27 November 2009

Towards another community management feature

I detailed some of the current community management features in one of my previous post. Community management can also be done in an active and «preventive» manner instead of simply being reactive when events happen. For instance, Blizzard has organized its fourth BlizzCon in August 2009. During this, some Developer Panels showed to players how new levels were created. I do not know if there were particularly charismatic developers inside the Developer Panels. But if most of these panelists were unknown of the player audience, either work should be done to improve their visibility to the players or panelists should be people more visible. Also, I think that a close contact of the developers to the players from times to times may boost them because they see the mass of players they are working for and it is really rewarding. Including costumed players from the BlizzCon 2009 in game products like the Diablo III box is a very smart way to get Real-Life UGC and show your players/fans you care about them.

Moreover, I hope there were key players in the audience of the BlizzCon. By key players, I mean Tobold, Ensidia core guild members or Greedy Goblin. As an example, Greedy Goblin writes sarcastically about how to make money in WoW. His blog had 2k subscribers in June 2009 and 3.5k now in November 2009. His latest blog traffic graph shows peaks when he argued with Scott Jennings about layoffs in industry or when he showed his inventory and bank storage. Goblins are not easily one's friends, but if Blizzard manage to bring this Goblin to the BlizzCon in paying for him the flight and the hotel, Blizzard do not only get 1 more friendly player but 3.5k. Of course, each blog subscriber will not be affected the same way. But if the blog owner publishes nice comments concerning Blizzard, they will touch many players.
This point was actually suggested by Nicolas Ducheneaut in a discussion we had some weeks ago. I filled it with examples and included it into my post.

Finally, a crazy idea. Since MMO are attracting more and more people. Real-life player meetings change the way players see the game as they realize that there is someone behind the pixels. Some players even stopped insulting others after they met them IRL. So in a tupperware consultant style, why not organizing metings regularly in big cities? I heard about communities like DS in Paris who organize meetings in Paris Cafés where they play Nintendo DS games together. The Java User Groups (JUG) are monthly meetings where Java developers gather to talk about Java world news, learn new techniques, share knowledge or drink beers. Maybe MMO companies are not wealthy enough at the moment to pay for monthly buffets and refreshments in each of the 188 urban areas of the world counting more than 2 millions inhabitants. However, MMO companies could set up electronic tools on their websites to help their players organize local real-life meetings about their favorite MMO. This sounds like organizing raids, so developing the web app should not be too difficult.
I actually can write about the positive effects such IRL local meetings could provide as this kind of meetings actually happens/happened for some RO French private servers. Some active players or people in the server team sometimes organize real-life meetings called «IRLs» at Asian-culture conferences like the Japan Expo or simply in their home city when there are enough people to meet.

  • The GM team (aka the community management team) knows players faces, discusses IG issues directly and more openly than on a forum
  • The Development Team has direct feedback from players. Also, after the meeting, developers are no longer writing code for the fun of it, they realise that hundreds of people rely on them to have fun.
  • players realise who are the people behind the game, and demystification of the work is sometimes followed by admiration of the people: «they are human, they are doing something fun for me and they spend so much time on it»

So even if no developers can attend the MMO meetings, which is likely to happen very frequently, such events are a good way to promote the MMO company, especially when this company has sponsored/helped organizing the event. This is the way to transform the video of the left into the video on the right. The video on the left was done by an active member of the Alliance-RO French private server community to describe the game and attract new players. This video was done by a fan of the game and the server. The video on the right was taken by an active member of the community in Alger, Algeria. Players say in the video and in the written comment that they have uncovered the secret reason why gentimouton (yes, it was me), a Game Master of the server, does not understand them: he is 70 year old (French quote: nous avons percé le mystere mysterieux du GM:gentimouton ! encore fois °° !!). If you want it, you can ask me for a full translation of the video dialog. This video of a meeting of players in their city brought a precious (but late) feedback to the GM.

Charismatic Game Developers

These guys radiate a kind of aura, they have a stature. Maybe being an actor helps. But John Romero (third photo) is not an actor, he is a game developer who has designed Doom and Quake. Maybe because of Romero's personality or simply for fun, Romero's team decided that in order to finish Doom II, the player had to shoot Romero's head in a secret room of the last level (see screenshot nearby). Currently, he is working on a MMO for Slipgate Ironworks to release in 2010 a groundbreaking MMO. In fact, Romero has such an aura that he has been at the center of a controverse concerning a game called Daikatana. The advertising (see image nearby) was a bit provocative and the game develoment took a very long time. Whatever the gossips about him, Romero definitely has an aura. It is up to Slipgate Ironworks to use it for their MMO launch campaign, but I believe this aura can impact a lot.

