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The birth of MMOs: World of Warcraft's debt to MUD

Rohan Pearce | June 7, 2013
The virtual worlds of World of Warcraft and its ilk owe a lot to Richard Bartle and the game that spawned the MMO genre: MUD

These categories were (and are) relevant to the people who run MMOs: achieving a particular equilibrium of player styles will govern the 'feel of an individual world. The paper sets out ways that game administrators can influence styles of play by adjusting the features available to players in a MUD.

Although a game like Dungeons & Dragons Online may look very different to MUD1, the central conclusions of the paper still hold, Bartle says.

"It follows from the fact that MMOs - and MUDs, and social worlds such as Second Life - are all basically the same thing: virtual worlds," he says.

"People play them for the same fundamental reasons. Those reasons haven't changed. There are no modifications [to the categories] necessary for changes in technology because the model is technology-independent."

Today's multiplayer games support the four archetypes outlined by Bartle "because their designers have read the paper and have accounted for them in their designs," he says.

"In other words, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy even if it's wrong (although we'd know by now if it did have any major problems, because it's been used so much)."

"The original reason I published my model was that prior to this, people tended to design MMOs (MUDs as they were called back then) that they, personally, wanted to play. I was trying to point out that they should be writing ones that people wanted to play. People have different tastes and motivations, so they should aim to satisfy these. That was my central point.

"I was expecting someone to come up with a better model within six months and consign mine to the scrap heap. I didn't care, though, because I'd made my main point. As it happened, the model was better than I thought and is still going strong."

Bartle adds while his model may hold relevance beyond MMOs - "indeed there is some independent evidence that it applies to first-person computer games in general," he says -he is not willing to claim that it is directly applicable in other areas.

"If it's used elsewhere, though, it still has that same, initial observation behind it: people are different. If you want to design anything interactive for people, you need to consider the fact that they're all different yet interdependent. That's the real value of what it brings to things such as gamification.

"There are almost certain to be models out there that are better than mine for analysing gamification, but at least they'll recognise that there are different people with different likes and dislikes, rather than a bunch of clones."

While many modern virtual worlds owe a debt to the inventiveness of the original MMO, some innovations with how virtual worlds are presented to players have cut into the immersiveness of the experience.


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