29 September

DJ #7: Contracts and Player-Created Professions

By Caspian

In most MMOs today, roles such as shopkeeper, merchant, innkeeper, bounty hunter, and courier, when even possible, are constrained by the rules of the game engine. Things like quests or tasks, parties and raids, trade, auction houses, and mail systems are either NPC-driven or governed by built-in game mechanics. Instead of providing opportunities for immersion, role playing, and dramatic situations, they instead act as a 4th wall, forcing players to interact in the world (like a theme park), rather than with the world.

In this week's design journal, we're going to talk about Player Contracts - perhaps the most important feature of Chronicles of Elyria. Contracts give power back to the players, unlocking an infinite number of occupations and professions and allowing them to play roles in Elyria even we haven't thought of. The foundation for marriages, guilds, trade agreements, in-game mail systems, families, and even governments, Contracts play a crucial role in Chronicles of Elyria and solidifies its place as one of the first true sandbox MMOs.

In-game view of a character with their backpack on Figure 1 – In-game view of a character with their backpack on

Purpose of Contracts

Contracts in Chronicles of Elyria are first and foremost about solving the trust issues inherent in existing MMORPGs. In our world we negotiate, make deals, and provide cash in advance all the time. We do that because we trust the legal system and peoples’ moral code. In most MMOs there’s no legal system to speak of and the anonymity afforded by the Internet often brings out the worst in people. This creates an environment where, rather than enabling massive collaboration, people are forced to play a game with potentially tens of the thousands of people, as a single-player game.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take the classic example of needing to get an item built. You haven’t raised your mining or blacksmithing skills but you still want to be a competitive swordsman. You learn that there’s a powerful sword but to create it you need to gather 10 lbs. of iron ore and some rare gems - in addition to having the necessary crafting recipe.

First, you’re going to realize you don’t have the necessary mining skill to harvest the ore or the gem. You have three options: either raise your mining yourself, buy the items from the auction house – requiring no player interaction, or spam trade chat asking for someone to trade with, which rarely creates long-term, meaningful business relationships.

Assuming you manage to procure the necessary materials, you’re now faced with a second problem – you lack sufficient skill, and likely the recipe, to craft the item. The most logical solution would be to take the materials to an appropriately skilled craftsman and ask them to make it for you. But, in doing so you encounter the real trust issue. You’ve just acquired a very expensive, very rare gem which you now must hand over to someone else for them to create the item for you. As you open the trade window you ask yourself “What’s stopping them from keeping these rare materials for themselves, selling it on the auction house, or even crafting the weapon and selling it back to me at higher than the agreed upon price?” In most games, the answer is nothing. In Chronicles of Elyria, the answer is Contracts.

Initiating Contracts

There are two types of contracts in Chronicles of Elyria, Explicit and Implicit, and each one is initiated differently. Explicit contracts are more like your traditional contracts. They’re written documents which are reviewed and signed by all members who want to execute them. Signing the contract means you agree to uphold your end of the bargain or face the pre-arranged consequences. Contracts, explicit or implicit, can be one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many. This allows for an agreement between you and another, between you and several other people, or amongst a collection of people.

In-game view of a contract in a character’s inventory Figure 2 – In-game view of a contract in a character’s inventory

Explicit Contracts

As seen in Figure 2 above, Explicit Contracts function as any other object in your inventory. You can buy, sell, trade, examine, or activate them. When you activate a contract you select another person to initiate a trade negotiation with. And, just like there are different types of potions in the game, there are different types of contracts.

Each type of contract acts like a template until the point in which it’s activated. At that point, all the blank spots for things like names, quantities, costs, and references to items or activates are filled in during negotiation. You can see an example of an early Trade Contract in Figure 3 below.

As Chronicles of Elyria uses Contracts in place of what would normally be Quests or Tasks in other MMOs, it shouldn’t surprise you there are contract templates for many of the same activities you’d be asked to do in other RPGs. For example, there are contracts to:

  • Deliver an item to someone
  • Activate an Item
  • Destroy an item or building
  • Capture or retrieve someone
  • Escort someone to a given location safely

By providing stock contracts for the above activities it’s immediately possible for players to create tasks in the same way NPCs do. You could log off for the day and leave your OPC behind, offering X amount of money or other objects in exchange for placing resources in your shop. When someone drops the resources in your warehouse, they can collect the money from you. But how does the Soulborn Engine know the contract is complete? I’m glad you asked.