In-game famous MMO characters have sometimes been personified by game developers. For instance, Lord British in Ultima Online was played by Richard Gariott. The name became so famous that Richard Gariott retained the trademark rights on it and reused it in Tabula Rasa. But most of the developers stay in the shadow and play the game anonymously, like WoW producer J. Allen Brack who plays anonymously with his father.

26 November 2009

Community Management

Until now, I have heard of 4 kinds of community management. Eric Heimburg explains 2 ways community managers behave with the community:

  • denying the bugs and ignoring the feedbacks of the players: the example of Aion where the American community management team relies on the Korean technical team to do bug fixes. It is actually the same for the WoW European servers which do not benefit from the American development team on their forum.
  • acknowledging their weakness, playing the crowd and feeding the forum trolls to keep them relatively sedated. According to Eric Heimburg, this strategy is followed by Champions Online and WoW on the American community forums.

Eric Heimburg also wrote that developers or support team representing the company to the community can screw up the consistency of the strategy, giving the example of a burning reaction of WoW Lead Systems Designer Ghostcrawler answering a Nerfs: Ghostcrawler, DIAF thread on wow forums.

Another kind of community management is the one followed by LambdaMOO developers, named wizards IG. Wizards have stopped to intervene in game problems since a LambdaMOO takes another direction publication of Pavel Curtis, aka Haakon IG. Julian Dibbell describes how this decision has impacted the community and how community leaders facing holes in the game case law sometimes act independently and in a non-concerted manner, leading to irreparable actions like the toading of a player. In the end, players are now in charge of their own problems in a participatory system where they only sporadically need wizards to enforce a decision the players' democracy has taken.

And finally, the way some efficient and very productive private servers of RO organize their team is interesting. This ideal structure is rarely entirely followed by private server teams. Even using only parts of this structure improves the productivity in giving each person of the team his/her appropriate place where he/she can play his/her role. On a beta server, developers can test their updates with a bunch of trusted players who are eager to test it. On the beta server, game developers are almighty like the Trainman in Matrix, they can create items, kill monsters, etc. with in-game commands. However, on the production server, they are normal players. The forum is cut into sections that enable the work to be shared among the different parts of the server team. Community managers watch the whole forum and report any valuable entry to the game devs or to the admin in a staff section. When community managers do not know how to answer a question, they post the question in the staff section so that a technical guy can answer it in person. Since community managers organize in-game events and have game master powers on the production server, community managers and developers are on an equal footing for the players. The server leader(s) communicate to everyone in the team, recruit new people and have in-game powers on both beta and production servers. They take important decisions like server policies and directions, future updates or the permanent ban of a player. They do not have to be technical or particularly present in the production server, but they must be aware of everything. Instead of spending hours reading the forum, they know what is going on thanks to the community managers. This hierarchy looks a lot like the scrum process of Agile development where the Scrum Master is the server leader, the Product Owner's feedback comes from the Game Masters/community managers and the Team is naturally the Game Developers.

I think which strategy to adopt depends on the size of the community and the skills of the team. As Eric Heimburg wrote, Aion is big enough to indulge a weak English customer service but less polished MMOG have to take care of their players. The RO private server hierarchy might work well for a community of a few thousands of players, but maybe not for bigger communities.

15 November 2009

[literature] A qualitative study of Ragnarök Online private server in-game sociological issues

Edit: this post does not reflect the latest version of my paper. I will know whether my paper has been accepted in April, and I will update this post accordingly. Feel free to contact me if you have any question :-)

This is the summary of the paper I have written. This paper may not explain entirely why I did not post anything in the last 4 weeks, but it still took me much time...


position of the paper

In the last decade, online games have raised much attention as more and more players gather on game servers. In parallel, communities of illegal private servers have spread and host numbers of players comparable to the official game server. Based on the Korean online game Ragnarök Online, I conducted unstructured interviews to collect qualitative data on different private servers and on the official French server. This paper explains why Ragnarök Online private servers gather so many players and how private servers could help improve official games.


