Tag Archives: MMORPG

Trying to Keep up Momentum

Have read and commented on one book, I’ve tried to keep going in spite of discovering that parenting full time really is a full time job.  I’m reading Synthetic Worlds by Castronova.  So far quite interesting, and again I find reading work by another gamer really influences my reception in interesting ways.  More on that eventually.  😛

I have also been trying to maintain my participation in ClanLord, for a number of reasons.  I love playing, so that’s one.  Of course it’s research, so that’s another.  But perhaps what motivates me most is realizing that I’ve come to have an important role in the community as someone who sometimes formally organizes hunts, but also tends to provoke more spontaneous hunts as well.  In a community as small as Clan Lords, this is important.  My being online sometimes means one or two or even for more people are on to hunt, and once on they may get drown into subsequent hunts and start forming friendships with people they don’t normally join. During times when I’ve been unable to hunt much because of commitments “OOC” –out of character– I sometimes have noticed a drop in the population of more than just my own absence.  I see this when other regular players are away as well.

Some players seem to act as nodes around which hunts arise.  I hadn’t planned to become one of these, but I’m not entirely surprised.  I am often the one that ends up organizing a coffee hour or some other regular set of meetings for people who share some interest or other.  This has got me thinking about the role each player has in the community.  Because the community is small, these are usually quite distinctive roles, as players become established, stronger, and better known by everyone else.

So I’m thinking about that as I read everything else, to see what others make of that aspect as they discuss MMO culture.

Very Short Review: The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games, by Michael Tresca

While there are quite a few books in the game studies field now, many are highly theoretical, considering whether games can be read as literature, how online games fit into network theory, what games say about human cultures, etc.  There are fewer people writing about games from the perspective of an active and experienced gamer, and focusing on the games themselves.  –I know this might provoke some to say what about X, Y, and Z?

I’ve read Bonnie Nardi’s excellent book on playing WoW and will likely review it here.  I’ve also seen research by Tanja Sihvonen that covered her experience with the Sims and other games.  If there are other similar pieces out there, please tell me!

Anyway, Tresca analyzes role-playing games into 8 types and devotes a chapter to exploring the history or each, as well as looking at how they compare in terms of:

  • Fellowship
  • Narrative
  • Personalization
  • Risk
  • Roles
  • Status

I found this way of organizing the chapters really helpful, because it allows not only for easy comparison between game types, but also let’s me think about the games I know and consider how they would fit into this grid.  For example, in Clan Lord characters face fairly high risk from wandering creatures when out hunting; the spawns in each area vary far more than they seem to in other games. But, CL has no PvP, so you need never worry about pickpockets or player-killers.  So it can be high risk, but I think less stressful.  🙂

Tresca also shares his own experiences with various games to illustrate his discussion.  While some might argue that including individual experience invites criticism that it’s analysis based on anecdote, I found it quite helpful.  Reading these experiences gave me a much clearer idea of the kind of player Tresca is and the kinds of games he prefers and so on. That knowledge makes his analysis easier for me to interpret.  Knowing his extensive background also strengthens his authority, so that if he says something is frustrating, I know he is no newbie gamer getting hung up on something we all deal with, but critiquing something that many players might find tiresome.

If you are interested in Game Studies, or are a fan of role-playing games, I recommend this book.  It provides a valuable comparison of game types and games, and is an interesting read besides.

What keeps people engaged?

If you study MMOs at all, you may have seen Tom Chatfield’s TED Talk in which he talks about what game designers have learned about what keeps people engaged in a game. He identifies the following:

  • problem solving –> ambition + delight
  • progress bars
  • multiple long and short-term aims
  • reward effort, don’t punish failure much
  • immediate feedback
  • uncertainty causes intense engagement
  • biggest turn on is other people

Now he was talking about how knowing this might help us to deal with other tasks and challenges, and that was very interesting.  But I am also thinking about how Clan Lord does in each of these areas, and it does most of these very well indeed.  Except for progress bars; it doesn’t have any!

As I’ve been doing research on CL, I’ve started interviewing players about what keeps them coming back, and in some cases, what has brought them back after being away for months or years.  In every single case so far (about 20 people to date) they cite the community as the strongest motivator. That seems in line with Chatfield’s last point, but it’s not just that they have friends in CL.  Many players specify that the community is mature and supportive. Though a wide range of ages is represented, the community as a whole is quite mature.  Griefing is minimal and when it occurs, other community members address it. Though the forums show the usual flamewars, the gameworld itself remains remarkably free of such conflict.

