Koster has his own law too

I haven’t done an MMO Laws post for awhile and looking Raph’s laws again last night I made a realization that a couple of his laws really connected in an odd way. In fact I thought that one law was in conflict with another law. In particular I want to talk about Koster’s Law and how the Community Size Law basically counters it.

So first up is Koster’s Law:

The quality of roleplaying is inversely proportional to the number of people playing.

I completely understand this law. It seems true. After all, the little MUDs out there more often than not have far better roleplay going on than the massive MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Even if you go to an RPG specific servers in an MMO, the roleplaying doesn’t come anywhere close to what you find in a MUD. You can even take this further and compare the free Ultima Online servers and compare them to the commercial ones. The commercial ones tend to have more people, and yes do have less role-playing than the free ones.

The problem I saw with this theory lied in the Community Size Law:

Ideal community size is no larger than 250. Past that, you really get subcommunities.

Now, I will generally argue the number that seems to have arbitrarily been shoved in here. I actually think the number of 250 seems far too large. I feel anything over 25 to 50 really ends up with sub-communites. I’ve been in a couple of larger 100 person guilds in my day and they generally will separate out into a few cliques which always are together, even a guild of 50 tends to have a couple of cliques which is why I tend to lean towards 25.

I think this law was kind of created to justify a smaller server size for MUDs. After all, if you only have a server with a 200 player max, you know your community is a singluar community. Going to server sizes, my first online game was Shadows of Yserbius which generally had a server size between 60 and 100 people at any given time. You know what? We had a lot of subcommunities. Granted this was the max at any given time and I’m sure there was around 250-300 permanent residents of any particular server, if not more. But still the point is the same, Raph’s number is gigantic.

I do think that it is true that once you reach a certain number of people, the community starts to fracture into sub-communities, though I think this number tends to be much smaller than what Raph suggests. But the interesting part about this law and how it relates to Koster’s Law is that in a general sort of way the roleplaying does generally go down as the server size go up. However, there will always be pockets of top notch roleplaying in the sub-communities on these large servers. So it isn’t really that the quality of roleplaying is going down with the larger servers, it is just becoming more difficult to find those communities because there are many non-role-playing communities surrounding them.

We can think of this another way too. Both a small server MUD and a large server MMO are in the larger base of the internet life. Internet population is gigantic, but curiously both the MUD and the MMO are part of it. So by the definition of Koster’s Law, neither of these types of games should have decent role-playing skills as they are both part of the larger internet field and there are far more users of the internet than any particular MUD. I Can go even further and say that Real Life should have even worse roleplayers since there are more people in the world than on the internet, even though the internet has the same people in them.

The end result is that this is, of course ridiculous, and in a way so is my argument. The point that seems to be missed in Koster’s law is that it isn’t about worse role-playing quality, it is more about difficulty finding the quality. And this point would be true. In a way it is like youtube. There is a lot of quality video on youtube, it is really difficult to find it because there is so much bad quality on youtube. Still, the quality is there. The fault isn’t the user base, the only way you can get good quality is if you have a lot of people trying. After all, even the best artists have art that is just junk that you don’t even likely see. It is the gem that gets seen.

The otus is really on the developers of these interfaces (games included) to help players find the quality. The otus is not on the players to become better at what you want them to do. As such, if you feel that you are having a hard time finding good roleplayers in your online game, you should be asking the developers of that game why it is that they aren’t providing you with the tools to find them.

I think the emphasis of this can be seen largely in the internet itself. If you want to find a good guild, you rarely look in the game. You go to websites. You find these websites by visiting other websites and doing searches on Google. So in essence, the developers have failed the user to such a great extent that at the purpose of finding other players in a multi-player game, Google is doing a better job than the developer, which isn’t right at all.

It is weird thinking back on say the Instant Messaging fiasco of Ultima Online as something similar. I actually liked that there wasn’t an IM in UO. However, the fact that the players were willing to go outside the game and get an IM meant that Origin completely missed the mark. They should have learned this in early alpha testing that people would be doing this, and if not then they should have certainly figured it out by beta tests.