Adventurers Club Ltd. Member's Dossier, May, 1987 Hat

Richard Bartle's Page

It's a reasonably well-documented fact about Multi-User Adventure ganes that you shouldn't have too many rooms. Such games depend on interaction between players, and if you have too many rooms then the players rarely meet, so don't really interact. There are obvious problems of overcrowding if there are too few rooms, but it's the "too many" case that often knocks the game out of balance.

So why is it, then, that every new MUA that's launched proudly proclaims how many rooms it has, shouting the (usually inflated) figure from the rooftops? With 5000 rooms, do they REALLY expect to get the 250 to 500 or so simultaneous users they'd need to populate it to a reasonable level? If they did, what kind of hardware do they have available? 500 modems don't come cheap!

Well,the reason we hear about large numbers of rooms is because that's what the single-user adventurer has traditionally used to judge the worth of a game. 5000 rooms is impressive for a SUA, therefore it must also be for a MUA. Unfortunately, most SUA players don't own modems and therefore couldn't play a MUA anyway. The MUA players know about such matters, and consequently pour scorn on any such claims. So ill-informed boasts about the large number of rooms in a game merely serve to show a somewhat unprofessional approach, unless the figure is actually well thought-out (as with MirrorWorld).

There are other reasons why large numbers of rooms are generally "a bad thing". One is that these "rooms" often aren't rooms at all in the MUA sense. In a MWA, a room is an area in which you can interact, ie. talk, fight, steal and so on. In SUAs, it's where you find objects, a location pointer. With 5000 rooms of the former kind, then it's pretty hard to find someone to chat to. Of the latter kind, it's not too hard, provided you can interact with people in adjacent rooms. However, that means the 5000 SUA-type rooms are really equivalent to, say, 1000 MUA-type rooms. Hmm, that's a useful bit of misrepresentation, I must remember that...

5000 rooms means 5000 room descriptions. Let's say a pitiful average of 30 words per description, so that's 150000 words of descriptions. Hmm 2 or 3 novels' worth there. Let's hope there's someone who can write involved in the project! Having written hundreds of descriptions myself, I can safely say it's not the sort of thing you can knock off in a couple of weeks...

The other alternative is to machine-generate the room descriptions, on-the-fly as you play. Not a bad idea, but the descriptions that are generated are <yawn> mindlessly boring. The only case where prose-free descriptions are OK is with mazes, and then only because they are SUPPOSED to be dreary!

Any reasonably competent programmer can write a MUA. Not many can write a good MUA. Next time you see an advertisement for one, don't just look at the bald figures in the promises, think whether they'd work or not.

Throughout this article, I've used 5000 as the example number of rooms. I've actually seen 5000 as a figure bandied about, and even 10000 has cropped up (in publicity from an otherwise reputable SUA company it would be unfair to name!). Anything over 1000 is probably pushing it, until the number of modem-owners increases substantially. How many rooms has MUD2? Well, er, just under 1000, actually..!

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: aclmay87.htm