» the skewed views of a large opinion: Persistent World Design
Thursday, January 29, 2004
  < The C-word: Content >        
Content is another part of our belovedly-undefineable hobby-specific jargon. Developers have been almost uniformly charged with not providing 'content', even as a consistent definition eludes us. Generally, there are two types of content in persistent worlds: content - which is manifest in nouns, and capital-C Content - which is manifest predominantly in verbs.

Little-c content is the combination of places, items, areas and such that players can explore. Not to downplay the skill and time required, 'content' is fairly straightforward and comparatively easy to implement. If a game is lacking in 'content', we can simply task designers and artists to work on creating 'more'. While it may be comparatively easier and more straightforward, it is also expensive in time, wages, and bandwidth for updates. Again, it is not my intent to downplay the talent and time required to make great models, textures, towns and effects. What I am suggesting, is that when the playerbase is clamoring for more races, towns, or monsters - the solution is straightforward.

Capital-C Content on the other hand, is much more difficult to even define. While content contains the persons, places, and things in a virtual world - Content contains the gamespace, the entirety of actions one can perform on little-c content to receive a reward. Naturally, the definition of 'reward' is itself subjective and vague, and will be left for another post.

Everquest's content - Qeynos, crushbone, skeleton, dwarf, fishing pole, shiny brass shield, tradeskill kit, etc.
Everquest's Content - exploring, fishing, socializing, fighting, trading, swimming, tradeskilling, foraging, camping, raiding, questing, etc.
Second Life's content - materials, script commands, land area, textures, models, templates, etc
Second Life's Content - exploring, building, coding, socializing, designing, reinventing the avatar, voting, fighting, trading, etc

Suffice to say, those players that perceive no reward for an action discount it as being part of the gamespace. Most players discount 'exploring' from the list of Content in Everquest. Adding new land that confers no new items to gather or monsters to kill wouldn't be seen as adding Content. There is no provable reward for traveling unwalked paths or wandering under-used zones, so most simply don't see the point. Some find a personal, intrinsic, reward in seeing new things, and knowing what others do not.

As open-ended gameplay relies on the individual themselves to attribute reward - it is unsurprising that most people do not agree on which systems provide a reward at all. Thusly, 'sandbox'-styled games, with more open-ended gamespaces and less concrete rewards, are more likely said to be lacking in 'content', even amongst those who do find value in systems which do not provide discrete rewards. What content some value will be entirely discounted by others. If there are not enough of such open-ended systems, nearly all players will agree that the game is lacking, even though they will disagree on which existing parts are worthwhile.

One can alter their appearance in Second Life as often as they want. They can build nearly anything they can imagine. Yet many of the existing playerbase of persistent worlds don't value the rewards of expressing themselves through construction, style, or dance. The reward structure for creating is dictated entirely by the player when they experience a creations, not from the game system when something is created. Creating the same sword a dozen times over does not yield consistent advancement in the discrete sense. Creating the coolest house ever may never net any popularity gain unless the creator invests in the social side of the game. Charges that fans of Everquest-style gameplay simply don't 'get' Second Life, while unnecessarily condescending, are ultimately accurate. Despite the vast array of possibility opened by Second Life's staggering gamespace, without predictable discrete rewards, many players will say there's nothing to do. They simply don't value the reward, don't see 'the point', of the majority of the available Content.

Games with more discrete rewards don't suffer such criticism, even though their gamespace may be significantly smaller. Everquest, for example, has a much more limited set of interactivity than Star Wars Galaxies. However, its reward structure is very clearly defined - activities within the gamespace garner experience and loot. Everquest has no other discrete rewards, and so actions that do not net one of the two are largely ignored. SWG, on the other hand, allows players to derive 'reward' from a multitude of immersive systems. Its gamespace consists largely of allowing players to express themselves and 'play' by performing actions that likely are not even recognized by the game with any type of discrete reward (decorating one's house, personalizing their attire). Most of the jilted players of SWG identify the lack of content as being exemplified in the narrowness of the Mission Terminal Content. They naturally gravitated toward the few systems that provided a consistent discrete reward, and discounted the remaining gamespace entirely. That one could buy, own, and decorate their own home in SWG was essentially ignored as having any point.

Content, as we can see, is very difficult and expensive to create. It takes designer time to visualize and specify, developer time to code, and likely artist time as well (one can't add chess without a chessboard). Yet the most difficult part, is in balancing the reward. What type of reward does one gain from this new action? How much reward is appropriate for the resource investment? (resources being: raw material cost, time to prepare for the action, time to perform the action, chance of failure * cost of failure, etc ) If we choose the wrong type of reward (prestige instead of money, intrinsic instead of discrete), our Content will likely be ignored entirely.

We can never be sure whether any added Content will yield a positive response from the playerbase who are demanding an ambiguous 'more'. Will most of those players wanting more find value in a questing system? A racing system? An armwrestling system?

The very nature of this gamble is the leading reason commercial publishers are so wary of stepping too far away from tried-and-true game designs. From Gygax on down the discrete reward structure for certain Content has long been established. So long as developers stick to the status quo, they know that they can safely build a lifespan into their game most simply by prolonging the amount of time the regular systems (loot acquisition, leveling) take.

Things needn't be quite as Hatfield vs McCoy as they might appear. Fans of discrete reward systems don't mind the existence of intrinsic reward systems - so long as they feel they have enough discrete Content. Similarly fans of intrinsic Content don't mind discrete systems and generally embrace discrete extensions. Indeed the Second Life playerbase is quite smitten with their popularity voting system - which provides discrete rewards in addition to the personal intrinsic reward each player finds in the act of creation itself.

Creating a building that most of our peers think is 'the greatest' is an intrinsic reward that some will covet, but most will not understand. Being able to actually show a friend our peer's high discrete ratings of this achievement is much more broadly recognized as lending a point to the entire gamespace of creation. In contrast, being able to play Chess in UO is largely regarded as pointless, as provable accomplishment is impossible as implemented. Adding a server/town/continent-wide Chess standings ladder might well draw more attention back to this pre-existing Content. As might the ability to place wagers on a game, or the creation of facilities for players to initiate system-managed tournaments.

In general, when we decide to create new Content - we should endeavor to create systems that grant provable achievement. It's no silver bullet - but it greatly increases the pool of potentially receptive players. Following an examination of rewards in persistent worlds, we can more deeply investigate how we should reward such achievement.
  < / The C-word: Content >        
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
  < Tradeskills >        
Most persistent games now have fairly robust tradeskill systems. Some are better than others, but in almost all, they are widely considered 'boring' by even those who demand and adore them. Interestingly enough, it is not at all different from how the adventuring community feels about the numerous monsters they must laboriously fight during the 'level grind'. Both systems are often regarded as a fairly boring, tedious repitition of clicks that eventually will allow us to do, or make, something 'cool'.

