Raph Koster on how Ultima Online pushed the MMO industry forward

Game Designer Raph Koster continues to ponder the significance of Ultima Online on this, the 20th anniversary of the MMORPG’s historic release. In a recent blog post, he answers a question from a fan who asked how UO pushed the industry forward.

To address this, Koster takes readers back to 1995, when the internet was mostly accessed over slow dial-up modems and the gaming landscape was much more different than it is today. After outlining a brief history of MMOs to that point, he lists several groundbreaking features that Ultima Online attempted, including:

  • “Pure scale” with up to 2,500 players in the world at once
  • Dyeable gear
  • A world simulation that was varied in behavior
  • A massively interactive world
  • Widespread player killing, housing, and shopkeeping
  • An actively managed community
  • A flat monthly fee to subscribe
  • A world where you could live and not just fight

“This was consciously designed to be this sort of emergent world, carefully, skill by skill and object by object,” Koster noted. “There were happy surprises and unpleasant ones, but interdependence, economy, ecosystem, player types and roles — all of this was actively designed for and we attempted our best to anticipate behaviors.”

He pointed out a few “philosophical heirs” of Ultima Online, including Minecraft, survival games, EVE Online, and Animal Crossing.

Koster also said that Ultima Online wasn’t wholly original: “In many senses, UO had almost no ‘firsts’ — you can always find an antecedent for something it did, somewhere, probably for everything I’ve listed above.”

Source: Raph Koster
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Paragon Lost

Right, text based online multi-player role-playing games…MUDS. I still saw most of the time more player characters doing their thing in any one sitting usually in Gemstone II/III/IV and Dragonrealms than I ever saw in any graphical based online multi player rpg aka mmorpg.

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Sorenthaz

Yeah, I only recently dipped into MUDs in terms of how long MUDs have been around for (first venture into a MUD was in 2015; only two I’ve really put any time into are Advent Truth (DBZ RP-Enforced MUD) and HellMOO (…don’t look it up)) and I’m amazed at how deep they can be vs MMOs or even just modern games in general. There is so much detail and immersive aspects lost when stepping into a graphical MMO with a UI and all that jazz… in a MUD at most you usually just have a compass + map and have to type in every single action. Like these were doing survival game elements with thirst/hunger/etc. before survival games even became a big thing.

BYOND also was, and I guess still is, a rather interesting thing as well in that it basically has ‘lite’ MMOs. It’s basically a game platform where people can design 2D sprite-based online games, many of which are MMO-esque in nature. They tend to only attract a few hundred players at best on any given game/server, but in one of the DBZ games I was a huge fan of you could build a ship, customize/upgrade it some, hop into space, and travel to a number of different planets all of which had their own orbit patterns in space. On each planet you could pretty much build whatever you wanted within reason, and people could of course destroy built stuff as well. Not only that but the planets could actually be destroyed under special conditions, and then there was an afterlife and all that fun jazz. Age was also an issue, and inevitably you would die of old age unless you were a race that could live for hundreds of years and whatnot. To this day I’ve yet to see an MMO that comes close to achieving what a flippin 2d sprite based game could do, but I really would love if that could happen sooner or later.

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Paragon Lost

It’s part of why though I had top end systems I dragged ass moving to the graphical mmorpg from MUDs. Every time I looked into any of the mmorpgs closer I found that they were so much more limited on what you could do as a player and what the GMs could do. Someday we’ll see that level of game play, but it’s still not here. :/

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steve

My experience was similar. I was aware of MMOs and capable of running them, but I was scornful of how static and simple they were. We had the ability to craft intricate systems in MU* games.

I caught the MMO craze “late”, around 2000 EQ, and I still think they tend to do a poor job at the level of scripting game mechanics for a multiplayer RPG.

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Raph Koster

I’ve said before, MMOs cut more features from MUDs than they ever added.

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Schmidt.Capela

It’s the issue with the kind of polish that many players now require: realistic graphics, voiced dialog, motion capture for the animations, etc. Not only the costs to add more interactivity skyrocket, it also prevents things that are easy without that kind of polish, like NPCs mentioning custom names in dialog.

