Friday, April 27, 2007

Admiral-Level Gameplay in a Star Trek MMORPG 1

A subject that came up in talking about how player organizations might be implemented in a Star Trek MMORPG was the "span of control" problem.

Posted by Jaedon Rivers:
You can delegate down to others to handle organising people ingame of course, but the primary leader overall needs to know as much as possible.
According to biz-management types, that's actually a common misconception.

In fact, if you try to funnel all information up to the top of the pyramid, the leader gets so swamped by trivia that it becomes impossible to make good decisions. It also increases the chances that the leader will start micromanaging in the misguided belief that all that information must be acted on.

Part of the the value of a hierarchical system is that it delegates control downward. But it serves a useful purpose in the other direction as well; it filters information flowing upward so that only the stuff that actually requires the leader's attention gets through.

In a Star Trek context, if the captain is hearing that the neutrino flux has drifted by 0.03 microns in plasma junction J203b, and normal variation is something like ±0.1 microns, then somebody's not doing their job. The people who should be responsible for handling that low-level kind of thing clearly aren't doing so. Because they're letting that trivia rise to the level of consuming the leader's valuable time, they're degrading the effectiveness of the entire organization. When group leaders -- who should be concentrating on big-picture decisions -- to have to deal with very specific, hands-on issues, the group doesn't get full value out of that leader's experience and abilities.

There are some exceptions to this, of course. For example, only survival situations require the efficiency of a hierarchical organization -- if you're just thinking about what color to paint the walls, maybe a consensus model of organization would be better. It's also true that you have to be careful in filtering information upwards so that subordinates don't turn into mere yes-men. This creates the situation I call the "Reality Distortion Field," in which top-level decision-makers get so surrounded by people insulating them from reality that their decisions cease to have any value.

I suspect we've all had run-ins with people or organizations suffering from excessively high RDF values....

That said, the bottom line here is that it's not enough to be able to tell subordinates what to do -- leaders have to be able to trust their people to do their assigned jobs. Leaders are still responsible for the overall outcome, but if they're trying to manage all information themselves they're going to get whipped by a group that's more efficient because its people take (and are trusted to exercise) personal responsibility for their assigned tasks and goals.

Originally Posted by Jaedon Rivers:
I don't think it inherently matters how involved an Admiral is in the majority of things - but a Commodore role could be more useful to represent command staff of a guild who aren't admirals. Of course, there are many other variables to consider, so it's not as easy as it sounds.
It matters if the kinds of gameplay offered change according to rank (as I've suggested elsewhere), but that's not a given. If advancement in Star Trek Online is just leveling up to be able to fight enemies with multiplied stats, then sure, we might as well allow all players to earn the rank of Emperor-Admiral of All Time and Space and give them all +10 Phasers of Vorpal Doom. Personally, I'd prefer rank in ST:O to be an indicator of actual, demonstrated responsibility for the fun gameplay of others instead of just who leveled up the fastest so they could order other people around.

It'll be interesting to see which way Star Trek Online goes on this issue of "guild/clan" structures vs. Starfleet ranks. Maybe they'll find a way to elegantly merge the two kinds of organization....

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