It is therefore fairly easy to see that the tradeskill grind is essentially a microcosm of the levelling grind. The problems that plague it, plague levelling as well. So why don't we simply apply some of the rules we've learned, about making levelling more fun, to tradeskilling?

There are limited special abilities that adventurers use to perform better in a single fight - so why not an analogue to allow a crafter to perform better on a single harvest, or item creation? A wizard might have a certain spell they can cast once every third fight to let him take down a stronger monster than normal. Why not allow a crafter to similarly concentrate his talents on the occassional more ambitious item? Why not allow a lumberjack a 'frenzy' of sorts that allows him to get a particularly valuable tree down more quickly than they otherwise might have? Why couldn't a smith have a 'focus' ability that drastically improves his chances of success in creating a particular item?

Adventurers group together to tackle more difficult challenges for additional gain, so why not allow crafters to do the same? Perhaps two metalworkers can combine to make a more difficult weapon faster, gaining more skill, faster, with less risk for each. Perhaps if a tailor and a metalsmith work together at the same time, they can make a better suit of studded leather armor? Many tradeskill systems depend on crafters to work together, and while working alone and using the finished product of others shouldn't be ruled out, working together simultaneously would be a vast improvement. Why shouldn't an 'apprentice' smith have the option to assist a 'master' in the creation of a more complex item than either could manage on their own? Why must a tailor and a smith both create numerous components on their own, and then swap them so that each can attempt to make a truly useful composite item? Why not allow them the option of working together directly?

Monsters occassionally present problems that adventurers don't expect. They repop at odd times, they bring a friend, they occassionally have a particularly nasty weapon. Why couldn't a particular log have a nasty knot that is more difficult to work around, but the finished product provides a slight bonus for the effort? Why couldn't mining come with a possible risk of unseating some rocks, unsettling the cave so that the miners would have to work furiously to correct the problem before a mini-rockslide occurs? Naturally not all tradeskills have logical analogues for an unexpected risk and potential danger -- sewing is by any account vastly safer than lumbering or mining. Yet there is no reason the systems that govern it couldn't present a similarly unexpected challenge that requires timely use of the aforementioned special abilities, and provide a suitable reward to the dilligent. Perhaps while felling one tree, it starts another listing on its way down. Imagine if a lumberjack had to desperately work at this new threat to keep it from falling on his carefully stacked day's haul?

Often, the greatest challenges and rewards for adventurers involves dangerous travel and grouping for protection. There is little reason this couldn't apply to crafting. Provided that such risks are not required (many crafters enjoy the 'solo' atmosphere), and the reward commensurate with the risk, it is a solid concept. Finding a solid balance between the risk and the reward is tricky however - but it should not be an avenue discounted for that reason alone. Balancing risk versus reward for combat itself is no easy feat.

Adventurers wade through dungeons often to find 'boss' mobs: More difficult foes seated amongst a group of more contemporary enemies, providing a special reward for the ambitious. Why couldn't tradeskilling be roughly the same? Why couldn't a black sheep provide a greater challenge for shearing? We could have the other sheep come to its aid if one attempts to shear it first. Essentially requiring a shearer to deal with the black sheep's 'group' before turning his attention on the leader.

Why couldn't a vein of ore be blocked by a particularly troublesome stone, with a richer reward behind it? Truly this isn't too different from the previously mentioned random extra bit of challenge. Yet it is a discreet aspect. A random, unexpected, challenge cannot be too much stronger than its contemporaries. Yet a 'boss' challenge is known, expected, and can be planned for. It can be designed to require a special group effort to 'defeat'.

Lastly, what's wrong with making the tradeskilling systems mini-games in and of themselves? This is an idea that has been cropping up recently, but never it seems, with further exploration or explanation. In this design, simply being in a harvesting 'state' should net a stream of resources. The game should be an optional way to earn additional reward.

Similarly when creating an item, the difficulty of the game should be commensurate with the difficulty in creating the particular item relative to the character's skill level. A longsword may be a tough play for a novice, but the same sword may be made via an 'easier' run for a more experienced smith.

By making the game contingent on player skill as well, success levels will likely drop. However, if the method itself is more fun than staring at a timer, players won't necessarily mind. And with item creation rates down, one can attribute more 'usefulness' to the items that are created. Crafters won't have to churn out a stream of worthless daggers anymore.

Similarly by applying the 'special abilities' concept, we allow crafters a opportunity to temporarily make the game easier, a 'bonus' or 'powerup'. This allows them to alleviating their chances of 'ruining' precious materials based on no fault of their own, but mere dumb luck.

Perhaps, *warning*bad analogy coming*, mining is made a bit like 'minesweeper'. Each square represents a rock removed looking for ore. The 'mines' represent load-bearing stones to be avoided. Maybe a special ability for the miner would be an occassionally ability to sense the stresses under a few unchecked squares before deciding which to mine. More precious materials could be found in more risky 'mine fields' with more 'dangerous' squares. A 'failed' game shouldn't mean no resources were harvested at all, or instant death. Yet a successful game should mean some type of bonus. Perhaps two miners 'grouped' together could combine their efforts to play on a larger board together for greater potential reward.

Perhaps tailoring is akin to Snake (aka Nibbles). Metalworking might be something like Tetris. Popcap games has a multitude of excellent, clever, and addictive puzzle games for inspiration.

Appropriate mini-games for persistent world tradeskilling should certainly be custom-designed, and surely they won't all be as great and entertaining as a full-scale puzzlegame. They don't have to each be great in and of themselves. Merely entertaining, in-context with the rest of the game, and leaving enough time to the player to keep an eye on auctions, hawk wares, or chat with friends. I included particular examples simply for illustrative purposes, to reinforce that minigames for tradeskilling need not be considered so outlandish or pie-in-the-sky.

Let us end with my largest pet peeve regarding tradeskilling: Please designers, if nothing else, stop making players click over and over again to complete simple rudimentary tasks. Make the 'harvest' commands initiate a cycle - not identify a discreet act. Allow people to start harvesting, and stop harvesting. At least as an optional method, so that those who wish to do more than a single discreet action don't wear out their input devices.
  < / Tradeskills >        
Thursday, January 22, 2004
  < Karma >        
Persistent worlds have an in-game community problem. That problem is that there is almost never an appropriate communications medium to recognize heros and identify fiends.

