Playable Worlds’ Raph Koster on the player-driven economies at the heart of virtual worlds

    
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Playable Worlds’ Raph Koster is back with another blog post that serves as a tip-off for what kind of MMORPG he and his team are building. And once again, if you’ve ever played a Koster MMO, you know what “E” word is going to be at the heart of it: economy. But Koster hammers over and over that the important part of the player economy in an MMO isn’t actually the money at all but the players driving it.

To explain why, he invokes his own “trust spectrum” research, suggesting that people move up and down a ladder of trust and intimacy levels based on relationships – even relationships between strangers and acquaintances that are built on the exchange of currency.

“This often all gets boiled down to the phrase ‘a player-driven economy.’ And people think it means revenue models and monetization. Maybe, if they are savvier about online worlds, they think it means players make the items that other players play with – and that’s true, they can and do and should! But even that is still a reductionist way to think of it. A player-driven economy isn’t about the money. It’s about having every way to play the game serve a role in the ecosystem. It’s about all the wonderful and weird ways we choose to live and play, and how we find out that our silly hobbies are vital necessities to someone else. In the end, it’s about making everyone important. Because we all are. Important. Plumbers, baristas, roleplayers and raiders.”

The piece also suggests that the game will raise up “the players who make the world come alive” like the strategy guide writers, the roleplayers, the explorers, the streamers, the crafters, the entertainers, the decorators, the fixers, the builders, and even the guild leaders, unlike most MMORPGs that cater strictly to, well, murderhobos. One thing this game is not going to be? A gankbox. “[W]e’re not interested in building a ‘gankbox,’ as some call it,” he says. (It’s us. We’re some.)

Finally, while it’s basically impossible to read (Koster, you tease), there’s a “map of the economy of the game,” which at minimum suggests this game is going to be a lot more than just your typical MMO grinder.

Further reading:

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Cory James Hill

What he’s talking about is exactly what made Star Wars Galaxies special to me and so many others who love and miss what the game brought to the genre. Players largely had to interact to succeed, especially crafters. Allowing players to be and do everything in MMO games is what makes them boring and antisocial. I get that some people just naturally want to be lone wolf players, and they should have a viable path to do so, but not at the cost of removing the need for interaction of ALL players.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

Forced inter-dependency isn’t fun either. And usually, people figure out a way around it anyway. Tell people they can’t have a certain ability on their character? They’ll run two! Or an army of them! That’s what happened with the ‘forced inter-dependency’ they put in on my last sandbox game. Rather than trust another person, all of the hermits would just sit in their hermit castles and solo-build with a army of alts. It was…kind of depressing to see how much those people would go out of their way to not socialize with other human beings…probably because other human beings were vicious to them at some point…

jimthomasUS
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jimthomasUS

((I wish to /salute the gaming journalists at MOP for building a forum that brings comments from Raph Koster and Mark Jacobs. Regardless of op these two people are responsible for multiplayer gaming as we know it today.))

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Anstalt

All sounds great to me!

I would love a higher-rez version of that flow-chart though, so I can read all the different types of playstyles that will interact with this player driven economy. Pretty please!

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Raph Koster

Not for a while. We don’t want to make promises we can’t keep.

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laelgon

Nothing that’s come out so far has shaken the sense of this being another one of these games that promises to be the greatest technological achievement in the history of MMOs, and be a game for everyone from casual PvE players, to PvPers, to crafters, traders, RPers, and everyone else on earth. I’d love to be wrong though, I’m just jaded from all the time we’ve gone down this road before.

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Raph Koster

No game is for everyone. We just want to make something that feels like world — and that means more ways to play than the norm. Not every way to play.

Our tech is pretty cool though :)

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

If there’s a requirement to ‘trust’ people and your stuff isn’t mechanically protected, I’m out.

Nobody is trustworthy, even trustworthy people get mad and have bad days and steal all your stuff.

(Even if they may regret it/have remorse/give it back later to try and patch things up…they’ve destroyed any friendship between the person they did it to and themselves and there would never be trust there again. Even if that friend offers forgiveness, it would linger in their minds that the person did that.)

As someone who enjoys pilfering things that aren’t tied down (In games only, never IRL), it was harder to not snag something unless it was something I simply didn’t need because my character had passed that level of need…and in a lot of games, those items still sell for a little tiny bit to NPC vendors, so even then it’s still worth snagging for what amounts to a couple bits of coin from them…unless there’s a much easier way to make coin from the economy. Trusting a person to transfer a large sum of money for something you made? That’s way harder to do. (I’ve done it in games where there is no proper system, but I almost never ‘went first’. You take a chance on me, I’ll take one on you.)

I’d just rather not participate in a poorly designed system that is trying to gauge your levels of ‘trust’.

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Raph Koster

Needless to say, having your stuff constantly stolen leads to a lack of trusting anyone. So given that we are working to build communities, you should assume this is not going to be a lawless game. :D

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

If one assumes ‘law’ in game, what does that entail, because many of the ‘justice’ systems I’ve seen in games lately tend to involve someone being deemed ‘bad guy over there’ (To use the streamer I watch’s terminology) because they did something someone else would deem inappropriate, but they don’t necessarily consider to be that. For example, in ESO, I loved the thieving system, but they put in ‘UBER’ guards that could never be harmed and that’s their ‘justice’ being meted out…either you DIE to them, or you manage to figure out how to glitch them (everything in that game is too stupid to chase you into water)/free yourself somehow. That’s not ‘justice’, that’s just poorly constructed ‘kill them, they did something someone doesn’t like!’

