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Sunday, April 25, 2010

On ATITD Bastet

In my last post I spoke about the Bastet shard of A Tale in the Desert. I have since played on this shard, talked to many people on it and on the main shard, and done a thorough search of the wiki for both main and bastet shards as well as the "legacy" wikis from previous tales. I've come to some general conclusions about the game and its future iterations.

The only way multiple servers can effectively work for this game is if they are launched simultaneously; and only then if they treated and maintained like other MMORPG's multi-server systems. The reason is fairly simple...

Critical Minimum Server Population. I'll say it again Critical Minimum Server Population. There exists a point at which a server is not crowded enough for people to play a game effectively. The more single-player oriented the game is the less this impacts it, but all MMORPGs have to reach a CMSP to remain viable. World of Warcraft is very good at hitting this with their new servers, and only has problems with some of its pvp servers. Games like Warhammer Online and Age of Conan and even Aion have problems maintaining population and thus creep closer to CMSP, and failure. Star Wars Galaxies has had to merge servers in order to maintain a level of population above CMSP, but still is struggling.

CMSP is a tricky thing to manage, because Dunbar's Number also applies to this situation. Dunbar's number is a concept that people naturally gather in groups of a certain size, and above that size splinter off into separate groups. The two work in concert with MMORPGs, because if you are near or above Dunbar's number, you have overcrowding, but if you are below CMSP you have no community and players suffer.

In reference to ATITD; they suffer from both problems at once. First, the main shard is above Dunbar's number in terms of crowding (legacy structures from expired accounts that have not been torn down, mines that are beyond reasonable repair, and a lot of crap littering the more populated areas) and overpopulation (the majority of the game is relegated by passing tests, in which you compete against other players. New players are at the moment, virtually unable to pass some of the more competitive tests because of the current server state). This leads to a frustrating inability for players to start and build in the main shard anywhere but a crappy location with poor access to resources or travel buildings.

Bastet suffers from the opposite problem. Competitive tests are easy enough, spots are plenty, but there aren't enough people to pass some of the massive tests, like tests of acrobatics. This test requires people to learn a variety of acrobatic moves one "facet" at a time from others (seven facets to a move). Sounds easy enough but the chance to learn from a person is variable, each person is given one move initially (the rest must be learned) and you can only learn one or two facets per move per person (with a huge chance that you will not be able to learn any facets). Also, there are too few people to ensure you have access to things that require a lot of people, such as stone digs. If you need to buy something or don't want to make it yourself, good luck getting a decent or doable price as everything is rare.

The solution? Well unfortunately none for ATITD. The only true solution would be release both shards at once, however, the whole point of the shard is to bring in more players. If given a choice most of the old players would flock to one server to play together, and inevitably one server would get ahead and the other would fall behind. The stagnant server would probably not be viable for long (that said most of Egenesis's money comes from lengthy subscriptions, and requiring each shard to have its own subscription cost means lots of money would still come in). Releasing one server later than the other leads to the same problem: one overpopulated server and one underpopulated server. The only way to have two viable servers is to have one subscription fee. That way you could play on both servers if you wanted. however that defeats the whole purpose of two servers as many people would play with both and the net increase in population is both hard to measure and probably very low.

In short, ATITD's system is more or less relegated to a single server system. There is no good way to make two servers identical with different groups of population, save binding them together so the populations can't be that out of whack (shutting down new character creation on one until the other reaches a certain limit) or research and technology are kept close (reduce the costs for research on the slower one and/or increase times and costs for the faster one). I just don't think it will work for the players, but it is certain to work for certain pocketbooks.

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