Putting the emphasis on interaction rather than action can also go a long way.
Restricting the freedom of players to choose different courses of action is the
mechanism for implementing it, so they can only follow a narrow or predetermined
development path. Essentially, it's MUD-as-theatre: you sit there being entertained, but
not actually participating much. You may *feel* like you're in a world, but it's one in which
you're paralyzed. If the bias is only slight, it can make a MUD more "nannyish", which
newcomers seem to enjoy, but pushing it all the way turns it into a radio set. Knowledge
may be intrinsically interesting (i.e. trivia), but it's meaningless unless it can be applied. If
players can't play, it's not a MUD.
If the graph is redrawn to favor doing-to over doing-with, the game quickly becomes
boring. Tasks are executed repeatedly, by rote. There's always monotony, never
anything new, or, if these *is* something new, it's of the "man versus random number
generator" variety. People do need to be able to put into practice what they've learned,
but they also need to be able to learn it in the first place! Unless the one leads to the
other, it's only a matter of time before patience is exhausted and the players give up.
Without depth, you have no MUD.
>From the above list of ways to tilt the interest graph, a set of stratagems can be
composed to help MUD administrators shift the focus of their games in whatever
particular direction they choose. Some of these stratagems are simply a question of
management: if you don't tell people what communication commands there are, for
example, people will be less likely to use them all. Although such approaches are good
for small shifts in the way a MUD is played, the more powerful and absolute method is to
consider *programming* changes (programming being the "nature" of a MUD, and
administration being the "nurture").
Here, then, are the programming changes which administrators might wish to consider
in order to shape their MUD:
Ways to emphasize PLAYERS over WORLD:
add more communication facilities
add more player-on-player commands (e.g. transitive ones like TICKLE or
CONGRATULATE, or commands to form and maintain closed groups of
make communication facilities easy and intuitive
decrease the size of the world
increase the connectivity between rooms
maximize the number of simultaneous players
restrict building privileges to a select few
cut down on the number of mobiles
Ways to emphasize WORLD over PLAYERS:
have only basic communication facilities
have few ways that players can do things to other players
make building facilities easy and intuitive
maximize the size of the world (i.e. add *breadth*)
use only "rational" room connections in most cases
grant building privileges to many
have lots of mobiles
Ways to emphasize INTERACTING over ACTING:
make help facilities produce vague information
produce cryptic hints when players appear stuck
maximize the effects of commands (i.e. add *depth*)
lower the rewards for achievement
have only a shallow level/class system
produce amusing responses for amusing commands
edit all room descriptions for consistent atmosphere
limit the number of commands available in any one area
have lots of small puzzles that can be solved easily
allow builders to add completely new commands
Ways to emphasize ACTING over INTERACTING:
provide a game manual
include auto-map facilities
include auto-log facilities
raise the rewards for achievement
have an extensive level/class system
make commands be applicable wherever they might reasonably have meaning
have large puzzles, that take over an hour to complete
have many commands relating to fights
only allow building by top-quality builders
These strategies can be combined to encourage or discourage different styles of play.
To appeal to achievers, for example, one approach might be to introduce an extensive
level/class system (so as to provide plenty of opportunity to reward investment of time)
and to maximize the size of the world (so there is more for them to achieve). Note that
the "feel" of a MUD is derived from the position on the interest graph of the MUD's
players, from which a "center of gravity" can be approximated. It is therefore sometimes
possible to make two changes simultaneously which have "opposite" effects, altering
how some individuals experience the MUD but not changing how the MUD feels overall.
For example, adding large puzzles (to emphasize ACTING) and adding small puzzles
(to emphasize INTERACTING) would encourage both pro-ACTING and
pro-INTERACTING players, thereby keeping the MUD's center of gravity in the same
place while tending to increase total player numbers. In general, though, these
stratagems should not be used as a means to attract new players; stratagems should
only be selected from one set per axis.
The effects of the presence (or lack of it) of other types of player are also very important,
and can be used as a different way to control relative population sizes. The easiest (but,
sadly, most tedious) way to discuss the interactions which pertain between the various
player types is to enumerate the possible combinations and consider them
independently; this is the approach adopted by this paper.
First, however, it is pertinent to discuss the ways that players generally categorize
THE SOCIAL VERSUS GAMELIKE
Following the introduction of TinyMUD (Aspnes, 1989), in which combat wasn't even
implemented, players now tend to categorize individual MUDs as either "social" or
"gamelike" (Carton, 1995). In terms of the preceding discussion, "social" means that the
games are heavily weighted to the area below the x-axis, but whether "gamelike" means
the games are weighted heavily above the x-axis, or merely balanced on it, is a moot
point. Players of social MUDs might suggest that "gamelike" means a definite bias on
and above the x-axis, because from their perspective any explicit element of
competitiveness is "too much". Some (but not most) players of gamelike MUDs could
disagree, pointing out that their MUDs enjoy rich social interactions between the players
despite the fact that combat is allowed.
So strongly is this distinction felt, particularly among social MUDders, that many of their
newer participants don't regard themselves as playing "MUDs" at all, insisting that this
term refers only to combat-oriented games, with which they don't wish to be associated.
The rule-of-thumb applied is server type, so, for example, LPMUD => gamelike, MOO
=> social; this is despite the fact that each of these systems is of sufficient power and
flexibility that it could probably be used to implement an interpreter for the other one!
