Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wanted: The Inn Between the Worlds

You are a player of World of Warcraft or some other massively multiplayer game. At some point, after you have been playing for a year or two and have established a network of friends and acquaintances, the server you play on gets too crowded; Blizzard announces that they are going to split it in two.

One result is to reduce lag due to overcrowding. Another is to split friendships. Some players go one direction, some the other, and never the twain shall meet.

I propose a simple way of ameliorating the problem: The Inn Between the Worlds, a server to which everyone, on every server, has access. Unlike ordinary servers, it does not represent a world with monsters, quests, and other processor intensive features. It is merely a (very large) inn. It exists to let old friends meet again, tell each other of their adventures, trade lies.

A similar but more difficult problem exists as new games come on the market. Some players leave the old game, some stay. Could a version of the same solution still work?

I think it could, although how well it works depends in part on the willingness of the companies that own the games to cooperate. I am imagining a game which is, again, merely an inn. It differs from all other games in that it allows players to bring into it their characters from other games. Since all they are doing is sitting, talking and perhaps showing off their possessions, the problems of interoperability should not be too serious. Legal problems could be more serious; it is unclear to what degree hosting my WoW character in someone else's game, complete with clothing, name, physical appearance and (inspectable but inoperable) gear, would violate Blizzard's legal rights. But that isn't a problem if Blizzard cooperates.

An encouraging sign is a recent story about plans by Second Life to open source its software, which should permit other people to build compatible worlds.

19 Comments:

At 8:11 PM, May 16, 2007, Anonymous Joshua Kronengold said...

Er...

I think it's called "email". Or maybe skype, aim, yim, jabber, etc.

More seriously, the problem is that even if such a service were put up, and all the interoperability issues solved, you'd run into huge congestion (if not computation/network congestion, shelfspace congestion) in your "inn". To do this right, you'd need a brokerage server for "inns" that would allow them to exist independant of, but in more or less the same place in, the various games -- so one group of friends would generally (regardless of game) meet in the "Rooster and Cat", wheras another might meet in the "Axle and X-Wing".

This is, of course, ignoring the fact that IIRC WoW has server-transfers for characters (on a limited basis), and that in these games, much of your hanging out involves playing the game -- so people on other servers or other games will have less to talk about with you in game-related forae.

 
At 5:14 AM, May 17, 2007, Anonymous Tom Courtney said...

This is at least partially the idea behind XBox's Home - it is a place where the top level avatar exists, and meets others to interact with, so even once you've stopped playing in a particular game, you haven't necessarily lost a gaming buddy.

 
At 7:20 AM, May 17, 2007, Anonymous Patrick said...

On the subject of WoW server splits, the problem is the game design; this isn’t an inherent or inevitable issue with MMORPGs. Check out Guild Wars (built by ex-Blizzard employees). Guild Wars is structured such that this problem doesn’t happen. Even in the case where friends play primarily on different ‘Zones’ (N. Am vs. European, for example), we can always meet up in the International Zone. All PvE content is always available to any combination of participants.

On the second issue, friends playing different games, the traditional solution has been for those friends to share an online bulletin board. I know of ‘Guilds’ composed of people who all originally met in one game (UO, Diablo) who have since gone on to play many other games. Some members will play WoW, some GW, some HU; but they all keep in contact via the Guild’s BB.

 
At 3:51 PM, May 17, 2007, Anonymous arthur b said...

I think what you really need is one world being computed on multiple servers. When an action is done in a world, its geographical implications are limited, therefore it is unlikely that many information will have to travel between the two servers. This can be reinforced by creating virtual physical obstacle between the worlds: a sea, mountains, etc.

Assume now that the world is too crowded. All they have to do is to open a passage in the mountains that gives access to new land. Some people may prefer to go there, as there is less lag, more exciting opportunities, they will push the frontiers, while other will stay behind. The move between servers is voluntary, and incremental... friends can organize, decide to split, to stay together etc as they deem best.

 
At 4:06 PM, May 17, 2007, Blogger raphfrk said...

However, splitting a server doesn't require creating a whole new area. You just re-use the art.

In EQ2, you can /send to people on any server by using the target's server name as a prefix.

Another similar idea I had was to allow people to keep (some of) their investment in the old game.

If you switch to a new game, you have to start at level 1. This is worse than starting a new alt on the game that you have been playing as you have none of the benefits of (near) unlimited wealth compared to a level 1. This is in addition to the lack of knowledge.

The game could offer people who have a cap level char on another game some advantage for switching. For example, you might get a boost to exping on the new game.

This could work even better on games that are run by a single company. Sony give a pass that covers multiple games, so they could access each other's databases (in principle).

