Dr. Richard Bartle is a respected academic and author on the subject of virtual worlds. The Bartle test is named for him. See: Bartle on Wikipedia
When it comes to text-based MMOs created in the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, the sheer number of them would blot out the sky. There are certainly more multi-user dungeons (MUDs) than I’ve ever been able to get a handle on when I’ve tried creating lists of the most important to know, but I will say that there are a few that seem to pop up more than others. The original MUD1, created by Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw, was certainly a watershed moment for online roleplaying games. Learning about DikuMUD is pretty essential, considering its impact on graphical MMORPGs that we still play today.
But there’s another title that often goes unnoticed, unless you keep an eye out for it. It’s a MUD that keeps popping up when you look into the history of the MMORPG genre, one with ties to key players and design concepts that are still active today.
It’s the MUD that shaped the MMO industry, and it was called Sceptre of Goth.
Even though there are hundreds and thousands of MMOs spanning several decades, only a small handful were so incredibly influential that they changed the course of development for games from then on out. DikuMUD is one of these games, and it is responsible for more of what you experience in your current MMOs than you even know.
Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone knows what DikuMUD is or how it shaped the MMOs that came out after it. You might have seen it used as a pejorative in enough comments that you know it is loathed by many gamers, but I find that there are varying degrees of ignorance about DikuMUD in the community. What is it, exactly? Why is it just the worst? And is it really the worst if we like the games that can point to this text-based MMO as a key ancestor?
Today we’re going to dispel the mystery and myths of DikuMUD to lay it out there as it was and is today.
Zubon at Kill Ten Rats recently spied a lovely tidbit over on Dr Richard Bartle’s blog. Bartle, I shouldn’t need to type, is considered one of the founding fathers of the MMORPG genre, having inspired through his research the infamous Bartle test. So it should be no surprise at all that he sees online worlds in everything: As his piece explains, he examined a document intended for advising universities on how to improve their student retention rates — and Bartle realized it read like an “MMO newbie-retention handbook.”
“A place where people can hang out between teaching events and make friends? Check. Organised groups led by experienced students that you can join? Check. A communication channel for students just like you? Check. A method of finding other people who are interested in the same things you are? Check. Fun tasks for people with different skills working together ? Check. Easy challenges with small rewards to get you into the swing of things? Check.”
It’s worth a quick read, especially for the cake joke, but I want to focus your attention on retention and stickiness specifically for the purposes of today’s Daily Grind. Do you agree that developers should be spending more time on retention? And what one thing should MMORPGs do to increase player retention?
Greetings, men and mer. It’s that time of year again when I take a look back on everything that Elder Scrolls Online has given us and give it a rating based on my opinion. However, I don’t just want to grade arbitrarily; I like to use one of the oldest measurements for online roleplaying games: Bartle’s Taxonomy.
Those who haven’t been a part of the online world since the ’90s will likely not recognize the name Richard Bartle, but he was one of the founders of online roleplay gaming. He co-created MUD1 and wrote many papers about online gaming and the people who inhabit that world. Besides the original taxonomy, Bartle’s work was famously turned into a test that asked a series of questions that would fit you into the taxonomy grid of four categories: Socializer, Achiever, Explorer, and Killer.
Unfortunately, the original test no longer exists, but 4You2Learn has a similar one to find out where you fall. Of course, few people will sit 100% in any one category, but it’s the balance of all four that make for a fun game for the largest number of people. I will explain what each group is about as I give the grade.
It’s that time of year again where we reflect on the year gone by and consider Star Wars: The Old Republic as a whole. Pretty much since the game launched five years ago, I’ve calculated my judgment for the game not as a single score but as a group of scores based on the taxonomy created by Dr. Richard Bartle that focuses on player motivation and how to appeal to them.
I’m not going to pretend that this is the perfect way to judge the game because it would leave out important things like the cash shop and the single-player elements like storytelling. However, it does look at the motivations of gamers and analyzes their general gaming style. Bartle divides gamer motivations into socializers, achievers, killers, and explorers. Of course, player specific motivations will encompass a spectrum of these four. But just as with most psychological categorization, gamers will lean heavy in one or two areas and less so in the others. If you’re interested in where you lean, there is a test you can take to find out. (The original GamerDNA test is gone.) However, it will be completely obvious where you lean as soon as you read my individual descriptions.