In terms of support, players are generally very helpful to each other.  Because the community is small and everyone is motivated to keep the population up and growing, most players will go out of their way to help newbies get started, supplying not only information, but donating gear, and taking them out to hunt or rescuing them if they get into trouble.  Even as players advance though, others will support them in achieving goals such as qualifying for a subclass, acquiring higher level gear, completing quests, and so on.  This has been designed into the game in the way that these goals really cannot be completed alone.  As everyone knows that they will sometimes need help themselves, they have good reason to help others. Doing so though, players often realize that helping this way is satisfying in itself.

As my character works on goals, I find myself intensely grateful that the game is designed this way, or Eirian would be sunk! 🙂

Writing in Character

For awhile I was writing here, and on my abstract, and I was not writing so much as my character.  Eventually I started to feel a kind of pressure as that blog fell further behind my in character life.  I started to feel that I wanted to write about what was happening to me in the game currently, but that if I skipped over too much, it wouldn’t really make sense. So I’ve tried to catch up over there, and thus have neglected writing here.

But now it’s time to catch up over here.  🙂

My character finally reached a benchmark I had been aiming to hit before making further choices about what to do with her.  Since I’ve not had too much time to actually play since September, it seemed like this period had just stretched on and on.  And finally I finished, and was faced with those choices. Clan Lord differs from other MMOs in the way characters tend to become more distinct as they develop, because each choice closes off other options. In many games, as players gain ranks or levels, they become more similar–very powerful in basically the same way.

In Clan Lord on the other hand, every choice makes you stronger in some ways, but weaker in others, and there’s no one best solution for every one, no perfect build.  Instead, you have to try to imagine how you will most enjoy playing in the future and aim to make that possible. This can lead to some counter-intuitive choices. Even if what you want to be the most powerful fighter, do you want to be the most resistant to creatures attacking?  The deadliest when hunting them? Able to keep swinging against numerous weaker creatures or able to take down a stronger one with one blow, but then not being able to swing again right away?

Healers face a similar dilemma.  Further, no matter what you choose, if you grind through the leveling process quickly, you can end up stuck in another way.  Unlike most MMOs, Clan Lord has no level cap.  Players can get stronger and stronger and stronger.  But as they do, they must hunt harder and harder creatures in order to keep gaining ranks and climbing the levels. Natural attrition over the years makes the number of players at the top fairly small, so there are not many people with whom they can play without getting a bit bored, if their main goal is a challenging hunt. Further, game developers themselves have trouble keeping up, creating new and harder areas and creatures to challenge these juggernauts.

Anyway, I decided to first get some more ranks in the skill that lets you skin the furry creatures you hunt, so I can actually make some money.  🙂

I got those to a useful level in about two weeks, so now I’m getting some more in pathfinding.  Some areas of the game can’t be entered unless you have enough ranks as a pathfinder and while I don’t know how far I’ll go with this in the end, for now I want just a few more. Then I’ll go back to fighter skills.  On the one hand, it’s great to see visible results from the ranks for skinning, on the other hand, it’s frustrating to know I’m earning ranks but not have my fighting improve.  I’m not gunning to hit top levels at record speed, but it would be nice to be able to go harder places, because somehow I’ve ended up closest to some players who are pretty advanced.

I feel this post is drifting into the voice of my character a bit, but maybe that’s ok.  My aim is to try and give a sense of the complexity of some decisions–and I haven’t even gotten into the different choices there are to make about fighting skills alone. These choices avoid being overwhelming because they are presented gradually, and because leveling up is rather slow, especially as you get stronger, players have time to consider and to seek advice.  Discussions of these choices and their costs and benefits make a significant part of conversation both in the game and in the discussion boards.

Interestingly, while some people focus only on what path will allow them to advance most quickly, many, even those who are not explicitly role-playing, will make choices that are consistent with some larger vision they have of a character, often related to the race of the character, the professions, and so on.  In my own case, I made no effort to play my character as different than myself, but she seems to be evolving into her own personality, distinct from my own, though still recognizable to me.  Though some players have told me they don’t feel too attached to their characters because they don’t play them as themselves, I’m starting to to wonder if I might not become even more attached because she is different.

So much to ponder…    For those who want to follow her adventures, you can visit Eirian’s blog.