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Sorenthaz

Yeahhh the closest that’s come to custom names is like Fallout 4’s little gimmick with a list of voice-spoken names, if I remember right. Most games just refer to you by a specific name/title nowadays for obvious reasons. I think in general that too many games have gone away from fueling creative imagination to just giving people a set of things to focus on with specific things to keep them stimulated, instead of relying on descriptions and visually imagining things.

Which isn’t bad per se but it loses a level of immersion since it’s less like reading a book and more like watching a movie.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Ultima Online wasnt the first in most of those points. MUDs been there done that. Even some graphical games like habitat offered things like “massively interactive world” and “actively managed community”.
I think the only valid point in whole list is being able to support up to 2500 players. No other online game before UO could have that much.

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Michael

Eh I think it is pretty unreasonable to compare a game based purely on text to a game that has far more limitations due to it having actual graphics.

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Raph Koster

The full-length article does in fact say that. That said, there’s quite a gap between “massively interactive” in Habitat and what is described in the article, too.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

While I wasn’t there to experience it, I personally do know people who were, including the person who got me into MMORPGs to begin with (because they used to play them while babysitting me when I was a young kid). I’ve been told that UO spoiled PvP for a lot of people because of how they did it. I’d love to do more research into it and see how that affected PvP for that generation of gamers, just as a study into MMORPGs and player behavior. Though you’d need such a huge section of people who were there at the start.

I guess it would also depend on the other games out at the time. I know Meridian 59 which was out first also had open PvP where you lost most (all?) of your stuff too.

I do have a very good extremely trusted resource to talk to about this stuff, but he’s only one person so it’s hard to get much of a large point of view. I suppose I’ll just forget about it but still it would be an interesting study in some ways.

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Melissa McDonald

I have to chuckle reading this,

Widespread player killing
A world where you could live and not just fight

Sigh.

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Robert Mann

Yep. “Hey, you can just live here… if you care to never leave town!” Which means you don’t have a world, you have a town you can live in.

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Ket Viliano

s/live/hide

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Raph Koster

Heh, yeah. But both true, I think.

Tynril
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Tynril

I wonder how widespread PK relates to making the world feel like a place you can live in, and not just fight. Could the world have felt like that without (or with less) PK?

failed_apathy
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failed_apathy

I think the concept is entirely alien to players today, and even if they do understand, UO today is completely different from the way it used to be, so nobody can really experience as it was back during its original days.

If you died, you not only dropped everything you had on you, but you had to run around as a ghost to find someone/something to resurrect you. Then, you’d have to hoof it back to a bank or a safehouse to restock and re-equip. Even for a well-prepared PKer, it was a risk. No quick, full-equip respawns.

The modern player’s response to this is to think, “Oh my god, how shitty.” Sure enough, people are ready to verbally crap on it, probably never having played the original UO.

And yes, it was pretty shitty to die, but most half-intelligent people reached out to… *drum roll* other players to help them. This, somewhat ironically, was a big part of what fostered the UO community — protection in numbers, or guilds.

I didn’t always get along with my guildmates, but I could always count on them to have my back if I needed it, perhaps like a good neighbor or the sense of camaraderie you get in the military — they might be a bunch of fuck-wits, but you’ll never feel alone. Current MMO guilds only give me that feeling in short bursts, but in the end it’s like chasing a high that’ll never come again.

Guildmates’ usefulness went beyond security, of course (economy), but I’m sure there’s plenty of writing on the ‘net about that already.

Think of all the reasons why modern MMO PvP is crap, and you pretty much have the story of UO’s slow death and loss of community. They put in an alternate safe world, put in things like like “item insurance,” and all this other junk to make it more player-friendly. And yeah, it worked in making the game easier, but it lost something too.

When you no longer need the people around you, the social aspect of the MMO becomes moot. Ties dissolve, people get bored, and people quit the game. Even the safe-haven mavens who loved to do nothing but sit in the safety of their houses and craft eventually realized being king of the hill meant nothing when nobody else is around.

The original UO felt a bit like the survival genre of games that’s so popular now. Imagine something like ARK/Conan/PUBG/whatever, except with a greater sense of permanency, scale, and achievement.

