Designing Virtual Worlds

New Riders
Richard Bartle  
New Riders
Total pages
July 2003
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Table of Contents


1. Introduction to Virtual Worlds.

Some Definitions. What They Are and Whence They Came. The Past Affects the Future. The Basics. Influences on Virtual Worlds. The Designer.

2. How to Make Virtual Worlds.

Development. On Architecture. Theory and Practice.

3. Players.

Who Are These People and What Do They Want? Player Types. Other Categorizations. The Celebration of Identity. Anonymity. Role-Playing. Masquerading. Community. Influence Through Design.

4. World Design.

Scope. Major Decisions. Geography. Population. Physics. Reset Strategy.

5. Life in the Virtual World.

Advancement. Character Generation. The Virtual Body. Groups. Combat. Crafting. The Elder Game. The Whole Picture.

6. Its Not a Game, Its a….

Points of View. Making Sense of Virtual Worlds. Virtual Worlds as Subfields. Virtual Worlds as Tools. Virtual Worlds asVirtual Worlds. Conclusion.

7. Towards a Critical Aesthetic.

A Theory of Virtual Worlds. The Story of Story. The Critical Aesthetic in Use.

8. Coda: Ethical Considerations.

Censorship. Players as People. Groups of Players as Groups of People. Yourself.


Back Cover

Designing Virtual Worlds is the most comprehensive treatment of virtual world design to-date from one of the true pioneers and most sought-after design consultants. It's a tour de force of VW design, stunning in intellectual scope, spanning the literary, economic, sociological, psychological, physical, technological, and ethical underpinnings of design, while providing the reader with a deep, well-grounded understanding of VW design principles. It covers everything from MUDs to MOOs to MMORPGs, from text-based to graphical VWs.

Designing Virtual Worlds brings a rich, well-developed approach to the design concepts behind virtual worlds. It is grounded in the earliest approaches to such designs, but the examples discussed in the book run the gamut from the earliest MUDs to the present-day MMORPG games mentioned above. It teaches the reader the actual, underlying design principles that many designers do not understand when they borrow or build from previous games. There is no other design book on the market in the area of online games and virtual worlds that provides the rich detail, historical context, and conceptual depth of Designing Virtual Worlds.


Richard Allan Bartle, Ph.D., co-wrote the first virtual world, MUD ('Multi-User Dungeon'), in 1978, thus being at the forefront of the online gaming industry from its very inception. A former university lecturer in Artificial Intelligence, he is an influential writer on all aspects of virtual world design and development. As an independent consultant, he has worked with almost every major online gaming company in the U.K. and the U.S. over the past 20 years. Richard lives with his wife, Gail, and their two children, Jennifer and Madeleine, in a village just outside Colchester, England. He works in virtual worlds.

These reviewers contributed their considerable hands-on expertise to the development process for Designing Virtual Worlds. As the book was being written, these dedicated professionals reviewed all the material for technical content, organization, and flow. Their feedback was critical to ensuring that Designing Virtual Worlds fits our readers' need for the highest-quality technical information.

Matt Mihaly is the founding partner, lead designer, and CEO of Achaea LLC. Founded in 1996 in San Francisco, Achaea designs and produces some of the world's most popular and successful commercial text MUDs, including Achaea, Dreams of Divine Lands (, Aetolia, the Midnight Age (, and Imperian (—all of which run on Achaea's proprietary network engine, Rapture. Matt graduated from Cornell University in 1994 with a degree in Political Science and is a licensed stockbroker. These experiences have informed his game design tendencies and he is an expert on business models, political systems, and community dynamics in virtual worlds. Along with the inevitable interest in games, he spends his free time pursuing Brazilian jujitsu and kickboxing, cooking, travelling, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and scuba diving.

Damion Schubert has been working in online world design professionally for over seven years. He was originally the lead designer of Meridian 59 (and several expansions), as well as the lead designer for the defunct Ultima Online 2. He has also served as a contractor for such projects as The Sims Online and Kalisto's Highlander Online. Currently Damion is serving as a senior designer at Wolfpack, which shipped Shadowbane in March 2003.