The Newbie Quitting Point: A MUD Experiment

Dear Readers,

As you may or may not know, MUDs are often considered the early precursors of our modern day MMOs and exist in a distinctly more diverse variety than the branch (diku) that inspired and spawned the graphical games we play today.

There is also the common perception that MUDs are either dying fossils that few people play today, or very niche games with even tinier communities still clinging on like barnacles – an image which presumably might contribute to that decline in popularity.

A number of people just shrug and say “Oh, nobody plays a text game anymore,” which appears to be used as a handy excuse to do nothing about this state of affairs.

This is in interesting contrast to another genre of text games, the text adventures and choose-your-own-path and interactive fiction corner of the web, whose community, niche though it might be, really tries to promote the hell out of their favourite interactive medium with hobbyist websites and community competitions and active academic research and addressing usability issues with newer and different coding/programming languages and parsers and clients to enable the writing and playing of said genre across different platforms.

A friend of mine and I got into a little debate and discussion the other day about MUDs and their perceived decline.

He’s curious as to whether this is really the case or no, and is driven by this curiosity to do a little research about it.

a) Does the decline exist?

and b) if it does exist, why?

As for myself, I’m rather convinced that most MUDs are very much in decline (with perhaps a very few commercial exceptions really making an effort to market themselves and reach out to new audiences, on new platforms.)

We brainstormed up several possible contributing factors:

  • Is it the fact that most MUDs are pure text, with little to no graphics, making them immediately unappealing or inaccessible?
  • Could it be the control scheme? Typing out commands and navigating in cardinal directions is very much a DOS-like holdover.
  • Is it simply the lack of advertising and marketing, meaning that many people may not even have heard about many MUDs out there, or know how to access them, or what features they may offer over graphical MMOs?
  • Maybe it’s the archaic look of many MUD websites, which look like they were made during 1997 in the Geocities’ heyday?
  • Perhaps it’s problems with the client? These days, Windows doesn’t even come with Telnet. So scratch one mode of access. It’s usually a downloadable client – which may make some people pause – or a web browser client, which may have its own host of issues?
  • Or maybe there are so many small, hobbyist MUDs out there that the population of people who are willing to play a text-based game are all distributed among them and spread out too thinly? That they all feel they owe allegiance to only their one particular MUD and view the rest as competitors, thus presenting a disunited community face to the world?

It may very well be all of them are valid and contribute to the overall problem (though it’ll be interesting to know what the percentages are and what primarily turns many people away.)

While we don’t have access to all MUDs, and thus can’t do an overarching survey, our prior history with one MUD did give us a little insider access to an immortal/developer source, whose game logs and metrics register that on the average, 1-2 new players try this specific MUD out -every- day (a game that tends to lack heavy advertising or promotion, and yet new players do stumble across it), but just as quickly, around level 2-3, they quit, never to log back in again.

Since newbie retention is one end of the funnel that determines whether a game faces growth or decline in population (the other end is veterans dropping off from attrition,) this subject is what we’ve narrowed down to exploring for now.

My particular interest is in how similar or dissimilar this might turn out to be from factors affecting newbie retention in MMOs – we see developers scrambling to provide more guided experiences, as in GW2’s latest New Player Experience, which caused a certain hue and outcry among its veterans, or as Bashiok remarked regarding WoW’s barriers to entry, “Well *I* consider the biggest barrier being it’s a 3D WASD game with a moveable camera,” suggesting the control scheme might be an aspect to consider as well.

Problem is, neither of us are exactly newbies to MUDs, especially not -this- MUD in particular, even if we did stop playing it for a long time.

What we really need are fresh perspectives and new eyes to take a quick gander around and simulate a newbie (even better if you have zero MUD experience) and then share with us the point at which you might quit.

http://www.realmsofdespair.com/play-now

My assumption is that you’ll only spend 5-30 minutes of your time at the most.

Log in, look around and explore, and at the point where you feel that you might close the client and never return, come back here and post a comment as to where that point was, and why it irked you to the point that you might quit.

No obligations. Wherever the stopping point was for you, is what we want to hear about.

You needn’t even have to make it into the game. It could be “I looked at the website and it was butt ugly, so I stopped” or “I couldn’t find one bit of useful info about wtf the game was, or how to even start playing” or whatever gut response made you give up.

