Imaginary Realities 

Your MUD Should Have an Account System

The traditional approach to awareness of the user in MUDs is to blur the distinction between player and player character as much as possible, giving rise to things like the somewhat deranged jargon where we refer to player vs. player conflict as “player killing”, despite the fact that in MUDs (unlike MMOs) only player characters have, to date, been murdered in such activities. So it’s not surprising, only dismaying, to find that in 99% of MUDs the player character is the user account — which means that deletion or permanent death of a character results in loss of all information about the player, and trying out a new character concept requires tedious re-entry of profile information and preferences.

Honestly, friends, it’s a little ridiculous. At this late stage in the game, your MUD should have an account system — by which I mean a concept of tracking information that’s about the player (login name, password, profile settings, etc.) separately from information about that player’s character or characters.

Some of the benefits you can get from an account system include:

  1. Configuration points such as terminal information and interface style settings can be kept at the account level, so that players only ever need to set them once.

  1. Command aliases can be extended to support aliases that are shared between all of a player’s characters. (I find that it’s best to provide for both character-specific and shared aliases.)

  1. A requirement that the account be tied to a deliverable email address (the current internet standard for minimal account-setup validation) can be implemented without imposing a tedious burden on every new character setup. (Note that this doesn’t mean having to impose this as an initial barrier to getting into the game, and I’d recommend against doing that. You always want login-to-actually-playing to be as smooth a pipeline as possible.)

  1. A concept of the expertise level of the player can be tracked across characters, allowing new players to be shown more tutorial-heavy content while new characters created by established players get a more streamlined experience.

  1. It becomes feasible to allow players to supply more profile information about themselves simply because there’s now a place for that information to live that isn’t ephemeral.

  1. You can provide players with an easy way to try out new character concepts and keep track of those characters, and also a way to sensibly manage the number of characters a given player has. (Most players will stick to a single account simply because it’s easy and intuitive to do so, and if you make a “one account per player” rule, you actually have some hope of enforcing that, while character limits in a “character = account” system are almost definitionally hopeless.)

  1. There’s a place for a history of the player’s characters and their achievements to live.

  1. A voluntary temporary self-lockout feature (a favorite of students with upcoming final examinations) can be implemented on an account-wide level.

  1. Unlockable access to character design features can be handled in an arguably less hackish way than destructive “remorts”.

On the other hand, a common objection to account systems is that they create an additional barrier a new player must surmount before getting into the actual game. Quite frankly, that isn’t necessarily the case at all; it’s just a matter of attention to user experience design. My preferred approach is to create the account under the new player’s chosen name, and then to immediately bring them into the game as a character with the same name as the account. The process doesn’t need to have any more hurdles in it than you give it.

If you’d like to look at running code for more ideas, Evennia is a modern MUD-building framework that comes with account mechanics built-in. Don’t be shy; it’s both easier and more productive than you might think.

Chaos (Matthew Sheahan) is the lead developer of Lost Souls.

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