feel burned afterwards. 🙂

Myschyf It goes along with this question and you’ll have a LOT of time to discuss the next one

Raph Go for it, Myschyf 🙂

Myschyf ok. This question sort of builds on the last one. Games have traditionally been based on an entrepreneurial model to provide for advancement. In medieval times, feudalism reigned and there was a give-and-take relationship with a mutuality of obligation. Feudalism, however, does not provide for rapid advancement. Nonetheless there are gamers who would probably be happy to be ‘villagers’ of a sort, had they a ‘lord’ to provide protection from ‘bandits’ and demands goods and services from his ‘tenants.’ This would incorporate an entire village, where the villagers provided what the lord mandated that village would need to survive and even advance. The lord, in turn, would have to accurately predict what was actually needed. When the economic rational of a game is based on entrepreneurialship, the game economy breaks down when the reasons for that entrepreneurialship break down. In a system based on feudal obligation, however, the economy is based on the requirements and needs to satisfy the obligations, not to fulfill some sort of entrepreneurial goal. What are your thoughts about basing a game on feudal obligations rather than on entrepreneurial activity?

Myschyf Blue take it away

Blue Baron Roger. AC attempted this and came close to pulling it off. It fell short because the benefit to the lord ended with the homage and fealty pledge. Beyond forming the relationship, the two parties didn’t need each other on an ongoing basis that worked in that environment. This may have changed and I hope it has, because it was a great idea. OTOH, EGA Multiplayer Battletech succeeded in employing feudalism. Each party needed each other, and there was no solo player role whatsoever. The key to this is not to assume that some players want to be happy villagers and nothing more, nor would we want to, as you said, emulate a society that had almost zero social mobility.

Windfeather I’d also add there was little reason to stay with one lord.

Blue Baron Rather, the character of the game changed for players as they played more, because their role and responsibilities changed as they played. Newbies were commanded and protected by their teammates in battle. They became better in battle and looked out for other newbies. They then assumed ever more involved leadership positions. Eventually they became more involved in the strategy side, if they wanted, or in watching over more and more groups. At the top was the House Leader. He was playing a game against a handful of other House Leaders and his success depended on how well he led his House.

Myschyf ok im going to mix up the order, so Windfeather?

Windfeather Heh, I knew it 🙂 Well, Jonathan took my comments about AC. I would add that the reasons for the lord to pay close attention to his newbies were there (he continued to get experience from them). But there was little incentive, nor controls that I know of, to prevent a newbie from switching lords to maximize his gains. There was no ‘secure transaction’ of the fealty pledge, as it were. Also, regarding a feudal system, I agree with Jonathan that nobody wants to play a serf. You may want to play a smaller entity in a larger group, but there must be upward mobility. A city-state must be able to challenge for the crown.

Myschyf ok Warden?

Warden Well, actually, Shadowbane *is* entirely based on a feudal mechanic, albeit a somewhat different one. A strictly historical feudal society really wasn’t that “fun” for all the people involved. Ours sounds a lot more like the Battletech game described earlier — the game exists on multiple levels, and players can climb the ranks (or start new ladders, if they’re clever enough) but there needs to be a fun and engaging focus at each level. I think that even among people who want to play characters devoted to “trade skills” they typically want to achieve greatness (which wasn’t really available to the serf-class). I don’t want to just be a blacksmith, I want to forge the best stuff in the game. So the strict, historical feudal model won’t necessarily work, I don’t think, because it depends on 1) a class system that is hierarchical in shape and 2) the lower tiers aren’t usually as fun. That’s what we’ve spent our design effort trying to remedy.

Myschyf Ubiq?

Ubiq Agree with Warden: The one thing about the feudal order is that it wasn’t a whole hell of a lot of fun except for the Lord. Systems that are communal by nature – i.e. everyone fighting for the greater whole, working for nation, guild, etc, are bound to be more successful as game mechanisms, because, well, they’re more fun. People don’t pay to be serfs. They pay to matter.

Windfeather You matter, Ubiq.

Myschyf Twist yer up

Twist Well, I’ll save the long drawn out answer – in short, I’m not in favor of feudalism because I don’t want to be a serf myself, ever. Rather I would create game mechanics that create more value for the experienced player to help the newer player than just the fact the newer player has more time to do useless tasks. Basically I seek to reward the experienced player who works with the newer players in several ways. It pays them both, and forms a more healthy social attitude than “I am your Lord”.

Myschyf Tommy?

Tommy One problem with a feudal system is that the lord is not always there to play out his part. The ‘lord’ ends up being nothing but an entrepreneur giving out goodies he acquires to the newbies and the protection he can offer might be limited by time he can spend. Playing a MMORPG isn’t a full time job for everyone. To follow up on Ubiq, most people tend to want to be the hero. Being a serf tends not to appeal to many hard-core gamers. Many play to crush… heh. So SB might have the idea of hiring for armies.

Warden Let’s hope so 🙂

Windfeather I play to kill rats.

Raph And die to bunnies!

Windfeather And chickens

Tommy Feudal systems, in games, as in real life end, tend to end up in an exploitative situation.

Myschyf ok Raph your turn

Raph Sounds like the challenge for such a system is to make all the tiers be important and worth playing in their own right. In other words, the choice of position you hold is more of a personal one than one based on power. And not to steal Warden’s thunder, but I think two better examples of games that try to do that may be Allegiance and the upcoming World War II Online. I say better only because since they are more narrowly focused games, they slot everyone into specific military roles.