  1. Introduction
  2. Playing Ragnarök Online
  3. Methodology
  4. Fulfilling player expectations
    • Rates
    • Avatar customization
    • In-game events
    • Recapitulation
  5. Private server issues
    • Group level-range
    • The Warpra-Healer combo
    • Player information
    • Virtual economy
    • Recapitulation
  6. Issues shared between official and private servers
    • Double Accounts
    • Lack of monster challenge for guilds
    • Donation and subscription
    • Recapitulation
  7. Conclusion

    The wide panel of private servers answers adequately the wide panel of player expectations. Although small private servers intrinsically lack players, their very concerned administrators find interesting ways to get round their problems. More populated private servers benefit from the same technical features as small private servers, but they also share common problems with official servers. Looking at how the most populated private servers deal with player problems might show enlightening.

  8. Future work

10 October 2009

RO Official F2P servers

This is following my last post.

F2P servers strategy

... but considering that :

  • a lot of RO players are Asian (I could not find any proof of that but I truly believe it regarding the reaction of surprise all Western people have when they hear that RO has more than 10M subscribers, considering also that according to wikipedia, though unknown to many Western players, the game took Asia by storm)
  • F2P Asian MMO Games (like Maple Story for instance) could attract RO subscribers according to Aaron Delwiche

Gravity changed its (world) strategy in launching F2P servers such as Valkyrie for iRO or Baphomet for kRO. Also, the French server fRO which used to be P2P became F2P in December 2008. The Russian server ruRO is also F2P (I do not know if it was P2P before).


This server is an iRO server and opened in September 2008. The game on Valkyrie is harder (XP is harder, Teleporting is more expensive, Kafra Mall Items are more expensive, etc.) but it is a free server, so players go to play on it. Actually, there are more players on Valkyrie than on the other P2P iRO servers (see ropd.info).

Considering the 4 figures on the left concerning players on iRO servers Loki, Chaos, Iris and Valkyrie, some comparisons have to be made :

  • Different server ages : Valkyrie is much younger than Loki/Chaos/Iris, so I think there is a lower ratio of high-level people on Valkyrie than on P2P servers.
  • Different guild involvement : Usually, people go into a guild when they have a bit of strength to bring in, that means when accessing job 2, at approximately level 60. So if we forget avatars who are under level 60, the P2P servers have more than half of their high-level avatars in guilds while in Valkyrie it is approximately 9.000 high-level avatars in guilds for 26.000 not.

From these facts, I do not think that it can be stated that the cost of the game experience influences the type of gamers. An easy conclusion could be : Iris/Chaos/Loki are more hardcore/experimented/PGM servers while Valkyrie is more casual/fun/low-level. But I doubt that it can be easily proven, and some very skilled players (like Doddler for instance) do play on Valkyrie.

Baphomet and Doppelganger

Since I can not read Korean, it is hard for me to gather sources concerning the kRO F2P servers, so I will not detail this part much. kRO Baphomet was launched in May 2008 and is also harder than other kRO servers. As I wrote before, RO F2P servers gather sometimes more players than P2P servers (see Server selection screen nearby), and it is the case for Baphomet. More about Baphomet on Doddler's website. The motivation for opening a free server at this time was the declining number of users. Doppelganger opened in June 2008. It did not bring as many users as Baphomet so the 2 were merged in April 2009.
Anyway, the strategy change consisting in opening F2P servers has been definitely fruitful because Gravity says in April 2009 that the subscription revenues increase in Korea was primarily attributed to increased revenues from launching free-to-play servers.


To my mind, fRO tries to push the player to buy a Premium Account, or the upgraded version of it : the Infinity Account. I do not know about ruRO (which is also F2P), but it might be the same as fRO (ruRO has at least Premium Accounts).
A fRO Premium account is a monthly 7€ subscription, while an Infinity account is 199€, providing a permanent VIP status and some bonus items.
The iShop is the same thing as the iRO Kafra Shop. It is through this website that users can buy virtual items.

Karat VS Euros : Screenshot of FRO website

I think that tokens of micropayment are a psychologic easier way for the user to buy virtual items with real money. The reason might be because people can hardly admit they are buying game items with real money, they need an item to make the transition : website tokens! In fRO, these tokens are named Karat. Actually, Carat is the name of a clown monster in the game, so maybe the Karat currency comes from its name. Currently, 100 Karats are approximately 1€.

