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Old 09-27-2008, 06:04 PM   #1
Parhelion
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Design and Success

Did the successful MUDs (and by successful, I mean games that have over 50 players on at one time) get to where they are now because of good, professional design or by pure luck? Saying that a game has survived two decades in a floundering niche does not make it successful, since most MUDs are run by hobbyists and the game only really dies when its last creator decides to throw in the towel.

Did the individuals behind Iron Realms sit down and write up a design document, nail out the algorithms and features of the game, and finalize the theme before ever starting work on the new product? What about the well-known RPIs like Shadows of Isildur and Armageddon (one of which I know went through a definite transitional period from where it began)?


I would like to say that design and success are intimately linked now-a-days; the proof is in the numbers when it comes to large-scale commercial games, but what about MUDs? My favorite MUD, which I've played for almost a decade if not longer, has been around since the early 90's and offers a unique play-style and complex mechanics... but still finds itself in beta and with a fluctuating playerbase of 10-20 players. It struggles with a lot of problems now; updating or designing new code is restricted by the fact that the codebase is a mess and many of the features are buried too deep to be altered, theme is highly conflicting due to years of writers adding parts to the story without communicating with other writers, and the administration struggles with policy.
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Old 09-28-2008, 09:34 AM   #2
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Re: Design and Success

There's always some correlation between quality and success. Although your favourite MUD has some features you like, you've also stated some significant problems with it, so it's not surprising that it hasn't taken off.

Another thing about MUDs is that there's very little attempt to grow the market. Promotion is usually done within the MUD scene itself, which isn't exactly booming, and many MUD admins are reluctant to take the steps to move beyond it for fear of alienating the core audience. (eg. to move away from 16-colour fixed text, or to include sound and images, or to procedurally generate content rather than have builders hand-craft every bit.)
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Old 09-28-2008, 02:04 PM   #3
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Re: Design and Success

I wasn't around at the start of Achaea (what became IRE), I do know how they start games now. Tears of Polaris started with a few months of discussion and then design, everything from the general backstory to the outlines for archetypes (not full skills, but a general list of what each should have) and how combat should work. Once we were happy with that coding on the core pieces started, while refining the design and it was maybe 6 months before anyone other than myself saw the code or the game. So I would say design is a big part of it, as well as what Kylotan has stated in reaching out beyond the known market.
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Old 09-28-2008, 02:10 PM   #4
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Re: Design and Success

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Originally Posted by Kylotan View Post
Another thing about MUDs is that there's very little attempt to grow the market. Promotion is usually done within the MUD scene itself, which isn't exactly booming, and many MUD admins are reluctant to take the steps to move beyond it for fear of alienating the core audience. (eg. to move away from 16-colour fixed text, or to include sound and images, or to procedurally generate content rather than have builders hand-craft every bit.)
I agree 110%. There is no reason not to present your textual world in a more interesting fashion by doing everything Kylotan mentions; add to that things like different font sizes, a GUIl minimap, GUI health bars and other GUI elements meant to enhance game-play. Done right, you'll still have all the 'imagination driven' world enjoyment written text provides coupled with the ease of use elements that GUIs provide. Obviously none of this will 'fix' the issues the OP made regarding an incoherent world, etc.

I've read for many, many years that MU*s are dieing, and have also read for nearly that same amount of years evidence to the contrary. However, with more and more easily accessible graphical, massively multi-player online games coming out, it appears that it is time to evolve... or end up rustic piles of code that only compel an apparently shrinking 'core userbase'.

Perhaps this thread will go down with the rest of the 'Are MUDS dieing?" discussions that have happened over the years. Perhaps not.

Back on track though -- Design and success do not necessarily go together -- I'm casting my vote to luck, as I doubt that most of the successful MU*s have put together 'good, professional designs'.