Could be “the client didn’t run” or “I couldn’t get a name I wanted” or “there was too much reading I had to do” or “I got lost and didn’t know where I was” or “I didn’t even know how to navigate or move around” or “it was too overwhelming I didn’t have a clear objective as to what to do” or “I wandered somewhere and died” or “I met someone and they scared me away” or “I never even saw anyone to talk to and got bored” or “levelling up was too slow” or whatever it was for you that prompted a quit response.

Maybe you didn’t get such a response and would be perfectly okay playing the game, and/or it was simply lack of time and too many other games on the plate competing for your attention – we’d like to hear about that too.

If you can’t spare even 5 minutes of your time to play a text-based MUD, I would also like to beg one favour from you:

To leave a comment here stating why it did not seem worth your time to even try a MUD out for 5 minutes – whatever it was that ran through your mind, be it “eesh, text games, I don’t play games without graphics” or “I’m already playing X game, I don’t have time to start another” or “I don’t want to download a new client” or “this is just a sneaky way to promote and advertise this MUD and I’m not falling for it!” (full disclosure: I quit this MUD in 2004 and have zero interest in its health or lack thereof, my friend may be a little more fond of it and I’m mostly doing him a favor with this outreach to my supremely limited blog audience) or whatever it was that prevented you from even clicking on the link and cranking the client up.

This isn’t an official academic social research project of any kind, it’s mostly to sate our curiosity and get a small sample from the group of MMO players that also happen to read gaming-related blogs.

The more responses we get, the more we’ll be able to get a grasp on some of the possible issues, so your help and your time is very much appreciated!

GW2: Echoes of the Past One Week In

Whoa...most colorful rabbit hole ever...

charrnobbing

One week in, it’s hard to know what to say about the latest Echoes of the Past update.

Is it good? Yeah.

The storytellers have learned that a great many GW2 players are highly nostalgic and greatly fond of the old lore, and have shoveled it in, in spades.

Speaking of digging implements, there was a slight bug/miscalculation, but benefiting the players this time, of just how cooperative players can be when induced with ‘everyone gets more free loot’ rewards.

I didn’t quite get to partake of the crazy chest farm as much as I’d like, before it got fixed, but I did find the time to stay long enough one night to get 95 champion bags or so, and got two Bonetti’s Rapiers out of it, one of which I kept for my own collection, the other I sold on the TP for 23 gold.

Good enough for me. With my kind of crappy earning power, that’s a pretty significant bonus in my book.

The rest of the time has been spent getting around to finishing up Dragon’s Reach Part 2 achievements, along with the recent Echoes of the Past ones.

It sort of reminds me of playing the original Guild Wars in a way – plenty of things to do, but in your own time, without having to worry that it’ll be gone for good.

The mechanics used in the instances and the new zone have been rather refreshing, and pretty creative. I like the direction, though I do think some of the feedback and signposting can be a little more obvious now and then.

For instance, I ran around attempting the Facet of Darkness achievement more than 3 times, because I plain underestimated the size of the vortex explosion’s effect. I was indulging my tanky instincts, letting the facet walk over close to the vortex before triggering it, and it just wasn’t covering the distance fast enough to kill itself in 15 seconds, leaving me somewhat perplexed.

A bunch of friends who are a lot more open to reading Dulfy than I am, essentially called me an idiot over party chat and said to read Dulfy and AoE all the things. Like with a guardian’s biggest cone attack ever, the lootstick staff.

Sure enough, even with the facet pretty durned far away to my eyes, I just went and lootsticked all the things like blowing up volatile blossoms in TA, and voila, it fell over and achievement done.

Huh.

I guess the size of the boon-stealing AoE white circle had sort of conditioned me into thinking the explosion radius was also going to be around that size. Little did I know it was actually a LOT bigger than that.

A more visible explosion indicating said radius might have helped me read that mechanic better, fer instance.

These are just small nitpicks, though. By and large, much of it seems fairly well designed, with step-wise tutorial mobs of a sort that build up to the final boss.

vines

Playing in the Silverwastes has been moderately fun.

