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)