EVE Online: "The War on the Impossible", Part 2: Democracy

Dana Massey | 6 Nov 2007 23:19
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Jessica Mulligan: "Citizens Against the Gods"

At this point, theology entered the debate. Mulligan delivered a retooled presentation originally delivered to a group of game developers who wanted to know how to deal with their player base.

To her, players exist in three categories:

  • Citizens: These players like and care about the game and look out for the good of everyone in it.
  • Tribesman: These players are more interested in the good of their own guild or circle of friends than the game itself.
  • Barbarians: These players could care less about the game and seem to exist more for the drama.
Often, players get upset at the "Gods" (the developers) for a few reasons, including: developers improperly managed players' expectations of what the game would be, they made promises they couldn't keep, they largely ignored their players or actively developed an antagonistic relationship with them.

Mulligan believes players want a series of things, but these things are not necessarily what they need. When asked though, they'll say they want honesty, respect, instant gratification and their own personal issues solved. What they need is similar, but differs in some important ways: honesty, respect, justice, consistency, properly managed expectations and a level playing field.

One theory she presented was that of the "karma bank", which says that as developers do good things for their players, they gain a certain amount of karma, which is then spent whenever they screw up. It explains - for example - why Star Wars Galaxies suffered an outright revolt when they introduced the NGE after a widely unpopular "Combat Upgrade" and EVE continued to move forward and grow despite their recent employee misconduct scandal.

While none of this directly relates to the Council of Stellar Management, Mulligan painted a rather clear and fair picture of how virtual world communities function, which then set the stage for Dr. Bartle.

Dr. Richard Bartle: "Government and the Gods"

Bartle brought everyone back to theology with his lecture, which defined in theological terms the roles of players and developers in a virtual world and then explained why he believes the Council of Stellar Management is flawed.

Bartle defined both "god" and "government" in the context of this discussion:

  • God: Someone who creates a reality.
  • Government: Someone who operates within a reality to enforce their will, but must obey the "physics" of that world.
    • The physics being the base rules that govern existence. In reality, they are literally physics, of course, but in a video game they are whatever the gods say they are.
With those definitions in mind, he explained that the developers are the gods, as they created the physics of EVE Online. Bartle then said that, for him, "gods cannot be governments", because while governments can be deposed, the nature of a god is that they cannot ever give up their power. At this point, things were getting just a touch philosophical, but while it took some time to paint a full picture of his thesis, once complete, it made some strong points about EVE.

He continued the presentation with four examples of how games have historically managed the god vs. government relationship:

  • Developers have total and complete power.
  • Developers have total and complete power, but players can self organize within the world and create things like guilds.
  • Developers descend into their virtual world, so while they have complete power, they are also in that world. He pointed out the example of Richard Garriott in Ultima Online.
  • The fourth version is only theoretical, as no one has ever successfully done it. However, it is a system where the gods are servants to the players and do whatever they want unconditionally.
Almost all games fall into the second category, where developers are the gods and the players are the government (guilds). However, while EVE Online has been that way, the word democracy implies a shift towards the fourth form of the world. The flaw with this relationship is that a democracy lacks "artistic integrity" and could take the game in random directions, which may or may not be positive.

The fact is, the Council of Stellar Management is not a shift toward a system where the developers are subordinated to the players. If the council votes for something the developers do not want to do, they will not do it. The developers have a veto, no matter what they say, and CCP acknowledged that to be true.

In Richard Bartle's estimation, what this provides the players is "a say, not a vote", which is not real power and likely something they already had.

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