Symposium Suppose?

I was a member of the Symposium way back when under Edmond. I enjoyed being part of the process of coming up with ideas and seeing them evolve and go live in the game. Even though my name isn’t attached to the ideas that made it into the game, that’s okay with me because it took a team to shape them and finally someone else’s effort to code them.

When I returned to Realms one of the things I did was approach Romani to become an at-large member of The Symposium. The relationship has been a little rocky between myself and the other members of TS. I have strong opinions and I don’t always convey them well, indeed some weeks I’m just flat out bitchy. Nonetheless the council does get work done, ideas get passed up the ladder and some of them have already found their way into the game.

I have seen this council really work well and at present I don’t think that it does. The primary reason, in my opinion, is that there are too few of us. I think that when you have a very small group of people voicing their opinions there is a true risk of under representing the larger community.

To simply work to produce ideas for the sake of doing it is futile in my view. This is how I’ve felt about new class proposals. When I arrived in TS the Death Knight proposal had already been languishing on the board for at least 5 months. The original idea had been diluted and the people who were invested in the compromise version of the proposal had left. Those of us who were new or who remained could not change things that were already “decided” and yet the hard parts of building an slist and maintaining a theme laid ahead of us.

Yet more people left TS. I nearly left and I certainly became very frustrated and cynical about the ability of TS to actually produce changes in the game. Recently when discussions about how to fix Nephandi came up I reacted very negatively … perhaps even a bit childishly. I do regret that, it’s not my intention to alienate people who are trying to to find a way to make positive changes and I know that I do.

I’ll say that I was short tempered from lots going on in my personal life, mom’s been in and out of the hospital, sleep’s been in short supply with the little one being (normal kid) sick, money’s tight waiting for the first pay cheque from the new job … they are reasons but it’s no excuse. I still need to work on expressing respect for people around me.

All this said, I stand by my assertion that Nephandi might be broken beyond the hope of making them interesting to the general populace. I’ll go a little further here and say that I don’t believe new classes are going to spark sustained interest in the Realms of Despair by either long term players or by the new recruits. Barbarians are neat but I see few people main on them … can’t guild, can’t order, can’t use magic equipment … for that you get some really stunningly good offense. So people pull them out to beat things up and then put them away. Fathomers? Nephandi? Paladins? Augurers? I know some people choose these classes … I’m not saying they’re useless or something’s wrong with them. I’m saying that in general I see people play these classes as something they load up and use then put away.

So when we talk about buffing up one or another, I don’t know if it’s going to do much to help attract and retain players. Right now I’m sort of putting things through that filter, big time. I think there have been great changes … mage paths stand out to me as one of the most interesting things to happen … for the most part they’re useful and interesting. Nonetheless though lots of mages are played as load ’em ups they hold a classic audience who play them as mains. Yet despite this, people aren’t playing or not playing because of what a mage looks like on Realms. The cleric paths may be the most thorough and technically substantially changes to classes ever done on Realms, yet they’re largely ignored. People don’t visit and don’t stay or leave because what deity a cleric follows affects their spells, even though it’s cool as hell.

I also feel that new areas aren’t the answer, though they’re always welcome. We have a plethora of areas to explore. People don’t visit most of them. New areas get farmed for the best piece for a while, the high end stuff often gets bought by people who do “the same old thing” to get gold. Cellador, if you read this, sorry … but your bragging about having 60b to buy whatever you want just from levelling characters defeats the point of adventure to me. I’m impressed that you have gotten levelling down to a fine art and agree that not everyone wants to level, so the service is one that’s desired but yeesh.

Anyone who wants to discuss problems that cause people to leave the game, I am all ears. When I heard that guilds were being merged because 3 strong guilds were better than 11 idle ones I dove into the project with all my enthusiasm and passion for improving things. I put a lot of time into GoS even though I didn’t like the design and had almost no intention of spending much time in the guild.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking with people who HAVE left the game. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people who are new to the game and are THINKING of giving up. I myself have quit and returned. I liked the double experience weekend, it worked, to a degree. I read Vilexur’s blog that talked about MUDs still being relevant, they sure are, I can easily interest people in them but I don’t really promote much anymore because I hate seeing people start and quit.