I’d personally like to see another slow-burn game like UO with an even higher penalty for dying, perhaps something like 24+ hour respawns. In the real world, people already do stupid things even with their one life. Turns out if you give people unlimited lives and no penalties, they turn into shitheads! Who knew?

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TotalCowage .

I didn’t always get along with my guildmates, but I could always count on them to have my back if I needed it, perhaps like a good neighbor or the sense of camaraderie you get in the military — they might be a bunch of fuck-wits, but you’ll never feel alone.

I never feel alone in any game I play, because I’m not a fuckwit and can make friends easily. If you’re not making them in World of Warcraft or anywhere else, it’s because people don’t want to be friends with you. Normal people who don’t think griefing other people is funny make friends all the time. We really do. Or at least, plenty of new ones just as good in the 20 years since UO launched.

And I didn’t think of the people I’ve formed lifelong bonds with in both in Post Trammel UO and countless other MMOs as fuckwits either, because they weren’t. It really isn’t rare for them to come to another person’s aid, including my own, because not being fuckwits they weren’t out to create a dog eat dog world and rip me off later.

((Edited by mod. Please review our community commenting rules.))

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Toy Clown

I definitely remember playing UO in those first few years, going through all the griefing, stealing, scams players were pulling and eventually leading to Trammel.

For me, UO was new. Prior, I was an avid member of the SCA, so it was natural I fell in love with the game. There was a shift inside of me where I used to believe people were inherently good in the real world, and took that belief with me into UO. I was naive. Gods was I ever! Let me see if I can remember all the scams pulled on me!

1. When you had a house, you had just that one key. If you lost it or it got stolen, that was it. The house was then worthless. (Later they added in the ability to change locks.) I made a friend, adventured with them for a few weeks and invited them to my house. I gave them a copy of the key to it so they could take advantage of storing their stuff since the server was full. The very next day they cleaned me out. I was devastated!

2. Now that my house was useless and couldn’t’ be used anymore, I moved what I had left of my belongings to my boat! The next day when I logged in, the boat had been cleaned out. It was still locked and I found out there was a bug that allowed people to clean off your ships. At this stage, I had lost everything in the game to thieves.

3. I started tailoring again to make gold to hopefully buy another house. I remember one day, I was unable to unload my shirts to the NPC and was really overloaded. So I started the process of walking to the bank, only to have a thief clean me out by the time I got there. I had no defense to stop him being overburdened, even in city limits.

4. Eventually acquired another house. The person who sold it to me killed me after taking my gold and took the key.

I think it was at this point that I quit. I did come back after the Trammel split and ended up really enjoying the game for a couple years past that.

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Schmidt.Capela

The issue with that, though, is that UO was almost closed down because of the PvP. As Gordon Walton (UO executive producer when Trammel was added) said, himself, “The unforgiving play environment that made UO so intense was clearly driving away between 70+% of all the new players that tried the game within 60 days.”

The retention numbers were so bad that EA intended to close down UO. Gordon Walton was in fact tasked with closing down the game (, but he decided to try to save it instead.

BTW, you still have plenty of games with PvP like UO. It’s just that they all start as small indie games, because after UO no publisher is willing to risk a large budget in a game like that, and the only of the small indie games I’m aware of that managed to grow is EVE; the rest stayed as small budget niche games.

(Funny thing: Gordon Walton is an unapologetic PvP enthusiast. He didn’t want to make UO into a PvE game, but after all the failed attempts by the dev team to keep PK and griefing in check, he didn’t have much choice.)

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Bryan Gregory

Sorry but I just don’t believe that UO’s unforgiving gameplay was the main reason they were losing players. The fact that there are more people playing on pre-Trammel private servers than there are playing the retail version should say something. They were losing players because there were newer, better looking, and better functioning games coming out. UO’s UI was very tedious. Clicking and dragging microscopic items was very annoying. And lastly, UO has a bad track record for adding very little content. It is 20 years old this year and has added less content than some MMOs add in a few years.

Edit: I forgot to mention UO’s awful progression system of leveling your skills while you sleep.

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TotalCowage .

Except… we have the player graphs for MMOs, and UO continued to gain subscriptions until 2003. It was Age of Shadows that actually started the decline, not Trammel.