Research Update… If only I could get paid to play. ;-)

So I’ve been collecting responses to questions about Clan Lord and trying to weave them together.  The process is interesting because I represent myself with two voices. So far, the players participating have been speaking as mainly players, not characters, but because most prefer to use only their character names, and because CL players pepper their communications with acronyms and words peculiar to the game, it often feels and reads like an in game conversation, rather that a discussion looking from the outside.

Attached here is the current draft–which is already out of date as more responses come in.  It’s a challenge to find time to play, to respond to players helping with the project and to keep up with two related blogs while having a full-time job, family, etc.  If only this project were my job…maybe there’s a grant out there somewhere… 😉

Attempting a New Approach to Fan and Game Studies

So… as I posted last time, I will be speaking about how one might take an approach to studying an MMO fan community that achieves not just a balance between the critical stance of a scholar and the enthusiasm of a player, but some kind of integration of the two positions.  Further, how might the voice of the community be part of that account in a more significant and participatory way than merely providing data and useful quotes?

This is even more challenging because my new job is seriously cutting into my playing time.

But I’ve taken a step in creating a blog that represents an in-character (IC) narrative of my life in the game.  It’s a bit odd because I don’t usually worry about staying IC unless I’m hunting with others for whom I know that’s important. Further, in that blog I am writing about the relationships my character has with other characters; in some cases this is parallel by out-of-character (OOC) friendships, and in some cases not.  Right now the line between fiction and reality has become ambiguous, when it comes to the relationships.


I am way behind on posting because in late summer I started a new job and moved myself and the family to a new city.  The job is interesting, challenging, and pays well, but it is 9-5ish and I am busy the whole time. Not much time for blogging.

But, now I have more incentive to resume because I’ve been accepted to a conference for next March and need to get my paper written by mid January.  🙂  And I’ve just seen a call for an online conference at which I could make a presentation on the same topic, only multimedia instead of just text.  So, yay.  🙂

The conference is Practicing Theory: Imagining, Resisting, Remembering; the annual conference of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA).

I submitted the following abstract:

Finding Balance Through Doubled Resistance: Piloting a Collaborative Ethnograpic Approach to Game Studies in the Clan Lord MMO

The tension between theory and practice is long-standing, but in recent years it has been brought into sharper relief by the work of scholars such as Henry Jenkins, who argue for study of popular culture from stance of engagement rather than distance. Jenkins resists the dismissive stance toward popular culture and fan communities that long held sway in academia and coined the term “aca-fan” to describe one working from such a position.  He has further argued for the recognition that fans themselves bring a critical eye to pop cultural texts that deserves recognition as having some scholarly value.

Jenkins has recently called for the development of “another set of critical practices which reflected different emotional and social relations to popular culture” than those of the scholar looking from a distance or an aca-fan looking only from inside. This brings us back to the question of resistance.  A scholar who is also a fan may try to study the cultural product of which she is a fan, resisting on the one hand theorizing from a distance, and on the other a perhaps over-enthusiastic engagement. Is an uneasy balance between the two the best we can hope for?  Or can these stances be in some way integrated into a more productive whole?

This case-study aims for just such a synthesis, using the community around a smaller Multi-Massive Online Game (MMO) in which the author participates to pilot a collaborative ethnographic approach.  While the author takes a traditional ethnographic approach, members of the MMO’s community are invited to add their voices, as are game theorists who stand entirely outside the MMO. The resulting poly-vocal work offers a possible model from which to develop a more balanced and integrated approach to pop cultural products and fan communities.

The MMO in question is Clan Lord, and so now I need to figure out the best way of inviting involvement of other players, GMs, etc.

When Players become the Story

Clan Lord differs from other MMOs in many ways; one of the most basic is longevity.  The game has been running since it was released in 1999 And there are a number of players who have participated since the beginning.  This longevity suggests that there must be some unique features, and there are — but I’ll get to those later.  😉 The presence of players who have participated for so long in a game in which there are no caps to the level (ie player strength) has some interesting consequences.

One is the challenge created for game designers trying to add new content, especially in the form of an event like an invasion or monster attack.  If there are several extremely advanced and powerful fighters and healers, it is very difficult to create an event or creature that will challenge those players, yet not slaughter the lower level players. Apparently this is referred to as the “Mujin” problem, named after a particular player (or collective) that has played so assiduously for so many years, that they far exceed much of the other population. (There are of course other high level players who cause this trouble as well, but the problem is named after an extreme case).