I intend to discuss some of these things that I think need work in upcoming posts. I have no interest in griping and beefing without some ideas forward, things that we can realistically work on together as a community. If you quit, drop me a line and tell me what bored you, what drove you away, why you stopped playing. These things always help. Sometimes the reason is just “my interests changed and I didn’t have as much time for the game anymore”. I think that’s a normal and healthy reason. I just haven’t heard it much lately.

All that’s old is new again …

I reflect a bit on my recollection of being a new player, indeed I have blogged about it a bit.  The goal of this recollection is to try to keep myself open to the experience that new players are having with Realms so that I can try to keep useful ideas floating to the surface for new player attraction and retention.

I think it’s important to separate them because getting people in the door means nothing if we can’t keep them and keeping 100% of a very low attraction does little to help the overall situation.  Of course both attraction and retention are two-fold, attracting new players versus re-enticing older players and retaining new players versus retaining the existing player base.

Attraction is a matter of advertising I think.  Traditionally I’ve felt the best method of advertising is word of mouth.  If your friend plays and helps you get up to speed then you’re likely to give it a go.  This is how I was recruited into the Realms of Despair by Daltorak so many years ago.  For this to be effective as a primary strategy there needs to be a critical mass of players and at present I believe we are probably below that threshold but it’s still a very good way of introducing new players.  Are you involved in role playing website?  Are there people there who might enjoy Realms RP?  Perhaps you have some friends who are big fans of retro gaming, does their interest extend into text based games?

We certainly need to get the word out among the people who are already interested in muds as well, that is why voting on The Mud Connector and Top Mud Sites is so very important.  We’ve languished around 25th for some time and recently we’ve beaten our way back into the top 20, but that’s not good enough.  I think that we’ll need to keep pushing for the top 10 before this will become a good source of new players, but again every little bit helps.

There has been a great deal of posting happening on the Facebook Realms of Despair group.  I think this is lighting a bit of a fire under some old players to come back in and check things out again.  An important question is why did they leave originally?  I think that topic could fill a few blog posts, but I do think it’s important that we listen to them.  Not everything can be addressed but perhaps things that didn’t make sense 5 or 8 years ago would make sense now.

So what about retention?  It used to be that the first stopping place of a true new player would be a guild.  I always thought that leaving them on their own until level 15 or even 20 was a little tough.  It’s the first little while when you need the most help.  Of course when channels were active and there were lots of NC online that helped to balance things quite a lot.  I am hopeful that the new guild builds will give a good home to new players again.  I also hope that the entry level is set somewhere to maximize the feeling of belonging and help.

New players are quite welcome in Arete but it is certainly not the order’s goal to replace guilds as a first stop for new players.  Not only do guilds offer a place that is more specialized towards learning a particular class but in principle there would be more people of similar level who you can join in leveling.  Nonetheless I think a sense of community and home for new players is important in helping with retention.  Everyone who answers questions or even says hello on channels is helping that sense of community.

I’ve seen a great deal of comments about “don’t level too fast” or “enjoy the adventure” but the fact is that when you don’t have an avatar, your goal is to get an avatar.  Your whole climb up the ladder is about entering the land of yellow spam and never having to eat, drink or sleep again. *eg*  I agree that there are a lot of interesting areas out for lower level players but I don’t think they get visited unless there’s a reason to go there.  If a new player is told there’s a piece of equipment that will help their leveling they’ll go there.  Unfortunately like Diablo, by the time you can get the equipment sometimes you no longer need it.  Still everyone’s going to do things differently.  The introduction of lowbie quests have been fairly well done I think there’s room to keep growing along these lines.

What about avatar engagement?  The classic problem.  There is no end game for Realms… the goals are what you set for yourself.  In an age of many players online, you have your choice of runs to attend to help you dress an army of characters.  This is something every player, new and old, can contribute to improving.  It is frustrating trying to get a critical mass of players together to go topple the next mob.  A system that scales mobs attacks and defenses by the number of characters in a room or an area could help this.  Any mob that is a tank switcher would need hardly any modification to it’s attack style and any mob that locks onto a single tank while the hitters beat it to death is probably due for an upgrade anyway.  So now a single player could reasonably go fight a wider range of mobiles.  It shouldn’t be easy.  You should be able to be insane and go one on one with Danbala and have a shot to win.  It shouldn’t be easy.  It should be a bit easier with multiple people to encourage the social aspect.  Hey can’t we just take multi checks off things and get to the same place?  Maybe.  Multi checks do help restrain some of the really over the top behavior that we’ve seen over the years and by keeping things solo we still support the idea that a new player has an equal shot at things.  Yes, better equipment will help a veteran, but that’s the privilege that you earn for playing.  The Falcon’s Quest is something I think is extremely well done, it gives something that is genuinely worthwhile to your character.  More things like this would help.

