Barbarians, Tribesmen, and Citizens

I just ran across a recent article by Jessica Mulligan and Bridgette Patrovsky about Managing Online Games. Ok, it’s five years old, but if you’re 3000 years old, like I am, 5 years ago is very recent.

Amongst a lot of other interesting stuff, the authors describe three general categories of players. I found I knew them well. First, the Barbarians:

The barbarians are the “problem children” of online gaming. Their objectives vary, but one thing is consistent: They don’t care what you or anyone else thinks.

[...]

For some, the raw intensity of the “virtual psychopath” that many barbarians represent can be refreshing in its novelty. At first, some who encounter them react as though they are cute online versions of Hannibal Lecter. [...] They are more akin to the mass murderer in the Richard Pryor movie who, when asked why he murdered all those people, replied, “They was home.”[...]

Reroute them or get them out of the game. It’s that simple. The only players who will shed a tear at the banishment of griefers are other griefers.

I don’t consider plat farmers barbarians, as such. Some might engage in barbarian tactics, but they have a purpose, and the smart ones have learned to disrupt the game of the play-for-fun players as little as possible. Players who have a poor experience due to a plat farmer camping the mobs they need will report them, and it will be time to level up a new toon on a new account.

There are a wide variety of game features that help shut down griefing. Encounter resets, and tagging-based loot and experience help. Oftentimes, anti-griefing and anti-powerleveling conflict. I say, choose anti-griefing, and don’t sweat the powerleveling all that much.

The next category is the Tribesmen:

The objective of the tribesmen is to ensure that they and their personal micro-community (guild, team, squadron, clan, or Saturday morning coffee and killing club) have a great time. They are very team-oriented; it is not unusual for them to call each other in the early morning hours to get the tribe online for some objective.[...]

They can still cause problems in-game. For example, tribesmen have no trouble organizing “camping” parties. This is much like the big kids staking out the basketball court and not letting anyone else play.[...]

I’ve definitely seen this. There isn’t a lot of it any more, mostly because of instancing, I think.

If another tribe or player annoys them, they can organize quickly and for long periods to attempt to drive that tribe or player out of the game. The tribe may use a variety of intimidation tactics. The goal: Make the game unplayable for the group or person they are angry with; in other words, drive them out.

About the only way I’ve seen this play out lately is basically social. Ostracism, reports to GMs about all kinds of trivial crap, constant harping in level chat.

Group dynamics can cause people to view rules differently. What players might not think is acceptable as individuals can change when it’s for the good of the tribe. There can be a bit of mob mentality. If something is seen as an affront to the tribe, you could wind up with an entire group retaliating against the game, breaking rules as a way of fighting back, or the whole group may decide to pack up and move to another game.

There is beneficial power to the tribe as well. When happy, the entire tribe stays where it is. Listen to your tribes. Give them tools to facilitate group management and communication.

Keep in mind that your tribe leaders are your political lifeblood in the game. They influence large groups. If you disrespect them, you can turn entire tribes into barbarians.

Finally, they talk about Citizens

The citizen is the crown jewel of any online game. Think of these players as the good people you know in the real world. In a game setting, these are the people most likely to take new players under their wing, take part in role-playing events, lend their in-game cash and resources to a greater cause, and always have a civil word for passersby. [...]

They aren’t your squeaky wheels (like your problem children), and it’s easy to overlook them. Attention given to the citizens has a huge impact on the world. It benefits the entire community.

This highlights one of my long-time themes. Game designs must allow for altruistic behavior. The drive-by buff. The helping-heal. The “let me just jump in and kill those 3 adds” thing. Again, this makes power-leveling more possible. It’s worth it.

This kind of behavior sets a tone for the server. If you’ve received help like this, you are much more likely to give it.

So I’d state the case about Citizens even more strongly. Not only must you give them attention, you must create ways for them to do their thing, because then everyone will win. Except the Barbarians.