My suggestion is twofold. Firstly, consider a karmic counter for each character. This is not too divergent from any other notoriety or faction system in general concept and intent. However, the improvement in the design is that we would leave it up to the players to administrate karmic distribution amongst one another.

Ideally, a certain number of karma points would be allocated per character per (real) day. These could be donated to any other character they choose, in a positive or negative way. Even if a game doesn't have direct pvp, it could still benefit from the karma system, by helping players identify scammers, kill-stealers, and genuine Good Honest People™. To help prevent abuse it should be required that the donor be able to see, or have recently seen, the karmic recipient.

The key here, is that there is no server-side system that attempts to determine the moral value of any given action. A major flaw in UO's notoriety system was that the honest player had no recourse against a scammer, poacher, or a harasser. If she resorted to violence, she would be treated as the aggressor, as the criminal by the systems designed to protect her - and she had no other means to seek justice. The system was routinely gamed in such fashions, leveraged to protect the criminal.

Surely we should retain the server-coded systems to identify combat aggression or attempted thievery. If our pvp-combat or npc-governed criminal systems are keyed off such flags, it is still useful for players to identify the first person to escalate to violence. However, it is important that the system itself applies no positive or negative moral connotation to these actions. By letting the players mete out moral judgement, we allow a human mind to apply context to the actions. Player-justice would not be possible in an NPC-guarded town, but the system would still allow the identification of the dispicable, so they will be treated appropriately by everyone else.

Karma given would be weighted by the positive karmic standing of the giver. An untrustworthy sort can not be a reliable judge of morality after all. It should also be capped per-donor, such that the karmic gain from any given donor levels-off in usefulness quickly. This shifts the benefit of karma to those who gather it from many sources - minimizing the opportunity for small groups to game the system. To game the system would require a fairly large community of 'mules' with high karmic standign to offset the negative karma the 'mains' have received from their victims. It likely wouldn't take long for a high-karma mule to lose his high karma, as soon as he's seen cavorting with criminals.

Similarly, a single spiteful high-karma individual could not tarnish the reputation of another character by herself. This helps protect players from being unfairly punished for crossing the wrong people, and prevents abuse from formerly good characters who may well 'wig out' prior to cancelling their account.

To keep this system in-context with game fiction, we can consider it a manifestation of blessings and curses, wishes for good luck and wishes for ill. It's not much of a stretch to make 'official' the curses one throws to a thief or the blessings and luck one wishes upon their comrades. We can even keep the recipient notification in-context by simply letting them know: "Anubis curses your name", or "Biggs wishes you well". Flavor text can easily be adjusted to suit any context, and can reflect the quantity of karma donated. There's actually no technical reason we would even have to notify the recipient at all, so we could easily leave it as a voiceless sytem.

The data requirements for this karmic system itself would require only a few bytes per character. A signed int, protected from rollover, to record the current karma level - and a byte for the 'today's karma left to distribute' pool. Hardly a considerable increase in storage.

The second prong of my suggestion is guild-notoriety: a guild-centric karma. Essentially, as karma is donated to members of a guild, the guild itself reflects the aggregate karmic standing of its constituents. This way individuals can help distinguish, in-game, between the myriad of guilds that crop up. Traditionally a player would have to consult an out-of-game community website or message-board for such feedback, and it almost certainly wouldn't be reflective of the opinion of the majority of players. Rival guilds all-to-often slander one another quite loudly for fundamentally petty reasons - leaving new players unable to determine the difference between an uncouth guild, and one full of swindlers and thieves. Guild notoriety would simply require another signed int protected from rollover to record its karmic aggregate, per guild.

The primary drawback to this system however are the server resources for the donation history. We require that each character's data representation contain a history of karmic donations: which character they gave karma to, and how much, per donation so that we can level off the 'effectiveness' of the same karmic gifts from the same donors. This donation list is the key feature to curtail gaming of the system by groups of colluders or vengeful individuals. Our choices for implementation are either a complete list, or a time-sensitive list.

A complete list would be one that records every donation a character makes, to ensure that he cannot manage to apply an unfair karmic donation to any other single character. The upper-limit of such a history is quite simply one record per character on the server - meaning that each character's donation history would grow with the size of the total characterbase. Consider a moderately popular server of 2000 online players, and a karmic donation size of 1 byte (no more than +/- 128 karma points could be donated at a time). Odds are that each player has at least 1 other characters on that server, and that no more than 25% of the players who use that server are online at any one time. This gives us a fairly reasonable estimate of 16000 characters on that server, and a unique identifier for each character would then require at least 2 bytes of storage meaning each donation history record would be 3 bytes. A complete karmic history implementation would thusly require storing an additional 48kB per character -- 768 MB in total for the whole server. Furthermore, the creation of each new character would increase the size of each existing character's record. The sixteen-thousand-and-first character would not require simply 48kB to store their possible donations - but their existence would create a net-growth of 3 bytes per existing character (so they have space to record their donations to this new character) as well as requiring 48003 bytes for themself. They would affect a net change in storage of an additional ~96kB. This exponential storage growth is simply not acceptable.

A time-sensitive list could be implemented by simply recording the last [x] karmic donations. As players only earn a fixed amount of karma per day, the number of possible daily donations are effectively capped. Therefore by adjusting the size of the donation history list, one is effectively adjusting the time window that it covers. A Time-sensitive donation list raises the problems of allowing a community of criminals to more easily game the system to 'override' bad karma over time by having their 'mules' donate the maximum amount of good karma per day to as many friends as possible. Though we could protect against this, by discounting any karmic donation to a recipient who is already in the donor's history.

If a player gives karma to another that was already in his donation history list, we would subtract the donation from his total daily allotment, and record the transaction (effectively 'refreshing' its time positioning) as usual. Then we simply would not update the karma of the recipient, ideally without notifying the character that the donation was ineffective (to keep them from realizing any attempted scamming was ineffective, and to remove feedback that would help them determine the bounds of the system).

Of course, if we allow more than 1 karmic point per donation, it would be worthwhile to record the difference in the donation. That is, if a donor had given negative 2 points of karma to another character - and that recipient was already in his list with a negative 1 point donation - we'd record the donation and adjust the recipient's karma by negative 1 point. Similarly, if positive 3 points were given to a recipient already in the list as receiving a 1 point donation, we would want to adjust their karma by 2 positive points.