I’m actually keen to play the zone properly, in an organized fashion, but so far I’ve been pretty disappointed at the times I’ve been logging in. Organization has been lacking so far.

Players haven’t really been distributing themselves well to each fort, nor do they seem very inclined or motivated to cooperate or coordinate.

The supply bulls are pretty important to run, but usually only a few to zero heroes will take on the task of escorting them over.

And to make matters even more depressing, even if said sacrificial heroes actually bring the bulls and upgrading the fort’s defences, many of the players hanging by the forts staunchly ignore the fact that they can use siege to help the defence, preferring to autoattack and then promptly fall down and require a rez when something (a terragriff, a wolf, a troll, whatever) charges them.

How hard is it to figure out tactics vs Mordrem mobs?

Terragriff charges – dodge sideways.

Wolf pounces and does nasty damage flanking – face wolf all the time,  have mitigation like blinds, blocks, evades, invulnerables, etc.

Troll throws insect swarms – keep moving, dodge aoes, and if you get the target over your head indicating you’re now the aggro target, guess what, you can actually bring the insect swarms to the troll so that they attack the troll.

I mean, the only thing one may have an excuse on is versus husks, which are high toughness and mostly vulnerable to condition damage, which understandably, one may not have appropriate gear to do so.

Anyway, the playerbase seems too distracted by the prospect of bandit chests or hunting the elusive legendaries to attempt the zone properly for now.

I’m more or less content to wait until things develop to the point where more people are compelled to seek organization.

As I mentioned in a Reddit thread a while back, I can’t help but think that the three straight lanes on the west side of the map, and the glimpse of the strange plant-like thing (not going into more specifics to avoid spoilers) in the Living Story episode, suggests that there may very well be a phase 2 to this zone later on, unlocking in a similar fashion to Dry Top.

If there turns out to be a big raid-like boss (and unique desirable rewards) at the end of this fort defence and breach attack of five champion bosses, well, then -maybe- some groups will eventually be inclined to get together in a map, divide themselves properly to the various forts, dedicate groups of supply escorters, and so on. -That- would be fun to participate in.

In the meantime, I am just gonna waffle around like everyone else, randomly picking a fort (probably an easy one, like amber, where nearly everyone congregates), doing the events there – maybe deigning to bring a bull every now and then so that I can tag more events, and so I can get away from the masses at the fort and indulge my solo preferences – jump into the breach, defeat one boss, and then grin wryly and chuckle as one of the Terragriffs fail to get killed, or the Husk doesn’t die because no condi, or some fort was left bereft of people and so no one went in, or whatever.

Whatever, indeed. It all builds up token rewards anyway.

I think it’s just a matter of time.

PvP or PvE Have Become Meaningless Terms

I don’t think it’s really useful to just say PvP or PvE and assume everyone has a shared standard of values and definition of what it means anymore.

I mean, even the concept of a “raid” has begun to diverge.

A Wildstar raid has a different feel than a WoW raid. With absolutely zero experience in either, I feel fairly confident in saying that one is liable to have a lot more colored shapes on the ground and bullet hell than the other. An Archeage raid apparently involves trying to take down a world boss in the middle of a big ass PvP warzone, and then there’s GW2 not-quite-raids, which can apply to taking down world bosses or a zone challenge in an organized fashion with 100-150 members, or the WvW usage thereof, which is an organized PvP-esque group of 10-20 guild members, firing off skills in a coordinated fashion to defeat other parties.

What more a general term like PvP or PvE?

Instead, I’d like to suggest that we start breaking down these large concepts into various factors that we can profile different players by.

I’m still grappling with the precise factors, so there may be overlaps or repeat themselves somewhat, but I’d propose things like:

  • Loss aversion / Risk Tolerance
  • Need for Control (over self / surroundings or daily game experience / others)
  • Need for Variation
  • Need for Challenge
  • Luck vs Skill Preference
  • Time Investment / Effort vs Skill Preference
  • Contested / Non-contested Preference
  • Asymmetry Tolerance / Level or Uneven Playing Field?

