Originally posted December 2006

I got Designing Virtual Worlds for Christmas, so these armchair game-design thoughtlets may crop up with increasing regularity as I read it.

The Post

Applicable To: Any massive multiplayer game with a setting that expects travel and communication between cities/population hubs to be potentially dangerous and slow (fantasy, post-apocalyptic, space, etc.). Eve may already do something similar, from what I’ve heard.

There is no instant mail communication between players in game, particularly when sending items or money. There is no game-protected, reliable mail, either, such as WoW’s one hour delay post.

To send a letter or ship money or goods, players place the intended correspondence in an envelope/box, seal it (giving it the Sealed flag), and address it to a city and player name (automated functions selected from a drop-down).

Players deliver this mail to the local post office. If the mail is going to a recipient in the same city, the player pays a small fee and the postmaster NPC holds the package for the recipient (potentially alerting the recipient as necessary to other design goals). The recipient picks up the package at his or her leisure, and there’s no risk to the package unless the game also features the ability to attack NPC vaults.

Individual players or guilds can register with different post offices as mail carriers. They pay a fee to register, and the postmaster takes a portion (maybe 10%) of any wages earned by carrying mail. They set their own fees for different categories of packages to different cities.

If a player wishes to mail a package to another city, the postmaster displays a (slow and expensive) NPC carrier as well as all the PC carriers registered with the office, and their relative rates for the package in question. Carriers are sorted to the top of the list based on their number of packages delivered and their success rate. The postmaster might also display an average time to deliver a package, based on previous experience.

Players can choose to pick a reliable carrier near the top of the list, but may wish to choose a less reliable carrier due to price or speed of delivery. Top mail carriers will likely compete on prices, driving down the rates, while a particularly infrequent delivery route may become increasingly expensive.

Based on other design goals, player mail carriers may be automatically flagged for PVP when carrying a certain value of shipped items, with an additional option of looting the mail from slain carriers. NPC carriers may be killable as well, and will definitely be killable if PC carriers are flagged. In this variation, sending mail is not made dangerous just by monsters and untrustworthy carriers, it also risks delay and loss of the mail due to PVP. Particularly difficult trade routes may become cash cows for the mail carriers brave enough to run them (this is where I think the idea intersects with Eve).

Based on design goals, PC carriers may be offered a skill that lets them tamper with sealed packages with a decreasing risk of detection, allowing them the ability to skim with less chance of being noticed.

Disadvantages of this MGI:

  • Players lose reliability of mail delivery time
  • Players may lose mail shipped to other cities
  • Players may wind up paying unreasonable amounts for delivery if a competitive market fails to develop

Advantages of this MGI:

  • Player economy gains a structured, competitive market
  • Players can earn money for a non-traditional role (traveler)
  • Players can send mail within the same city without an arbitrary delay
  • Time and difficulty to deliver mail aids in world verisimilitude/suspension of disbelief
  • If the PVP flag is enabled, PVP-minded players gain a structured, obvious opportunity to benefit from PVP, while PVP-unfriendly players can stay away from it by keeping their mail deliveries under the PVP threshold
  • An alternate, purely PC-driven market may develop where PC postmasters establish themselves with competitive fees and percentages for mail delivery at the cost of decreased reliability
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