Blue Baron Sorry to interject….gotta run…thanks Myschyf…the rest of ya….nothing but love 😉

Myschyf See ya Blue. Thanks for coming.

Raph So if you wanna be a tank driver, well, you are a tank driver. That’s the game you wanna play. You ALSO happen to fit into a large, carefully structured group, though. The power relationship becomes more one of “what game are you playing.” And I think that’s part of what Shadowbane is trying to achieve too. They just have the added complication that they are trying to support non-combatant roles (which is why I think the military games give a clearer example of the mechanic). That’s hard because it can lead to the “serf” sort of relationship–particularly if the peaceful supplier types can’t venture out in the world because they feel at too much risk

Windfeather I think the military term is ‘REMF’.

Raph The tradeoff that the games like WWIIO and Allegiance and for that matter Multiplayer Battletech made was that they discarded those guys from their audiences, basically. I guess I can sum up my point by saying “feudal is easy if everyone is the same sort of player. Give ’em different vehicles, strategy access, etc. But if you have radically different audiences sharing the same game, one may emerge in charge, and then feudal turns too real.”

Myschyf ok Paul your turn

PSage I really liked what Tommy said about the “Noble” not being in the game. I think I would expand to say that the noble is not going to always be a part of the game. Having an investment in one leader tends to lead to exit points should that leader decide to move on. Feudalism spawned because people were suffering backlash from the fall of the Roman Empire. Elements existed that made them need to band together. The thing I like about Feudalism was the barter for services that was popular among the lower ranks. I think by allowing the community to gather because of outside forces, some people might call this the “other”, they will naturally evolve into communities to overcome adversity. From there, I think it is important to have “councils” form at the top end, rather than one person. This way the investment still feels like it is helping the community, but has a leadership model.

Raph As long as the Other doesn’t win. 🙂PSage I would be very interested if we could give the community a way to define their own government by giving them better tools. This way, their investment is based on choice, and not by force.

Myschyf Dave I believe its your turn

Mahrin Skel I don’t think *anyone* wants to have a formally inferior status in these games, unless they’re the most inferior of the superior group. Entrepreneurship has been breaking down because of runaway inflation devaluing the input of individuals, you have to operate on a large scale to have any impact. MPBT was probably the best example of a rigid hierarchal system that *worked*, I agree, but it worked because you could feel superior to all the other houses. Also, the fact was that being “superior” wasn’t considered such a great job, it was a lot of admin red tape and grunt work, and very little time to actually play.

Ubiq must go, guys. I’ll ttyl

Mahrin Skel My point here is just a variation on Raph’s, the organizational politics game and the combat game aren’t the same game, and don’t attract the same players. See you, Ubiq.

Myschyf Bye Ubiq. Thanks for coming. Ketjak you are next.

Ketjak OK. Thanks. 🙂

Myschyf (Ketjak has agreed to participate despite his lack of preparation. Mys is the queen of badgering.)

Ketjak Whether the obligations are hierarchical or not, what matters is that the player feels as though he or she is contributing to the success of his or her organization. If an action is not reflected in the overall success/failure of the organization, what is the point is the organization? To make a hierarchical relationship (like feudalism) work, the junior members of the agreement must benefit from being a part of the relationship — the organization as a whole provides something, the leader of the org provides something, and the junior member provides something in return. If it’s “experience” rewards in either direction, monetary gains, or item gains, so be it. What we as an industry lack is support for that organization style “in code” – i.e., feature sets which enhance that relationship. Call ’em tools, if that makes it better – tools in the hands of players at all levels of the organization designed to make their participation that much more effective, and meaningful.

Myschyf 🙂

Ketjak Damn you.

Myschyf hehe

Myschyf I promise I won’t interrupt this discussion until you guys have exhausted the subject. So the floor is open.

Tommy It all comes back to the formalizing. Making it matter as a contract between the employer and the employee. The fact that both have commitments and the reward needs to be there for both parties if the contract is fulfilled. And the effects needs to be reflected in the gameplay since it is a game and people are not present at all times.

Windfeather Agree with Tommy. Although it is not necessary for contracts for people to band together, players like something they can be sure of.

Mahrin Skel Feudalistic organization, or *any* organization in these games, has to be win-win, or it dies. If you predicate a game design on a given organizational structure, and the players don’t like it, you’re doomed.

Raph has a game design laying around here somewhere that is based entirely around getting to the top of a feudal structure, and then staying there….

Ketjak But staying there should only be at the option of the people within the structure.

Myschyf has visions of stray game designs cluttering up Raph’s house

Ketjak Piss ’em off, and they should have the ability to unseat you.

Raph Myschyf, you’re not far off. 😉

Tommy The fact that people will gain abilities and status by being part IS a contract in it self. The players don’t want to lose the gained abilities and tend to do everything to keep them.

Warden I think SB will actually be a great test in this area. It’s a risk, sure, but it’ll be interesting to see how much (or little) players embrace this type of structure when it’s made available to them.

Mahrin Skel It also has to avoid the “testosterone trap”, the tendency of the best players to team with the best players until the distilled peak of the heap holds more combat effective power than the entire pyramid under them.

Twist I’d hazard that isn’t your design Raph but somebody else’s?

Raph Nah, Ketjak, in that case, the whole thing is predicated on a king of the hill thing

Tommy hence .. a committing contract gameplay wise enforced.

Raph Nope, it’s not only mine, twist, it actually predates my joining Origin…

PSage There has to be something that lower tiers offer that upper don’t. There is no reason that new players should not immediately contribute to the value of the group.