Our very general concept of PvP tends to assume that PvPers have pretty high risk tolerance and aren’t very loss averse, treating character death or equipment loss as no big deal and part and parcel of the game. They’re probably fairly open to being acted on by others and responding to sudden changes in their surroundings or daily game experiences, while having a need to control or dominate others through defeating them and enjoying the sweet thrill of victory. They might have a high need for variety, given that PvP situations tend to result in unpredictable matchups and encounters. If you listen to what PvPers say about themselves, they love the challenge of an evenly-matched unpredictable human opponent wit-matching battle, and PvErs are ez-mode-seeking noobs.  And of course, they enjoy contested games.

You may note that I didn’t mention certain factors like  “luck vs skill” or “time/effort vs skill” yet. I’ll touch on that later.

Conversely, the generalized ideal of your typical PvE carebear is that they’re very loss averse, being allergic to dying even once in a fight. They may have a higher need for control over what happens to them in their daily game experience (which explains all the stereotypical begging for PvP flags or PvE servers so that they can choose when and where they encounter PvP.) If you listen to what PvErs say about themselves, they love a challenging raid encounter boss that they’ll have to keep trying and trying again to defeat, and PvPers are ganking griefing bullies who love to pick on those who can’t fight back.

Try as I might to shoehorn the other factors in, you might observe my attempted generalizations breaking down because really, there’s no stereotypical PvEr, just as there isn’t a stereotypical PvPer.

Some PvErs don’t really need a lot of variation in their daily MMO routine, or maybe it’s just for certain activities. I personally am quite content to farm repetitively for periods of time or mine a bunch of nodes in peace and quiet with no one interrupting me. I quite appreciate a predictable mob whose attack patterns I can learn and then slowly master and defeat. Then again, I get bored out of my mind if you ask me to repeat an easy world boss cycle or the same goddamn dungeon over and over, while other players – I note with absolute bemusement – are perfectly content to do just that!

Other PvErs are languishing away, hoping to eventually find devs with the tech and money to create a more unpredictable PvE world of mobs with intelligent AI and dynamic events producing a great variety of situations to encounter. But only computer-controlled, mind you, human players are too threatening.

Some PvPers are content to log in daily to their WvW matchup or their MOBAs at a set time every night and just play the same series of maps over and over, finding variation only in the players and playstyles they encounter, and the random micro-situations that result. Others really like the grand vision of a living breathing immersive world that’s set up like the Wild West, where you’re free to attack others whenever you want, where there aren’t many rules but the law of the jungle or the sheriff and his posse… while still others are sitting on the fence waiting for another set of laws somewhere in between the more lawless times of our history and our modern day world.

You’ll find that among both PvErs and PvPers, some people are a lot more willing to gamble big than others, or able to take the prospect of serious loss or backwards progression with equanimity. Their opposite number are the ones that argue against permadeath, against equipment loss in any form, against anything high-risk and high-consequence and would prefer everything of that ilk not present in the games they play.

Someone without a very high need for control over themselves and their surroundings may be a viable candidate for showing up in an open world PvP game, or a game with negative or backward progress consequences, regardless of whether they consider themselves a PvPer. Especially if you can tempt them in with things they -are- interested in, such as being able to socialize in a close community, or crafting/building/decorating a house, or trading and market PvP, or a simulation of a ‘realistic-in-their-eyes’ world and they’ll cheerfully put up with being your fat targets for combat-oriented PvPers in trade for those things.

On the other hand, those players who hate that sort of thing won’t be caught dead or alive in those kinds of games, or if they did get attracted, they’ll probably end up flaming out and rage-quitting one day when they can’t take it anymore.

On the PvE front, the control freaks are the ones that are most likely to be in regular groups of friends and not caught dead in random LFG finders, or off soloing by themselves, or possibly even leading – setting up situations under their personal control, in other words, and are liable to get twitchy or toxic when things don’t quite go their way or as they expect. Their opposite number are liable to be flitting from random situation to random situation with nary a care in the world.

In the same way, one might even suggest that we have low-challenge-seeking PvErs AND PvPers. One farms punching bag autoattack mobs, the other farms newbies or low levels, and both enjoy what they do.

The typical gamer, whom you’ll find almost always praises themselves as loving high challenge, will often speak in desultory fashion about this subset of players – but like always, it’s not so much what people say, as what they do.

