Laws of Online Games

Laws of Online Games:Any general law about virtual worlds should be read as a challenge rather than as a guideline. You’ll learn more from attacking it than from accepting it.

Persistence means it never goes away. Once you open your online world, expect to keep your team on it indefinitely. Some of these games will never close. And closing one prematurely may result in losing the faith of your customers, damaging the prospects for other games in the same genre.

Macroing, botting, and automation: No matter what you do, someone is going to automate the process of playing your world.

Game systems: No matter what you do, players will decode every formula, statistic, and algorithm in your world via experimentation.

It is always more rewarding to kill other players than to kill whatever the game sets up as a target. A given player of level x can slay multiple creatures of level y. Therefore, killing a player of level x yields ny reward in purely in-game reward terms. Players will therefore always be more rewarding in game terms than monsters of comparable difficulty. However, there is also the fact that players will be more challenging and exciting to fight than monsters no matter what you do.

Never trust the client: Never put anything on the client. The client is in the hands of the enemy. Never ever forget this.

“Do it Everywhere” law: If you do it one place, you have to do it everywhere. Players like clever things and will search them out. Once they find a clever thing they will search for other similar or related clever things that seem to be implied by what they found and will get pissed off if they don’t find them.

“Do it Everywhere” Corollary: The more detailed you make the world, the more players will want to break away from the classical molds.

Stamp Collecting Dilemma: Lots of people might like stamp collecting in your virtual world. But those who do will never play with those who like other features. Should you have stamp collecting in your world?” We know that there are a wide range of features that people find enjoyable in online worlds. We also know that some of these features are in conflict with one another. Given the above, we don’t yet know if it is possible to have a successful world that incorporates all the features, or whether the design must choose to exclude some of them in order to keep the players happy.

The quality of roleplaying is inversely proportional to the number of people playing.

The higher the fee, the better the roleplayers. (And of course, the smaller the playerbase.)

Enforcing roleplaying: A roleplay-mandated world is essentially going to have to be a fascist state. Whether or not this accords with your goals in making such a world is a decision you yourself will have to make.

Storytelling versus simulation: If you write a static story (or indeed include any static element) in your game, everyone in the world will know how it ends in a matter of days. Mathematically, it is not possible for a design team to create stories fast enough to supply everyone playing. This is the traditional approach to this sort of game nonetheless. You can try a sim-style game which doesn’t supply stories but instead supplies freedom to make them. This is a lot harder and arguably has never been done successfully.

Players have higher expectations of the virtual world: The expectations are higher than of similar actions in the real world. For example: players will expect all labor to result in profit; they will expect life to be fair; they will expect to be protected from aggression before the fact, and not just to seek redress after the fact; they will expect problems to be resolved quickly; they will expect that their integrity will be assumed to be beyond reproach; in other words, they will expect too much, and you will not be able to supply it all. The trick is to manage the expectations.

Online game economies are hard: A faucet->drain economy is one where you spawn new stuff, let it pool in the “sink” that is the game, and then have a concomitant drain. Players will hate having this drain, but if you do not enforce ongoing expenditures, you will have Monty Haul syndrome, infinite accumulation of wealth, overall rise in the “standard of living” and capabilities of the average player, and thus unbalance in the game design and poor game longevity.

Ownership is key: You have to give players a sense of ownership in the game. This is what will make them stay–it is a “barrier to departure.” Social bonds are not enough, because good social bonds extend outside the game. Instead, it is context. If they can build their own buildings, build a character, own possessions, hold down a job, feel a sense of responsibility to something that cannot be removed from the game–then you have ownership. If your game is narrow, it will fail. Your game design must be expansive. Even the coolest game mechanic becomes tiresome after a time. You have to supply alternate ways of playing, or alternate ways of experiencing the world. Otherwise, the players will go to another world where they can have new experiences. This means new additions, or better yet, completely different subgames embedded in the actual game.

As a virtual world’s “realism” increases, the pool of possible character actions increase. The opportunities for exploitation and subversion are directly proportional to the pool size of possible character actions.

A bored player is a potential and willing subversive.

Players will eventually find the shortest path to the cheese.

Featuritis: No matter how many new features you have or add, the players will always want more.