Last edited by ArchPrime : 09-28-2008 at 03:09 PM.
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Old 09-29-2008, 01:51 AM   #5
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Re: Design and Success

I'd say it's a little less about luck and a little more about effective evolution. A "successful" MUD that became that way without any sort of coherent design very likely got there, instead, by a series of many ad-hoc revisions that were successful at growing and retaining user base. The fact that these revisions achieved this effect isn't a matter of pure luck, but unintended consequences being what they are, it's not pure design either.

Now, the Venn diagram of "success at growing and retaining user base" and "pandering to the lowest common denominator" is left as an exercise for the interested student.
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Old 09-29-2008, 03:52 AM   #6
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Re: Design and Success

Here's a link to an interview with Matt Mihaly which covers some of the things you mentioned. I was doing a random search and what do you know, there it is, heh. I enjoyed the read, hopefully you will too.

The World of text MMOs / MUDs - An Interview with Matt Mihaly, CEO of Iron Realms Entertainment - PlayNoEvil Game Security News & Analysis

EDIT: Of course, Baram knows his stuff (see his signature), but this interview goes over how Achaea itself started, so it's basically filling in what he said he couldn't.
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Old 09-29-2008, 07:18 AM   #7
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Re: Design and Success

I knew that was around somewhere, good find. Really shows how Achaea started with more luck and, as Chaosprime said "effective evolution", than any real design. Now that they we know what we're doing more work goes into design, as I doubt most IRE players would be too exicted about playing a game where they couldn't even cure an affliction on their own these days.
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Old 09-29-2008, 01:08 PM   #8
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Re: Design and Success

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kylotan View Post
There's always some correlation between quality and success. Although your favourite MUD has some features you like, you've also stated some significant problems with it, so it's not surprising that it hasn't taken off.
You could also turns this statement around 90 degrees and say that in spite of the significant problems and the fact that the MUD hasn't 'taken off'', the OP still refers to it as his 'favourite MUD', since 10 years back.

That says something about that game - at least it does to me. A MUD that instigates such loyalty in a player must have something special. Whether you call it originality, flavour, complexity or quality, it's something that separates it from the masses.

'Quality' is an ambiguous term to use, since it obviously means different things to different people. To some it even acts like a red cape on a bull, because they equal the word with 'elitism'. Quality is really hard to define, and yet most people recognize it when they come across it. But to equal 'quality' with 'success', especially if by success you mean 'large number of players', is hardly appropriate either. Then you could just as well say that McDonalds has higher quality than the small gourmet bistro round the corner, because it has so many more customers.

Obviously all 'successful' games must have some basic level of quality, or they'd never keep their players. And obviously game design has something to do with it too; games that target the mainstream, will probably get more players than the ones who are catering to a more exclusive segment. But how they manage to build up a large playerbase is probably dependent on a number of things; popular theme and features, heavy advertising and a MUD name that starts with A - or even Aa - most likely all play just as large role here as the game design.
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Old 09-30-2008, 12:13 AM   #9
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Re: Design and Success

Want to start off by thanking Soludra for that link. I'll be taking a good look at it after I finish writing this post.

There's definitely different things to consider here. "Design" can be applied to administrative policy, public relations and marketing, code, or theme. I think that the ability to evolve itself IS a design issue -- if you build a game that is stiff and unchangeable from the start, you'll be shooting yourself in the foot.

This is one of the many problems with my afore-mentioned favorite MUD: administrative policies have kept the game from evolving past the point of its original concept from 12 years back; new mechanics or ideas could not be fully explored, while old ones could not be updated or revised. A growing political chasm in the staff has led to a great deal of problems, because there was no infrastructure in place to deal with these types of social issues.

Normally, I would not put "policy" and social issues under the category of "design" -- but seeing as how most MUDs are volunteer-run and there is so much disagreement over the legal rights of MUD owners and their games, I consider this a downright critical installation from the very beginning.

The game's inability to evolve could also be attributed to poor code design. While there are some innovative or creative solutions to problems to be found within the MUD's codebase, the overall "flow" is confusing and difficult to work with. Many of the features which needed to be expanded could not be, due to the depth with which they were programmed into the core of the game, while less obvious problems showed up in the way that files were traditionally inherited to create objects in the game.