 
At 5:20 PM, May 17, 2007, Blogger Subrata said...

Professor, do you play WoW? If so, are you looking forward to Blizzard's upcoming game announcement?

 
At 6:51 PM, May 17, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Subrata asks if I play World of Warcraft. Indeed I, my wife, and at least two of my children, do.

I'm not aware of Blizzard's future plans.

 
At 9:48 PM, May 17, 2007, Blogger Micha said...

Patri plays occasionally too, so make that three children.

Blizzard will be announcing its next game this Saturday.

Patrick already mentioned Guild Wars, and as someone who came to WoW from that game, it saddens me whenever I have to deal with the problems that arise from WoW's isolated server structure. Apart from reworking the system entirely, it would be nice if Blizzard at least allowed free and unlimited transfers between any two servers, with the exception of newly created servers and their 6-month grace period.

Regarding Patrick's second point, the Amazon Basin is a great example of a successful group of friends who have maintained their gaming community for over 6 years. I discussed the Amazon Basin as a private organization designed to create order and peace in a world without government in an article I wrote a few years ago, The Political Economy of Diablo II: A Critique.

 
At 10:53 PM, May 17, 2007, Anonymous js290 said...

Or, try Second Life. It seems like the anarcho-capitalism utopia.

 
At 12:46 PM, May 19, 2007, Anonymous Ben Corman said...

This is the same problem that social networks and instant messaging services have. Say some of my friends spend the majority of their time on Facebook, some on Myspace. If I want to interact with both groups I’ve got to maintain separate profiles on each service so I can stay up with them. Same with AIM vs Yahoo Chat vs MSN vs Google Chat.

It’s not totally analogous because those services are free and most MMORPGs aren’t but it’s still a pain to have to maintain separate profiles and programs in order to talk to everyone out there.

Even to leave comments on different blogs, one needs to maintain numerous accounts. One at typepad, one at blogger, etc (although allowing anonymous comments helps the situation somewhat).

The point is, this fragmentation happens all over the place and I’m not sure having one central place where everyone meets up would necessarily work. If the criteria was simply, “I go where the people are” then one of these services (a social network, an IM protocol) should have won out by now. But people want to break off into separate communities. Look at how many IRC networks existed in the late nineties (and may still exist, it’s been a while since I’ve been on an IRC channel) and that was a totally free service where people could create their own channels (communities) and still there was a proliferation of networks.

I know I’m not proposing a real solution, but the problem is wider than just MMORPGs.

 
At 2:39 PM, May 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

relationships that originated on the internet are illegitimate

 
At 10:45 PM, May 19, 2007, Blogger `Koa said...

Interesting concept.

I just began playing Second Life, myself, and I have to admit, for such a diverse world in structure and essence, it is lacking a bit.

While I'm shocked in a way that you would talk about it at all, I'm equally shocked and more intrigued by the fact that you have a WoW character. Not that you couldn't, by any means... or that you shouldn't...
just...
that you do.

 
At 2:45 AM, May 20, 2007, Blogger Jonathan said...

What amazes me that you have time to play WoW as well as all the other things you do.

Some people, I've observed, have the trick of getting more than 24 hours out of each day.

 
At 1:39 PM, May 20, 2007, Anonymous albatross said...

The rest of us burn our spare time reading blogs....

 
At 1:39 PM, May 20, 2007, Anonymous albatross said...

...the rest of us burn all those spare hours reading blogs....

 
At 1:40 PM, May 20, 2007, Anonymous albatross said...

(Sorry--I thought it ate my post.)

 
At 9:57 PM, May 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WoW ruins lives...

 
At 10:49 PM, May 21, 2007, Blogger lexspoon said...

A chat program not only suffices, but is equivalent to an inn between the worlds. It's a place that is not the real game, but where many of the same people hang out and communicate....

Overall, this is part of how online networks work. There are multiple networks on top of the Internet, and several of them are useful, so everybody has accounts on multiple networks.

Incidentally, client software can help here. A case in point is the gaim program, which talks on multiple chat networks. Being part of 10 different gaming networks does not imply having 10 visibly separate applications to maintain.



PS -- Congestion and economics are the killer reason to run multiple realms, not performance. WoW's realms arrangement is really nice.

 
At 1:57 PM, May 23, 2007, Blogger Matt B said...

How about this:

For any server that is to be split, record for a month all social connections and for each player assign a score to each of those connections. Say: 100 points for a friend, 10 points for a guild member, and 0.1 points for each pst between players.

Then apply an algorithm that splits the server in a way that minimises the score of broken connections. The number of permutations, while large, would be limited by the fact that each player can only be allocated to one of two places.

 

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