Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Player participation to game development

One thing which is unique to A Tale in the Desert is that the code can be changed while the game is running. There is no scheduled downtime for maintenance like in other games, the servers are basically always up. I was told that through the history of the game the servers have been down less than once per year. Now that is a feature I'd love other games to introduce!

Being able to change code while the game is running, and there being not many players, also means that the developers can discuss changes to the game with players, and implement them on the spot, or run tests with the participation of the players.

So last night Pharaoh announced that they were working on a new event, which consisted of a mining competition. And to test that out, he ran a test event with us, with around a hundred players participating. There were several different categories, rewarding players for the amount of ore produced, the number of puzzles solved, the number of players they grouped with while mining, and a combined score, plus a lottery for all participants. While the real event will take place on the weekend and have major prices, we still received useful resources as rewards for participating.

But the really interesting part was that before, during, and after the event there was a moderated chat channel to discuss the event with the developer. We first discussed what prices to give out for the test event, and some rules. During the event the way how the combined score was calculated was modified, taking into account player input on what was perceived to be most fair. And after the event further rules modifications were openly discussed between players and Pharaoh, for example on how to exclude sand mines, not built on a vein, or whether it was fair to have a "owner of the most productive mine" category when so many mines were public or guild owned.

While participating in game development and seeing the results implemented while the game is running is extremely cool, that of course is something that is only feasible for small games. A Tale in the Desert has only one server running the 5th telling right now, with a few hundred concurrent users, while World of Warcraft has over a thousand servers, and over a million people playing at any given moment. It would be kind of ridiculous to even imagine Ghostcrawler popping up on WoW general chat and asking all players simultaneously on how they think some WoW holiday event should be modified to be more fair.
Most players have a really, really hard time thinking as a game devolper. It sometimes riddles me, why.

I am talking about the typical MMO gamer, often found in WoW. Certainly not the people who play ATinD :)

There's even recent proof in one of GC posts on the WoW forums. I like to read his remarks a lot. Even if you do not play WoW they are interesting from a design point of view.

Over a thousand servers? where does that come from?
10,000 users per server max, peak of 1M concurrent players?
Well, just check the various Realm stats sites or the official WoW server status page. There are around 300 servers in the US, another 300 in Europe, and given that presumably half of the players are in Asia there must be over 400 servers in Asia, for a total of over 1,000 servers worldwide.
241 servers in NA and 248 servers in EU which would require a little over 500 servers in asia. After being shutdown for how many months? and with ongoing troubles with chinese regulation and with more and improving regional competition including PWI which is a Beijing product I am not going to guess that asia has half of all wow players any more. That is simply an assumption based on the 11 million users world wide announcement that is now years out of date. Also take into account that WoW has never shutdown servers but they have merged certain activities by doing cross realm battle grounds and cross realm dungeons now. That is a strong indication that WoW has lost players over the years and that the realms are thinning but props to them for finding a way to not have to merge servers which pretty universally sucks. NA and EU servers are unlikely to be running close to max capacity on the average. So even if Asia has 2x the players of NA they wont necessarily need twice the servers to handle them.

You might be right but I think it is at least as likely to be less than 1000 servers worldwide.

Not trying to bust blizz's chops. I don't doubt that they are at least 3 laps ahead of everyone else in this race. I just don't think we can make any assumptions about how they are doing currently based on the past numbers. I think they have been quiet about such things for a reason.
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