Mahrin Skel That’s what broke EGA 3025, the House Steiner Mercs were the best of the best, all by themselves they could beat any House in the game.

Windfeather Else the system will wither and die.

Ketjak Disagree, Raph – staying at the top of a successful organization requires you to be good to your people. I could be misinterpreting “king of the hill” though. Basically, your folks walk if you suck, and if they’re not there your organization lacks a certain ability to get things done within context. 🙂

Warden I’ve played a couple of MUSHes that had hierarchies that were entirely player driven. It was really an interesting thing, because they were *entirely* social structures. The respect (or lack thereof) was the other driver behind em, and yet they worked.. for up to about 400 people 🙂

Tommy has no designs lying around since he tends to be unprepared and does everything ad hoc

Twist exactly as PSage says…the concept most games drive home to new players is their complete and utter lack of worth. There are ways to NOT make it that way.

Ketjak Indeed, Twist speaks truth.

Raph Well, there have been many who have ruled through fear, intimidation, economic dominance, etc etc, Ketjak. The question is for how long. 😉

Ketjak Of course, Raph. Rule that way for a moment, or rule to the benefit of the “subjects” for a long time. 🙂

Tommy Serve me or my clan and I will make your life a living hell

Ketjak …as long as there are folks in your clan. 🙂

Raph Well, in a king of the hill style setup, the guy right under you, your lieutenant, is also trying to unseat you. It’s not a very stable organization.

Windfeather Then there is the problem of designing your feudal systems so it is not possible for someone to ‘lock’ the top of the structure forever. If inertia sets in, and it is not possible to break their power, why play?

Warden What if the purpose of the hierarchy *isn’t* to be altogether effective? What if it’s designed with a “sand castle” approach? In fact, isn’t the turbulent (dynamic) effect what gives people the hope that they can rise to the top?

Mahrin Skel The best attract the best. Reach the top, you become the magnet.

Tommy “.. tell the cops and I’ll send them the screenshot of you using the dupe bug.”

Ketjak Raph, if you pick the guy who sits under you, what’s to keep you from firing him or picking someone who shares your vision, and is willing to let you lead? 🙂

Raph notes that he is NOT talking about this in the context of an MMORPG, it was a completely different thing.

PSage I definitely see the value of cool down periods for players at the top of the rung, but how do you *demote* them without them becoming disinterested?

Windfeather Demoting has to be an entirely predictable thing…

Twist Create a period to their rule is one way – witness old BBS tradewars games

Raph Heh, Ketjak, I could sit here and explain the whole game premise, but it’s offtopic. 🙂

PSage loved Tradewars

Tommy PSage .. by automating it .. if it is not human people tend to accept it as their own fault.

Ketjak grins.

Lum We OWNED Tradewars. We were grief TW players. We locked everyone else into Fedspace.

Twist Also provided the unique aspect of actual closure in an online game, unheard of these days

Warden I disagree, I think the real best want to seek out the other best to test themselves. There are a lot of guilds out there, and I doubt I could survey 100 random players and even get a 50% pick as to which one is a collection of “the best.”

Windfeather I prefer some sort of scheduled rotation of ‘top dog’ within the hierarchy.

Ketjak Warden, can you explain what you meant by “sand castle” a little more – I don’t understand the point of a hierarchy with a purpose other than to be effective.

Mahrin Skel Warden: Look at any FPS clan ladder. The ranks from 100-11 are “bushleague”, and doomed to stay that way.

Ketjak Wind: why not let the body of players being governed determine when the top spot rotates?

Mahrin Skel That’s because every time they get a player who is any good, he gets recruited by a top 10 team.

Twist wait…you don’t understand the point of a hierarchy with a purpose other than to be effective? what about the US government?Warden ..I mean just that. Don’t allow the top tier of power to become so stable that they can effectively destroy any challengers before they arise.

PSage I still think you have a denouement for those players at the top of the rung no matter how automated you make it. Eventually, they will feel they are the best, perhaps even know it, and feel anger towards you (the designer) for not continuing to acknowledge their supremacy.

Mahrin Skel They surround each other with the best, and occasionally fight other bests, but if you aren’t one of them, you exist to hold up the pyramid.

Warden That’s an interesting point, Mahrin. Why do you think we haven’t seen this kind of polarization in an MMORPG?

Windfeather Ketjak: That’s the best solution, but say you had an electoral sort of system…

Raph The US govt (actually, the way it is supposed to work) is not that bad a model. To get to a position, you have to build larger and larger power bases. The power bases are generally organized in a hierarchy.

Ketjak We have a different mechanism available than any real-world government has ever had to worry about – the ability to freely leave and join another faction.

Tommy In games, time is the value. The more time you can spend the richer you are and the more likely you are to advance. These players tend not to be the best leaders though.

Raph That means, though, that the power base may not be loyal to the guy at the top–they are loyal to the guys under him, and it’s the accumulated mid-level people who determine the guy at the top

Mahrin Skel Wind: Who says we haven’t? The “UberGuild” controversy looks like the same dynamic to me.

Windfeather And though 51% of the players kept X in power, the other 49% were effectively disenfranchised on a long-term basis.

Warden Look, *no* game is going to entertain a person indefinitely. Hell, Life doesn’t do that.

Ketjak If the top becomes calcified and ineffective, the players can always leave to form/join another organization that better suits their needs.

Raph So when a trusted lieutenant makes a power play, he can topple the guy at the top because he controls a large bloc

Tommy That is one of the problems with the allegiance system in AC.