Consequently, there are general Internet-related books with chapter titles like
"Interactive Multi-user Realities: MUDs, MOOs, MUCKs and MUSHes" (Poirier, 1994)
and "MUDs, MUSHes, and Other Role-Playing Games" (Eddy, 1994). This fertile
ground is where the term "MU*" (Norrish, 1995) originates - as an attempt to fill the void
left by assigning the word "MUD" to gamelike (or "player-killing") MUDs; its deliberate
use can therefore reasonably be described as a political act (Bruckman, 1992).
This attitude misses the point, however. Although social MUDs may be a major branch
on the MUD family tree, they are, nevertheless, still on it, and are therefore still MUDs. If
another overarching term is used, then it will only be a matter of time before someone
writes a combat-oriented server called "KillerMU*" or whatever, and cause the wound to
reopen. Denial of history is not, in general, a wise thing to do.
Besides, social MUDs do have their killers (ie. people who fall into that area of the
interest graph). Simply because explicit combat is prohibited, there is nevertheless
plenty of opportunity to cause distress in other ways. To list a few: virtual rape (Dibbell,
1993; Reid, 1994); general sexual harassment (Rosenberg, 1992); deliberate
fracturing of the community (Whitlock, 1994a); vexatious litigancy (Whitlock, 1994b).
Indeed, proper management of a MUD insists that contingency plans and procedures
are already in place such that antisocial behavior can be dealt with promptly when it
occurs (Bruckman, 1994b).
Social MUDs do have their achievers, too: people who regard building as a competitive
act, and can vie to have the "best" rooms in the MUD (Clodius, 1994), or who seek to
acquire a large quota for creating ever-more objects (Farmer, Morningstar & Crockford,
1994). The fact that a MUD might not itself reward such behavior should, of course,
naturally foster a community of players who are primarily interested in talking and
listening, but there nevertheless *will* still be killers and achievers around - in the same
way that there will be socializers and explorers in even the most bloodthirsty of MUDs.
Researchers have tended to use a more precise distinction than the players, in terms of
a MUD's similarity to (single-user) adventure games. Amy Bruckman's observation that:
"there are two basic types [of MUD]: those which are like
adventure games, and those which are not"
is the most succinct and unarguable expression of this dichotomy. However, in his
influential paper on MUDs, Pavel Curtis states:
"Three major factors distinguish a MUD from an Adventure-
style computer game, though:
o A MUD is not goal-oriented; it has no beginning or
end, no 'score', and no notion of 'winning' or 'success'.
In short, even though users of MUDs are commonly called
players, a MUD isn't really a game at all.
o A MUD is extensible from within; a user can add new objects
to the database such as rooms, exits, 'things', and notes.
o A MUD generally has more than one user connected at a time.
All of the connected users are browsing and manipulating
the same database and can encounter the new objects created
by others. The multiple users on a MUD can communicate with
each other in real time."
This definition explicitly rules out MUDs as adventure games - indeed, it claims that they
are not games at all. This is perhaps too tight a definition, since the very first MUD was
most definitely programmed to be a game (I know, because I programmed it to be
one!). The second point, which states that MUDs must involve building, is also untrue of
many MUDs; in particular, commercial MUDs often aim for a high level of narrative
consistency (which isn't conducive to letting players add things unchecked), and, if they
have a graphical front-end, it is also inconvenient if new objects appear that generate no
images. However, the fact that Curtis comes down on the side of "social" MUDs to bear
the name "MUD" at least recognizes that these programs *are* MUDs, which is more
than many "MU*" advocates are prepared to admit.
This issue of "social or gamelike" will be returned to presently, with an explanation of
exactly *why* players of certain MUDs which are dubbed "gamelike" might find a binary
What follows is a brief explanation of how players predominantly of one type view those
other players whom they perceive to be predominantly of one type. Warning: these
notes concern *stereotypical* players, and are not to be assumed to be true of any
individual player who might otherwise exhibit the common traits of one or more of the
The effects of increasing and decreasing the various populations is also discussed, but
this does *not* take into account physical limitations on the amount of players involved.
Thus, for example, if the number of socialisers is stated to have "no effect" on the
number of achievers, that disregards the fact that there may be an absolute maximum
number of players that the MUD can comfortably hold, and the socializers may be taking
up slots which achievers could otherwise have filled. Also, the knock-on effects of other
interactions are not discussed at this stage: a game with fewer socialisers means the
killers will seek out more achievers, for example, so there is a secondary effect of
having fewer achievers even though there is no primary effect. This propagation of
influences is, however, examined in detail afterwards, when the first-level dynamics have
been laid bare.
ACHIEVERS V. ACHIEVERS
Achievers regard other achievers as competition to be beaten (although this is typically
friendly in nature, rather than cut-throat). Respect is given to those other achievers who
obviously are extraordinarily good, but typically achievers will cite bad luck or lack of
time as reasons for not being as far advanced in the game as their contemporaries.
That said, achievers do often co-operate with one another, usually to perform some
difficult collective goal, and from these shared experiences can grow deep, enduring
friendships which may surpass in intensity those commonly found among individuals
other groups. This is perhaps analogous to the difference between the bond that
soldiers under fire share and the bond that friends in a bar share.
Achievers do not need the presence of any other type of player in order to be
encouraged to join a MUD: they would be quite happy if the game were empty but for
them, assuming it remained a challenge (although some do feel a need to describe their
exploits to anyone who will listen). Because of this, a MUD can't have too many
achievers, physical limitations excepted.