Pleasing your Players: Despite your best intentions, any change will be looked upon as a bad change to a large percentage of your players. Even those who forgot they asked for it to begin with.

Loophole Law: If something can be abused, it will be.

Murphy’s Law: Servers only crash and don’t restart when you go out of town.

Attention is the currency of the future.

The basic medium of multiplayer games is communication.

Virtual social bonds evolve from the fictional towards real social bonds. If you have good community ties, they will be out-of-character ties, not in-character ties. In other words, friendships will migrate right out of your world into email, real-life gatherings, etc.

“The more persistence a game tries to have; the longer it is set up to last; the greater number (and broader variety) of people it tries to attract; and in general the more immersive a game/world it set out to be–then the more breadth and depth of human experience it needs to support to be successful for more than say, 12-24 months. If you try to create a deeply immersive, broadly appealing, long-lasting world that does not adequately provide for human tendencies such as violence, acquisition, justice, family, community, exploration, etc (and I would contend we are nowhere close to doing this), you will see two results: first, individuals in the population will begin to display a wide range of fairly predictable socially pathological behaviors (including general malaise, complaining, excessive bullying or killing, harassment, territoriality, inappropriate aggression, and open rebellion against those who run the game); and second, people will eventually vote with their feet–but only after having passionately cast ‘a pox on both your houses.’ In essence, if you set people up for an experience they deeply crave (and mostly cannot find in real life) and then don’t deliver, they will become like spurned lovers-some become sullen and aggressive or neurotic, and eventually almost all leave.”

Violence is inevitable: You’re going to have violence done to people no matter what the facilities for it in the game are. It may be combat system, stealing, blocking entrances, trapping monsters,stealing kills to get experience, pestering, harassment, verbal violence, or just rudeness.

Is it a game? It’s a SERVICE. Not a game. It’s a WORLD. Not a game. It’s a COMMUNITY. Not a game. Anyone who says, “it’s just a game” is missing the point.

Identity: You will NEVER have a solid unique identity for your problematic players. They essentially have complete anonymity because of the Internet. Even addresses, credit cards, and so on can be faked–and will be.

Jeff Kesselman’s Theorem: An online universe is all about psychology. After all, there IS no physicality. It’s all psych and group dynamics.

Psychological disinhibition: People act like jerks more easily online, because anonymity is intoxicating. It is easier to objectify other people and therefore to treat them badly. The only way to combat this is to get them to empathize more with other players.

Mass market facts: Disturbing for those used to smaller environments, but administrative problems increase EXPONENTIALLY instead of linearly, as your playerbase digs deeper into the mass market. Traditional approaches tend to start to fail. Your playerbase probably isn’t ready or willing to police itself.

Anonymity and in-game staff: The in-game staff member faces a bizarre problem. He is exercising power that the ordinary virtual citizen cannot. And he is looked to in many ways to provide a certain atmosphere and level of civility in the environment. Yet the fact remains that no matter how scrupulously honest he is, no matter how just he shows himself to be, no matter how committed to the welfare of the virtual space he may prove himself, people will hate his guts. They will mistrust him precisely because he has power, and they can never know him. There will be false accusations galore, many insinuations of nefarious motives, and former friends will turn against him. It may be that the old saying about power and absolute power is just too ingrained in the psyche of most people; whatever the reasons, there has never been an online game whose admins could say with a straight face that all their players really trusted them (and by the way, it gets worse once you take money!).

Community size: Ideal community size is no larger than 250. Past that, you really get subcommunities.

Law of Player/Admin Relations: The amount of whining players do is positively proportional to how much you pamper them. Many players whine if they see any kind of bonus in it for them. It will simply be another way for them to achieve their goals. As an admin you hold the key to many of the goals that they have concerning the virtual environment you control. If you do not pamper the players and let them know that whining will not help them, the whining will subside.

In every aggregation of people online, there is an irreducible proportion of jerks.

Rewarding players: It is not possible to run a scenario or award player actions without other players crying favoritism.

Rewards: The longer your game runs, the less often you get kudos for your efforts.

Utopias: Don’t strive for perfection, strive for expressive fertility. You can’t create utopia, and if you did nobody would want to live there.

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