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Dark Ages Politics in Theory and Practice
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Programming for Administrators
- Patrick Dughi
Liberus Legendarum (Ramtop Rescue)
- Thirsha
Destroying a Mud
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Muds Are Not For Wimps
- Michael "Talien" Tresca
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Letter 1
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Muds Are Not For Wimps

by Michael "Talien" Tresca

You may have heard it before. Maybe it was you, maybe it is someone on a mud you have played. But you know the drill: a drunk/immature/psychotic administrator flagrantly abuses the player base for the last time. Vowing to make a better, utopian mud, these abused players start their own mud somewhere else. And then it is all downhill from there.

At least, that is what Tenarius thinks if you have read his mud Wimping rant. According to Tenarius, all muds are utopias created for the enjoyment of players, by players (at least initially) who eventually forget their old mud roots and downgrade the game into a frustrating experience.

I have been an administrator on RetroMUD for over seven years now, a mud player for five, and a game master for twelve. I have seen Tenarius' post come up on more than one occasion.
The chicken came first I think

A Rhode Island Red.

All the administrators out there are nodding their heads because they have seen it too. But this response is not for them. It is for you, Mr. Player. Because Tenarius is wrong, and it is high time someone explained the bigger picture.

Let us start with the basics.

Harsh Reality Check #1: Players Are Selfish (and they should be!)

Tenarius says: Tenarius agrees with this point. "As long as they are not maliciously hurting each other leave em be and let them have fun!"

As a player, I want to play a game. I want to have fun playing that game. And frankly, I will determine what is fun, thank you very much. If I am not having fun, I will not play that game.

But what about the coding staff? As a coder, I want to code the game. I am coding because I enjoy the act of creation. Hopefully, I enjoy players experiencing those creations. Notice the order that I mentioned them in: first comes the coding, then the enjoyment of other players.

This is truly a chicken or egg situation, but there is only one answer. Coding staff must come first. Characters do not suddenly materialize into a universe out of thin air - bodies must be created for players, worlds must be formed for them to participate in. Therefore, a coding staff, at least initially, is necessary for a player to even begin enjoying the game.

Conversely, a coding staff needs players. The Multi- in Multi-User Dimension requires more than one person, and implies they are using, not running, the Dimension. Thus we have a relationship that, on the surface, seems straightforward. Coders create, players play, and all is well. This is the Utopian ideal. Whenever you find such a place, let me know so all players can go there to game until they die.

Harsh Reality Check #2: Administrators Are Selfish (and they should be!)

Tenarius says: "... players are the reason for the mud. The Immortals know why they went to all this work, it was to make the players happy! And by god they are there to do just that... for a while."

Administrators want their game to last forever. They want players to play it often. They want their vision of a shared universe to be enjoyed by all.

This is definitely a great means of stroking one's ego. Nothing like having people come to your Garden of Eden willingly when there is so many other muds out there and playing YOUR game. Administrators enjoy having players at their mud, but players are not how they derive enjoyment.

By their creations, the players benefit, and the players complement or increase the enjoyment value of creating. But the creation already happened independent of the players.

Players are not the sole reason administrators exist. They could not be, because the game was started without them.

Harsh Reality Check #3: Muds Are Imperfect

Tenarius says: "The problem is that most IMPS look at normal mud life as an ongoing beta test and find themselves continually fucking with established skills and spells. Do it once do it right then leave it the hell alone. If you missed some moderate or small problem after beta is over and people have come to count on it leave it the hell alone. Nobody's gonna get hurt."

Mud creation is imperfect. Code breaks, games are imbalanced, and even the folks who do get paid to create huge multi-user systems screw up. In fact, I have seen better run muds than most of the cash cow graphical games out there.

Of course, it is not in an administrator's best interest to continually remind the players that the game is held together with bubble gum and good intentions. Try selling a car and explaining all the likelihood of it bursting into flames, and you can bet the sale will not go well.

There is quite a few ways you can reveal a game's imperfections, and it does not just have to be an error message that causes the game to crash. Some other symptoms that a game is not quite what it is cracked up to be:

  • Your character advances through levels at high speeds.

  • You figure out a method for killing monsters that can be duplicated. Soon everyone is using the "Talien method of combat."

  • The economy gets so out of whack that items the most powerful artifacts are a dime a dozen. Or conversely, the most basic equipment costs more than any newbie could hope to achieve.

