On Persistence & Community

David Williams and Ed Stark have been speaking about the role of persistence and community in MMOGs since late 2007 when the Canon Puncture Show interviewed the dastardly duo. Half a year has passed and Williams and Stark have spoken more of persistence and community in various outlets, namely Gamasutra and, most recently, the Penny Arcade Expo. Although Williams and Stark have not announced any thing substantially different from their Canon Puncture interview, they have shed some dim light on particular aspects of their arguments. The purpose of this opinion post is to discuss the role of persistence and community in MMOGs as well as the particulars that Williams and Stark have mentioned.

David Williams and Ed Stark are really correct in saying that persistence and community are what make games massively-multiplayer ones. It can be assumed that dropping one of these two vital elements results in the removal of the massively-multiplayer title: a persistent game with no community is massive but it is not massively-multiplayer; a game with community and with no persistence is multiplayer but it is not massively-multiplayer. And so we understand this: for the sake of retaining the title “MMOG,” persistence and community need each other.

With that fact kept in mind, let us picture, as David Williams so painted in an offhand remark, two pillars holding up a roof of some type. Without the two pillars, the roof would, as Earthly physics dictate, fall to the ground. There are, however, other ways to bring this roof to collapse: specifically, if one pillar grew taller and wider while the other remained stagnant, the roof would slant and, eventually, fall lopsided.

And with that analogy in mind, let us come to the conclusion that if persistence is bolstered intensely while community is left as is, the community will abandon each other (for there is hardly incentive to remain together) and, in turn, the game (that is, after they become lonesome). Likewise, if community is strengthened while persistence persistently remains small, the community will grow tired like a band of warriors with no chance to test their meddle.

Now we come to this thought: that if persistence and community are to be improved at all at any point in time, they had best be improved at an equal rate. While there is hardly evidence in the least showing that Red 5 acknowledges this or no, the impression I have is, for the most part, positive. There are but a few things that worry me. Note that I don’t intend to contradict my penultimate paragraph in my last opinion post: I really don’t have any particular demands from Red 5’s MMOG. With that, I shall proceed.

At their panel at the Penny Arcade Expo, David Williams and Ed Stark spoke to the effect of as The Escapist writes:

Also the degree of permenancy should be relative to the number of people required and the time and effort involved. A single player spending a few hours one evening won’t make much of a lasting effect, but a hundred players working in concert should be able to make a long term impact on a world and a whole server acting in conjunction should be able to cause permanent change.

As a person that prefers quality over quantity (as any sane man should), this quote worries me slightly. The primary thing that drove me away from Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (mentioning that beast is sickening enough) was the emphasis on that communistic collective, that is, as coined through StarCraft, that Zerg. It appeared to me that WAR argues for numbers over raw skill, that ten idiots ought to crunch one master of a player. If it does not appear that WAR kindles a hating fire within me, then I will admit to it now: WAR kindles a hating fire within me.

Gamasutra did question Williams and Stark regarding the smaller groups but Williams and Stark nearly desperately dodged the question by changing the subject to their perceptions of guilds. It worries me (again, slightly) to think that I may have to align my self with some such Zerg guilds if I want to make a substantial effect. Such a thing would be fairly unsportsmanlike and communistic.

I have come to the conclusion that quality should outshine quantity, that one greatly-skilled player ought to outshine ten idiots (likewise, ten greatly-skilled players ought to outshine the singular great player). A small but brilliant collective really should come out over a bumbling army. In the game of Go, a masterful player can easily stand victorious after simultaneously combating several weaklings. This is truly how it should be in all things; it goes “may the best man win,” not “may the most men win.”

Please note that I do not intend to espouse some theory of “survival of the fittest;” I am simply arguing for the providing of reasons to improve on oneself.

If there were but one desire that I have for Red 5’s MMOG, it would simply be that the skilled can rightfully remain over the unskilled. Recently, game developers have shown to go in the opposite direction with the unskilled either winning over the skilled or feeling very satisfied with their mediocre play ability. My hope, nay, my prayer is that Red 5 will override this terrible direction and will instead go in the direction of the long-lasting games: in the direction of Go, Chess, StarCraft, football, and all the other sports that celebrate humanity’s warrior spirit.

– The Author

EDIT: A small side-note: it appears that Red 5’s community manager position has been filled. Other positions may have been filled without my knowledge.

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~ by reset3 on September 2, 2008.

2 Responses to “On Persistence & Community”

  1. Though I agree with your sentiment: skill should take precedence over numbers, history has taught us that many wars were won through attrition and not always superior firepower/tactics.

    Take the D-Day invasion for example: that was one huge F-up on the side of the Allies but they gained victory due to their overwhelming numbers.

    There’s a subjective fine line there and, at the end of the day, the proof will have to be in the pudding (so to speak).

  2. You point out the difference between two forms of person-versus-person interaction: war and sport.

    War is (usually) fought for the ends, that is, victory (and what comes with victory) is the most important aspect of the conflict for the factions involved.

    Sport, on the other hand, is (usually) fought for improving on oneself (or one’s team), a sort of victory that can be found in both winning and losing battles (losing a game can help one improve just as, if not more than, winning a game can).

    In terms of video gaming, I get upset when victory in a war-like situation is considered (by both the games and the players) to be like a victory in a sports-like situation (e.g. Warhammer Online, whose demise I am much enjoying).

    War situations have their excitements and the like that I would be extremely interested in (especially if player politics and economies were emphasized), but only if they are kept separate from sports situations, or if they are weaved into sports situations without one becoming the other (a risky and difficult concept that, if done right, would make for a very interesting game).

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