Back in the day, you needed some heavy duty software to play games online. And I don’t mean the sorts of flash games you find on your web browser- no, I am referring to the glorious Multi-User Dungeon, appropriately abbreviated MUD. For those of you unfamiliar with MUDs, they are a lot like old-school Dungeons & Dragons, in that everything is made up in your mind and your only confirmation of events are through text on the screen, and even more so like old-school D&D, people still play them today, no matter how odd it may seem.
I have tried playing some MUDs before, even recently, and my first impressions were always how old they really felt. And that feeling starts when you have to download programs that emulate the internet itself, essentially and punch in coordinates like you were serving on the bridge of the Enterprise. And to that end, as I said above, the abbreviation MUD is rather fitting simply because of how obscure and murky these things get at times. When you give your players the liberty to program their own rooms on your game, it is not unlikely that one may fall down a waterfall only to land in a desert oasis with a pirate ship marooned in the middle of a lake, and you may think I am joking, but this is all coming from experience.
So, why did I even drag these things out of the mud (oh, that’s a tickler right there) to discuss in the first place? Well for the same reason you go to history lessons in school: you learn from your past. I don’t know exactly what MUDs are a good example of. I suppose you learn what a devoted community is like, considering these games have literally no graphics at all and people have been playing them for 20 years and counting. I chalk that up half to nostalgia, honestly, but the environments do actually lean more towards the fun side, so the lesson there amounts to: Fun is Fun. But we don’t care about that, no, I brought up MUDs for what they do wrong.
As with the desert-pirate mish-mash I mentioned before, lots of good games have suffered in some areas from a lack of moderation, or developer involvement, more specifically. The infinitely possible and ageless Team Fortress 2 used to be a big mess itself. People would create entire servers devoted just to getting in-game items, rather than actually playing the game itself. Valve stepped in, thankfully, and put an end to it, but that’s not always the case. Electronic Arts’ Battlefield: Bad Company was a rather delightful game. It went above and beyond the call of duty, one might say (wink, wink) by ditching the elements common to first person shooters at the time, by dropping bad concepts like unbalanced weapons, 100% unguided weapon loadouts, constantly regenerating health, and a focus on running wild and abandoning both teamwork and strategy as a whole. Everyone loved this game- a lot. They even released new weapons and maps for online play for free, unlike other games which test the limits of consumer stupidity by selling you a few maps for one fourth of the game’s retail price.
But try playing Bad Company now. Fittingly enough, you’re going to be stuck playing with some pretty damn bad company. All the cooperative team players have moved on to other games. They have no reason to play BC because EA has pretty much forgotten about it. I played a match with the number one BC player in the world, or at least at the time about a year ago. And I thought it was going to be a match to tell my grandchildren about, but I found out exactly why he is ‘Number 1’. This little sneak memorised every spawning location of every enemy on every map. And he just stood behind where a player would spawn, knife at the ready, and kill them before they could have a chance to move. I went so far as to kill him just to give the enemy a chance, but by then, so many people got bored of dying and quit the game! Note to EA: quit abandoning your damn games! People actually play these things!
Looking at the market today, it is easy to understand why indie developers have experienced such a rise in popularity. They release updates consistently, and they never get too boring. Even Minecraft is still popular because the players at least have the freedom to make it fun- the original developer, Notch, has essentially abandoned the game, but it is still played because he gave the players enough freedom to moderate it themselves. So that presents two solutions to the problem now: moderate your games, or let the players moderate your games. So why does no one moderate games like Bad Company? Because nobody at EA cares. I am sure there are people like me who would love to see people play these games the right way, but no one has the freedom to change it.
This problem permeates the triple-A industry more so than the indie side of the industry, but you can tell even from the MUDs of the olden days that this is no new issue. But with technology evolving at an exponential rate, you can’t deny that we have at least created solutions to old problems. Now all it takes is someone to implement them.