Thursday, 15 December 2011

Of Penguins, Exploits, and Meatsinks - How KoL Dealt with Crisis

 After talking about The Kingdom of Loathing a little yesterday I couldn't help but be reminded of how the game dealt with disaster. So here's how they rose to the occasion.

Talking about The Kingdom of Loathing yesterday got me thinking about how well the game handled one of the worst types of crises: a bug (or in this case set of bugs) that completely broke the economy. This happened well before I found the Kingdom, so I only know what I've read and heard from players that were actually there at the time, but I believe that the events of Black Sunday showed off a brilliant fashion in dealing with a problem that could have sent the game belly up.

Basically, in 2004 a glitch was found wherein a player could use an item that took away a couple hundred in-game dollars. If they used this item with no meat on them though, then the resulting negative would instead flip over to an absurdly high amount -- the largest being 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 or roughly 18.5 quintillion meat -- and given that the hard limit on any player sold item is 999,999,999 this meant that everything was bought, everything.

The damage was widespread. The mall stood empty, and near unfathomable amounts of meat were still swarming around the Kingdom. Players begged for a rollback, to undo all the damage that had been inflicted upon the game. Certainly a rollback would have been the simplest and easiest thing to do. Some things would have been lost, but it is perhaps the smallest price to pay. No one would have blamed Jick (the creator of the game) for rolling back or resetting. But instead of that, a plan was hatched ... and so were penguins.

In order to get all of the bugged currency out of the Kingdom multiple "meatsinks" were developed, including the introduction of the generally antagonistic Penguin Mafia, who visited players with loads of bugmeat to beat it out of them, and offered needlessly expensive but mostly useless joke items and raffles. There were multiple plot elements that actually drove the story forward based completely off of the donation and elimination of all the bugged currency that resulted from Black Sunday. Instead of losing stuff and having to roll back or completely reset, KoL used this as an opportunity to drive the story forward and introduce new elements, characters, and minutia into the game.

These days it just seems surprising, considering that as I've covered in the past, games like Mabinogi actually went offline due to problems that were almost the same in nature: currency related issues (although in Mabinogi's case it was people paying for gold rather than a lot of bug money). It's good to see a game rise to the challenge of the unexpected and actually incorporate and flex around the problem, rather than break entirely.

I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that in a time of dire straits, perhaps even a make-or-break circumstance, the leaders of The Kingdom of Loathing really came through, and showed that even though an easy answer is available, sometimes it isn't the best one by far. Even though I haven't been to the Kingdom in ages, I still respect them for that decision, and fondly remember KoL as a game worth playing.

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