It's debateable how we should apply a donation that results in a sign change. That is, if a player gives a positive 2 karma donation to a character that is in his list as having received a positive 4 karma - do we record a change in the recipient's karma of negative 2 points? If a donor gives negative 2 karma to a recipient who had previously been given positive 2 karma, should we adjust the recipient's karma by negative 4? The decision in this corner of the system is interesting to consider, but not too necessary to concern ourselves with. It can be left to the implementor's whimsy without any adverse effects.

Let us now consider our previous example server to determine the storage requirement for our time-sensistive donation history (a glorified circular queue). The data storage per character would be 3 bytes per record, plus 1 byte for an 'insert new record here' pointer. (if pointers are an alien concept, trust me or ask a friend). The data storage per character for a 50 record history would be only 151 bytes. The total storage for the server would be ~2.4MB. Furthermore, each additional character would only affect a net storage increase of 151 bytes. This much more tame linear growth is quite reasonable. The size of the circular queue can also be easily tuned for performance considerations, with a known and predictable impact on the quality of the karmic value.

With this system, a mule would have to donate to a number of unique characters equal to the size of the history list before an ill-intentioned donation to his 'main' would be effective again. A cooperative criminal community would have to have as many characters as the size of the list to be unaffected - and even then they would have to be sure to make their karmic donations in order for maximum effectiveness. It would not be a foolproof system, but it would certainly make it more difficult to game, and much easier to identify those attempting to game it. It would be particularly useful if we only notified players when karmic donations are made, and not whether they were effective. Truly we can never prevent the community from discovering our systems, but we can certainly ensure that we aren't unduly helping them along.

Now, the whole purpose behind all this karma - is to display this per-character information to all other characters freely. Again, to keep the phenomenon in-context, we simply consider it a graphical representation of word-of-mouth: It doesn't have much effect until it's heard from many sources and it has more weight when heard from reputable sources. For a game world seeking more 'realism', one could make karma only visible to those with powers of augury, or wielding an item with such power.

The easiest way to represent this would be in color-coding of the ever-present floating name tag. One could adjust the name color on a sliding scale from black to white, across the visible light spectrum (ROYGBIV), or any other custom spectra (eg: UO's red-to-blue). We could also represent it via colored auras around the character, or mesh deformations of their model, making evil actually appear evil as popularized by Molyneaux. Although the latter would entail quite a bit of work.

The general idea is to give all players a reasonably robust method to share and receive feedback in a method that overcomes the in-game communication boundaries between the logging-on and -off of the playerbase.

As an extention of this idea, it's also worth considering a wholly server-maintained adminstrative karmic system. One could maintain a 'shady'-o-meter per player (Naturally this would be visible only to administrators). When a player has their character do something suspect, the system could update this administrative karma accordingly. Such suspect actions might include: donating karma to someone already in their history, trading a worthless item for a very valuable one, putting a valuable item on the ground or picking one up, logging in and out with several different characters repeatedly, killing a monster without being harmed, exceeding the reasonable net experience/money gain per time spent, etc. This karma would likely be most useful if it atrophied over time, so a slow accumulation of possibly shady actions doesn't waste the attention of administrators by making all honest players eventually look suspect.

Such a meter would allow administrators to proactively identify those people who manage to do things they didn't think were possible, or are warning signs of ill-intent. Hopefully it would lead us any problems and allow us to fix them before they became widespread. It would not be as detailed as actual logging, but it would more easily allow adminstrators to identify who is worthwhile to log. It would also give an independent level of credibility to reports of duping, cheating, etc. If nothing else, another tool to allow developers to assess the severity of unexpected playstyles would not hurt. Such a shady-o-meter would require only a byte or two of storage per-player, easily a worthwhile expenditure for the potential gain.
  < / Karma >        
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
  < Werst.Acronym.Evar >        
MMORPG ... no wonder people derisively chortle at our gaming niche. What kind of acronym is that? What kind of genre definition is that? Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. MMOG. Massmog -- at least massmog is easy to say. But a six-letter acronym... is that truly necessary?

Let's honestly examine our bloated friend, that we all know to be a Bad™ acronym. It carries almost no meaning despite it's size. It is tough to say in acronym form, even more difficult to say in long form, redundant, and I posit: in and of itself, meaningless.

Massive: To this point there has been no massmog I've ever played that delivered a gameplay experience that leverages 'massive' for the individual in a way that a large traditional multiplayer game does not. A MUD with 40, 100 or more online players provides gameplay nearly indistinguishable from Everquest, despite EQ's order of magnitude more players per server. Everquest, in the end, is not functionally or qualitatively very different from any other Diku MUD. So a MUD/MUSH/MOO can truly be considered equivalent to a massmog, unless 'massive' is purely a qualification of online player counts. Seeing how a game like Asheron's Call 2 is still regarded as an MMORPG, we can see that is not the accepted case.

Multiplayer: At the very least, either this definition or 'massive' is redundant. Considering that MUDs aren't sufficiently different from what has been termed 'massmog', it seems massive is the likely candidate for being dropped. However, multiplayer in itself doesn't sufficiently define what we call a massmog. Many games that are not massmogs are multiplayer. So 'multiplayer' is as useless as 'massive'.

Online: Where the hell else are we going to find a massive number of players? Even if we could find a massive game via private network, or some other medium: should it be excluded from the genre definition? If a private wireless network allowed hundreds of cell phone users to play a peer-to-peer game together, is it not a massmog?

So 'MMO' doesn't honestly help. Even when taken together, the definition would include things like a large unreal or counter-strike server, even when we know intuitively that those games are certainly not massmogs. Intuition, being the only source left for our definition, is perhaps the best way to analyze the genre. Supposing a Diablo-ish game is played with 40 or 50 other players at a time, is it a massmog? Supposing counter-strike is played with 50 other players at a time, should it be included in our definition?

The gut reaction regarding a large cstrike server, is that it is not a massmog; whereas something like Planetside clearly is. However, a large server diablo clone very well may be. At first it might seem contradictary, but it is fairly easy to see the real definition after a moment. The only qualification that matters is persistence. Does the world persist without our being in the game? Does our character persist between sessions?.

With counter-strike, a character exists only for the duration of the connection. With Planetside, a character persists, and the world persists when she is not there. Hence, counter-strike with 50 other people is not a massmog. A diablo clone could be considered a massmog because the avatar persists between sessions. Though if the game world itself does not persist, it will ultimately be dismissed as such. This leads directly to my aversion to games that run rampant with instancing. They only blur the definition further, essentially becoming persistent matching services for a more traditional online hack-em-up. The core game no longer appears to truly be what we consider a massmog. But I digress.)

The result of this examination is that we can quite easily reduce the vexing and troublesome 'MMO' to simply 'Persistent'.