PSage Warden: Why not?

Warden In a closed/protected system, the concept of an “uberguild” is a myth — people are saying that one might arise, not that one is in existence. Ask any guild and they’ll likely tell you that they are the uberguild, even without the ability to actually prove it in any real fashion.

Tommy If the game changes with the player it will interest him indefinitely.

Twist Hmmm…so basically games should be like the Star Trek Mirror Mirror universe. Do we have to wear those silly polyester outfits? Anyway…why punish a player with an expectation he will rise to power, then inevitably fall? Close the cycle of that game, start anew, let him go out on top…seems reasonable.

Ketjak Tommy’s on the money.

PSage I agree Tommy

Warden sorry, paul, three conversations at once. Why not what?

Windfeather Are we talking about the classic ‘Uberguild’ examples of, say, EQ guilds dominating the planes?

PSage Look, *no* game is going to entertain a person indefinitely. Hell, life doesn’t do that.

Mahrin Skel Nyet. The UberGuilds aren’t a myth, they’ve existed almost as long as EQ, they first controlled all the “phat lewt” on Veeshan for months, the new ones control the Planes.

Ketjak The player need not inevitably fall, Twist – if he gets to the top and can avoid burning out while being the politician extraordinaire and an effective leader to boot, he can stay there for a long time.

Mahrin Skel Yes, Wind.

Raph Tommy just restated Jonathan’s thing about cumulative character and player-skill games. One of the subtleties that I think gets lost there is that once you move beyond the achievement ladder of whatever the game provides for cumulative character, then ANY game become player-skill-driven again

Raph (And I think that’s one of the points that Hedron keeps trying to make in his PvP essays on Lum’s site)

Windfeather That’s definitely a calcified system, but probably an unfair comparison because the guilds were designed as social structures, and it is an accident of the design that a guild can ‘dominate’ an area.

Warden Excuse me, your word “dominate” brought to me to assume you meant PvP domination ala the old guild wars of UO.

Mahrin Skel Wind: It’s an extreme case, but it *is* the same dynamic as the stacked FPS ladders.

Ketjak Probably – but if it does, Raph, then it’s a contest between people who have already proven their skill at exercising many other skills – like interpersonal ones, if it’s a hierarchical structure.

Mahrin Skel Warden: EQ is about “Phat Lewt”. If you own all the loot, you’re “winning”.

Ketjak True dat, Mahrin.

Twist Actually that is a subjective valuation Mahrin, but the one most players use as a metric, yes

Windfeather It is…and people are free to join other guilds, but the issue there is that the inherent structure of the game poses tremendous barriers to other groups ‘taking’ the hunting areas even if they are larger in number.

Ketjak Ooo, discussion, this is fun. 🙂

Raph Ah, Ketjak, but “moving beyond the coded advancement ladder” does not equal “maxed out the coded advancement ladder”. It can just mean “grew bored of the coded advancement ladder.” And yes, interpersonal skills are often where that most manifests.

Ketjak And if they grow so bored that they are ineffective leaders, then they won’t remain at the top of the ladder. 🙂 Being at the top implies leadership responsibilities to those on lower rungs.

Raph Worse, they can turn pernicious. “Grief politicians” if you like. We’ve all seen that dynamic among socially-driven games like MUSHes…

Tommy As long as players are represented as numbers and not as actions there will always be a final coded goal

Ketjak Fail to fulfill those responsibilities, and your people won’t stomach that for long… especially if there’s a way to replace the leader.

Raph Only if that’s what your game system codifies. In the absence of a reinforcement mechanism for that, there’s no leadership responsibilities

Windfeather That’s the crux.

Ketjak Why have a system like that if there are no leadership responsibilities?

Mahrin Skel Reinforcement can only come through an opportunity for failure.

Raph I mean, ethically, we’d love for all our leaders to feel responsible in that way. But we all know they often don’t, and still keep their power base. 🙂

Twist Let us ponder this on the tree of woe. Uh, next question? heh.. not here for much longer myself

Raph I’m saying it happens even if there are no systems

Mahrin Skel Sorry, should have said “traceable” failure.

Raph And in RL, under much worse conditions, we see people willing to live under the rule of jerks for decades before they rise up.

Warden I guess that’s the point of my “sand castles” statement. The point is to build a scenario in which power is more easily lost then held, and this increases exponentially as the power level increases.

Raph I sure am not going to keep paying my subscription for decades in hopes that someone will replace the uberguild leader. 🙂

Ketjak Right – but we want you to keep playing, Raph – so we have to use the medium’s features to make possible in our games what is not easily possible IRL.

Ketjak For example, changing leaders/migrating to a new faction.

Warden or leading a revolution?

Mahrin Skel Warden: How do you ensure that whatever the nominal hierarchy, the same guy doesn’t keep the *real* power?

Tommy In the existing games you don’t have the option of leading a revolution. You just don’t have the power to do so.

Windfeather Only on the message boards 😉

Ketjak That way if they focus on their 133t ski11z instead of leading, they pay a price.

Tommy The guild is set .. and only the leader can change that. The only power you have is to quit.

Raph Actually, in UO’s guild system you DO have the ability to remove a guild leader from power. Interestingly, it never happens.

Tommy Is it easy?

Ketjak I think the real challenge is coming up with a way to reward behavior other than immense FPS/twitch skills.

Myschyf Sort of. You have to get everyone in the guild to declare fealty to another person.

