The simple fact is that macroing sucks.

It's been said time and time again: The usual progression on a shard goes something like macro -> pvp -> tower -> bored -> quit and it never seems to change. That's why shard launches are usually swarmed with players before the inevitable drop-off in population. People love that rush to get the first GM, the best housing spots, the first complete template, the early loot that gives you a huge advantage because the other nubcake only has 75 parrying.

That's not really a sustainable model, though. A shard that wants to be successful in the long run needs to make it possible for new players to "catch up" to the veterans without it being too much of a chore, and I'm not talking about just starting with X number of skillpoints. All that does is make people macro a little less, and be a little less attached to their characters.

The real problem is that modern UO imposes a waiting period before you can actually play the damn game.

Think about it: You sign up for a shard. Unless you've got a buddy who's already established, you have to find some random place in town to hide while you macro your skills up to the point where you can at the very least not die in a dungeon and maybe possibly be able to escape PKs by Recalling or hiding or just surviving until you make it back to a guard zone. How long does that take? Days. Weeks sometimes. Meanwhile you've got fully-geared and -templated PKs hunting you every time you set foot in Despise to find your first Vanquishing weapon, and you've got no house to macro safely in. That sucks. The design of the game literally encourages you postpone playing until after macroing.

Generally, there are two approaches one can take:

  1. Discourage macroing with punitive mechanics/rules
  2. Encourage players to actually play in lieu of macroing
  3. Reset/wipe the shard on a regular basis.

The first usually manifests itself as "anti-macro" rules or caps on the number of skill points a given character can earn per day. The second usually takes the form of things like "power hours" where skill gain is greatly boosted in the hopes that people will play when it's not their Power Hour, and the third simply discourages people from sticking around.

I think the ideal approach lies in a hybrid approach, and assuming:

  1. Players will always macro if given even the slightest opportunity, and
  2. Players will typically take the path of least resistance.

I think that given the preceding two points, the best approach becomes obvious: Make macroing less rewarding than actually playing one's character. Bear with me, here.

Combining the bulleted points above results in a system that punishes (but tolerates) those who sit in their houses and macro, while rewarding those who go out and macro in a dungeon. I envision tweaking the gain rates so that a player who spends, say, 3-5 hours a day in a dungeon could have their character fully skilled in 1-2 weeks (whereas 24/7 macroing might not get you there for a month or more). Any shorter, and you run into characters being so easy to build that they become throwaways and people don't develop attachment. Any longer and the player starts to lose sight of the goal. If the player feels they are making significant progress, they are engaged, they have fun, they feel rewarded, and they stick around.

Obviously this means you might have people macroing AFK in dungeons, but to be honest I think that that is a benefit, not a drawback. It might just be your lucky day if you found some goon sitting AFK in Hythloth with 500 of each reg on him. Again, it rewards the people who go out and actually play, while punishing the people who just want to AFK their way to GM.

What about the player who wants to macro? As perverse as it might seem, I think there are a small minority of players who get satisfaction from setting up slick macros and automating everything. The real problem with macroing is that it encourages people to stay away from the game for weeks at a time and contributes to an inflated economy (more on the economy in a later post). Macroing is prevalent because it lets you get ahead of non-macroers, and so even those who don't really like to macro are forced to do so in order to keep up.

Under this proposed system, the outcomes are reversed: It is far more productive to go hunt orcs for 3 hours than it is to macro for 3 hours. By the same token, nothing stops players from using macros to handle tedious tasks like filling potion bottles from a keg or scribing scrolls to sell. If implemented correctly, I think this system can be a real game-changer.