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Series Info...Storms on Cloud 9 #41:

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by Scott Holliday
2005-09-12


Over the past few months one of my close friends had been having bad luck finding a job. He had plenty of experience, but no solid credentials. Resumes went every direction. He got a few interviews, but nothing seemed to pan out. Eventually, something found him, and now he's happily employed again. Now that the trouble is over, it is easy for me to contrast the situation to what occurs in most MMOs.

"Burning Bobchiez: Level 7 Arcane Zapper looking for a party."
"Uthor the Grog: Need a 40-45 SpeedHealer."
"Burning Bobchiez: Anyone need an Arcane Zapper? 7th Level."
"Yggadrasil: I'm a SpeedHealer, 36."
"Uthor the Grog: No, need at least 40."
"Burning Bobchiez: Arcane Zapper? Anyone? I hate to solo."
"Yggadrasil: Whisper me if you need a SpeedHealer."
"Tetris Dragon: SpearSinger, 21st level, seeking party relationship."
"Omber Bulk: Tetris. We could use another fighter. What secondary?"
"Burning Bobchiez: I'm going to solo now… unless someone wants me."
"Tetris Dragon: Secondary is RegenSpark."
"Uthor the Grog: Need a 40-45 SpeedHealer."
"Omber Bulk: Ok, meet at the Jumping Juniper in 10 minutes."

It is difficult to find a match in some games, but I've noticed that often the only important factors are class and level. These people are willing to risk their "lives" for each other based on their profession? Why? Because that's all they have to go on! The only way to find out whether a player can pull their weight is by trial and error. It's like hiring someone simply because they are 25 years old.

I first noticed this effect while playing a military simulation game. Tons of players, but no good way to tell them apart. Some of them might be slackers. Some might be newbs. Some might be there purely to shoot you in the back. Sure, I could take notes, but the chance I'll see the same one again (with the same alias) is minimal.

The basic problem is a lack of information. None of these players have any credentials. They've lived and died, fought and frolicked, and nobody knows hoot about them except their closest friends. Suppose I had met one of them a month ago. Assuming I have to track down new party members every day, will I remember which one ran away the moment the situation got too hot?

Yet, this is a computer game. The preferred human method for information storage is at our fingertips. Why do we build games that intentionally ignore the advantages of the media? Worse, it's supposed to be a social simulation. Sure, you might not have heard of "D4rt V4d3r," but maybe your character has?

I have a challenge for the next set of MMO developers. I've seen in-game notepads before. I'm not impressed. How about something where I can tag other players favorably or unfavorably? The information doesn't even need to go to the server. It could be purely client side. However, whenever I see that player again (and examine them?), I get immediate feedback about my previous opinions. If you're using a chat method like the example above, perhaps gold and red stars could appear after their name.

The strategy can go much further. What if players could share their "favor lists" with their friends. By copying the information back and forth, now my character knows all the latest gossip. You could even expand this so that a whole guild could stay on top of out-of-guild relationships. You could even allow players to sort tags into personal, group, and secret folders. This is what computers do best.

What about more concrete credentials? Considering that military simulation I mentioned, what is "D4rt V4d3r's" mission success rate? How often has he "accidentally" shot a team-member? What kind of accuracy does he have on average? What do his previous CO's think of him?

Strangely, this proposal would be simple to implement. I've even seen it in MUDs and MOOs from years ago. But, I haven't seen it yet in any modern games. Admittedly, I haven't played all of them, but for some games (especially those set in the future), it fits the genre perfectly. In fact, it's already so common in the genre's fiction, how did it get left out of the MMOs?

As a player, I would like to see all of these. As a developer, it seriously can't hurt. Seriously, as a serious developer, it's in your best interest to be collecting this type of information anyway. Does it break immersion? Yes, it could, if poorly implemented. What is the theme of your world? Even in worlds where there is little freedeom of information, one can assume the character can gossip while the player isn't online. Perhaps more important is tailoring the presentation of data so that it fits the theme of the game.

[ <— #40: Fortune Telling | #42: Death and Taxes —> ]

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