Hey you! Yeah, the player who actually reads quest text and lore entries when all of the other hooting madmen are furiously clicking past them so that they can go back to the digital bloodbath! There’s no shame to settle in with a good book that just so happens to feature your favorite MMO or touch on the genre as a whole. Many of us at some time have cracked open novels, art books, and even graphic novels to dive more deeply into the worlds of the games we love.
So if you’re looking for a printed companion to help you while away the hours this winter, we have a list of recommended reads for you today. You can get many of these as e-ink digital books, of course, but the bibliophiles should be happy to know that these are all available as physical tomes as well.
In last week’s Daily Grind about whether or not MMOs are better the second time you play them, the topic of burnout came up.
“I find that MMOs have become, in my own perception, a kind of homogeneous mass in my mind that is a barrier in itself to involvement, like there is nothing new any more,” commenter Gibbins wrote. “Playing any MMO at this point is like going back to something I gave up and mostly I spend less time before walking away.” To which another commenter, Mukk, observed, “MMO burnout, it seems…”
But is it really burnout? How do you know when you can say, “It’s not you, it’s me”? How do you determine whether you’ve outgrown a genre, or it’s changed so much that it’s grown away from you? And are you suffering, or have you ever suffered, from MMORPG burnout?
These are the questions I presented to the Massively OP writers this week. Onward!
Massively OP reader Sally Bowls recently pointed us to a blog post by Dr Richard Bartle about the leveling mechanic in RPGs — and how it’s not really about the character at all. Bartle writes,
“In role-playing games, levels are not only a mechanic for driving forward gameplay. They are a reflection in the game world of something the game world has no access to: the player’s self-image. When people play a content-heavy game, they improve at it; the point of levels is to recognise this in the game world. It’s not that your character is improving, it’s that you are improving; the character is merely going up a level to acknowledge that you, the player, are more experienced. If a designer understands this, then when a character goes up a level there doesn’t have to be much of a gameplay-relevant reward at all. […T]here’s no need to add new spells or access to new weapons or more health or anything else like that.”
Modern RPG developers, he argues, have forgotten all that, insisting on attaching tangible value to levels, from skills and gear to content locks, making the character more important than the player, thereby skewing world design. Don’t think it matters? It does: “If today’s RPGs flattened out their level curves more, we could have the open worlds we want without having either to gatekeep areas off using narrative or to level-up the game to fit the characters,” he argues.
What do you think? Should MMORPGs and RPGs gate content, skills, and wearables behind character levels, or should levels be merely a numerical representation of a player’s time and effort?
It was the mid-’80s, and I was just a kid in love with his family’s IBM PC. Not having a wealth of capital at the time, I relied on hand-me-down copies of software that rolled in from friends and family and probably the Cyber-Mafia. Practically none of the disks came with instructions (or even labels, sometimes), and as such I felt like an explorer uncovering hidden gems as I shoved in 5 1/4″ floppy after 5 1/4″ floppy. Some titles were great fun, some were so obtuse I couldn’t get into them, and some were obviously meant for those older and wiser than I.
One game that fell into the latter category was a brutally difficult RPG that smelt of Dungeons & Dragons — a forbidden experience for me at the time. It was just a field of ASCII characters, jumbled statistics, and instant death awaiting me around every corner. I gave it a few tries but could never progress past the first level, especially when I’d keep running out of arrows, so I gave up.
Then I had my first brush with Rogue, an enormously popular dungeon crawler that straddled the line between the description-heavy RPGs and arcade titles like Gauntlet. Rogue defined the genre when it came out in 1980, spawning dozens of “Roguelikes” that sought to cash in on the craze. Not five years after its release, Rogue got a worthy successor that decided it could bring this addicting style of gameplay to the larval form of the Internet. It was called Island of Kesmai, but you may call it “Sir, yes sir!”