Meanwhile, do you have the player numbers for all the Pre-Trammel private servers? And don’t forget you have to count the Trammel rule set private servers on top of the production ones if you’re honestly comparing gameplay…

This is the problem with trying to debate PK/PvPers… they’re so committed to trying to meta game the debate (like everything else, anything done in the name of winning is seen as fair) they’ve lost track of basic objective facts. In the above link, you’ve got a PK using a graph which shows the game holds and even grows post-Trammel, and using it as if it argues for Pre-Tram… whilst ignoring the fact there were only 2 other competitors listed, whilst 4 more join the market after the line he drew for Pre-Tram.

Guys, there’s a reason you’ve not had more than perhaps EvE be a continuing success as an all out PvP game, and even EvE has safe zones and the ability to pay to safely move your stuff now. 20 years later, isn’t it time you just faced facts?

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

To be clear, Age of Shadows is simply when more people started leaving than showed up to replace them, probably because Age of Shadows was a garbage PvE expansion and PvE players had other options than a forced Diablo clone overlay by somebody who’d literally go on to work for Blizzard. As devs have said repeatedly, the player bleed was horrific before that, but the rise of the internet/lack of options ensured a constant influx of new peeps to counterbalance a demonstrable decline if all you’re looking at is quarterly sub numbers.

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Raph Koster

PKing was absolutely the reason. The other games weren’t out yet.

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Schmidt.Capela

Sorry but I just don’t believe that UO’s unforgiving gameplay was the main reason they were losing players.

You have the right to believe in whatever you want.

I, on the other hand, have seen at least 3 UO developers and one CM clearly state, in interviews or posts, that UO’s issue with player retention was mainly caused by griefing, PK, and stealing. And the data I have access to — like, for example, how UO sharply improved player retention, doubled its number of subscribers, and managed to keep at its new high for quite a few years after Trammel was added — seems to corroborate that. Thus, I defer to them in this specific issue.

BTW: just about every big budget MMO that came after UO had far more restrictions on PvP and player looting, if they even allowed player looting — most simply did away with the mechanic completely. In large part this is because devs that worked on UO went to work on other MMOs, taking with them their experience about what worked in UO and what didn’t work. The guy that designed WoW’s PvP, for example, was an UO veteran.

failed_apathy
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failed_apathy

This essay is a direct quote from Jesus, so it’s canon.

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Raph Koster

Depends who you ask, honestly.

Some people will argue that the PK prevented them from living the way they chose, and they’d be correct in that. Anyone whose life led them to step out of town would be perforce dragged into the playerkilling whether they wanted it or not.

Others will argue that without that sense of freedom, the world lost a lot, starting back at the moment that the Trammel/Felucca split went in. That the real risk, the ability to fight for your town, your peace, rather than having it handed to you, was a big part of what made the world feel alive. They’re probably also right — for them. It’s subjective.

I came down, over time, on the side of the former, see https://www.raphkoster.com/games/snippets/a-uo-postmortem-of-sorts/ and even more so, in https://www.raphkoster.com/games/essays/a-philosophical-statement-on-playerkilling/ where I wrote

I still believe many things. I still believe that we can find ways to allow players to police their environment. I still believe that this can open up the way to many extremely cool features new to these sorts of games. And I am continuing to work towards having these many features: real battles of territory. Player governments with actual importance and consequence. Player communities that are refined and defined via conflict and struggle so that their battles MEAN something. Real emotions–yes, even including fear and shame, because this is a medium like any other art medium, and its expressive (and impositional!) power is amazing and worthy of exploration. I believe that virtually every player can try PvP and enjoy it, if it is designed correctly, and that it adds great richness to the online gaming experience.

But I do not want to ever disappoint people in that way again. People will come to SWG for those things, and I do not want them to discover that they cannot stay and enjoy them because the very freedoms which allow those cool, innovative, exciting features, also allow d00dspeaking giggly jerks to dance roughshod jigs on their virtual corpses.

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Schmidt.Capela

I’m not sure a virtual society that closely mirrors our own, in the balance of “good” to “evil”, can exist when you allow players to be “evil”.

