This is an essay that I wrote in 2001 when I was finishing up playing the game Ultima Online on a regular basis. It originally appeared in the editorial section of Stratics and was also picked up a few other places as well. When I play games I use the screen name Sie Ming which was the middle name of my high school friend Tony Yeun.
A few years ago we found out that it was footnoted in a book by Richard Bartle.
If you find this interesting, you might also like the follow-up article: I want to forge swords.
I want to bake bread. [a letter to game developers]
By Sie Ming
I’m an under served part of the Massively Multi-player Online Game (MMOG) player-base. I’m not a large part, and you’d be a fool to base your whole game around me. But I think I’d make a welcome addition to your bottom line. Evidence suggests that I don’t cost a lot to support and that I tend to stick around when I find a game that I like. I also add to your game in other, less tangible, ways. You’ll have to decide what those intangibles are worth.
I’m also a fairly untapped market. It’s been a few years since a game has come out that even attempted to attract me. Many of my members have never played a MMOG. We like simulations that deal with people: SimCity, Railroad Tycoon, Capitalist Pig, The Sims. The type of game where we’re “making a name for ourselves” without a lot of violence. Most of us don’t even know there are games like that with other real people playing. When many of these potential players of your game hear “multi-player” they think Quake. Show us that there’s more available.
Some game developers have even told me that I’m not welcome in their game:
Shadowbane: “We don’t play games to bake bread, we play them to crush!”
Legends of Kesmai: “Tired of making furniture? Want some real monsters to fight?”
That’s fine. In fact, I appreciate knowing ahead of time that there won’t really be much in your game of interest to me. It’s certainly better than being lead to believe that there will be something and then being disappointed. It’s better for these developers as well, because it keeps me from spreading disparaging reviews of their game.
Because of Shadowbane’s ad we rally around “baking” as our catchphrase. I’ve also called myself by the more generic –and more accurate– term: “crafter”. You see, it’s not just bread I want to bake. I also want to bake armor and dresses, phasers and chairs, scrolls and steam engines, swords and plow-shears, blasters and potion. I want to bake bread and anything else that you think is relevant for me to bake in your game.
There are a few other things that you need to know to keep me as part of your player base. They’re pretty obvious, and if you’ve thought about attracting me as a customer, then you’ve probably thought of most of these already. I’ll just list them in case you missed one or two:
- The things I make have to be desirable to at least some of the other players of your game. They should not be necessary for all other players (I know some of your other players have little or no use for me) but they should be useful to all of your players. Note that useful might also mean pretty, interesting looking, and so forth in this context.
- It should be possible for me to reach the same status –fame, loot, rank, level, gold…(whatever you use)– as other segments of your player-base (Monster Hunters, Explorers, Player Killers, Role Players…). But it is certainly reasonable to take into account the amount of risk involved in the reward. Standing next to a forge is certainly much safer than killing a Klingon. Mining may or may not be.
- I want to be able to enjoy the other parts of your game too. I know that I won’t be as effective as a sergeant or wizard at fighting, but I want to be able to develop some of those abilities. At least let me develop them enough to explore the game that you created and occasionally adventure with my less mundane friends.By the same token, I have no problem with other players who want to bake a little bread, but they should not be as good as someone who devotes more time and effort to it.
- As much as I like the idea of the items I make having a permanent place in your world, it’s more important to me in the long run that your economy works. With that in mind, don’t forget to include mechanisms for the items I create to: age / break / be consumed / need repairs / need recharging / decay / wear out / or whatever seems appropriate in your game.
- It should be easy enough to buy goods from me that other players do not feel that they need to create mules to ensure that they have an adequate supply of the bread I bake.It should also be expensive enough to become a good baker that it is not cost effective to make a mule to produce bread for just one player. This cost does not have to be just in terms of shekels. I also consider the time that I have invested as part of that cost.
- Baking bread need not be a complected “sub game” that takes a lot of time for you to program. In fact, most of my members are at least as interested in using and/or selling what they make as they are in the process of making it.But they don’t want the baking to be tedious either. If someone wants 100 apple pies then there should be a way for them to make the pies without getting Carpel Tunnel Syndrom. They understand that this has to be “balanced” (perhaps with higher failure, less ability gain or lower quality pies) that’s okay with them.