Giant Flywing Box:Screenshot of FRO website

In my previous post, I took the example of the Giant Flywing item that can be bought on the iRO website with Kafra Points. On fRO, a user buys a Giant Flywing for 10c (10 Giant Flywings for 100 Karats). Compared to the iRO 0.75c Giant Flywings, there is quite much difference.
I think the only reason explaining this difference is the will of Gravity Europe, administrator of fRO, to produce an amount of money big enough to be compared to what other Gravity group branches produce (ruRO, jRO or even iRO). But it is quite difficult for Gravity Europe, because the French player community is much smaller than iRO's, and therefore is likely to bring less profit. So the same products are more expensive on fRO than on iRO in order to «cope» with the size of the community.

fRO website : most sold items in the iShop fRO Price Watch

Bubble-gum, a kind of item which increases experience gained in killing monsters (see Doddler's BubbleGum tests), is the most sold item IG, but is also the best selling item bought with real currency (€). Lucky Clip is a kind of item that increases the drop rate of monsters and is also among the best selling items. All the other items are «everyday life» items : Oridecon and Elunium are used to refine and repair player weapons and equipements, Yggdrasil Leaves are used to resurrect people and Blue Gemstones to teleport people from a place of the world to another.
What is interesting with Lucky Clips and Bubble Gums is that these items are not dropped by any monster nor sold by any NPC, hence all these items are available to players because they have been bought with euros. That means that even if Gravity Europe does not sell (itself) zeny for euros, roughly 400.000z = 100Karat = 1€. On igvault.com it is possible to get 1Mz for nearly 6€. That makes a huge difference with iRO where it is possible to get 20Mz for 6€/8$. But what is more interesting is that Gravity Europe has a twice better change rate than illegal websites. Because some people want to absolutely soften their game experience in buying items like Bubble Gums or Lucky Clip to get more XP or drops, this could be an explanation why they would rather buy these items through ragnarokonline.fr instead of another ways.

Business Model improvement

Stat Points Window in RO

RO's leveling is definitely hard. Much harder than many well-known current MMORPGs. But with the opening of F2P servers, I do think that more casual players are willing to play, and even pay a few $/€ to appreciate more their time. Another particularity of RO is the WoE system ; a WoE is a battle between rival guilds in a castle in order to possess it and get rare items its Treasure Boxes contain. But sometimes it is difficult to build a character with PvP stats because these stats do not match PvE stats at all.
For instance, when playing a Priest (typical support class) in WoE sessions, a lot of Vitality (VIT) is needed so that your avatar does not get killed easily. On the other hand, not much Intelligence (INT) is necessary because not need many SP (= mana) are needed. But the easiest way to have your character leveling up as an Acolyte (the class the player has to be before becoming a Priest) relies on much INT to inflict more damages on Undead monsters.
Unlike most of all private servers, in official servers there are no NPC who can reset the player's stats. Hence an iRO survey in July 2006 reported that 68% of the 4266 participants of the survey say yes to a value-added service that provided a skill or stat reset and 28% said no. In another survey occuring in January 2008, 56% of the 7229 participants said they would pay for a Service or Item that provided a Full Stat Reset and 14% said no.

The only currently available service on iRO consists in buying (directly, without Kafra Points!) 20 Stat Points for $10. A level 90+ avatar has more than 800 status points. To move from a character build to another, not all the stat points need to be reset, but to my mind, it takes much more than 300 points. To my mind, this definitely can be improved ...

Reset Stat:Screenshot of FRO website

fRO has nearly the same system as iRO. This thread shows that it is 40€ for a 100 stat-point reset, and it is free if you have paid a premium account (199€). However, this reset is performed only ONCE on your character. The price can be compared to the iRO price of the nearly same service (however, the iRO stat reset can be repeated many times). How this stat reset is performed on fRO is explained on fRO forums.
I do not know the amount of «Infinity» accounts, I do not know the total amount of people using this service, and I do not know how many people have been using the stat reset service on iRO, but I bet that the F2P players use it more than the P2P players. Recently, a RO player told me that he liked that people are «equal» when they have all paid for the same service (P2P), but he definitely finds «unbalancing» the fact that some people could buy virtual items with real money (F2P). I think that is a reason why he's playing on private servers ...