One of the most important elements of real world societies is the suppression of socially unacceptable behavior, like stealing, killing, etc; we do whatever is needed to prevent that kind of behavior and punish those that nevertheless engage in it, up to and including killing them (even in places that don’t usually allow executions; for example, when a policeman kills a kidnapper so the victim can escape alive, and isn’t punished for it, it’s society deciding that killing the bad guy is acceptable).

With a virtual society, though, we have the means to completely stamp out many of those unacceptable behaviors by merely tweaking the simulation. We can disallow stealing, prevent players from killing each other without acceptable cause, etc. So, when a developer decides to allow that, this means that the one with the most power over the virtual society not only decided to not prevent that behavior, but also actively wants players to engage in that behavior.

The two, thus, end fundamentally different. A virtual society where it’s desirable for players to take the role of thieves, murderers, etc, will never feel like a real world society where that behavior would be prosecuted with extreme prejudice. Attempting that is, IMHO, a fool’s errand.

Or, in other words: it’s a game, so the devs want everyone to enjoy it — even players in the role of bad guys. A virtual society meant to be enjoyable to the bad guys can never properly mirror a real one, where we do everything feasible to make life as miserable as possible for the bad guys and/or remove them from society.

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Sorenthaz

A big issue with those types of settings @Schmit is that the moment you make those things lucrative, the risk has to pretty much be permadeath in order to emulate the real world. Even then though, it’s not like the real world because players could just create another character and happily go about racking up a kill score until someone finally puts them down, only for them to go at it again.

Basically if you make a game without rules and then expect the players to create those rules on their own, it rarely happens simply because games are engines that allow people to do the things that they wouldn’t do IRL. Like part of the fun for me with the Saints Row series of games is that I can do all this whacky over the top criminal activity and often get away with it. Most people don’t play games to emulate life in modern society, but play games in order to escape from the real world and do things that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

That’s why allowing players to kill each other, steal from each other, etc. is always a problem unless you add in stiff enough consequences to deter it from becoming a normal activity. And pretty much every game I see that attempts to do that stuff struggles to keep it from getting out of hand and turning away a majority of players who don’t want to constantly be worried about some asshat ruining their fun.

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Raph Koster

I hear what you are saying but a glance around social media in general shows that it’s a pipe dream that the bad behavior can just be “coded out.” And remember, back then MMOs were cutting edge social media.

I even wrote about these topics at the time–that part of the reason to find a way for players to police the space rather than admins was because someday we would have online communities where we users would need to. And sure enough now we have Facebook and Twitter, with terrible social design and plenty of “Pk” briefing and no real recourse because we didn’t develop best practices back then. Instead we collectively decided that the admins would always be benign and always handle it.

A real society doesn’t have coded in safe zones, or PK flags. We, collectively, build social structures to do those things. That’s what we were trying to with UO. I still don’t think we were wrong to try.

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Schmidt.Capela

Not all bad behavior can be coded out, true. But some bad behavior can be coded out, and even when you can’t eliminate the bad behavior, much of its bad consequences can often be nullified with code.

Though I’m kinda biased here. I only truly care about griefing when it mechanically impacts my gameplay. So, another player attacking me when I haven’t given explicit consent to fight, or stealing something from me, is a big no-no; on the other hand, a player following me around and throwing insults isn’t going to even faze me even if the game somehow doesn’t have an “ignore” function.

Instead we collectively decided that the admins would always be benign and always handle it.

We actually did it in the real world too, way before computers even existed. We as a society made taking justice into your own hands a crime, and then elected a bunch of “admins” — lawmakers, judges, policemen, prosecutors, etc — to handle all the rules making and policing for us.

And for the time being I think this is for the best. Perhaps things will change in the future, but in a world where people still discriminate others based on their credo or the color of their skin, I don’t think we are ready to take this policing into our own hands. We are simply not evolved enough as a society, or even as individual human beings.

A real society doesn’t have coded in safe zones, or PK flags.

No, not coded in. But we try our darn best to get as close to that as possible. We are willing to part with some of our freedom, to pay more taxes, and other myriad sacrifices so we can make “zones” a bit safer, killing a bit rarer.

