It's a small world after all
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 August 2013, 1:36 am
After Everquest Next announced dynamic spawns with an ecosystem, destructible environment, and open world player housing, several people dismissed these claims as unrealistic with the argument that Ultima Online tried that and failed: Players kill mobs faster than they can reproduce, gather resources so fast that whole forests are turned into deserts, and build houses everywhere until no more flat surface is left. While that history is correct, the conclusion isn't. As a counter-example look at Star Wars Galaxies, where open world housing clearly worked a lot better than in Ultima Online. So what is the difference, and how can a virtual world with a stable ecosystem be created without players destroying everything? The answer is simply in the size of the world, and the scale of the ecosystem.

My most frequently visited blog post over the years is the one in which I calculated the size of Azeroth, and found it to be smaller than the Isle of Wight, or 4 times the size of Manhattan. Ultima Online was even smaller, and because you only could build houses on flat surfaces there was effectively place for less houses than the number of players on a server. The same housing system worked perfectly well in Star Wars Galaxy, because there was simply far more space on every planet.

The Ultima Online ecosystem failed due to its small size and technical limitations of the time. But a procedurally generated world can be much bigger, even infinite. People don't run out of world to modify in Minecraft. And if the world is big enough, you can put in enough mobs so that players can't possibly make them extinct.

If you put 10 children per square meter into a sandbox, they are going to trample over each others sand castles. At 1 child per 10 square meters the sand castle building works a lot better. Of course there will always be people who will destroy stuff deliberately to grief, and the TTP will be short. But viable virtual worlds are possible if they are just big enough and the players aren't so numerous to crush everything else without even wanting to.
Tobold's Blog

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