The end of the acronym carries new problems though. 'RPG' has always been vague, yet lately even FPSs and 3rd-person action games are toeing the line more and more and making a larger mess of the definition. What is GTA after all, if not technically part role-playing game? What is Deus Ex? Even those who will agree that GTA is an RPG by definition, also believe it is certainly not the kind of game we traditionally associate with the genre definition. So once again we have a bad acronym that holds meaning only through convention.

Roll into this confusion the concept that for an online avatar to persist between sessions necessarily implies that the player is assuming the role of that avatar whenever they play. Every persistent game to date has avatar advancement - and thus the only traditional technical qualifications for 'RPG' are met by any 'MMO'. Even an online strategy game could be considered 'role playing' at some level. Although that role is best described as more of a diety or society than a single adventurer or soldier. Yet the world persists without the player's attention, and her representation (empire) persists - can be advanced, specialized, and personalized.

Thusly we can no longer pretend there is meaning behind the 'RPG' either. The only definitive difference left between Everquest and Planetside is the actual gameplay. While Planetside's gameplay is neatly summed up with the traditional 'Shooter' definition, Everquest's gameplay is simply accepted as 'RPG' alone. As that acronym means even less than normal when paired with 'persistent', we must look deeper. It turns out that the games which give us the most trouble in classification, are those with a prominent character story -- whether narrative, interactive, or free-form. Deus Ex is troubling to categorize because it has a much stronger story element than Doom had. GTA is troubling to categorize because it has a much stronger story element than Postal.

So why not borrow from traditional story genre definitions? This change in terminology would transform a story-driven shooter into 'Action', a classicly-defined Adventure game into a 'Mystery' ('Whodunnit'), an RPG into an 'Epic', or 'Adventure', or 'Action/Adventure', etc. Certainly for completeness one would retain traditional game genres like 'Puzzle', 'Sport', 'Strategy' and such - but to get us through the blurred boundaries of games with strong characterized stories, we can gain from falling back on centuries-old genre definitions.

Truly, people argue ceaselessly about genre definitions for traditional narratives. Yet it isn't as if our traditional gaming genre definitions have quelled that sort of discussion. The important point is that when we describe Everquest's gameplay as an Epic/Adventure anyone, not just gamers predisposed to the genre, would comprehend what type of experience it conveys.

So where does this leave us? Everquest is no longer an 'MMORPG', but a Persistent Epic/Adventure. We could contort an acronym for that, but I don't see a point. People haven't found it necessary to make acronyms for 'Action/Adventure' films, or 'Epic/Romance' novels in the last hundred years or so. Nor have they felt it necessary to include their media in the genre definition. A Mystery is regarded as a mystery regardless of whether it's on-stage, on-page, on film, or on a disc. So placing 'game' at the end of our convoluted acronyms is not only unhelpful, but tacky. Even in gaming, no other genre bothers to drop in 'game', even when they opt for an acronym (eg: FPS, RTS, etc).

True, we may have to explain to the layperson what we imply with the label 'Persistent'. Yet the clearer terminology lends itself more to a clear, more succinct answer: "The game continues, persists, even when we're not there." We likely will included such words as online, massive, and multiplayer in explaining it to a newcomer - but we certainly won't need to use them every time we want to talk to each other.

'Persistent Adventure', 'Persistent Action', even 'Persistent Epic/Adventure' sounds a hell of a lot better to me than 'MMORPG'. At worst it only requires us to explain a single new term, rather than a mouthful.

  < / Werst.Acronym.Evar >        
Thursday, January 15, 2004
  < Level-free systems: an alternative >        
Let's examine the problems we encounter in trying to fix traditional level-based design. Keep in mind that when I refer to level-based design, I'm referring to any system whereby character advancement can make a single character more powerful or effective than a group of 3 or 4 dedicated 'newbies'. This can be implemented in any number of ways, and so long as they result in the same situation, they are equivalent in design for the purpose of this discussion. Remember that I do paint with broad strokes, so this will be the only warning for those allergic to archetyping.

Massmog players like to see progress. They like to gain in power and do cool things. More closely to a nerve, the current playerbase of persistant world gamers do not embrace any system that allows player-skill to trump character-skill. As I showed in the preceding post, traditional level-based systems preserve the RPG status-quo at the expense of the casual gamer. ('Casual' being any gamer who advances more slowly than average, even if they happen to play more than average.)

Player-skill vs Character-skill
A key concept in the foundation of 'role-playing' is that a player is assuming the persona of a character that, almost always, is quite different from herself. As such, players do not find it generally 'fair' if player-knowledge gives an unfair advantage to a character. Though unavoidable, it is traditionally undesireable if an Eagle Scout can be a more effective 'ranger'-type character than any other player. Hence, the details of most systems are largely glossed over in pen-and-paper. It's assumed any ranger can build an equivalent shelter as any other ranger of the same character level -- regardless of whether the player knows how to actually make a good shelter or not.

In pen-and-paper gaming, the party is generally not competing with other players. More to the point, no single player is in direct competition with another for limited spots in an adventuring group. When player-skill is more important than character-skill in a massmog, those with low player-skill will routinely be passed over. Putting in many hours to gain a higher 'level' only to be routinely passed over in favor of players who haven't 'put their time in' is a source of much frustration. Even having to compete with other players for the ability to go have fun is stressful enough. When player-skill is paramount it widens the pool of competitors and, as in gym class, those of low player-skill are put off by the activity.

Removing the level-based system necessarily makes player-skill the key factor in relative desireability of an adventuring companion. While we do want to correct the problems level-based systems create, we do not want to alienate players.

There are a few solutions here. Firstly, we can remove the limited number of group slots and reward players based on what they actually do - not based on what the 'group' does. Traditionally, hard-coded 'groups' were implemented to mitigate a lack of content. A single spawn that requires 10 players' cooperation is easier to design, balance, and maintain than 10 seperate spawns that are individually challenging for a single player. As I've said before, removing the level system eases the burden on content creation quite a bit, and this wouldn't be a roadblock anymore.

The other driving factor behind hard-coded grouping is to avoid problems in reward distribution. Games that give rewards (even bonuses) based on which individual or group gets a 'kill' are susceptible to 'kill stealing'. Hard-coding groups allows the cooperative group more protection from a malicious individual who seeks to poach. In UO the lack of groups was evident by the number of 'poachers' who existed solely to snatch away the loot from under the victorious party's nose, much like the old MUDs. Letting others take all the risk, and then making off with an unfair share of the reward is philosophically no different from kill-stealers who game the 'who gets experience/loot rights' systems in games with 'grouping'.