However, I think one of the most important effects of having so many players who have played for years and become powerful is that these players start to become part of the story of the game. Sometimes this happens through explicit roleplaying.  For example, one player who goes by the name Stinkfist styles himself a pirate captain and works to organize adventures involving himself and other pirates fighting against a particular group of enemies (the Darshak) in the game.  In addition to organizing raids against these foes, Stinkfist is working on building some kind of embassy and its completion depends on the success of his raids.

Interestingly, this player has gain the help of at least one Game Master (GM) so that Darshak that attack may demand to know his whereabouts and declare there is a bounty on his head.  At different times, one player or another has been elected President of the Fen’neko race; other players gain extra experience for helping the Fen president.  These are examples of players being deliberately incorporated into the game and in a sense saves GMs work; rather than creating a non-player character to drive a quest, they instead rely on players themselves to supply the AI.

Another way players become part of the story is simply through reputation. For example, if you need armor made, see Eomer, who trained as a blacksmith.  If you are fond of spiders, keep an eye out for Gremlins, who can transform into numerous varieties, and can also befriend them, and prevent them from attacking.  If you want to learn about using the Kudzu plant in battle, speak to Geotzou, who has made a lengthy study of their strategic use. Connie Crete is known for many things, from excellent knowledge of geography to her fishing skill. D’Ead is rapidly becoming known for her love of zombie costumes, Creed for her fondness for ponies, and Natas for his fondness for chains.

Chains are used to rescue fallen players by dragging them somewhere to be healed.

In general, many players are simply known for their strength, leadership, or other characteristics (both positive and negative).  They become subjects of discussion, advice to new players, and their doings are reported outside the game by a “media network” created by players to report happenings in the game.  Some even become the subject of parody. So in essence, the adventures and interactions of the players become the real story, growing out of the story provided in the game, but far richer.  And, because even those who don’t role play express some kind of personality, they can’t help but become characters.

In this way, the game story escapes the bounds of the game itself and of the control of designers.

Next up, more on inhabiting characters.

Designing Cooperation

I said I’d have more to say…

So here are some ways Clan Lord pretty well forces people to cooperate:

  • The display is looking down from above, rather than heads up, and you can’t “run through” other players and most objects, so coordinating movement during a fight or hunt becomes a priority and requires agreement.  For example, that one of the stronger players will go out to lure creatures into the most favorable position for others to attack, or the weakest players will stay to one side or another, depending from which direction attacks usually come.
  • Most areas spawn creatures quickly and unpredictably enough that if a player is still gaining experience points and ranks from fighting those creatures, they need to hunt them in a group, or risk having their character fall and then have to await rescue. Depending on the area where they have been adventuring, this could take a very long time.
  • A related aspect is that you cannot just log off anywhere in the game safely.  If you leave the game when your character is in a dangerous region, you may log back in to find you are overwhelmed by dangerous creatures, or you character may already be dead.  Similarly, you cannot pause and leave the computer temporarily while playing for this reason.  Thus, you must somehow get back to a safe area before logging out or pausing the game play.  In the latter case, fellow players may be relied on to protect your character while you step away from the computer, but you will also have to help them achieve a managable state of play in the game first.
  • This game has a system through which players can “share experience.” While playing, each player gains experience (and thus strength and so forth) by playing against increasingly difficult creatures, or by sharing experience with another player doing this. In fact, of the three character classes, fighter, mystic, and healer, the latter two mainly advance through this method.  Further, players gain in other ways from sharing.  If you are sharing and fall to some creature, the players you’re linked with will see that you’ve fallen and to what, which will help them locate you.  If you are linked to a mystic before falling, they will be able to pinpoint your location exactly.  Further, if you are linked to other players, they will be more likely to return the favor by helping if you are in trouble. The share system also helps maintain connections between new players and much more advanced players.

I’ll have even more to add later!  Until then, here is another picture…

One of the other experienced players reminds younger ones (Eirian and Mchl) to thank a high-ranked fighter (Geotzou) for taking us hunting.

Games and Community

So I’ve been playing my first MMORPG ever, and surprise, have gotten a little addicted. But this one differs from most in being designed to require cooperation; it’s very difficult to play alone, and not as much fun.  The game is Clan Lord, by Delta Tao; the first ever MMORPG designed for Macs.

It first appeared in 1998 and over ten years later is still going.  It has a very small but intensely loyal user base.  I’ve been playing about four months now and while I originally wanted to just play it for fun, the game and the community around it seem really unique.  I might have to give in and write about it.  🙂

I’ll write in more detail soon but for now, a picture:

I am last in the line of fallen hunters being dragged back to town to be healed. I used to end most hunts this way, but it’s getting a little better now.  🙂