27 September 2009

RO Official Servers and money

First, if you do not know what RO is, you can read this post.

kRO Sakray is the most up-to-date RO server worldwide, maybe because Gravity is a Korean corporation (and because Sakray is the usual test server). For instance, one of the latest major updates of the game is called Renewal. This update occured in July 2008 on kRO Sakray and in June 2009 on all kRO servers but has not yet been implemented on iRO servers (no update has "Renewal" in its title, or on the official server features kRO is the most up-to-date server). I would have liked to write about kRO because :

  • kRO is the most up-to-date set of servers (containing kRO Sakray, the most up-to-date RO test server worldwide)
  • kRO contains Asian players, and as I wrote before, RO is mostly played by Asian people
  • Asia MMO Gaming is not really known from Western countries. Also the by-products in Asia may be more widespread than in Europe and America, the game habits might be really different, etc.

But I can not read/understand Korean, so what follows are considerations based on iRO, the RO international server that I find most representative as a non-Asian (and understandable) server. iRO opened in June 2003 and is only a year younger than kRO, so there should not be any differences because of the age of the servers.

Concerning the administration of the servers, kRO is administrated by Gravity Corp. and iRO by Gravity Interactive (cf the server list). I do not know the relationship between these 2 firms, but each time in this post I may write the name «Gravity», it will stand for the iRO administration.

Talking about money, the RO IG currency is called zeny (z). The only origins I could find for this name are noble in Russian and a slavic word for woman (looking for zeny on google image leads to funny results ...).

Value-Added Service and Kafra Shop

As I already wrote, subscribtions are roughly $10 per month. But giving players the possibility to buy IG items or services related to their avatars with real money could bring some more money to Gravity.

First, users can use Gravity's Value Added Service for character renaming, moving (to another server), gender changing and status points reallocation. I think this service may exist since the creation of the servers because it consists only in database management.

Second, in December 2004, a survey on iRO website reported that 55% of the 1001 participants would ever pay real-world money for in-game currency or items, while 45% said they would not. Apparently real currencies against z has not been set up by Gravity yet (and I do not think it will ever be set up), but some websites suggest 6€/$8 for 20Mz.

Anyway, in June 2007 the iRO Kafra Shop opened (maybe this type of online shop already existed for a long time on kRO). Kafras are NPC located in any town or at the entrance of any dungeon to provide VERY USEFUL services such as :

  • Saving the player's position so that when your avatar dies in a dungeon, he/she returns to the dungeon entrance
  • Opening the player's storage so that an avatar can store drops and equipements
  • Teleporting the avatar from a place to another

So the name for this on-line item mall was really well-found to focus the player's mind on usefulness. The content of the item mall consists of any kind of equipements or consumable items. And indeed some of these items are really useful. For instance, the Giant Flywing is the only item in the game that gives a group leader the possibility to teleport his group where he is. The user can buy Kafra Points with USD, on a $75 for 10k points basis.

Micropayments are sometimes used for items contained in boxes (500 Giant Flywing in a 500 Kafra Points box, which means 0.75c/Flywing). As explained on wikipedia the use of a custom token like the Kafra Point is very common in MMORPG.

When the Kafra Shop was introduced, all RO servers were P2P. It is only with the introduction of F2P servers in RO that things changed a little bit.

24 September 2009

Ragnarök Online

I did not think I would produce really a lot when I started to write this article. But I actually wrote a lot, and I have to cut my original post into parts so that I can empty my Notepad buffer sometimes ... So this article is the first in a serie of I do not know yet how many other articles. I still have to write about

  • private servers
  • Gravity Corp. Business Plan with Ragnarok Online
  • my RO experience
  • and maybe other things ...
But for the moment, let's introduce this MMORPG.

A South-Korean manhwa ...

RO is a South-Korean MMORPG. The Wikipedia article concerning RO is a bit out of date but you can find there some basic informations.
The MMORPG comes from a manga/manhwa from Lee Myung-jin. The author has been working with Gravity, a South-Korean video corporation. I could not find any source mentionning until when this collaboration lasted or will last.

... leading to a MMORPG

Gravity Corp. Logo

The MMORPG was first released in South-Korea in August 2002 (en.wikipedia.org writes 2001 but they are mistaken [edit of January 2010: I fixed the release date on Wikipedia]), then was released internationally as an open-beta in December 2002 and I first tried it in early 2004 (see the calendar given by iRO). At the moment, there are many servers each of them dealing with a particular country. The most known ones are the Korean (kRO), International-US (iRO : Chaos, Loki, Iris and Valkyrie servers named after the manga characters), and European (euRO) servers. There is/was also a Test Server which name is Sakray (more will be said about this later ...). Some servers are F2P like the French one (fRO) or others, but the game is P2P for almost all servers. And there are also Pirate/Private Servers.