Warden As I said, I think the only answer is to make it easier to gain power than to hold it.

Mahrin Skel People quit before they revolt. Right of Departure.

Windfeather I’d say that is because it is easier – psychologically – simply to leave the guild.Raph UO’s guild system uses a fealty hierarchy. You get to pick who you are loyal to. The person with the most loyalists is the leader.

Warden Quitting is one form of rebellion.

PSage This has to do with the fact that guilds often comprise one or two people. For many, it is easier to simply move on than to try to start a movement.

Raph Exactly, Mahrin. Which is my point about the game in a larger sense too. 🙂

Tommy Yes, but not a very effective one if you don’t get a lot of people to follow you.

Windfeather It’s the easiest rebellion. It’s also what people will do if they are unable to break the hierarchy in your game…quit.

Tommy And if you lose some gameplay enforced advancement by quitting, it is a lose-lose situation

Raph If we accept the premise that leaders of large political structures in an MMORPG will be the ones with interpersonal skills in RL, then when people find that they cannot muster the skill to get to be a leader, they will exercise right of departure from the game…

Ketjak Raph/Maharin – that sounds like an interface issue, frankly. The ability to choose a new leader has to be readily apparent to the player and easy to use. If it is both, I’d bet more people are likely to use the feature.

Mahrin Skel Unless the structure is equally fun for the subordinates. I *avoided* command in MPBT.

Ketjak Raph – that’s assuming it takes FPS/twitch skillz to get higher in the hierarchy.

Tommy The problem sometimes is though Raph that the players with good social skills RL tend to have less time.

Windfeather Raph: That’s one of the attractions of traditional RPGs – time, not skill or personal charm – is your primary currency you spend to feel a sense of success.

PSage Actually Ketjak, it is incredibly easy to remove a leader and vote them out.

Warden Raph, while I think the idea of leading is certainly enticing, the point of a hierarchy is support — I lend my will to your banner, and in doing so I get a piece of your good.

Ketjak If rising through the hierarchy is always (or mostly) a matter of interpersonal skills, then that need not be a problem. 🙂

Ketjak Indeed, Warden.

Warden I think drama can happen at any point along the chain (i.e. people maneuvering for position) so can’t that be entertaining enough to keep people engaged for a good while?

Ketjak Paul: why do you think people don’t use it?

Warden Plenty of people work for AT&T fully realizing that they probably won’t be made CEO, and yet drama still occurs.

Ketjak is, after all, a curious monkey. 

Twist empirical evidence would seem to suggest that the act of rising is not necessarily heavily linked to interpersonal skills in the existing games : )

Raph Right, Windfeather. But political systems are going to hinge on political skill on the player’s part. Not time. IMHO.

Raph Just as the leaders in Shadowbane are going to prove to be the good tacticians and strategists.

Ketjak Twist: true, in the existing games. 🙂

Raph Twist, the folks who rise in the existing games are the ones who have good skillz in the mechanics the games reward

Mahrin Skel Well, political skill *and* time.

Warden Well that’s another interest point — because some of the best historical Kings were great generals, and absolutely terrible politicians.

PSage Ket: I believe they don’t use it because it is far easier to remove yourself than it is to start a revolution. Also, since guilds in UO are voluntary organization at a micro level, most of them are made up of friends and not communal members, with some exceptions.

Tommy …. because they have time

Raph A lot depends on defining “best historical kings.” 🙂 I’d guess that you in designing Shadowbane get to define it for your game

Raph I think the latter point Paul made is the key

Mahrin Skel Sociological Darwinism. 😉

Raph Groups in these games form not out of necessity, but out of friendship. And groups that form out of friendships aren’t going to exhibit the same sort of political dynamics.

Warden okay, yeah, good point. lemme replace “best” with “most effective” (and in some cases, quite popular in spite of poor politics.)

Tommy I tend to disagree

Mahrin Skel The best kings will be those that manage to take power and hold it. No other measurement is meaningful.

Tommy Not all join to make friends but to make the path to the phat lewt shorter

Ketjak Paul: Guildmasters can “fire” people within the guild, yes?

Tommy they could care less about the actual people there

PSage Ket: Yes indeed.

Ketjak I take it people are afraid to start a revolution because the guildmaster can fire them at will, yes? I would be. 🙂

Mahrin Skel Nope. It’s just too much *work*.

PSage No. The voting is closed.

Twist Hmmm…there is a large amount of necessity in grouping within EQ for example, so I’m not sure that’s valid Raph. It’s a rather forced mechanic to group there past a certain point. Agreed in UO that most groups there were more of a social bent.

Raph Tommy, I think that if you go back in the history of the guild, you’ll usually find a group of friends was at the genesis of it.

Raph Ketjak, the GM can’t tell that the person switched fealty

Mahrin Skel Did people revolt in 3025, when they were mad at their leaders? No, they went Merc.

Ketjak But one has to be a rabble rouser and risk exposure to the leader if he wants to move the entire player base in the guild?

Raph True, Twist. And it’s also true that I have seen groups in EQ evolve into guilds…

PSage Right. This goes to my first point that it would be easier to move on in many cases.

Tommy Yes .. but as the guild grows the founding fathers will blend in and the majority will rule

Ketjak What if the guildmaster couldn’t fire anyone in the guild, just his lieutenants?

Raph Tommy, I generally have not seen that happen

Raph Even the largest, most socially complex guilds tend to be run by a strongman and his cronies

Warden Then I guess he’d have a promotion party before every execution.

