Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The decline and fall of the Church of Reset

When I was a freshman in College I got hooked pretty hard on an MMO called Kingdom of Loathing. It's really an excellent game. At the time the actual plot wasn't very extensive, the game relied on an excellent endgame to keep people playing. It consists largely of a robust economy and an a vibrant online community. I chronicle below my failed forays into this endgame.

I'm a voracious devourer of content. When I hit level 60 in classic World of Warcraft one of the things I did right away was visit all the zones I had skipped and do the quests that I missed. I did the same thing with the Kingdom of Loathing; I did every quest, visited every zone and read the descriptions of every item. It wasn't all that hard, the game was being produced by a guy who was doing it part time. There's always a gap between how much effort it is to produce content and how much time it takes to experience it. In his defense the game was in beta anyway.

That's actually a key plot point; on the login page there was an announcement you could read (if you cared to; very few people do) that clearly stated the game was in beta, and at some point in the future there would be a reset. The Reset would take away everybody's items, reduce everybody to level one again and proceed on into version 1.0 with everyone on an equal footing.

So now I enter stage left. The game had recently gone through a massive bugging spree called "Black Sunday". An infinite currency bug and an item duplication bug surfaced fairly close together, and the information got out. When the dust settled and while the game economy was going through massive deflation, I had managed to amass a decent amount of capital. But I had started to get bored with constantly poring over the markets, and gravitated towards the other major endgame: the online community.

I was already an active forum poster, which worked about the same as my social life in high school; I'd dart into conversations here and there, leave a devastatingly witty comment (in my mind) and then wait for the offers of eternal friendship to come rolling in. Well, perhaps not quite that desperate (in either example). I was a respected member of the community, but I was still a nobody. I wanted to be somebody. So I started my own online religion.

"The Church of Reset" I called it. Borrowing a page from the street corner evangelist who gets his inspiration from the Gospel according to Jose Cuervo, I used an apocalyptic religion because it allowed me some very entertaining rants. The belief system of the church, once you got past the doomsaying, was based on spoilers. You see, if you skipped over parts of the game then you could never go back and do them yourself. And so, I argued that quest items should be made non tradeable, and I attempted to buy them out of the economy. There was a market for em, you see.

I'd place bounties on items, so that people would sell them to me. I figured if I made it cost prohibitive to buy the items, then people who looked up the spolier would at least decide to go find the items themselves, and therefor be forced to enjoy the content.

Can you see where this is going? I couldn't. I bought up massive amounts of useless junk, paid out a fortune in bounties, convinced a few people to join my church and eventually gave up the game, having managed to convince not a single person to my point of view, having spent myself down several tax brackets (if the game had taxes, which it doesn't) and having not at all managed to achieve a place for myself in the community as I had originally desired.

So now I'm going to discuss at length (do I discuss anything any other way?) why.

First lesson: Be yourself

You can get this lesson from practically any book targeting seventh graders. I'm just going to say that you can't get a position in any community by forcing yourself in.

Second lesson: People want to play the game how they want, not how you want.

Then there's the projection of morality problem. You see, I decided I knew how to play the game best, and that if people played the game my way they'd be happier, so I tried to force them into playing the game my way. (I hasten to add that I didn't even live up to my own standards; I looked up the spoilers on my first run through too). You can't force any sort of morality on people externally; even made up play-the-game-better moral principles. People will only do the things that you tell them to if they already believe that it's the right thing to do. Telling people to do stuff doesn't give them that belief, and they rightly resent you for it.

Third lesson: Price floors don't work.

I did manage to raise the price of quest items. Take bridges, my main focus. Where before they were selling for a thousand or so meat, (meat is currency in that game. Yeah, it's awesome, and yeah, that's the sort of offbeat humor that permeates it.) At the height of my bounties I raised the price to about 100,000, which makes for a significant deterrent for someone who'd just go and buy one to get the quest done.

The trouble is, to raise the price that high I had to pay for any bridges selling lower than that. My best estimate is that I spent about a billion and a half meat on the scheme before I finally couldn't support it any more. Once I ran out, there was nobody else to take up the cause, and the prices fell back to their starting levels fairly soon thereafter.

One more problem with it; people saw that someone was paying a hundred k for an otherwise worthless item, so they started farming them. The end result was that a lot more bridges were put onto the market than I had taken off with all my buying out.

You can't fight supply and demand.

Fourth Lesson: People don't like making fun of religion.

For some of you, that will be obviously untrue, so let me qualify it a bit. You've got three kinds of people who will make fun of religion; the atheists and so forth who actively are trying to break it up, the comedians who are going for shock value, and occasionally people who are comfortable with their religion and have a strong sense of humor. And not even everybody in those three categories; people in the latter category are a lot more careful with the joke other people make; they won't laugh along unless they're sure that you don't mean it.

Most people just get uncomfortable. Here's a pro tip kids; if you want to make yourself popular then avoid doing things that make your audience uncomfortable. The handful of people I did recruit were largely pastafarians.

For the record, I'm in the third group of people. I'm solidly Christian, and as I think back I don't think even I would have laughed had someone else did the exact thing I was doing.

So, that's the hows and the whys of the Church of Reset. But before I send this one out the door I'd be doing the game a disservice if I didn't recommend it. The game has progressed markedly since my heyday; it's got several times more content, it's got other, interesting types of endgame content and it's got a full development team so the updates come often and well produced. It's really an awesome game, if not one that I made myself.

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