(( For example, every time I decide to create something that has one additional/unique feature to it, like a pendant with a readable inscription as opposed to just a pendant, I needed to create a whole new base object first, and then create the pendant and have it inherit the new base object. What results is directories full of near-identical base objects that might inherit one or more OTHER near-identical base objects found in other directories, which, in turn, may or may not inherit more base objects. ))

I kind of think this can be applied to the way codebases are designed, too. Not that there are lots of those being cranked out now-a-days anyhow; my romp with MudOS/Lima left me first mezmorized that it worked so nicely out of the box and then stunned when I discovered 26-objects-deep inherit chains from hell. This is, of course, JUST an example, since I am not familiar enough with programming to have explored other options.
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Old 09-30-2008, 01:10 AM   #10
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Re: Design and Success

I believe you'll find that the situation on whatever MUD this is that you describe, where it's essentially ossified at a point it hit a decade ago, is typical. Very few MUDs can actually continue evolving. Most hit a point where they become completely hostile to innovation and drive away the people who are capable of it; fundamental change (as opposed to churning out 'new content' that amounts to an endless march of prosthetic foreheads tacked onto the old content) is seen as ruining something that people are attached to.

One of the forces that works toward this is identifying 'success' in terms of playerbase size, as you do. The instant this becomes the most important metric, ossification has begun, because players do not like things to change. If they act like you killed their dog when you do minor rebalancing of capabilities, how do you think real evolution is going to play? Answer: say goodbye to your playerbase.

Continuous evolution doesn't happen without a serious commitment to it. 'Serious' means you're willing to sacrifice other things, like the size of your 'who' list. I also believe that, in practical terms, it requires that the basis of the administration be unapologetically autocratic (and, obviously, that the autocrat be the keeper of the vision of continuous evolution). MUDs that make pretensions of democracy will lose all capacity for innovation through the simple mechanism of the endless obstructionism and whining of the people who will oppose all fundamental change in the guise of 'advocating for the players'.

Obviously, I've seen all of this play out. In 1996, Lost Souls was a MUD with pretensions of democracy and I was the main person trying to innovate. (I am not its founder; I joined in 1993, several years after its founding.) I ran smack up against the ossification principle in the form of a person who made himself my personal nemesis, and the extensive network of political supporters he gathered. Amid much drama, I wound up assuming the autocrat position, and my nemesis went his own way with his own copy of the lib, starting up a competing "good old days" version of LS which has utterly failed.

LS has continued aggressively innovating and redefining itself. Every time it changes in any fundamental way, it alienates players. Some of them, it earns back by general excellence; others, not so much. I'm certain that it is the least popular MUD out of those with its longevity and ongoing developer activity. Thankfully, I don't measure its success primarily in terms of playerbase. If I had, that priority would long since have become a straitjacket that would have driven me out of MUDs entirely.
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Old 09-30-2008, 05:34 AM   #11
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Re: Design and Success

Quote:
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You could also turns this statement around 90 degrees and say that in spite of the significant problems and the fact that the MUD hasn't 'taken off'', the OP still refers to it as his 'favourite MUD', since 10 years back.

That says something about that game - at least it does to me. A MUD that instigates such loyalty in a player must have something special. Whether you call it originality, flavour, complexity or quality, it's something that separates it from the masses.
It doesn't say that at all to me. It just says that people have a sense of loyalty and community. And that some admin is continuing to pay the bills where others may not. My favourite MUD was the first one I played on, but I couldn't claim it was actually better than any other. It's just the one I look back most fondly upon.

If that MUD is to take off, it needs to fix those underlying problems mentioned in the first post, because I'm sure you'll find that the MUDs with 50 or more people online have found ways to address them.