Ketjak His lieutenants could fire the people who report to them, but not the people who report to other Lts.

Windfeather Sure, it’s ‘your’ guild…a possession you own within the game, like any other…

Mahrin Skel Ket: It wouldn’t matter. The path of least resistance is to build your own organization elsewhere, not fight it out for the one you are in. Even if you do, win or lose the organization usually splits, rather than just change leaders.

Ketjak Ward: probably – but how long would the guild remain populated?

PSage Tommy: I think when we start giving these “guilds” more meaning, and “guilds” turns into towns, we might start seeing a better political dynamic more like what you are describing.

Windfeather Few people would allow their guild to evolve beyond them. Only those few with the aforementioned ‘Great Leadership Skills’.

Ketjak Mah: yes, but if you’re a moron, who will follow you to your new guild?

Tommy I hope so.

Warden Mahrin, isn’t that assuming there isn’t anything worth fighting for? I mean, what if a guild splits down the middle, and the guild owns something really valuable? Now is it easier to just walk away?

Mahrin Skel If you’re a moron, how are you going to successfully build the guild, or conduct a revolt?

Windfeather Mahrin: That tells me we need to strengthen what a guild means beyond the collective will of its members.

Tommy There will always be freeloaders that don’t want to fight for the ’cause’

Windfeather If the path of least resistance is to leave and form a new guild, a guild doesn’t mean enough in terms of our game mechanics.

Ketjak It’s pretty easy to build your own guild in most games. Simply declare it, or flip the switch/press the button that sets the “new guild bit.”

Mahrin Skel Even if you *win*, the loser will still have loyalists. All loyalty in these games is *personal*, the “Guild” itself doesn’t inspire it.

Raph Exactly, Windefather

Windfeather The guild/political structure itself needs to take on measurable characteristics beyond the will of its members.

Ketjak Guilds *can* mean a great deal to the *mechanics,* but they mean even more to the *community* of the game.

Warden *Exactly*

Raph In the real world, most from-scratch communities get going and organize because they need to literally extract more calories from the soil or they will start to starve to deathPSage Absolutely agreed Windfeather

Raph Now THAT’s motivation. Our closest analogue is extracting advancement from the game mechanics.

Ketjak Our goal should be to enhance community with nearly every one of our features. The mechanics are a sidebar; an important one, of course.

Raph And sure enough, the reason why you get more complex orders of social structure around camping sites in EQ is to let the group maximize the amount of XP extracted from the spawn site.

Mahrin Skel Wind: Now the $64K question: How do we make the Guild more important than the personal loyalties?

Ketjak In what way, Mah?

Raph I think there’s a very valid question as to whether we can ever get really complex political and economic structures as long as we have infinite resources flowing into the game all the time

Tommy By adding gameplay features that binds them to the guild by necessity.

Windfeather Mahrin: The guild must be able to be built up by the collective actions of its members. Give it abilities, privileges…

Mahrin Skel Wind says that we need Guilds that won’t split. That means the guild itself needs to be the object of loyalty, not the individuals in it.

Warden Raph, they aren’t infinite. They’re at a fixed rate over time.

Twist Well, this is all too cerebral for me. BRING BACK PRECASTING BIYOTCH. Er, actually I just have to go. Mys, thanks for the time, and see all you folks later.

Windfeather Once the pain of leaving is harder than the pain of organizing a revolution from within…

Raph Yah, but the time is infinite

Windfeather then we have succeeded.

Myschyf Thanks for coming Twist

Warden They’re only infinite insomuch as time is infinite.

PSage Good night Twist, and “no”.

Ketjak We’ll miss you, Twist. 🙂 Hit Yar for me, willya?

Mahrin Skel Organization is easily duplicated.

Windfeather Seeya Twist 🙂

Mahrin Skel Night Twist

Myschyf Can I quote ya on that precasting statement Twist?

Raph See ya Twist. Call me for lunch. Or email me.

Tommy adios

Windfeather Mahrin: I guess my closest example would be if your personal character gets a bad reputation in the game.

Windfeather Up to a certain point, it is easier to delete him…

Warden I wish time was more infinite than it was. I’m having another birthday soon — so while I’d love to believe you, medical research just isn’t quite there.

Windfeather Which is like quitting your guild.

Raph Heh.

Twist You bet Mys..will do Raph

Ketjak Loyalty to the organization is reinforced by personal relationships – make no mistake, the organization *is* the network of interpersonal relationships.

Raph What I mean is that we have an ongoing, steady flow of resources of all kinds flowing into the game. In order to achieve a decent “standard of living” all you need to do is wait.

Windfeather After you get to a certain level of power, you are more willing to work with your broken character.

Windfeather Ketjak: It is, but it is also loyalty to the game play benefits the guild gives you.

Raph This is a very different dynamic from what happens in the real world, where people keep increasing, but the inflow of resources remains even unless you cooperate

Mahrin Skel Wind: I know what you’re saying. Take a hypothetical: Only 10 “Guildhouses” in the game. Any guild that doesn’t have one of those will never get past the 6-10 person size. Lose it, you won’t stay larger than that for long. *Then* you might see loyalty to the guild over the leaders.

Raph OK, here’s a goofy notion

Windfeather I am sure there are people in ‘Uber Guilds’ in EQ who detest their guild mates. But like the loot.

Lum Sure. Uberguilds in EQ crop up precisely because the game system requires them at that level.

