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Know-How: Healthy Player-Base Ecology Or Why MMO Worlds Get Deserted If there Are No Role-Players Around

Know-How: Healthy Player-Base Ecology Or Why MMO Worlds Get Deserted If there Are No Role-Players AroundThis is another analytical article i’m writing. Lately i wrote a post “Know-How: Role-Playing In MMO Worlds – Why Some Games Have More Opportunities For A Role-Player Than Others?” and now i’m seeing from the blog statistics that a relatively large number of people read it every day, so this obviously was an interesting theme and I’d like to proceed further with it. If the previous post was about “what should a game have to be good for role-playing”, this post is showing an opposite point of view – “why would a game suffer without attracting role-players?”. You’d be surprised, but a game’s player base depends on its every part, and without role-players MMOs may get deserted or suffer a huge decline in player-base numbers. So, how does it works?

To begin the story, i have to tell you about Richard Bartle. If you haven’t heard of him, he is a British writer, professor and game researcher, a pioneer of the MMO game industry: Richard Bartle was the co-creator of the first MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) – a text-based multiplayer online game, which led to creation of a graphical multiplayer online games and, finally, contemporary MMOs that we play now. In 1996 he wrote an article studying player classification – he based it off MUDs, but the application of that classification is absolutely current.

According to Bartle, players are divided in four main categories:
Achievers: people who tend to achieve as much as possible in a game’s world: collect best armor, finish all the quests, reach top ranks.
Killers (also knows as Griefers): people who assert themselves at the expense of other players. Usually these people are busy bothering other players, but a level 80 character walking level 20s in a dungeon or giving away free potions is often of the same category.
Socializers: people for whom communicating with other players is the best part of the game. Most role-players origin from this category.
Explorers: people, who are busy discovering the topology, physics and mechanisms of the game world. Many of these people are role-players too.

Bartle diagram: achievers, killers, socializers, explorers and their interactionsThese are not types of people, but types of gameplay styles – a person who was a killer could turn into an explorer or achiever in future.

Bartle found out that each of these types of players need another type in order to sustain their fun and engagement.

Why these types of play style are important?

Let me give you a simple example. A long time ago there were two French MUDs – Durandal and Montrouge that had approx. the same amount of players. Back then the Internets weren’t cheap and both these MUDs were based in a university’s camp, where the network was free. At some point Durandal was closed as having “no education or scientific worth”, so its players, of course, went into Montrouge – soon, it’s populace was 1,8 times bigger than before. Almost everyone went into Montrouge, save for people who was waiting for Durandal to open again. It never opened, but 2 months passed and Montrouge was back to the amount of players it had before Durandal was closed. Durandal natives didn’t like it, – thought Montrouge owners, – so be it. But in truth it wasn’t so: 5 more months passed – and Montrouge played base dropped down to 10% of its original size, and half a year after that Montrouge was closed too.

Why?

Look at the picture below. I know it’s a little hard to make out what is going on there, you just have to remember that arrows and their thickness are showing amounts of decrease (red) and increase (green) in player numbers. Arrows with head of the opposite color indicate that the change of player numbers in one category leads to changes in the category the arrow is pointing to.

Bartle diagram: achievers, killers, socializers, explorers and their interactionsSo, the more killers there in a game – the less socializers are there at the same time: they get uncomfortable and quit.
The more socializers there in a world – the more killers, because socializers are their favorite snack, so to say.
The killers and achievers are competitors here, so they are regulating each other’s numbers naturally.

As you can notice, killers are the most dangerous part of the scheme – they “eat” socializers (and everyone else too), and the only group controlling their numbers are explorers.

As Bartle writes, this model has only 4 stable conditions:

1. All 4 groups are present: there are plenty of explorers and enough to control killers. This is an ideal condition and the one that most developers are aching to reach.
2. Only killers and achievers are present, competing with each other. It’s a state of a pure PVP MMO, where there’s nothing to do besides PVP action and grinding for best stuff, like Lineage 2 for example. Games of that type have minimum of social activity and its players tend to have harsh manners.
3. Only socializers are present. It happens in virtual worlds without any strict goals or PVP part – in old times it was MUSH time of games (a sub-type of MUD without PVP), but on contemporary market there are still games like that, i think Second Life can be an example.
4. No one there, the world is empty.

So what has happened to Montrouge? It was a world of type 1, and Durandal – of type 2. After they were merged together the stability was violated by too many killers, they “ate” socializers (who quit playing) and multiplied in numbers, and there weren’t enough explorer to control their amount. So the world began to crumble and eventually fell into a stable condition again – the 4th one – being empty.

This is a reason why a game can be unsuccessful – besides bugs, bad customer support and lack of content – when there aren’t enough socializers. Game developers know that a good role-player/socializer is quite able to entertain not only himself, but also other player – without any help from the developers. It’s also known that the most dangerous opponent for a player – that was, is and will be – is not some horrible monster that developers had unleashed upon a player, but another player. And so the developers are constantly working on keeping the player ecology balance from crumbling, to every group of player – socializers, explorers, achievers and even killers – in place. But what they are doing is a material for another post.

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