Quote:
'Quality' is an ambiguous term to use, since it obviously means different things to different people. To some it even acts like a red cape on a bull, because they equal the word with 'elitism'.
Good. People (and games) shouldn't feel ashamed of trying to better themselves. If others don't keep up, making you 'Úlite', so be it.

Quote:
But to equal 'quality' with 'success', especially if by success you mean 'large number of players', is hardly appropriate either. Then you could just as well say that McDonalds has higher quality than the small gourmet bistro round the corner, because it has so many more customers.
I would argue that McDonalds does have equal or higher quality than the gourmet bistro, but in a different way. Same-sized vector, different direction.
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Old 09-30-2008, 08:39 PM   #12
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Re: Design and Success

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Originally Posted by Kylotan View Post
Another thing about MUDs is that there's very little attempt to grow the market. Promotion is usually done within the MUD scene itself, which isn't exactly booming, and many MUD admins are reluctant to take the steps to move beyond it for fear of alienating the core audience. (eg. to move away from 16-colour fixed text, or to include sound and images, or to procedurally generate content rather than have builders hand-craft every bit.)
I am one person who is attempting to do just that, i intend to market to a non core audience and so such outlandish things as force the use of 1 client only, the use of a specific font, use of sound and lots of static images and also having very little in the way of builder hand crafted areas.

I do not mind that everything that i am doing is going to alienate a lot of existing mudders. There are a lot of other people out there who play text games, that a lot of the mud dev community has overlooked as a source of players.
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Old 10-03-2008, 10:16 AM   #13
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Re: Design and Success

Quote:
Originally Posted by Molly View Post

Obviously all 'successful' games must have some basic level of quality, or they'd never keep their players. And obviously game design has something to do with it too; games that target the mainstream, will probably get more players than the ones who are catering to a more exclusive segment. But how they manage to build up a large playerbase is probably dependent on a number of things; popular theme and features, heavy advertising and a MUD name that starts with A - or even Aa - most likely all play just as large role here as the game design.
These threads all focus too much on code and design of the game itself. Clearly they are very important, but equally important is how you interact with the community. The players are the most important thing a MUD has.

How important do your players feel when, for example, you haven't backed up (and *tested* that backup) their data in months? I played a MUD with fantastic code and functionality, but ultimately left because even though I was never a target directly, I heard the admin berating a player on global channels one too many times.

Advertising, having a name beginning with Aa, word of mouth or whatever else gets people to your site helps, but it's what they see when they get there that counts. If there's a #1 rule for me, it is "listen", but that applies to any service, online or offline.

As a side note, the "aa" effect was never considered with Aardwolf, it was originally put up for players of a mud called "Aardvark" that was dying so the name was appropriate. It was never intended to get as big as it did or even be long term for that matter. If I could go back in time it would be called something else because the name itself is pretty meaningless and almost impossible to build a good story around, but this far in it is well known and not going to change.
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Old 10-03-2008, 12:08 PM   #14
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Re: Design and Success

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The players are the most important thing a MUD has.
So given the choice between losing one of your players or losing one of your developers, you'd rather lose the developer?

How about a player vs. a server? A player vs. the socket handling code?
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Old 10-03-2008, 12:57 PM   #15
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Re: Design and Success

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So given the choice between losing one of your players or losing one of your developers, you'd rather lose the developer?

How about a player vs. a server? A player vs. the socket handling code?
I said "the players", not any individual player. I can create code. I can replace a server. I can add new socket code. I can't replace the player base as easily.

The game exists for the player base. It is a community. Without the community, there is nothing.

There are many things the "game can't exist without" and a server is one of them, code is another, the internet existing is another.

You could argue that players are technically not needed for "the game to exist". You are technically correct. That's the difference between running a community and a coding project. Many MUDs are just that, coding projects. Your code can be copied / replicated, your community - not so easy.

All imho of course, there is no "right or wrong" answer here.
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Old 10-03-2008, 06:15 PM   #16
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Re: Design and Success

I kind of want to interject here to mention that I when I posted the thread, I -was- thinking of only design issues; while public issues are EXTREMELY important (they are the main reason I see MUDs falling apart), they are a separate issue.