Raph What if high-level spawns were TIED to the presence of more organized social groups

Twist (hell read any of the uber guild message boards.. no question to that)

Raph If you want a dragon, you need an uberguild for it to spawn in the first place

Raph There’s your direct incentive to remain organized even with people you don’t necessarily like.

Twist Raph : stop giving away my game mechanics you dork

Raph Because being allied with people you don’t agree with 100% is what politics is all about

Tommy What if there were no high level spawn unless they were created for the organized social group?

Mahrin Skel A limited resource, that only the larger organization can exploit.

Windfeather So they started social, and ‘grew’ in mechanics terms (in EQ, sheer number of members) to the point where there is a distinct game – not social – loss to quitting.

Lum That defines dragons in EQ. Only high-lvl guilds can take them and they are a VERY limited resource.

Mahrin Skel It’s all different dynamics to the same thing, a social challenge with only one social answer.

Tommy Static spawns will be accessible to only the MOST powerful social groups

Lum So not only do you have to be organized to fight them, you have to be REALLY organized so that you can jump on them when their spawn pops.

Ketjak That fits within the need to give benefits to members of an organization, Raph – as does XP trickle up/down, twinking, and so on. 🙂

Tommy The gameplay should be balanced with equal access for all

Ketjak It’s one of many, better than most. 🙂

Tommy It is a game never the less

Raph I’m saying that the dragon wouldn’t even exist until there were guilds that were capable of tackling them

Mahrin Skel This, of course, assumes that UberGuilds are a good thing. We want to encourage community, but….

Ketjak The point is: no matter the *mechanic* find some in-game reason to be a part of a guild.

Windfeather Two questions in two hours

Ketjak Some of those mechanics are better than others. 🙂

Myschyf yeah

Ketjak IMHO.

Mahrin Skel Raph: I’m not sure if it matter if he exists or not. In fact, that might be a negative.

Raph Begs the question, what’s the difference between an UberGuild and “advanced politics” in a game?

Myschyf Would you guys like to move on to another question? You don’t have to.. you seem to be having fun.

Mahrin Skel If he doesn’t exist, there might not be a natural evolutionary path to the high-level organization that could take him out.

Windfeather Raph: Ossification.

Tommy Raph .. the power to determine who are your masters and equal rights

Raph Heh, Windfeather, allow me to point at this year’s election, and ask the question again 😉

Windfeather I’m glad I live in a town where I know who will win, no matter how I vote.

Warden Okay, so here’s a question : does the idea of the “uberguild” go away if the major resource of the game becomes gaining the support of other players? Meaning that if you want to control 80% of the “good stuff” produced in the game, you’d have to have 80% of the players supporting you?

Ketjak Confusing RL with our worlds is a bad idea. Draw inspiration, but remember the differences.

Twist pokes Raph and points him towards the IRC window in the background he is missing

Mahrin Skel I live in a Commonwealth, the state legislature will vote for me. ;-(

Ketjak We can’t easily move to a new nation. Online players can.

Mahrin Skel Anyway, maybe time for a new question?

PSage Time for a new question.

Myschyf OK NEW QUESTION!!!Warden Hey gang, I just realized what time it is. I’m afraid I’m going to have to bow out.

PSage Good night Warden.

Ketjak Warden, it’s been fun! 🙂

Myschyf Warden thanks for coming

Warden Thanks for the lively discussion, though. It was fun.

Raph See ya Warden. When can I tour your offices, huh?

Tommy grins.

Tommy He didn’t even let us tour their trailer at E3.

Mahrin Skel Night warden

Warden I dunno, lets grab lunch sometime.

Raph Sure.

Myschyf Lets try this one from Lietgardis. How do traditional real-world political and economic theory factor into work on new systems in games? Are any theories of particular interest to developers of online worlds, and if so, how?

Myschyf Tommy gets to go first

Tommy I am not really a guy that knows too much about philosophers and good political figureheads. I tend to design systems based on behavior in the real world and based on my own perception of politics and economics.

Myschyf want me to put forth a different question?

Raph has some

Lum No, it’s a good one, I’d like to see some more answers

Raph Of course. 🙂

Myschyf ok

Mahrin Skel Traditional Econ theory holds useful principles, but not useful theories. Our dynamics are too unrealistic.

Myschyf well then Tommy why don’t you go ahead

Ketjak This is a good one. 🙂 (Not that the others *sucked* mind you…)

Tommy hehe .. I guess I am done. I could probably ramble on but I’ll stop now. It would all be blabberish anyway.

Myschyf 🙂 ok. Raph you are next.

Raph In terms of anthropology and social structure formation, I’ve been reading a lot of Jared Diamond lately.

Windfeather I gotta scoot, too. I have two more continents to lay monster spawns on 🙂

Myschyf ok thanks for coming. And this will be our last question of the evening since we are dwindling fast

PSage See ya Derek

Windfeather Thanks for the great discussions!

Ketjak Indeed, Wind!

Raph The thing that most caught my attention about his book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” wasn’t the central premise of the book. In there, kind of as an aside, he mentions what the factors are that tend to drive community formation in terms of anthropology. And it’s been VERY interesting trying to apply that to how communities form in virtual settings. Also a little depressing. Turns out that a lot of the kinds of communities we say we want in games (polite, egalitarian, organized, etc) don’t happen in the real world until you get either less than 250 people or more than 50,000. Which may explain the appeal of Neverwinter Nights to every player I talk to. 😉

Myschyf HAHA

Raph As far as politics and economics, I think game theory is more fruitful than theorists, usually. Though stuff like Tragedy of the Commons proves really illuminating.