So, a game that intentionally allows that kind of bad behavior is doing the exact opposite of what real societies do.

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Raph Koster

Though I’m kinda biased here. I only truly care about griefing when it mechanically impacts my gameplay. So, another player attacking me when I haven’t given explicit consent to fight, or stealing something from me, is a big no-no; on the other hand, a player following me around and throwing insults isn’t going to even faze me even if the game somehow doesn’t have an “ignore” function.

It fazes a LOT of people.

But even that aside — bear in mind that exactly that, for example, turns out to have been the basis of a massive disinformation campaign that may have actually affected the election here in the US. Just words, just a few ads and “fake news” — that’s just chat griefing, just words, and doesn’t faze you… but its effect is actually dramatically more consequential than a PK switch.

We actually did it in the real world too, way before computers even existed. We as a society made taking justice into your own hands a crime, and then elected a bunch of “admins” — lawmakers, judges, policemen, prosecutors, etc — to handle all the rules making and policing for us.

It’s really not the same. Online, admins aren’t elected. They’re godlike, not public servants. They have agendas driven by their interests, not the public’s.

To replicate the real world, there has to be accountability. Right now, there is none.

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Schmidt.Capela

Just words, just a few ads and “fake news” — that’s just chat griefing, just words, and doesn’t faze you… but its effect is actually dramatically more consequential than a PK switch.

One of the intrinsic differences between a game’s virtual world and our real one is that we can leave the game world with impunity. That is why in a game’s virtual world I don’t quite care for “just words”; if the spread of disinformation gets so problematic it damages my enjoyment of the game I can just leave and seek another entertainment venue.

Besides, when games remove with coding the possibility of players doing bad things to each other, or remove the bad consequences for the victim, even that spread of disinformation doesn’t matter nearly as much because backing it with actions becomes impossible. If the worst other players can do to me is to throw insults at me, I can just put all the “aggressors” on ignore and keep playing as if nothing was amiss.

That, of course, is different in the real world. Both because we have a civic duty to our society and because it’s much harder to avoid the consequences.

BTW: those disinformation tactics are not new. Records of the use of disinformation against groups or ways of thinking are nearly as old as writing itself. The US government itself used those tactics to exhaustion during the cold war to demonize communism and socialism, with McCarthyism being perhaps its darkest example.

They have agendas driven by their interests, not the public’s.

This drew from me a sad, ironic burst of laughter. Politicians, despite being elected, for the most part have agendas driven by their personal interests; pleasing the public by pretending to pursue the public’s interests is just a way to remain in power so they can further push their own agenda.

To replicate the real world, there has to be accountability. Right now, there is none.

Not completely true; customers can just go for a different provider of those services if they find the situation untenable. So, their accountability is the risk of losing customers if they do a bad job.

This is not ideal, of course — issues of quality of service, price, etc, get thrown together with policy issues — but it’s better than nothing. And in some ways it’s actually better than whatever accountability our politicians, judges, etc, have; if a company is betraying our trust we can move to its competitor immediately, no need to wait for the next elections.

That, of course, changes when a company either has a natural monopoly or achieves monopoly power, but when that happens the government (i.e., our elected officials) is supposed to step in and prevent abuses.

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Raph Koster

One of the intrinsic differences between a game’s virtual world and our real one is that we can leave the game world with impunity.

Have you tried leaving Facebook? Or the Internet? :)

If the worst other players can do to me is to throw insults at me, I can just put all the “aggressors” on ignore and keep playing as if nothing was amiss.

I wish this were true, but it’s not. You might be able to, but a lot of people can’t. Some random examples:

When I initially opposed the PK switch in UO, it was because all of the edge cases remained intact, and in MUDs had led to endless manual adjudications and extraordinary customer support costs.

There have been many cases of players driven to depression and near suicide by “just talk.”

The original “rape in cyberspace” case happened on a game that didn’t even have a combat system. It was done entirely with emote commands.

Mobbing and other forms of textual harassment have been shown to have real-life health consequences up to and including cardiovascular impact.

