Posted by: mrrx | February 14, 2007

Documentation – Why It’s a Secret

One issue I’ve been frustrated with in the MMO world is the lack of information about how to play the game.      In a pen-and-paper RPG, counter-based boardgame, or some simpler games – the rules are known.     Swing a sword, roll a 20-sided die, and if you get above X number then you hit the monster.     Then you roll for damage.   Yadda yadda yadda.

Without this information, which is hidden in all the MMO’s that I’ve played anyway, the player is in a sense flying blind.    You get whatever you get about how to play the game and make crude decisions based on that.     This spell does 100 points of damage; that one does 80.     I think I’ll use the first one.       But the exact mechanics ala D&D are unknown.

I’ve wondered for a long time why the combination of

  1. Cheapness (don’t document because it costs money) and
  2. Secrecy (It’s a trade secret!)

existed with these games.     But I’m now aware of the reason for secrecy.

It’s not much of a secret that most computer RPG’s are based on the core rules from D&D.      Hit rolls, armor class, damage rolls – all this is derivative from the rules.      In a non-infringing sense, every game copied D&D’s rules.      And now they want to be secret about how their rules go exactly.     That part doesn’t make a lot of sense.

But the things people will do for an MMO game – what if someone reverse engineered the game ?    Set up their own servers, built the code, and basically “copied” it ?      Would you, as a software company, want to take the chance of this happening ?    You could probably fight it, but it would be better not to get into the confrontation in the first place.

And so I heard about the Star Wars Galaxies Emulator project.    There’s a group of talented fans out there doing exactly this – they are recreating SWG before the widely-derided NGE system.      Based on remembered observed behavior, they’re reverse engineering the game.

My mind boggles that people would actually do this.       How can this not be copyright infringement ?      And with this knowledge, I’m no longer that concerned about the lack of documentation about how various games work.     Sheesh, no wonder they can’t tell us !

That said, and understood – I guess we get enough info to be able to play.      I still expect to never be the toughest kid on the block for so many reasons, this being one; but at least it makes sense to me now.



  1. The companies certainly will have everything documented. Perhaps not formatted nicely as a user manual, but all the data is in the system documentation, you can be sure of that.

    I’m guessing that apart from the reverse-engineer thing, they simply don’t want to publish the raw stats, because people will feel forced to read up on them.

    And “having” to do that gives off a heck of a nerdy and complex image.

    It’s no wonder no action game publicized their mechanics…

    Pen’n’paper rpgs are probably the only kind of rpg that actually must publish the rules… And most people aren’t in it for the rules, but for the play experience.

  2. Happy Valentines Day!

  3. They’ll have it documented internally sure. Turning that into something readable by players is going to require manual intervention, someone to edit it and create a readable document.

    This is where cheapness comes in I believe.

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