Number of players

ropd player coverage

I know that many people consider obvious that WoW has the biggest amount of players registered in the MMOG market. The MMOG Chart does not show RO, so I thought it must be a too small MMORPG to appear on this chart. I only saw on this chart very old datas concerning RO. I thought RO was a pretty small MMORPG. But :

  • March 2004 : The community of Ragnarok Online is dynamic and growing, attracting more than 17 million players from all over the world, in 130 different countries
  • May 2004 : The Gravity title has 25-million subscribers, worldwide.
  • June 2004 : 25 million registered Ragnarok players remain active
  • February 2009 : more than 50 million registered users worldwide on RAGNAROK Online alone
In some of the above links, you can read that Asian players represent a huge part of the total amount of players. I currently do not know why MMOG Chart does not show Maple Story, Ragnarok or some other Asian MMORPG while Lineage II is included. Also, I was only able to find the nearby figure concerning iRO amount of players. At least, this figure proves there are more than 100.000 players on iRO, and thus RO deserves a place in the MMOG Chart.
A RO account is roughly $10 per month.

02 September 2009

[Literature] Surveys in Virtual Worlds

Quick introduction ...

Currently, there are very many researchers in sociology focusing on Virtual World populations. Actually, there is also some psychology, economy, law and even politics research led in MMOs. Various analysis of the MMO worlds can be done : Researchers need data. To collect data from a huge amount of players, they need fieldwork tools. And the best tool for collecting people's thoughts about a very precise topic is the survey.
Basically, surveys can be conducted in the street. That is sometimes expensive and long, and brings few results. Maybe that's why street pollsters are voluntary. Thanks to Graham Bell in 1876, larger scale surveys were made possible. The rain does not impact anymore on the amount of people surveyed in the day. But pollsters still have to survey people themselves. In 1990 started an era of online surveys thanks to HTML pages. Now, pollsters only have to think about their survey, put it online and wait for their <form> to be filled/submitted by millions of people.
What about MMO player surveying? Players have to logout from the game, connect to a website on which they could take the survey. They are no more in a "player" stance : no more blade, gun, fun or handsomeness. They are simply answering a survey addressed to any WWW user, that is to say everyone (actually, not everyone ...). The ideal is an IG survey.

VDCI : the State of the Art


In April 2008 Mark Bell, Edward Castronova and Gert Wagner published a paper concerning VASI and VDCI. Topher Zwiers, a SL educator describes a VDCI presentation from Mark Bell in a post on his blog. Castronova published on Terra Nova a very short description of the tool.
But in June 2009 (actually the survey ran for 30 days in early 2009 (02/03 to 03/05).), these same people published another paper discussing how they led a survey in SL thanks to the VDCI.


SL kiosk Research avatar in SL If you already know about VASI and VDCI, then you can skip this part (or tell me if you see points where I could be wrong or inaccurate).
Researchers looked for a tool that preserves immersion because players have feelings and perceptions that are particular to that environment. The method they propose to solve this immersion break is called VASI, and its implementation VDCI. They used a mailing list, a classified ad system where respondents select themselves and then are teleported somewhere, and a random location protocol where their research avatar was teleported if it was possible. When it was possible, a sort of NPC kiosk appeared. No participation rate can be estimated because this NPC waited for people to talk to it.
The VDCI is a HUD (official HUD description), that is to say a control panel allowing the user to perform actions he is the only one able to see. Particularly filling a form to answer a survey. The player gets this HUD by an NPC, wears it and then can answer the questions. When he has finished, the research avatar gives the player some virtual money.


If you already know technically about VASI and VDCI, then you can skip this part (or tell me if you see points where I could be wrong or inaccurate).
The VDCI uses LSL [...] which formatted HTTP calls that use PHP to write the respondent's answers to a MySQL database. Since Second Life is Open Source, and their wiki is quite well documented, it was not very hard to understand : see LSL, HTTPRequest in LSL and the Server Architecture (see RPC server). I think the RPC server must handle a proxy somewhere. It could be worth spending time in SL sources some day ...
Good remarkable thing, when the database did not record whether this was a person responding due to a classified ad, an email or encounter with a random kiosk, it was refered to as <no record>. I presume in the PHP scripts an argument was given to tell the provenance of the answer, and if this argument was missing or incorrect, an error was detected. Anticipating errors and making them appear in the final figure not only show the impact that could have had these errors in the final results, but also show the reliability of the use of the VDCI system in SL. I think that the percentage of <no record> may vary depending on the server(s) bandwidth and processing capacities.