Notes From Chardok

I’m really becoming a fan of this zone. Non-instanced, it presents several interesting challenges to a group. It’s even pretty interesting if you’re teaming up with another group which is what happened to us Saturday night. Five of us from Shards of Glory ended up leapfrogging (in a good way) with a group from Oathsworn. Bear in mind that none of is has a speck of T8 raid gear. We aren’t a raiding guild.

Which made the trip to the back of the zone go that much quicker. Even at two group, the zone will punish groups that lose control of an encounter very quickly. We wiped once when we got the assassins dropping on our heads. Actually, most of my group wiped to a combination of assassins and wanderers, thinking that the other group had occupied them and we could leapfrog. I was blinking or something and I missed it, they were all dead. Well, says I, I have a rez token, I’ll try to rez the Fury. Note to self: Assassins have no respawn delay, they can one shot me, there are two of them and they aren’t linked, so they can’t be mezzed in one casting.

Well, so back to the beginning of the zone we go. Things go better the second time around and we get deep into the zone. I got flattened a few times by AE’s, but we win those encounters and stay in the game.

We get across the bridge, and past the massed battle scene. We decide to try to advance Milia, our templars, epic. We manage to quickly collect the books needed to activate the librarian and give us access to the library, where she needs to heal someone. We push on, and catch up to the Oathsworn group which appears to not have grabbed any books. They are interested in going to the library, however, and follow along when we activate the librarian.

What followed was a confused mess. The Oathsworn group pulled from the main library chamber, and some books that showed as non-aggro came with the mobs. Worse, their encounter auto-locked, so we couldn’t help them. We then made the error of trying to push through that chamber, engaging more mobs in a side passage. The Oathsworn group wiped first, then all their mobs came to us, and we wound up chewing on floor.

No rez was possible, so we went ALL THE WAY BACK to the beginning of the zone. This morning I saw this item in the notes for the next Live Update, which is on Test now:

Sebilis/Chardok

* New mid-zone respawn locations have been added to Chardok and Sebilis.

That’s just mean.

Ok, deep breath. I need to kill the queen, loot a key, and open a chest to get the last mask I need to finish my epic. And we’d like to give the library another shot.

The good news is that we can use the post and sneak to the blue gate. However, a short ways past that we run into a nasty named that wipes the entire group with a critical hit on his cold-based AE. Ouch.

The next time we try him we put on a bunch of cold resist buffs and he doesn’t crit, so he dies quickly. Ok, back to book gathering. We can’t seem to get a volume I, volumes II and III are found in quantity. Hmmm. So we decide to go on to get the stuff I need for my epic and see if we can’t help the Oathsworn bruiser that by now has raided up with us, along with two others from that group, the rest having called it a night.

It goes pretty darn well. We get to the Queens chamber and pause to recall the last time we had made it there, and our tank fell through the world. He had no choice but to revive, back to the beginning of the zone! We were out of time, so we called it a day, within 100 meters or so of the queen and my epic.

This time we had a conjuror, so falling through the world wouldn’t stop us. So naturally, it didn’t happen. The queen was pulled and killed easily. In addition to my key, she dropped a warg mount, and a piece of leather healer gear. (Can I just ssy that as a person with a bruiser alt, I’m really getting tired of leather armor with +WIS).

The bruiser now needs to go to the same room as me, we go in, I find the chest I click. The thermometer fills up. No message. I do it again, and once more. Then I think to look in my inventory. The mask is in there, smiling at me. A message about “You’ve found a mask made of halfling skin” would have been nice, but no harm done.

We try again for volume I, but no luck. However, the bruiser really wants to try to go back the library. I think he thinks the books won’t be needed. Some folks are like that. You know, the ones that just have to take a swing at Nagafen when they are down in Sol Eye to talk to him. However, we get maybe 20 feet before we all wipe from a bad pull.