The solution here would be to consider the 'corpse' and any loot it may contain, the property of the victor(s). Thus when a character tries to poach, they are forced to do so through the established systems that handle (or disallow) stealing from other players. At the least the 'victims' would have justified recourse against a malicious player (thief). In a situation where several players contribute to the defeat of a foe, anyone who contributed should have a right to loot an appropriate share of the treasure. One should not be allowed to loot a total of value of treasure higher than their share, unless it's a single item. Those who loot a single item worth more than their share should have that item flagged as available for 'contention' only by the other players with rights to that treasure.

Any other player with rights may choose to contend an item so flagged. This contention could be played out as a private duel that others could not lawfully jump in on. (Should someone jump in, they should be dealt with as any other unprovoked aggressor). For a game with no PVP, a simple raffle system could be implemented, so any players who care to jump in on a 'contested' piece of loot are thrown in a queue, from which a random winner is chosen.

True, this leaves support characters (buffers, healers - who do no direct damage to the enemy) at the charity of those they support. So long as they receive personal advancement based on the application of their skills, it is still acceptable. Many games (UO,SWG,etc) have shown this sort of system to be viable, with the only major flaw being a lack of consistant 'memory' on the part of the community of support players. They are effectively penalized by not being able to identify deadbeats ahead of time, and aren't given any particular tools with which to warn their community. I'll get to a solution to that when I discuss 'karma'.

Some problems will remain with abolishing official 'grouping', but as grouping has not solved the kill stealing problem itself, I don't see why a viable replacement should be discounted because it is also not flawless.

When there is no limit to the number of people that can adventure together, and everyone is rewarded roughly in line with their performance - there is vastly less frustration on the part of those with low player skill.

In a PVP-enabled server, many players would be put off by the idea that a 'newbie' character of a high-skill player could defeat their character that they had spent time and effort in developing. To mitigate this, it is important to ensure that while no character should advance to a point where they could easily dispatch a half-dozen 'newbies' - no newbie should be able to handily defeat a competent 'advanced' character. This is, at worst, the advanced character should have an opportunity to fend off the attacker and make a fighting retreat. I don't believe these reasonable players would be as offended as much if the only imminent threats were from a comparably skilled character, or a half-dozen 'newbies'. In general, any system that allows one player to kill another so fast as to obviate defense will cause an uproar. No spell, ranged, or melee attack should be able to 'one-shot' any player.

Visible Advancement
Players love seeing the advancement in a level-based game. Indeed visible advancement may be the only reason players play persistent games at all. They love to see that the time they've spent has amounted to something. Indeed, this is why many massmog players maintain subscriptions to games they don't seriously play any more and are resistant to switching games. The attachment to that character is very strong and the desire to replicate the time investment necessary to get to a high level is nill. However, I don't agree that such advancement has to take quite so long as it does in level-based games, or that it necessarily has to convey such an exponential growth in power. Unique and personalized items and in-context achievements (if recorded) can create at least as powerful a bond and feeling of accomplishment as any collection of stats.

I believe the singular focus on level advancement is primarily due to the fact that nothing else a player does in most games is recorded and featured as an accomplishment. If I rescue a farmer's heirloom from a goblin thief, not only is that feat not featured prominently on my character history, but there is no possible 'failure', and the farmer almost never remembers a past hero.

If I slaughter a hundred goblins, that achievement is only conveyed by an experience tally. I don't get a local reputation for being a goblin-slayer. I can't aspire to getting a global reputation for being a goblin-slayer. My achievement is the same as any other character who gained a few thousand experience points. The locals in the town I save don't treat me any better -- generally they never even learn my name.

If such shortcomings are corrected, if more achievements are provably recorded and remembered other than just the single experience count - the emphasis on 'XPs' as the end-all could only be lessened. Some hardcore players may still care only for the grind - but they are not an audience that is going to be conducive to building a community, or growing a lasting game. They likely can only be retained until the grind is over.

History has shown that most people who try a massmog never complete even half of the grind. If we can retain half again the number of people who give up for another month or two at least - we would dwarf any losses from the early defection of 'xp'-centric gamers. If we can provide a larger base of people with less skill than the hardcore gamers -- more people the hardcore can impress with provable achievements -- many hardcore gamers will tend to stay longer themselves. Particulary if the casual gamers and the hardcore are adventuring in the same areas, and cooperating on the same goals.

Also keep in mind, that without a pronounced level-based system, the whole game is essentially the traditional 'end-game'. So if an end-game that captures the attention of hardcore gamers can be developed, there's no reason we can't keep the same number without forcing a level-grind to precede the end-game. The end-games in most massmogs are massively more 'fun' than the beginnings are now - so I can't see how putting them first could be anything other than an improvement.

The Cult of Cool
Players like to be able to do 'cool' stuff. Traditional level-based systems reserve the 'coolest' gear, locations, enemies, and abilities for those characters of high skill. Therefore getting to the 'cool' stuff is a proof of achievement. Having the coolest gear, fighting the biggest, meanest monsters, and seeing the coolest, most far-flung locales is a reinforcement of the achievement. There is no reason that this can't still be so. Simply because character advancement should have a hard-cap on effectiveness does not mean that we can't make areas so dangerous that only those with high player-skill can go alone, places that others would have to group together with high-character-skill friends to travel.

There is no reason we can't give out relatively cool treasure and gear to those who complete an impressive number of tasks for their guild or nation. The important part is to keep each step of the journey fun - and keep each step of the journey do-able by either a player with high character-skill, or a dedicated group with high player-skill. Frankly, there's no reason why we must require a crafter to churn out a hundred worthless tchotchkes just to turn out one trusty broadsword. I'll go into level-free crafting systems at a later date, today's post is already a bit too long.
  < / Level-free systems: an alternative >        
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
  < Level-based systems are The Devil >        
I'm not going to bother with the history of gaming. We all know where level-based rpg game design came from (*cough*Gygax*cough*). If you don't, and want to know - there's more than enough material online to fill you in. I'll be here 'till you get back.

The reality is, level-based design is the root of a staggering quantity of 'big problems' in massmog gaming. Yes, these problems are largely restricted to massmog gaming. In games like diablo, one-off sessions of nwn, in pen-and-paper gaming, or even small MUDs, these aren't such big problems -- which is probably why they've persisted.