But as to who I'd prefer to lose, it's a trade off: how many players is a developer worth? Neither of those things can be described as a dime a dozen anymore, given the niche market we're in and the competition. That is something that an admin will have to decide, and there's no real good answer there. There's no science to it.
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Old 10-04-2008, 11:33 AM   #17
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Re: Design and Success

I think the importance of design depends on the player. To my taste, game play is more important than anything.
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Old 10-06-2008, 05:24 PM   #18
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Re: Design and Success

Design is most assuredly an important aspect of a successful MUD. It is not the only important aspect.

I've had a lot of success with my MUD in the 16 years or so it has been up. I've had the mud fill up to the point that you had to wait until someone disconnected to connect and had a point where there was no one on at all when I logged in to check on the mud. I've had times where there were consistently between 30-50 people on. I've had times were the average players on was less than 5. Currently we're averaging 8 on at once (averaging meaning taking every hour in a day and how many average playing in that hour and dividing it by 24, our highs are 20+ on at a time, lows are 1+ in the wee hours of the morning). Compare that to a year ago when the number was 3 (highs were just over 10, lows were 0). We're well on our way to getting back over 10 on average if we continue doing all the things we're doing right.

What are the differences between the "success," of RO (my mud)?

1. Administration. The high times we were extremely well administered. I was around hours a day, and other immortals were consistently on. The immortals were well organized and design was ongoing towards ever improving the code, world size, etc.

2. Advertising. The low times were points when I allowed the MUD to fall off lists. Falling off the Mud Connector list or TMS or Mudmagic, etc. The low times also coincided with the time when I did not even have a web page dedicated to the MUD. The MUD kept going though. We've been blessed with some die-hard players over the years. Word of Mouth is still the best advertising tool out there. Build up a decent pbase, and your players will tell others about your MUD and slowly it will build up. Having the MUD listed on TMS and TMC is a huge help, and being ranked helps. We devote our time to being ranked on TMS and not TMC.

3. Design. Believe it or not but I can trace times when the mud was at 30-50 and on the decline to bad design decisions that bothered players and forced them to go elsewhere. At the time I was not the Admin and the job was being handled by someone else. The coder and Admin had decided that a significant change should take place where players would never know the exact stats of items or themselves. So instead of a number based statistical system that the MUD had run on for ages the MUD moved to a "verbal description," that was extremely vague. The first thing I did when I took back the Admin job was to eliminate that code and move back to a numbers based system. It immediately helped in player numbers. So it is important to understand your pbase and design FOR THEM, not for you.

Over the years I have seen code changes that have positively helped the pbase and negatively affected the pbase. Changes that extremely hurt "balance," were generally always negative if never fixed. Design is important.

Now adays we're extremely organized in our design process. We use "BaseCamp," to keep our design team all on the same page. Builders know what the coders are working on and vice versa. Things are discussed long before implimented to help make sure that in the long run everything is "balanced." We've been doing this for the last 7 months and it has been extremely helpful.

4. Improvements. I can also look at every downturn and see where building died off and code changes stopped. Stagnation can hurt if allowed to happen over an extremely long period of time. Obviously if you have a great MUD based on incredible code and incredible game play with a great world you can let things remain the same for longer periods of time. However at some point the players will get tired of "the same old same old," and move on.

5. Player Cycles. Player Cycles are the length of time a player stays and plays the MUD. Player Cycles are all based generally on the above. However the most successful times of RO have been when Player Cycles were at their longest. People have lives, but if you can increase the Player Cycle then you increase your pbase.

So success is not luck. Luck may play a part in getting someone to "login," but it's design & administration that gets them to stay. Luck may also affect the time when they login. We all have good hours and bad hours in our player flow. If that new player logs in and sees 20+ on they generally stay longer. So luck is a part, but not a huge part.
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