Myschyf Paul?

PSage Sure.

PSage I think in this case I tend to rely more on my peers than outsiders of the game community. Lack of resources is great for driving economies and setting up real supply and demand, but it just plain tends not to be fun. Also, getting an economy up and going when you have no idea what the growth rate of your player base will be is also a bit intimidating, and I don’t think a lot of real world books, at least that I know of handle that. As for politics and the like, I tend to rely on historical documents — de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America was a great look at building political systems and how the economy can play important factors in the role of building the political infrastructure. I think many historical lessons, such as penal colonies and the like, help us to see what not to do.

Mahrin Skel Jared Diamond is great because as an Evolutionary Biologist by training, he puts aside all the fuzziness and looks for *causes*. Logical causes independent of cultural biases. I’m finding Sociology reading useful as well, but only because it has a focus on looking at the *data*, rather than the personalities. Once you properly identify a social dynamic, you can take much better guesses at it’s behavior in other conditions. This is especially important when you’re trying to create something that has never existed, a self-stabilizing OLRPG economy. The things is, we’ve got to move past simplistic “people are broken” statements. It doesn’t *matter* that they are broken, they are all we have to work with, so we have to build our games to accommodate their actual mass behavior.

Myschyf Ket?

Ketjak Sure. Online games have more in common with traditional tribes than they do with modern day nations, pretty much for the reasons Raph cited earlier: organizations form for groups of people under 250 readily, and then get much harder. Large groups allow different styles of government to form than smaller groups. I mistyped my thoughts in that first line. We have small communities at most — several thousands versus several millions. At any given time, we are unlikely to have more than a hundred or so people from the same organization online at the same time; we get lucky if we have that many. Players’ identity will be tied to those small groups, making a traditional tribal organization (sub-100 people) the core, for all intents and purposes, of our communities. Our political models have to take into account that structure — small groups banding together to form ever-larger groups. Economy is a *very* difficult issue to tackle. If it’s closed, newbies tend to be penalized. If it’s open, they usually become anything but balanced. That’s where we come in, I think. We have to have a mechanism to deflate the runaway systems in place. That mechanism can only be based loosely on real world solutions, again, because we are not operating in the real world. We have opportunities real financial institutions never had nor ever can have without creating serious RW problems.

MahrinSkel waves his hand and creates a mountain of virtual gold

Ketjak FWIW, Desmond Morris is a good source of traditional anthropological studies. Er, studies of traditional societal models. And general human behavior.

Myschyf the floor is yours if you’d like to discuss?

Ketjak stares at his fingers – they type faster than is healthy for coherent discussion sometimes.

Tommy tries the hand wave bug as well.

Myschyf yours = all of you. That’s a pretty cool bug there

Mahrin Skel I think we’re ready for balanced economies. We’ve learned enough to know they are both possible and desirable. I hope to build one, but even if I don’t, someone will succeed in the self-regulating economy design very soon.

Myschyf Anyone else?

Ketjak I hope you build one, too – it will save us a lot of work in the long and short run. 🙂

Mahrin Skel Once we have them, a lot of things that we’ve gotten used to putting up with change.

Myschyf such as?

Mahrin Skel “MUDflation” In a balanced economy, you aren’t rebalancing the game with the NerfBat every time you turn around.

Myschyf You know I think I’m going to wrap this up

Myschyf I think Paul, Raph and Tommy have fallen asleep

Raph hears dinner calling….

Ketjak Another session is appreciated. 🙂

Raph Not asleep, reading.

PSage Not asleep. As always, lurking.

Raph I think balanced economy is only going to be a part of the battle.

Myschyf ok well you all seem quite talked out

Raph MUDflation may still happen if we don’t also address the flaws of the classic advancement models, for example

Ketjak It’s a whole-cloth system. 🙂

Tommy Actually i was drowsing off .. it is my third day on 5 hours of sleep

Myschyf yeah I’m sure

Mahrin Skel Raph: I wasn’t saying it was. It’s a logical next step, though.

Myschyf and its what… 3am your time?

Raph Well, gee, Tommy, if you let all of us into the beta, we could help report bugs and stuff, and then you wouldn’t be so busy tracking them down yourself. 😉

Myschyf yeah yeah — let us in the beta

Raph has no MMORPGs to play… 🙁

Myschyf There’s always UO Raph

Mahrin Skel hey, Tommy, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. 😉

Myschyf cackles

Lum want my EQ account, Raph? I think I have a 20th level monk still on it!

Raph I mean NEW ones to play, sillies.

Myschyf Battlefairies

Tommy I am not as busy finding them as I am fixing .. hehe

Raph Well, if you gave us the code, we could help with that too 😉

Raph Actually, isn’t the DAoC one soon, Mahrin?

Myschyf hey yeah

Mahrin Skel It’s on now.

Myschyf DAoC is on now

Mahrin Skel Started 10 days ago, actually.

Myschyf Who do we have to kill to get in that Dave?

Raph Ah. Lemme guess, you’re closing out all fellow developers from it. 🙂

Ketjak If only we knew someone who could get us into the closed beta…

Myschyf notes that she is not a developer

Tommy We are opening for fellow developers next phase

Myschyf notes that she is therefore not competition

PSage Yes. I like to PLAY games to.

At this point the conversation deteriorated into shameless begging to get into the various betas. Its better that you, the discerning public, are not exposed to such things. Stay tuned for what we hope will be part 2 of this Roundtable as we only got to 3 out 15 questions.