Level-based design ruins the economy, stratifies the community, wastes content, causes player frustration, and births animosity in general. Don't think skill-based systems get off easy; All they do is lengthen the leg-irons on the classic archetypes. I've yet to see any skill-based system that doesn't create the same fundamental problems as level-based systems. For simplicity, I'm lumping them all together under 'level-based' design.

As a warning: I'm discussing problems, design, and player types nearly exclusively in general terms. There are certainly specific exceptions in various areas -- but read through the descriptions of the problems, and try to convince yourself that even with these exceptions, the problems aren't still there.

The basic premise of level-based design is that a character who has more 'experience' is vastly more powerful than one who has just started. Whether this manifests as higher 'skill' or higher 'level' doesn't matter. If it's possible for a veteran character to be powerful enough to handily defeat a half-dozen of the lowest-level opponents at one time (generally effortlessly), these problems will manifest.

Primarily, level-based design stratifies the community. Regardless of how long it takes to 'advance', the system defines a 'useful range' around any given level. A higher level character won't have any reason to associate with the lower level characters. They won't be anywhere near where he adventures, they won't be able to craft anything useful, they won't have the money to buy any of his loot, and they won't have any items worth trading for.

What quickly happens is that the playerbase slowly seperates from day 1 into 'casual' players, 'moderate' players, and 'hardcore' players. These definitions only apply to how fast a player advances relative to real-world time -- not how they play, or how much. The problem here is that moderate players will be effectively useless to the hardcore, and likewise casual players will be useless to both other groups. They won't have any reason to communicate and so, by and large, they won't. Each group of players will end up generally congregating near where they can safely advance the fastest, and in most games, these areas are quite far from one another.

If there is a hard cap on advancement, eventually all groups will rejoin at the top end. However, most players complain about lack of 'advancement' in the end-game, and inevitably the cap moves up, or alternate advancement is implemented. Alternate advancement has its own problems, but it does help a little in this area, in that generally it won't continue the stratification of the player-base.

The trick is, there are largely only two effective player groups, as the casual players inevitably leave. The level-based system locks them away from the rest of the players, makes them worthless to the average group. The casual player generally plays less often, so there are less of them online at any one time than a similar total population of moderates or hardcore. This means they suffer the effects of depopulation faster than any other group (just as the network effect creates exponential growth, a gradual loss of peers will create exponential decay). Quite soon they will find less and less people they can talk to or be of use to, and they will leave. These games are primarily about interaction with other players. Once you can no longer do that, what's the point of the monthly fee?

Then there's the economy. As you can see, the useful level range obviates inter-stratus trading. A moderate player has no need for what a casual player can find/craft, and generally a casual player can't use, let alone afford, the loot/crafts a moderate player will have. Furthermore, a side-effect of 'advancement' is that players expect to get more loot as they progress. Very quickly each stratus accumulates vastly more money than the one below it. Through gifting and over-paying for mundane items, this money trickles down and devalues the currency in regards to player trade. This generally means that NPC-purchased stock items are cheap and plentiful - but it also means that the money/loot gained from lower-level advancement is less valuable - a less useful reward.

The crafting economy is likewise negatively affected. The casual players have a lower effective community size, as they spend comparitively so little time advancing that they'll have fewer crafters at any level that can create useful equipment. This means prices will always be higher for them, than they were when the hardcore and moderates went through the very same levels. A new player that hasn't been 'gifted' money, and doesn't know which mundane items are still useful (if any) will be at a greater disadvantage. Of course the hardcore and moderate crafters don't waste their time making gear for people below them, because the inflation means those below can't amass enough money from adventuring to make it worth the time of those above.

Now lets consider where these groups of players actually adventure. The most conservative of estimates place 80% of the content ever created for Everquest as sitting idle. Surely Sony has made their money on this content, but it's still there, wasting space, wasting processing time, and wasting player time to travel through it. Quite frankly, the level-based system ensures that content will be wasted. A high-level player no longer derives reward from lower-level content, and so he doesn't bother with it. As all players advance, they leave content behind, never to consider it again. Furthermore, with the obsession on advancement, much of the content created never gets used as it inevitably is not as efficient for advancement purposes as some other content. Perhaps it's further away, perhaps it's closer to wandering agressive monsters, perhaps it has less 'useful' loot, perhaps too few other players adventure there and it's hard to find people to join up, trade, or lend aid. This is a primary cause of player crowding.

Frustration from player vs player content is amplified in a level-based system. Quite frankly, the attacker gets to choose the time and conditions of an encounter. This means he can follow a mark, and watching his purchases, examining his gear, and/or noting where he adventures, the attacker gets to pick the level difference between himself and the mark. Inevitably they go for the easiest kill - the most reward for the least risk. In many level-based games the attacker can defeat a group, if not waves, of lower-level opponents at virtually no risk to himself or his gear. They can rely on their level-advantage alone to defeat their enemies, so why bother risking valuable equipment that might empower your victims should you fall?

The trick is, players do not mind surprise encounters -- it's proven. Consider a group fighting at a known spawn. An ill-timed 'agg' or 'repop' from a mob is not an uncommon occurance and players deal with the new threat without railing against the game system and designers. They may die, they may have to flee, but they accept it.

The only difference is the fairness of the fight. Generally spawns are organized within a range of power, and the players have a certain expectation of the danger involved in fighting against the monsters. This they perceive as 'fairness'. They know they'll generally have a chance to defeat an unexpected second wave, or at least make a fighting retreat.

Against another player in a level-based system, the attacker circumvents the fairness of the fight. His attack is no different in general, but the difference in power between him and his marks means the victims have no chance to flee or hope to fight back. They die, because the level-based system gives an overwhelming advantage to the aggressor.

Furthermore, most games have ineffective faction/justice systems. The killer that jumps you in the wild might have been the nice fellow who was next to you in town, merrily conversing with merchant and guard alike. The playerbase has ineffective lines of communication (between everyone logging on and off, and no public forums) - so they can't police themselves effectively, and any hard-coded system can certainly be 'gamed' by aggressors to circumvent intended penalties.

Consider a simple change to the design, that makes obvious the difference between friend and foe -- Dark Age of Camelot. Its pvp population is orders of magnitude larger than all of EQ's pvp servers combined. Even within the DAOC playerbase, look at the wild popularity of the 'battlegrounds' - where not only is friend and foe clearly delineated, but the level range is restricted to a point where a healthy dose of evenness exists. Many 'moderate' and 'casual' players intentionally stop levelling simply so they can enjoy pvp content in a fair environment (as they haven't the 'time' to get their character to within a similar 'fair' level-range in 'real' RvR). In DAOC's pvp, you may still be surprised and stabbed in the back, outnumbered, stalked and preyed upon by those leveraging a level discrepancy. But almost always you have a chance. Particularly if you aren't careless. Yet it still has the level-based drawbacks. A single 50-something can slaughter a full group of 30-somethings out in the wilderness without even resorting to surprise.