I’ll  personally admit to liking a bit of easy fun now and then, even if I’ll rather do it to mobs than on another person. Then again, if it’s for an overall objective, I’m not above ruthlessly spawn-camping someone to break their morale so that they leave the battlefield and leave the other side outnumbered, or targeting the weakest link first and taking them right out, when I’ve chosen to play a PvP game. I like to play my games well and as efficiently as I can.

Given my observation of the general mass of players in any game, I suspect the ‘easy fun’ lovers to be a substantial subset, if not an outright majority. A dev would actually have metrics of this. And if they want to get paid, it may very well be in their interests to give these easy fun lovers some outlets. (Which leads to things like ‘welfare epics,’ ‘spam 1 to get loot farming’ and ‘gankers that sit around in low level zones cackling.’ Evils in the eyes of high-challenge-seeking players, but perhaps they’re necessary evils in a particular game. Or perhaps not – we’ll just have to see if anyone comes up with any cleverer design solutions.)

I also want to point out that it’s not a dichotomy. The theory of flow suggests that there are at least three states that ‘challenge’ can exist, rather than just high vs low, black vs white.

There’s low, middle or optimal, and high.

Too high challenge is frustrating. Overly frustrating people leads to learned helplessness and quitting.

The dream, of course, is the middle path of perfect, optimal challenge, leading to engagement and flow. Except to complicate things, different people have different frustration tolerances too, so what’s middle and optimal for one, may be too hard or too easy for another.

(Variable difficulty levels that adjust to the player is one suggested solution, but it’s always much easier typed or said than done, of course. Exactly how you vary this, and whether you let the player have any say or control over the matter, have been attempted by different games to differing effect.)

Also, some are more able to persevere after being knocked down, and others will throw in the towel earlier. This is less of a moral impeachment on their character, but more often due to a perceived locus of control. People who believe they can’t affect their situation and convert it from a negative to positive result are more likely to just give up.

Someone who is convinced that their twitch reflexes aren’t very good and not easily improved are more liable to just shrug and dismiss ever being any good at action-y games, whereas another might find they have sufficient time and motivation to keep practicing and plugging away until they improve.

Me, I really detest the concept of grinding for better stats to improve performance, so if you present such a game scenario to me, I’m more likely to tell you to soak the game in a barrel of water and that I’m going off to play another less annoying game that doesn’t force me into this treadmill. Another person who really digs the idea of putting in effort and seeing visible incremental progress come back – regardless of how static his or her personal game-playing skills remain –  will happily jump onto this crystal clear path of progression “to get stronger.”

As Talarian suggests, the higher-than-average skilled will always argue for a meritocracy where better skill leads to better rewards. But the presence of randomness and RNG luck rolls reward the weaker or below-average players from time to time and keep them playing the game – which is beneficial to both devs (who get paid) and for the game as a whole (higher population, more concurrent players, etc.)

Let’s not forget that if you chase away the worse players, the average will move, and there will be a new bar for “average” that’s set even higher, causing a new group of players to become “below average.”

Too much randomness, of course, and you don’t have very much of a game at all besides a game of pure chance, which will chase away the subset of players who want skill to have a tangible effect on their success at a game.

Then there’s my afterthought of asymmetry tolerance, which I -just- shoehorned in.

Perceptions of this also differ. Some people hate the very thought of GW2’s WvW because there are servers that are more populated than others, or number imbalances at different timezones, and refuse to play such an asymmetrical style of PvP. Give them totally even number tournament-style matchups, thank you. That’s a lot fairer and more competitive, in their viewpoint.

Me, I can deal with the above, because I find that they replicate a certain ‘reality’ of military history, that outnumbered fights happen and that there’s a beauty to tactics and strategy that can change localized number imbalances in your favor – such as feigning attacks in one place while committing to the real thing at another, or just spiking and focus-firing important or weaker targets.

But I do tend to cringe at stat and level imbalances piled on top of these, and find that a little -too- asymmetrical for myself to tolerate. Others are perfectly fine with it – after all, it’s ‘realistic’ too that some people might be naturally stronger than others, right?

The types of games that we play are very much dictated by our own preferences of factors like I’ve suggested above. It’s too much of a simplification to just lump things as PvE or PvP, and assume that never shall the twain meet.