- If you are interested in making a more involved “subgame” for baking then many of us would find it enjoyable. But –in deference to those of us who would not– it should probably be optional. If recipes are needed to make sweet rolls, let us sell those recipes to players who do not enjoy the “research subgame”. Those of us who are not interested in a particular “subgame” understand that this too needs to be balanced in some way.
- The economy in your game has to work. Your players have to have enough money that the most expensive things we can make are within reach of and useful to– at least some of them. By the same token, your players cannot have so much money that our lesser goods –those made by new bakers– sit on the shelves and prevent new bakers from enjoying your game.
- Our cost to produce things has to scale well. It doesn’t work for our cheapest goods to cost 10 shekels to make and for our most expensive goods to cost 40 shekels to make. Everyone will buy the 40 shekel variety and those that cannot yet make the 40 shekel variety will not sell anything. The necessary cost difference will depend on how scarce shekels are in your game. Keep in mind that the scarcity of shekels will change over time, and adjustments may be needed.
- Help us diversify. If every baker in your game is exactly the same we’ll be bored, and the things we make will be viewed as commodities. Those things will cause us to quit playing your game sooner. We would rather be able to strive to be one of a few who are the best at baking a particular cuisine than to be among hundreds who are all equally “the best” at baking everything. We’re okay with having limits on what we can make, or the quality of what we make based on our choices in the game. We don’t necessarily like it, but we’ll put up with it, because the alternative is worse.
- We don’t like competition from your game servers. If you don’t spawn computer controlled characters to go out and kill monsters, then you should not spawn computer controlled characters to go out and sell things that are substantially the same as the stuff we make.However, we do understand that you will want to have computer controlled characters sell some items that are craftable –that’s no problem– but please do so in a way that does not make it impossible for new bakers to get started in their profession. This can be done by differentiating the items made by players and servers in terms of price, availability and/or quality.
- We don’t like selling things to computer controlled characters. Those people who bake bread and sell it to computer controlled characters for money are not us. They are just looking for easy shekels without risk and without interacting with your other players. But you have to understand that if you want this to work then our lesser skilled members have to be able to make something that is useful and desirable to the other lesser skilled members of your player-base (see 9 above).
- We hope you can devise some way that we can advance our skill without requiring us to make 10,000 widgets. It’s not that we dislike making (and selling) widgets, it’s just that we tend to flood the market if that’s the only way for us to advance. We really can’t help ourselves; we like to gain skill like anyone else. But we do know that flooding the market isn’t good for anyone. Please give us a way to avoid that.
- It’s probably not a good idea for us to become increasingly more efficient at producing relatively low level items. It is certainly nice for the egos (and purses) of crafters with high ability, but it tends to lower the price of items to the point where crafters of lesser ability are forced to sell their products at a loss if they want to sell them at all. This then urges everyone to strive solely for the quickest advancement to the highest (ie profitable) abilities instead of enjoying your game at each stage as they come to it.
- The amount of time it takes us to bake a few cakes should not depend on how quickly we can click our mouse button; it should not depend on how fast our connection to your game is; it should not depend on how advanced our macro program we use is. Characters with the same traits, abilities, equipment and raw materials should take the same amount of time to whip up some cakes. Please don’t make us into “twitch bakers”.
- When you’re writing your game, give some though to expanding crafting in the future; then don’t forget us entirely. We tend not to be as vocal as some of your player- base, and the additions need not be large. But they will encourage us to keep playing, and let us know you’re listening. We generally think it’s more important to tweak things to make them both balanced and useful than it is to add new things.
- Find some way to let us know about your game. There’s a chance we’ll stumble across it on our own, but you can increase that greatly by letting us know you’ve done these things. No one is marketing their game to us now. In fact, some games clearly don’t want us baking bread anywhere near their players. We don’t expect a major marketing campaign, but if you do some of the things listed above let us know so we can try them out.
The next game to really try to support our “style of play” will not only gain many loyal players, but will also be enhancing the quality of their player-base. Not many kewl doodz bake bread.
Thanks, and we look forward to playing your game.
Sie Ming [self appointed speaker for bread bakers of all varieties]
This essay originally appeared as an editorial on Stratics.
P.S. If you know a game designer personally, feel free to send this to them, or post it where it might be seen.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.