On top of all of this, is the fun-factor. For some reason, there is a sub-rule in level-based design: 'cool' things are only available to the highest level players. Only they can safely travel to where cool landmarks are. Only they can find items that look 'cool' or have 'cool' effects. Only they can fight 'cool' monsters that require tactics and organization to defeat. Only they have 'cool' special abilities.

Low-level players fight hordes of vermin in stand-and-deliver fights. They adventure in monotonous areas, with dime-a-dozen weaponry that never looks cool or has special abilities. Most times their gear is 'rusted', 'common', just 'a' weapon with no personality, history or style. They are useless against cool monsters, they are helpless in a 'cool' locale.

Then there is this terrible, terrible, notion of a 'time sink'. These things exist to slow down advancement, to make it take more time to achieve a 'level'. This tries to give achievement meaning through time expenditure alone. Now I'm not arguing against healing and resting taking time. Or crafting taking time. I am arguing against the repetition demanded by these systems. The making of thousands of worthless items that flood the economy and waste server time and resources (often with bad interfaces they waste undue player time as well). The killing of thousands and thousands of faceless enemies who will always return like clockwork. Why are these systems so fragile that they can only derive their 'worth' through the sheer time demands they place on players?

One can always argue that massmog players accept, and even prefer things the way they are. They don't mind 'putting time in'. Similarly it's widely acknowledged that, again in general, massmog players are a bit obsessive. The two go hand in hand in my mind. Only players who find the systems 'fun' as they exist are currently 'fans' of the genre. You don't play EQ unless you're 'ok' with time sinks, repitition, wasted content, and the 'level grind'.

Everquest has 400,000 subscribers. Yet it has sold around 2 million copies. So these systems have managed to alienate 80% of the gamers who were open-minded enough to give it a shot and actually went out and bought it. Furthermore, from my sources, at least 800,000 players had played Everquest for more than just the first free month. That means twice as many players felt the game was good enough to be worth a monthly fee.

So what drove all these gamers away? Why is it there was no outcry about 'ganking' in UO until the playerbase stratified? We'll never know for certain - but the evidence is strongly leaning toward the problems inherent in the level-based system.

Stay tuned for my arm-chair-design solutions. 
  < / Level-based systems are The Devil >        
Thursday, January 08, 2004
  < Instancing >        
'Instanced' adventuring areas, are a design rave. New massmogs are touting their benefits and old massmogs are adding them at great speed.

With instancing, the server creates a hermetically sealed adventuring environment for each group that sets out. There is no 'other' to race you to a spawn, gank your quest NPC, or bicker with for a rare resource. Of course, there's also no 'other' around to save your bacon, share a conversation, or trade with. Quite simply, there are no surprises whatsoever. No-one 'in your way' is a double-edged sword.

At the basic level, my problem with this solution is that it tries to solve a massmog problem, not by addressing the causes, but by changing the milieu. They aren't trying to figure out how to alleviate crowding; they're sequestering the players. They aren't trying to figure out how to better tailor content to a range of players; they're tightening the effective level variation. They aren't trying to fix the existing pvp (or 'griefing') systems; they're building a wall between players. They're trying to alleviate the stress on the system caused by player interaction by removing player interaction.

This trend takes the 'massive' out of massmog, and makes these games essentially an in-engine matching service for the 'real' game. It's only seen as a design 'advancement' because the current massmog playerbase is primarily focused on their own advancement. They don't seem to care that Everquest with instanced adventuring zones is little more than battle.net diablo with graphical chat. The social angles reinforce their connection to the game, but it should be no surprise that those who stay past a month or two nearly all quit once they've 'maxed out' their character. Their goal is advancement, so anything that removes an obstacle is a solution for them.

For me, it's a problem. My favorite adventures in massmog gaming all stem from events that I never would have been involved in if my group was all alone. Surprise attacks, dramatic rescues, sacrifice, chance encounters with kindred spirits -- even the mundane conversations with other players and groups in the wild. Yes, the worst of people commonly manifests when players collide - but so does the best of people.

It may seem that I'm overreacting, and given the implementation of instancing to date (fairly limited), I'd agree with that; today. However, these implementations are already wildly popular, and I simply don't see any of the existing playerbase opposing a fast and far-reaching expansion of this idea. In fact, it sounds as if Ultima Online's sequel, is the manifestation of the worst-case scenario. There's no reason to believe it won't become a trend, and grow into a community-stifling monster.

Interacting with other players within the game context is the primary draw of the genre. It's the single killer feature that creates communities and gets gamers to shell out a monthly fee. Instancing gone wild sanitizes this interaction at the cost of changing the genre itself. Not that there's anything wrong with some nwn or battle.net diablo gaming -- it just isn't something I feel is worth a monthly fee, and it certainly isn't something that creates the kinds of communities massmogs are known for.
  < / Instancing >        
Thursday, January 01, 2004
  < The FAQ >        

This blog is devoted mainly to my opinions on persistent world development.
That is by no means a guarantee of subject matter. It's quite likely I'll digress into thoughts on game development in general, gaming overall, or possibly anything else. Though I've been known to get keyed up by a news post and may write a reaction - I don't do news. On the right are some links to quality news aggregates if that's what you're looking for.
This is where I post my opinion.
Just because I can type does not make me believe I'm right, I'm infallible or I'm smarter than you. Because it is mine, I reserve the right to completely ignore other people and their viewpoints. Don't get me wrong: I feel healthy discussion is a Good Thing™. I just won't feel obligated to post anyone else's thoughts here. There's a whole internet full of other people's ideas. I don't feel a need to make this page a part of that overwhelming majority.

I do not work for any persistent game developer or publisher.
There is no conflict of interest. If I'm being partial, it's due solely to my personal preference (which I'll never deny), not my employer. Similarly I make no pretenses of being strictly 'objective' or 'fair'. I try to be reasonable to the best of my ability, but I'm no journalist. This is all strictly editorial.

I am not going to host a messageboard.
So it's not worth asking if I'll add one. If you want to discuss my ideas with others, post a thread in your community board of choice. Toss me an email and I'll, more than likely, lurk on the thread, and possibly even post. But an 'official' board is well outside of what I consider productive and worthwhile for this blog. I don't derive money from page views, or value from keeping ideas under my administrative control - so I don't care where discussions take place.

  < / The FAQ >        

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