, it’s half-way through the year. It’s time to look at how you’ve done with Star Wars: The Old Republic
and what can be done for the rest of the year to improve on what you’ve given us. I like to make my judgments based on the Bartle Taxonomy
. I believe that it’s a worthy and tested way to judge if an MMORPG is hitting all the expected marks. The taxonomy, created by Dr. Richard Bartle
, can be used to judge MMORPGs in four different categories based on the player types and what those players look for. This types are Socializer, Killer, Explorer, and Achiever.
I will get into what each of these player types are about as I give the grades, but I would like to mention that these categories are not black-and-white; each player falls along a spectrum with these categories representing key points in that rainbow. Very few players will fill one category 100%; most will have an emphasis one to three of the categories.
There are flaws in the system, and I am aware of them. I understand that the taxonomy doesn’t include a good judgment of modern gameplay types. It doesn’t separate players into PvEers, PvPers, or Roleplayers, for instance. It makes no judgment on large-group or small-group activities. It doesn’t talk about solo gameplay. However, the taxonomy works well when judging a player’s interest in the game as a whole from my perspective.
“You’re in the middle of a vast hall stretching out of sight to the east and west. Strange shadows play across the high vaulted ceiling. The floor is set with smooth rectangular stones. The walls feel slightly cold to the touch, and damp with condensation. A copper plaque, slightly green with age, is set into one wall.”
Old-school gamers are probably quite familiar with text adventure paragraphs such as the one above. Emerging from the ’70s, text adventure games offered computer players a way to explore detailed virtual worlds before technology advanced enough to substitute words with graphics. Searching locations, picking up items, solving puzzles, discovering mysteries, and advancing to new areas kept many adventure gamers playing long into the night.
While most adventure games were static and home to only one player at a time, one college student in 1988 decided to change the rules and make a title that would be a living, breathing beast. He called it Monster.
Toward the end of 2014, genre academics popularized the idea that the MMORPG genre was becoming “unbundled” — that MMORPGs were splintering, “with sociality, story, multi-player combat, and economy splitting off into different directions and platforms instead of staying unified in MMOs.” At the time, it was hard to argue; it seemed to us that MOBAs, online FPS titles, survival sandboxes, and so forth were taking bits and pieces of the MMORPG genre and running off with them.
The current trend might be the the online action RPG, the multiplayer roguelike — the Diablo clone, essentially. We may never get a pure raiding game, but the OARPG is surely the closest thing to a pure dungeoning experience, and we’ve been seeing them crop up on Kickstarter and Steam early access more and more frequently (in contrast with the decline of new MOBAs).
I’m not horribly sad about it, as I find roguelikes’ multiplayer combat far more interesting than modern MMORPG dungeoning, but I’m certainly not a big fan of the fracturing of the genre, if that is indeed what we’re witnessing. What do you think? Are OARPGs the next big thing for the MMORPG industry?
As graphical MMOs took off in the 1990s with the advent of games like Neverwinter Nights, The Realm, and Ultima Online, many of them did so with the help of gaming service providers. It might be hard to imagine today, but back before the web was ubiquitous, people who wanted to go online usually did so through a specific service provider that functioned as both a gatekeeper to the internet and a purveyor of specific games and programs — some of which were completely exclusive to those companies. Console players might understand these best by thinking of them as similar to how Xbox Live and the PSN operates.
Thus, if you wanted to access, say, The Shadow of Yserbius in the early ’90s, your only recourse was to sign up for Sierra On-Line and pay a monthly membership fee (as well as a possible additional game fee) to that provider. Slow speeds, primitive (or no) graphics, and hourly costs were the norm and made it difficult for these services to gain mainstream traction.
Over the span of a decade-and-a-half, these companies jostled for supremacy and customers, even as their whole existence was eventually rendered moot by the reshaping of the online culture and the loosening of internet restrictions concerning for-profit ventures. By the 2000s, PC service providers had largely disappeared, leaving most MMOs to be accessed by specific clients. Today we’re going to blitz through a list of some of the big names of these gaming service providers and the online titles that they used to draw in fans.