MUD-Character Behavior & Economic Theory
James Wesley Slate, Ph.D.
As an economist who has scurried around the mudding world for many years, I feel inclined to introduce to this journal the perspective of economics as it bears on the behavior of mud participants. Mud behavior can be described in two categories. First is the behavior within the game. We might refer to this as insum venatus. Alternatively, to choose mudding as an entertainment venue (or even to submit to an uncontrollable urge to mud) is behavior from "without" the game. We might refer to this as foras venatus. This comment is concerned with the former, insum venatus.
Economics asserts that we live in a world of scarcity and thus must make choices of how to use resources. The corollary of this founding principle is that choice implies opportunity costs, the latter being defined as the highest valued foregone alternative. A most important assumption is that changing opportunity costs induces changes in behavior. Mudding consists of scarcity too; in weapons and equipment in particular. Thus choices must be made while mudding. Furthermore, such choices are a function of the opportunity cost incurred and so when the cost is changed, exogenously or endogenously, so too will the playerÕs behavior. Consider the following exposition.
A newly made mud-character will only successfully fight mobiles at levels 1 or 2 or perhaps 3. There is little in the way of cost to prevent a level 1 mud-character from doing so. (I am assuming here that there is no assistance from an upper level mud-character). What is the opportunity cost of killing level 1 & 2 mobiles? Practically zero since the probability of gaining a higher reward by killing higher mobiles is nearly the same. When a newly made mud-character becomes say level 8, however, the opportunity cost for spending time killing level 1 & 2 mobiles is not practically zero. In fact it is considerable given the foregone experience points existent when one chooses to kill level 2 mobiles over say level 7 mobiles. Thus we do not often observe a level 8 mud-character "wasting time" in low mobile level stocked areas. In short, the opportunity cost for killing low-level mobiles increases, as the mud-character's own level increases, thus guiding and changing the behavior of the player. The effect of opportunity cost on behavior can be observed when equipment & weapons are taken into consideration too. It becomes "costly" to use low average dam weapons and weak Ac armor as one becomes higher in level, and thus PCÕs will behave in such a way that leads to acquisition and use of better weapons and armor. This behavior might include (1) gold hoarding and weapon purchase; (2) the risky pursuit of tough mobiles that are loaded with desirable items; or by (3) networking and teaming with other players that might have nice equipment to share.
Let us now turn to another important component of economic theory, utility. Satisfaction equals utility in economics. Though immeasurable, utility plays a very important role in the deductions of economic theory. For example, the theory of utility rationalizes the downward sloping demand curve. Consider your first plate of food at a local restaurant. Having not eaten since lunch, you would be willing to pay say $12.00 for that first plate because it is going to add a certain amount of utility or satisfaction. Utility cannot be measured. But it can be conceptually considered, so let us assume that the first plate equals 100 units of satisfaction. With that as a benchmark, how much would the second plate bring in utility? Well it would certainly bring some satisfaction for the typical person, but would it be 100 units of satisfaction? Probably not, and it would certainly bring no more than 100 units. Thus the utility for the second plate will be less than the utility for the first. This is the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility. In any endeavor, it is asserted, the additional amounts of utility will decline as the quantities consumed or enjoyed increase. Therefore, the price of a thing must fall if the quantity consumed is to increase because the consumer gains less in the way of satisfaction.
Thus economic theory sheds light onto behavioral adjustments made when such adjustments appear without evident outside influence. In the utilitarian viewpoint, individuals freely choose the activity, amongst several potential activities, that provides the greatest marginal utility. In this light consider the following. Any mudder will confess that there is a point at which one tires of their mud-character. This point is dependent on many things but it does exist. A utilitarian would assert that the playerÕs marginal utility gained from logging on such a character is less than the marginal utility gained from creating and playing a lower level character. Further, the marginal utility from the higher level character is less because of the law of diminishing marginal utility. (I admit that the line between insum & foras venatus becomes a bit blurred at this point). In a strictly insum venatus sense one can see the effect of diminishing marginal utility in the mobile hunting aspect of the game. That is, other than for quick "xp", your typical mudder will turn down a mobile hunt in a familiar zone for an exploration of a new zone. We can say that, in effect, diminishing marginal utility gently pushes the player to explore newer areas that assuredly yield higher marginal utilities if not higher gains in experience points.
Economic theory does illuminate consistent and repetitive insum venatus behavior in the virtual worlds we know as muds. I certainly do not pretend that this is an exhaustive survey of the relation between economic theory and the mudding realm. Finally, though space limits my exposition, I suggest that virtual environments, and muds in particular, have the potential to serve as fantastic testing grounds for the founding assumptions of economic theory.