I could go on and on… there’s a ton of research out there on this, and the fact of the matter is that just using “ignore” is nowhere near adequate overall, even if it is for you personally. A couple of talks of mine that are directly relevant:

https://www.raphkoster.com/2015/03/31/video-of-community-management-in-the-culture-wars/

https://www.raphkoster.com/2017/03/14/video-of-my-gdc-talk-still-logged-in/

BTW: those disinformation tactics are not new. Records of the use of disinformation against groups or ways of thinking are nearly as old as writing itself. The US government itself used those tactics to exhaustion during the cold war to demonize communism and socialism, with McCarthyism being perhaps its darkest example.

I’m very aware. That doesn’t mean we need to build systems that actively support it, especially when we know the very real and large-scale human costs.

This drew from me a sad, ironic burst of laughter. Politicians, despite being elected, for the most part have agendas driven by their personal interests; pleasing the public by pretending to pursue the public’s interests is just a way to remain in power so they can further push their own agenda.

And yet you seem to philosophically trust unelected admins with even more power than politicians (within their ambit) that you have no rights or recourse with. :)

Not completely true; customers can just go for a different provider of those services if they find the situation untenable. So, their accountability is the risk of losing customers if they do a bad job.

My point was, and still is, that there are no checks and balances on the typical admin structure. Money, in the case of a game, sure, but again, this only works to a player’s benefit if they are directly monetized — in ads based models, they aren’t even the profit center, and we’ve seen where that goes, in terms of ethical treatment of users.

As far as another service… where do you go instead of Amazon, Google, Facebook? As you say, the government should step in, but there’s basically no serious antitrust enforcement.

This is turning into a discussion of public policy, and that’s definitely off-topic for the site. My point, way back up there, was simply that these were in fact the lines of thinking we were using. We pictured a day when UO shards spread all over the Internet, as a sort of parallel fantasy metaverse, clear back from the beginning. We were trying to design for the case where we couldn’t moderate things, and trying to design a system within which players could do things like create governments themselves. We did not, by any means, pull that off. But that is explicitly, no joke, why there was playerkilling in UO. You can even find articles and interviews with me from back then saying so.

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steve

Thank you for taking time with us. Do you think it would be possible to reapproach that vision you had of a distributed MMORPG given today’s technology? Do you think blockchain technology can be used to form some network of trust that keeps things well regulated?

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Raph Koster

I don’t think blockchain tech’s version of trust really works for split-second decisions. It’s more for contract enforcement type stuff.

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Ket Viliano

It’s one thing for the social nature of online communication to suffer from trolling, quite another to have Ninjas teabagging your virtual grave and looting all your hard won gear.

IMHO, part of the issue is the all or nothing aspect of the rule set. I really think DAoC inadvertently got it right, in segregating PvE and PvP zones. Although zones are no longer needed for technical reasons, I think they work really well to clearly separate rule sets and the associated play styles.

Players could easily gear up or adventure in safety, amid modest sized social groups, and then head out for a bit of the old ultra ganking violence, just for kicks. There really is no reason to hide special resources or better items in the fight zone, people will go there just to fight, whether for glory, kicks, cheap thrills or the challenge of territorial conquest.

@Raph Koster, thanks for stopping by to chat with us. I really appreciate the opportunity to discuss game design, online social space creation, human nature, and the consequences of various decisions.

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Raph Koster

It’s one thing for the social nature of online communication to suffer from trolling, quite another to have Ninjas teabagging your virtual grave and looting all your hard won gear

Just points on a spectrum. :)

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Ket Viliano

That’s a pretty broad spectrum!

I waste little time typing my words. In contrast, items obtained from game play can take hours. On most chat systems, I can ignore or mute anyone I want. Yet PvP flagging systems have their vagaries, if there is a flagging system at all.

Sure, its a continuum from trolling to ganking, but it is a difference that can cost a game its needed revenue.

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Robert Mann

Yeah, I believe the biggest problem facing the industry is the lemming nature of the business degrees in charge. There’s minimal diversity in the games offered, which means we get a dozen shiny new graphical setups of X, while Y, Z, ST, ETC. gamers are left feeling let down. Add to that the focus on everything issue (which means many things feel lacking) in games… the push to please everyone and chase the newest big money game is what is holding the industry back.