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Chapter 4. World Design > Reset Strategy

Reset Strategy

Players consume content quicker than it can be produced[99]. To prevent a virtual world from becoming “played out,” therefore, some mechanism for reintroducing content must be installed—the reset strategy of the virtual world. There are two basic approaches: sudden and rolling.

[99] This is not necessarily true of the virtual worlds of the future, in which content may arise from player actions rather than being introduced by designers, but it's true for virtual worlds of the present.

In a sudden reset, the region to be reset (usually the entire virtual world) is closed down and its content reinitialized. This is a fairly quick procedure, but it can be very inconvenient for players who enter the virtual world at the wrong time or for players who are in the middle of doing something when the reset occurs. The sudden reset strategy is sometimes referred to as the Groundhog Day approach, because players relive the same day repeatedly, as in the movie Groundhog Day[100].

[100] Danny Rubin (writer) and Harold Ramis (writer and director), Groundhog Day. USA, Columbia Pictures, 1993.

In a rolling reset, content is returned piecemeal at a rate roughly equivalent to that at which it is consumed. There is no need for the virtual world to be closed down. Rolling resets as a concept emerged in the second age of virtual worlds, the original idea being to use a “watched pot never boils” system whereby content was slipped in where players weren't looking (so as to conserve the fiction). This is rarely practiced today, however; indeed, in many virtual worlds players rely on being able to show up at the appointed place and time so they can have a crack at a monster[101]. Besides, in a large-scale virtual world, the high probability that individual griefers would stake out a reset site just to stop it from resetting rules the idea out. When rolling-reset content resets, it usually involves only a simple adjustment such as the introduction of monsters or objects; in this context, it's usually referred to as spawning (or respawning).

[101] Although these players consider camping for monster appearances to be “adventuring,” actually it's more like “farming.”

Sudden resets allow for much more complex content than rolling resets. Multi-stage puzzles in particular are notoriously difficult to reset in isolation. If a dam has burst and flooded a valley, putting back the water is a problem (more so if people are sailing on it) and so is restoring everything that was destroyed (except for what would have been destroyed but someone moved it first). Sometimes, events have such all-conquering effects that they impinge on all aspects of a virtual world and simply cannot be reset unless the whole world is reset. Thus, a rolling reset strategy is not going to be of any use in this situation. That said, rolling resets are more accessible—players can “drop in, drop out” better—and they are able to support[102] much higher degrees of persistence.

[102] If the code is robust enough not to crash every few hours; it's as well that some sudden-reset virtual worlds do shut down periodically or they'd do it of their own accord anyway.

Sudden resets interfere with playing patterns more than rolling resets. Players who are present at the start of a reset will often stay for the whole period as they'll have been able to kit themselves up; players who arrive later may decide that the best content is accounted for and leave; late-comers will consider sitting around chatting until the reset occurs, whereupon they'll start playing in earnest. For rolling resets, session stickiness doesn't depend on time of arrival anywhere near as much.

Both sudden and rolling resets are anti-immersion. With a sudden reset, you get a huge dose of reality, but it doesn't last long; with rolling resets, you get smaller reminders of reality, but they drip, drip, drip the whole time.

Within the context of a sudden or rolling reset there are four main strategies in use to determine when and what resets:

  • Fixed

  • Contextual

  • Requested

  • Geographical

A fixed reset occurs after a set time period has elapsed. This is popular for virtual worlds using a sudden-reset approach, as it gives players fair warning of when they'll be kicked off. It's also popular for rolling-reset worlds, because spawn-on-timer is very easy to implement and achievers[103] like it.

[103] Especially ones who have no desire to become further immersed.

A contextual reset is more sophisticated in that it has metrics to indicate when content is played out; these can then be used to trigger a reset. In practice, though, even with quite large differences in player flow a fixed reset is usually quite sufficient for most situations; virtual worlds using a wholly contextual reset strategy are therefore uncommon, although the occasional spawn-on-completion or spawn-on-character-properties isn't so unusual.

The requested reset approach passes control of resets over to players. It's commonly used in conjunction with other reset strategies, although MUD1 used it basically standalone. In a sudden-reset environment, resetting is mainly the preserve of administrators; where regular players are allowed to do it, there's a vote first. In rolling-reset worlds it's less of an issue: Players wanting to recycle content (especially bespoke content) for their own characters' use will often have a quest system at their disposal for this purpose. Although communication with NPCs is the preferred method, spawn-on-character-action is by no means limited to it; there's good scope for creativity here.

Geographical resets are mini sudden resets. Rather than a particular piece of content being identified as needing a reset, all content associated with a location is reset instead. This allows for slightly more complex content in a rolling-reset world, but in sudden reset worlds merely delays the inevitable. The location that is reset can be as small as a point, although it's more common to do it by area or region (faking an ecosystem—that is, spawn-by-world-properties). Smaller geographical resets are often spawn-on-proximity, a character's presence close to an area triggering the content introduction.

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