  • identity in SL is fluid, so ensuring respondent identity is difficult. Actually, this is the same for any MMOG : players exchange passwords when they play in teams, guilds, with friends, etc. Also, VDCI captures the avatars name [...] to ensure that the same avatar does not take the survey multiple times. As they write, this does not prohibit a user with multiple avatars to take the survey multiple times. There might be a very easy-to-say solution for this : store the fact that an account took the survey in an account variable. This solution means either UGC API (or language) can set client-side account variables or a server owner (Linden Labs for SL) has scripted the item for the survey (thus the account variable is stored server-side).
  • Researchers were only able top place kiosks at 10% of the randomly chosen places, concentrated on the eatsern side [...] much more populated than the western side, so this is not a bias. I honestly dont know if this makes a bias. IRL, voluntary pollsters stand at very populated locations. In any MMOG, there are strategical spots where many people meet : capital city, current expansion zone where every high level is, PVP zones, etc. but people can also meet in a small unfrequented street in any town of the world or during a quest in a very particular place. These "common" zones hosting 3 players a day are part of the world and should not be forgotten.
    Anyway, because there were 1543 respondents based on classified ad and 75 respondents based on the quasi-random protocol for 2094 valid responses, and because for the overall sample the quasi response rate is 2094/1100000 = 0.2%, I consider many active people selected themselves to participate in this survey. These active players are the usual 10% of the population producing 90% of the server content/life. To my mind, passive players have not at all been surveyed.
  • This then paid the avatar 250 linden dollars. : a survey should be led, consisting of only one question : how much do you want to receive for this survey? And the answer can range from 0 to NaN. The fact that 90% of the classified ad respondents are willing to get re-contacted does not definitely mean that those people want to be paid for doing it again. I do agree on the fact that quasi-random sample and [...] classified ad sample are the samebut in the way the quasi-random survey was led : only active people were surveyed. So concluding that classified-ad sampling obtains a representative sample of the SL population is not exactly true. Quasi-random is simply more expensive, but the same sort of people are surveyed.
  • While conducting a natural experiment about the fieldwork strategy in SL, they found an increeased number of respondents after the new placement of the class ad (in a day : more than 100 compared to the usual 30). Many people may answer the survey because it is something new : a special research avatar, a kiosk, a new ad, a mail. After some days, people are used to the kiosk or the ad, it has become part of the everyday scenery of the place. And this happens faster if the NPC/element is passive : a walking, yelling and bursting NPC with fireworks might take a bit longer to be forgotten/ignored.

What else? What now?

In other MMOGs

LUA Symbol SL, as a MMOSG, has much to do with UGC : items, places ... But for typical MMORPGs like WoW, UGC has not the same place. SL VDCI needs the player to wear a HUD which is definitely something available IG thanks to UGC. The only way to implement such HUD from a UGC point of view could be WoW add-ons. I honestly doubt that current WoW LUA API permit transmitting data out from the game. I have not seen such things on wowprogramming or on wowwiki. Other recent MMORPGs dont seem to put forward add-ons, and I think WoW was the first MMO to implement such a programming tool.

MMO firms

Exctracts from the previously quoted article from Mark Bell, Edward Castronova and Gert Wagner :
  • About the register of SL users (inhabitants) which can be used for drawing a random sample : Linden Lab does not provide this kind of information for commercial or for research purpose
  • According to Linden Lab, from 02/03/09 to 03/05/09 about 1.1 million avatars were active in SL.
If firms were to participate in such surveys or share the use of such tools, it would be easier and safer for IG pollsters to implement their survey. Also, much could be done to ensure the fact that a real person (and not avatar) can answer the survey once and only once.
I contacted Mark W Bell to know if they asked Linden Labs about their survey, what support they could have asked, etc.