  • One class or race is clearly more powerful than all other choices in the game.

When this happens, players get mad. The ones who get mad are inevitably the ones who are not partaking of the games flaws and probably suffering for it. Then they leave.

But the players who do take advantage of the system leave too. They may stay longer, but eventually they too get bored with the system and leave, because there are no further challenges. The fun is over, time to go.

If you want to kill off a mud, this is a good way to do it.

Harsh Reality Check #4: Coders Want Players to Stay…Forever!

Tenarius says: "some people, (those who would be your most loyal 'cheerleaders'), will be those who make a mud a long term home. Many measure this commitment in years. If you take a stance like this, you will also find the loyalty quotient to be fairly low. Nobody wants a long-term commitment that fluctuates. How would you like to be married to someone that would fluctuate in how much they do drugs, commit adultery or beat you?"

Short-term players do not create a stable virtual community. Long-term players do. Most muds are centered on advancement and accumulation of power. You can not accumulate power if you play very rarely or very infrequently. Ideally, players have their eyelids glued to the screen 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But players will only stay if they are having fun. If the game is too challenging they will leave in frustration. If the games is too easy, they will quickly overcome the game, and probably leave.

Harsh Reality Check #5: It is an Administrators Job to Help AND Harm

Tenarius says: "Would you like a nice set of well balanced tables, damages, leveling times, and the other things you seek through wimping, or would you prefer to make 50 to 3000 people happy to play on your mud without infighting?"

Coders have the distinctly unpleasant task of providing both the punishment and the reward. Kill the monster, get the gold, that is your reward. Fail, and the monster kills you, and maybe takes your gold, that is the punishment.

It is hard to not take this personally. Players often perceive coding staff as the progenitors of adversaries, wicked monstrosities that are dedicated to their utter destruction. After all, they code the monsters that kill the characters, so they must be bad, right?

Not quite. Coders want players to succeed as well as fail. Ideally, on RetroMUD we want the players who cooperate, who use tactics, who think and communicate effectively as a group, to succeed. But they will die anyway, because there is a certain amount of randomness built into muds. Remember, the coding staff also creates the gold, the artifacts, the means by which players will defeat monsters. It is not in their best interest for a player to be defeated over and over. It is not in a coder's best interest for a player to win all the time either.

Kind of like being a parent, is it not? You want your child to succeed, but not grow up to be a selfish spoiled brat. The only way to do that is to let him or her struggle through adversity, and hopefully by doing so become a better person.

Harsh Reality Check #6: The Illusion Is Everything

Tenarius says: "You have an established spell that people have come to rely upon that you just figured out all this time later was over powered? Well then in point of fact it can not be that overpowered can it? If it was, you would have seen this class just wiping the floor with the others long before this and you would have corrected it within a month of its inception. You did not. Therefore your assessment that this is going to mess up your mud is fallacious. Had it been that big a deal before, it would not have gone for a period of months without being noticed."

The idea of playing a game is to enjoy the immersive experience. Muds go the extra step in trying to completely harness a player's imagination by describing everything. When that illusion of a fantasy universe is violated, the game breaks down and players are reminded it is just a bunch of numbers and code.

There is quite a few ways the illusion can be violated. The most obvious one are bugs in the game. But another, even more glaring symptom is imbalances of power across the player base that are due to the game system itself.

Players will always have imbalances between them. Their characters will be as diverse as the players who create them. But when the game clearly favors one race, class, or weapon over another, the illusion is also shattered. If the coding staff values their mud, they will fix it.

Conclusions

Tenarius' perspective is simply not practical. Administrators not only are likely to cause their players some grief, that is part of their jobs. Humanitarian administrators are great, but players came to the game to be challenged, and without adversity, there are no challenges. Due to the inherently flawed nature of an all-volunteer staff creating a text-based gaming environment with a billion variables, muds will ALWAYS need to be adjusted. Call it Wimping, call it Nerfing, call it whatever you like, but I can confidently state RetroMUD's continued success is directly attributed to making those hard choices and downgrading and upgrading items when appropriate. The player base should never be abused, but it cannot be coddled either. In the end, the best advice comes from Tenarius himself.

Tenarius says: "Make your arguments using all the facts you can, and include in your notes points that they make that you concede. Give them this URL if you like. Try to be direct and always be honest."