Fully automated quest system?  No… I think that’s overreaching, the quest council does a good job being creative.  Let’s untie their hands and give them a little more ability to give out cool prizes.  Glory is helpful but unique quest prizes are very nice too.

One of the biggest comments I’ve heard is that our areas are static and that stifles the ability of players to feel like they’re interacting with the game.  This is true and valid, from my point of view.  There is little interaction between areas because of the structure of objects and area files.  You have to be trusted to a certain level before you can figure out the numbers to use to make areas interact with one another and you create couplings that can break if one area changes out of lock step with the other.  With modern source control these text files can easily be tracked and dependencies maintained.

I say more interactivity and some source code help in allowing minor edits to an area.  When working on the Guild of Spirit I realized how stupid it is that the garden will be lush and green even when Realms tells me it’s snowing.  I would have to write another room with the winter description and a program to silently trans everything and everyone in the room to the winter room and then open and close passages so the exits would still work.  It’s quite doable.  I may even try to put some of this sort of thing into an area.  Who would want to do this for more than a few rooms however?  I think a high level of interactivity with some sort of overarching story within Realms can help.


Oh well, this is getting long in the tooth.  I’d love to hear from anyone reading this with your ideas on how we can make Realms better.


Starting points …

One conversation that I seem to have regularly enough to be noteworthy is summed up in the question “how do we attract people to the Realms of Despair?”, and to be fair, it’s a good question to be asking.

Certainly doing things like voting on TopMuds for the Realms helps to promote the game to people who are already interested in muds.  It strikes me though, that many of these users already have their favorite game and may shop around a little but barring some falling out, probably won’t switch.  I justify this by saying that I have tried maybe 2 other muds over the years and never stuck around long, I always come back to Realms.

I think that the java client on the website is a great way to open the door for more users to join.  I would like to work at expanding the capabilities of this client, I saw a web based client last week that strongly resembled some of the Mushclient GUI plugins that are officially supported by Realms and was really impressed by how well it worked.  There’s obviously a lot missing too, triggers and automapping most notably, but it was a good thought.

Ultimately though I think back to how I started.  I am a technically oriented person who enjoys role playing adventure games.  I was weaned on the Commodore 64 SSI Dungeons and Dragons games like Pool of Radiance or Champions of Krynn before exploding into things like the Might and Magic games and spin offs or into things like Diablo.  I did not find the Realms of Despair, they were introduced to me by Daltorak who had been playing for some time.  In turn I found Darrek playing, having migrated from BBSing (both Darrek and I ran systems in Hamilton, Ontario … Weasel’s Domain and Aces High respectively).

So plain, simple, word of mouth advertising.

When I arrived in the Realms I was impressed with the amount of helpful players around, willing to help me out.  Newbie Councillors, Immortals and many others helped me through the first few levels until I joined up with the  Guild of Rangers where I stayed and learned a lot about the game.  Since the guild was tuned to my class I never felt I had to have a second character (right away) to continue learning the game.  Eventually I did level more characters to be more efficient or to reach even further, but it was the guild runs that got me hooked and made me want to level more characters.

I hope the new guild reformation will help a new generation of Realms players have the same experience.

Given the success of the Lord of the Rings movies I would suggest that this genre has a wide ranging appeal.  Technological savvy has never been higher, in general, so long as the approach is straight forward.  I don’t even think that the text based nature is unappealing if we can make use of the technology at our disposal to present it in an appealing manner like the HUD style web interface I mentioned.

These things fail if we don’t continue to work on making the Realms a friendly space for all.  Join Newbie Council, answer questions on chat, trans a recall scroll … sure these are obvious.  Less obvious things like writing an article for the Cry, setting up a Realms fan page and posting some run notes or sharing your thoughts also go a long way towards showing a vibrant, active community worth joining.