An example from another game, I played a ‘sandbox’ where literally the front screen of the game talked about how you ‘could do whatever you wanted, like digging, building, etc etc.’ After I joined the game, I went to dig somewhere, and some local threw a massive fit, and attacked me, and when I didn’t just bow before their nasty behavior and quit, they sic’ed their buddies on me, and then used game mechanics on me that set NPC guards to kill me on sight. This lead to all kinds of drama…which THEY THEMSELVES HAD CREATED. I had done nothing wrong, I’d played the game as it was claimed I could play. There was no ‘justice’ being meted out to those people for doing what they did to ME, but I was getting ‘justiced’ by their ability to abuse mechanics to harm me. Notice the problem? One side thinks they are ‘doing the right thing’ but, maybe the other side does too? That streamer I watch likes to talk about him ‘getting his way’ being ‘justice’ (He envisions himself as a ‘knight’).

Maybe ‘justice’ is no longer ‘justice’? (Living here in America, I’m starting to seriously question the ‘justice system’ for sure…as it seems often wont to favor certain groups when it talks about equality for all..)

Why include something that allows ‘lawless behavior’ if it’s not a intended way to play? Why should those people be forced to ‘die’ for something you as a goody two-shoes wouldn’t necessarily choose? If you’re allowed to play that way, then what makes it lawless to begin with? Who are you to make the laws? (I know, devs are ‘the law’ in their games…you’ll just ban someone who doesn’t kowtow to you. Where’s their justice?)

Yes, I realize my viewpoint is ‘out there’.

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kjempff

I think “mechanically protected” is the keyword here.
Games which try to discourage bad player behavior by..”laws”, consequence, karma system and the like … Not a single one has worked (frm a pve players perspective) – The only thing that works is being mechanically protected untl you opt in.
Since You want to support many different playstyles (and I think that is an important vision of a next gen mmo), you have to accomodate the security of those players; if you don’t, they will simply not come to the game.

A security zoned pvp game where half the game is off limits for pve players does not work either… Calling it risk vs reward doesn’t change anythin .. You simply can not make pve players second class citizens .. You can not coerce pve players to do pvp and take risks, they will not see it that way; they will just see a game for other types of players that they are being tricked to be content or servants for.

Tldr; You can NOT make the game pvp focused and have the variety of playstyles. Pvp must be 100% opt-in..situational (mssions, temp warzones, etc). Justice systems never works, and whatever clever system someone have, that will not work either.

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Wilhelm Arcturus

Sounds like a SWG 2.0 vision, so I kinda expect Bree to fangirl.

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Schmidt.Capela

The problem, here, is that this approach makes the game only desirable for players that enjoy interdependency; thus, this approach makes the game far less interesting, if not actually hostile, for self-reliant players.

(Incidentally, the plumber example falls flat for me because I haven’t asked for the services of a plumber in… a decade and half, I believe? I dislike depending on others not just in-game, but in the real world too, so if learning to do something isn’t too hard, and the gear for it isn’t too expensive, then I will always do it myself instead of hiring someone to do it for me. And if I can’t then while I do call for help it annoys the heck out of me, meaning in a game — where I always have the option of just leaving instead — having to go through the frustration and annoyance of seeking help is so large a drag on my enjoyment that I just leave and go play something else.)

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nomadmorlock9

I think you missed the point. So you decide to “do it yourself” and buy the gear necessary (made by another player with resources gathered by another player). In fact I would bet self reliant players could even gather those resources and make the gear necessary themselves. These systems are usually the exact opposite of hostile to “do it yourself’ers”.

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Schmidt.Capela

I think you missed the point.

Nope. Game wants to use commerce as the wellspring of socialization. For this to happen it needs to force every player to engage in commerce with each other, regardless of how much the individual player might dislike playing commerce.

If the game doesn’t force players to engage in commerce then there’s a good chance enough players will choose to just ignore other players and their offerings to prevent the potential benefits the devs see in extensive player commerce from materializing.

So, where does this leave a player like me, who dreads commerce? Out of the game, basically. Sincerely, if I ever have to hunt down a player to provide me with a specific in-game product or service, I will instead log out for the next weeks, if not permanently. I don’t, and will never, depend on other players while playing a game; depending on others is so frustrating for me that it completely kills any and all the enjoyment I could have with the game, and then some.

jimthomasUS
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jimthomasUS

I love the Koster worship. Sure, he invented mmorpgs and built some of its best systems but what have you done for us lately?

It’s kinda like listening to Terry Bradshaw talk about football.

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Wilhelm Arcturus

He hasn’t had a hit since 2003. Terry Bradshaw can talk about football, but we would laugh if he said he was going to suit up and play. So Raph talking is fine, Raph delivering is still an open question, especially after MetaPlace.

jimthomasUS
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jimthomasUS

I’m not talking about suiting up…I’m simply talking about how much game design, be it football or a mmorpg, changes over time.