Quote of the day

Found on a French forum : je cherche un add-on qui permet d'xp tout en étant AFK pour faire plus de RP (translation : I'm looking for an add-on that could make me xp while being AFK so that I can RP more)

23 August 2009


From wikipedia

Furcadia interface To know what Furcadia is, simply read wikipedia. Among other things :
  • up since 1996, that makes it the oldest still up MMO
  • F2P, bonus items can be bought IG or on a special website
  • users create content (integrated in what is called a "dream")
  • anthropomorphic (cat, ferret, cow, bug, ...) avatars
  • only 1 server, 4K player-peaks, current average of 2K
  • player-brought content called Dreams


create your character What follows is what I experimented, it is definitely subjective (that's what I felt) and biased (the current "context" I experimented this game is maybe very different from yours, were you to experiment this game by yourself).
Since it's free to play, let's try it.


Arriving in the world, as usual, I have to create my avatar. Multiple avatars are possible on an account. Considering the possible character customizations (animal, gender, colors ...), everyone tends to look the same IG. Maybe is it because this game is quite old. Also in Ultima Online I found players looked quite the same, and these games use comparable graphisms. Moreover, almost all avatars' gender I met where "unspecified" (between male and female). Except me, I found no male avatar. Failry normal : "Women are social beings, like men, but social" (DB, June 2009).

Meeting people

Natial screenshot Obviously, what do people do in MMOSG? They socialize. Actually, I found more people AFK than really present. Lots had a profile "currently at work". During my 20 minutes IG, no one talked to me. Some people were busy talking privately, surely in private channels or somewhere hidden from me. A few people publicly talked, in a slave language with weird characters - that could have been Russian.
After a while, I found a character asleep on cushions. Her name was Natial and she was, like many, from an undetermined gender. What was most striking was the description of her avatar displayed in my dialog bar (click on the screenshot to see it). Following the link written in her description, I felt on a website displaying her sexual, Furcadia-animal and some little other tastes. Obviously, this must be written to RP, but when people have to choose a background for their avatar, they quite often put sexual content. Maybe is it because they hardly dare mention such things IRL?


Chicken Dream Pokemon Dream Dreams are a very good idea. World areas brought by players can be a very valuable addition to the game experience. In Second Life, some players/inhabitants have carved or drawn wonderful artworks. But in Furcadia, the Dreams are actually pretty ugly (see the 2 screenshots). Maybe I went inside the worst dreams of the server?
Dreams are scripted by players. The interface is a basic notepad with a window containing triggers and effects. trigers, conditions and effects available remind me of Age Of Empires 2 scenario editor triggers. This tool is definitely not made for expert developers (compared to WoW LUA macros and add-ons for instance). Dream content is uploaded by players who have created the dream. An avatar enters a dream through a "warp", a white grid-cell on which he walks. When a player enters a dream, the content is downloaded. I hope for the server that the content is sometimes stored somewhere on player's computer, and not reloaded from the server each time the player access the dream. It is possible for player to access URL through the game. Websites can be displayed through the player default web browser automatically when going into a dream, when clicking on a link in an avatar description, and maybe in other ways I do not know.


The interface for walking is not very friendly : mouse left-click on an adjoining grid-cell or arrow keys to move, but the "pavement grid" is diagonal/in staggered rows, so pushing "up" makes your avatar go top-right ... Pretty bad, but I think players can get used to that in less than a few hours playing.

Business Model

Considering the current dragon-avatar prices and the amount of people having a permanent dragon avatar, I understand how the game can survive. I honestly do not know if Furcadia owners are getting rich with their game, but I can believe this business model works sufficiently well.
Also, I have seen IG quite many avatars having a customized portrait. The cost is between $5 and $10 depending on the amount of slots bought at the same time. Furcadia is certainly old, but looking at the amount of virtual items they offer through their real shop, I believe their Business Model must have worked well. And I do not understand why the wikipedia page concerning micropayment still mentions MMOs use micropayment : $5 is way too much to be considered as micro (according to wikipedia thousands of micropayments are needed to reach a dollar scale).

My feelings

  • soppy, mushy : after having read a lot of avatar descriptions such as "[Single, not looking]", "Heart-shaped face of seductress, or "if there's anything, just ask me [I might not be around]". Moreover, the game owners have had sufficient funds (through their real shop) to have their game still up. That means many people have bought goodies. And I dont like goodies ...
  • small-range socialness : definitely an MMOSG, if you want to know new people, you have to move on. But that's a game, so it is easy to dare do something.