Friday, April 27, 2007

Why Choose MUDs Over Real Games?

This question was posed on today, so I thought that I would share my answer, as follows:

I take that to mean "real games" as graphical MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, Neverwinter Nights, etc.

To get the easy one out of the way, cost. Almost all MUDs are totally free, including MUD clients. Other games include a purchase price of ~$50, and often have a monthly subscription. As well, they require additional hardware - a "non-gamer" can easily play a MUD on an outdated computer as long as it has Internet access, even with a 56k or older modem. They can even be played at libraries, schools, work and other institutions. Other games require a top of the line machine with cable or faster modem, which is not always realistic or worthwhile for everyone, for example highschool students.

Somewhat related, MUDs tend to last longer and are more economical over time. A lot of mudders play for 10 years or more, whereas the lifespan for a store-bought game is nowhere close to that. Someone who plays regular computer games is likely to have to buy new games or expansion packs on a regular basis: not only is this expensive, but it also means that you end up "starting again" on every new game. Many people dislike learning new systems and would rather stick with something they know, as long as it is still entertaining. What this means is that MUDs are potentially more attractive for character development - there isn't a pressure to get the new game out, so people feel comfortable staying in the same place for a much longer time. Due to the low-tech nature of MUDs, there isn't really much to be gained by trying a new one, whereas with regular games the graphics are always evolving, gameplay improves, etc. and you really get left behind if you're playing last year's version. With some good coders, MUDs can evolve and give new features to their players without requiring them to get a new version, or in anyway disrupt their experience.

So, most of that deals with cost and convenience: I'd also argue that in some ways, the product is better with MUDs.

Firstly, they're a lot more flexible: as alluded to before, they just require a couple of good coders, and you can be adding new features all the time. With MMORPGs, you just don't get that. It's a lot more difficult to get new features in, just because of the amount of work. You have to wait until developers release another patch, and the whole thing is a very time-consuming process that players have no say in. With a MUD, it's very possible for a bug to be noticed and fixed on the same day, whereas players of a store-bought game will likely have to live with it for weeks or months, unless it is critically serious.

There is also a lot more flexibility from the player's standpoint, as there are more tools that the players can use to develop. For example, almost all MUDs allow players to write their own character description, using all the words they want to use. With an MMORPG, your character looks like what the developers wanted it to look like. Sometimes you get a choice, but in the end every elf looks the same except with different hair colour and clothes. It is just too difficult for the developers to create a thousand different choices so that everyone can get their character to look exactly how they want. I would argue that the more a player is able to "create" their character and define everything about it, the closer link they feel with it, and as a result the more loyal they are to the game.

Also, text can be a huge advantage. Carrying on from that, roleplayers on MUDs can easily describe what their character is doing in great detail, just like a book's author. Again, in an MMORPG, that just isn't possible, the player does not have that power as the game is not flexible enough to allow it. On a good MUD, it really is like a book written by the players, and that allows a great deal of imagination and cooperation and lets players really take part and develop the game and it's story. On an MMORPG, for the most part, the story is static and often described in full through a single-player campaign. Players are simply players, they use and enjoy what the developer has written - on MUDs, I would argue that it is a lot easier for players to take part in the development process. Many MUDs are close to their players and encourage suggestions, and form a much closer-knit community than any commercial game: almost like everyone is a hobbyist and enthusiast, rather than "players vs. developers". This tends to create a much friendlier community, encouraging interaction and making people feel as though they are part of an online family, rather than just "paying subscriber #75892".

To sum it up, I suppose: television didn't make books obsolete, even with the huge amount of choice now of DVDs and so on; I don't see any reason as to why graphical games will make MUDs obsolete. Sure, fewer people will play them, but as long as they keep some sustainable advantages over MMORPGs, I think that they'll always have an interest base.


Anonymous said...

Isn't comparing TV and Books to MMO's and Muds a bit far-fetched?

Karinthadillo said...

Directly, yes - clearly they are very different media with different audiences. However, the comparison I'm attempting to draw is not direct based on the features of the genre nor is it meant to be all-encompassing. What I'm trying to get across at the end is the common belief that any new technology will create a new paradigm etc. and destroy what has come before is not necessarily true, which is what is often argued with MUDs, that they are obsolete.

My argument with regards to books/TV (or even ebooks, too) is that although MMOs are the latest thing and the hot topic these days, they are not a direct replacement for MUDs, for some of the reasons previously mentioned in the post. Much like TV is not a direct replacement for reading, and books bring different features and sources of enjoyment resulting in people still reading them. That's as far as the comparison is intended to go: totally agree that the reasons people read books and the reasons people play MUDs are likely to be totally different. The similarity is that obsolescence due to technology is often overstated as people jump on the bandwagon of whatever is talked up as the next "game changer".

Owl's perch said...

Things always attract an audience. MUDs attract those who wish to interact with their worlds in a very real and fundamental way. Yet, also wish for the challenges and rewards posed by working with other players and an existing system.

It is that desire to be in a world which competes with books and TV. While the wish to be where others are that competes against the MMORPGs. MUDs exist as that bridge that connects the two.

MUDs will always have their place, for an expression of interaction and imagination. MMORPGs define places by virtue of their graphics, while books leave it open to the reader beyond the telling of "a forest glen with a pool of water." Until something else can provide that same balance between structure and freedom, affordability and development, and finally between simple use and complex results... MUDs will remain alive.