We call it a night, and I go turn in my Epic. I take a look at it, and the first thought that comes into my mind is, “Geez, it doesn’t even have any +subjugation”

Guess what else I found in the LU 47 test notes:

Mirage Star (Illusionist)

* Now gives a subjugation bonus.

***

If you get the impression that I like dying, it’s not really true. However, I like a zone that can be managed well when everything is working, but also is swift to show you your mistakes. And I like running in such zones with people I like. I don’t think the caliber of PUGs is as good in EQ2 as Tipa describes in EQ, but you won’t find too many zergers deep in Chardok, either.

Computer Gaming, a Personal History

Tipa recently gave her own history of computer gaming going back to college mainframe days at UNH, and Colossal Cave Adventure, which appears to be a replication of Adventure, first written by Will Crowther, and expanded by Don Woods, which I credit with using up a lot of teletype paper at the computer center of the University of Washington. (Did you know that there is a real-life Colossal Cave which Will Crowther based his game on?)

But it wasn’t the first computer game I ever played. That distinction goes to this game:

TRY YOUR HAND AT GOVERNING ANCIENT SUMERIA
SUCCESSFULLY FOR A 10-YR TERM OF OFFICE.
HAMURABI: I BEG TO REPORT TO YOU,
IN YEAR 1, 9 PEOPLE STARVED, 13 CAME TO THE CITY
POPULATION IS NOW 106
THE CITY NOW OWNS 1000 ACRES.
YOU HARVESTED 3 BUSHELS PER ACRE.
RATS ATE 200 BUSHELS.
YOU NOW HAVE 2800 BUSHELS IN STORE.
LAND IS TRADING AT 24 BUSHELS PER ACRE.
HOW MANY ACRES DO YOU WISH TO BUY?

Yes, that’s Hamurabi, which you can still play online, if you must. I had fun with that game, for a couple of days at least.

I also spent a great deal of time with roguelikes, as Tipa did. I first ran across rogue on the Stanford CSD’s Vax computers that were provided to we graduate students. In the arcades it was the time of PacMan, Galaga and Defender. But on the third floor of Margaret Jacks Hall, we had perhaps a dozen or more Xerox Alto computers. If you haven’t heard of them, they inspired a great deal of the famous Macintosh UI. But they had bitmapped raster graphics, network connections, and best of all, they had games!

There was a pinball game:

It was pretty full featured, except for color, and very elementary sound, it was about as fun to play as modern computer pinball games. And no that wasn’t a slam, it’s still a good way to kill 15 minutes waiting for everyone else to get ready.
They also had a Star Trek game.

Unlicensed of course. It was multiplayer, you could be Federation, Klingon or Romulan. You could warp to different systems, and engage in real time battles with other players. You would fight by firing photon torpedoes or phasers. Both were aimed via point and click. There were gravity wells. You could call it a nerds paradise, and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

By the way, there was a text version of StarTrek which was popular in mainframe days.

But the most heart-pounding game of them all on that network of Altos was MazeWar.

This game was incredibly simple, and hugely fun. You were placed in a maze, your avatar was a giant eyeball. You could shoot lasers straight ahead of you. And you ran around the maze at breakneck speed shooting the other eyeballs. It’s the simple things in life you treasure.

(Many thanks to Digibarn for their collection of photographs of the groundbreaking Altos)

At that point my computer game playing pretty much dovetails with Tipa, who concludes with:

And now we’re where we are now, beset by WoW-alikes, just as we had Zork-alikes, Rogue-likes, Ultima-likes, Myst-likes and so on in the past. The pattern is ALWAYS the same. An innovator makes something new. A polisher refines it and becomes wildly popular. Imitators flood the market.

We are at that last stage now. WoW-likes everywhere. THIS is what Richard Bartle meant when he said he had played WAR already — it was called WoW. I write about MMOs because I am so, so excited about what is to come, what game being written RIGHT NOW will change the entire way we think about online gaming, that will make this current generation quaint, and something we write about in retrospectives like this one.

To which I can only say, right on!