Characters going about their daily lives are constantly doing things. They’re going in and out of regions, interacting with items, talking to people, trading, engaging in combat, etc. There are literally dozens of things your character can do while in Elyria and each of them generates a Character Event.

Whenever you a sign a contract the Soulborn Engine begins waiting for you to perform specific Character Events related to the contract and uses those to track your progress.

This system is also used to help you track your progress on-screen. Selecting a contract you’ve accepted from your inventory allows you to track the contract’s objectives. This, like in most MMOs, gives you an on-screen reminder of what you're trying to do and whenever you complete an objective the user interface is updated to reflect your progress.

Authoring Contracts

While we’re not going to spend any time in this design journal talking about how crafting works – that’ll be part of the next design journal, I did want to talk briefly about who writes them and who uses them.

Contracts are complicated - even in our world. The more clauses and conditions they have the more difficult they are to author correctly. When designing the contract system we had a choice between making it something anyone can do and making it the focus of a specific type of crafter.

In the end, we decided that contracts can be used by anyone while they’re written by those with a specialization of the Scribing skill called Contract Writing. In addition, how complex a contract can be – the number of clauses and conditions it supports, is directly proportional to the skill of the writer. Characters just starting out will only be able to write simple Trade Contracts, while those more advanced can write guild charters and patents, marriage agreements, and even laws.

Early In-game view of a Trade Contract Figure 3 – Early In-game view of a Trade Contract

Contracts are made to be broken – and enforced

Like most features in Chronicles of Elyria, the Contract system introduces a fun new mechanic which is inherently exploitable. It’s designed to increase your confidence that it’s safe to do business with someone, however - like in our world, that's not always the case.

Whenever you initiate a contract there’s a set of consequences for breaking it. If either party breaches the contract they’re at risk of having to pay the consequences. These consequences can be enforced but it's up to you, or someone on your behalf, to enforce them.

Enforcing Contracts

We’ve put systems in place to make enforcing contracts easier. Once a contract is believed to be broken, and assuming you have a copy of the contract, you can use it to generate a Bounty Token. This token gives the possessor the right to apply consequence to the person who broke the contract. This can mean taking money or items off of them, reclaiming things from their homes, or even incapacitating them and bringing them back to face justice.

Which types of consequences are allowed is based on regional laws. Depending on the County you're in it may be legal to retrieve your stuff yourself. In others counties it may be necessary for a Sheriff to reclaim your goods. And, in yet other counties – those which have chosen a more lawless disposition, there may be no way to enforce a contract at all.

As I mentioned before, this all assumes you have a copy of the contract in which to enforce it. If someone were to somehow get the contract from you before you enforced it, there’d be no proof the contract ever existed at all.

Early In-game view of a Trade Negotiation Figure 4 – Early In-game view of a Trade Negotiation

Implicit Contracts

Unlike explicit contracts, implicit contracts don’t require participants to sign them to take effect and they’re instead initiated in other ways. The two best examples of implicit contracts are laws and enchanted or artifact items, and each one is initiated differently.

Local, Regional, and National leaders can draft laws as part of their region. Once signed in as law, anyone who steps foot within their jurisdiction is bound by the implicit contract. This gives governments a huge amount of flexibility with respect to customizing what is and is not allowed within their domain, and what the consequences are.

To make understanding the legal system easier there are different types of contracts for different types of laws. There are contracts for the tax code, criminal code, citizenship, land ownership, inheritance, and even government type. As with other types of contracts it’s impractical in most situations to advance your Contract Writing skill to a point where you can draft laws. Instead you’ll want to retain the services of a skilled Contract Writer to draft the laws on your behalf. Then you can use the regional management UI to institute the laws.

Item Contracts

The other common type of implicit contract are enchanted or artifact items. With these, simply equipping or wearing the item is enough to initiate the contract. Perhaps the most important example is the Ring of the King. Once someone with sufficient claim puts it on, they are bound by contract to fulfill the role of the king. This grants them all the benefits and privileges therein, but breach of contract means death and a land without leadership until the next person accepts the contract.

What’s next?

Next week we're going to back-track slightly and talk about the Skill System and Skills in Chronicles of Elyria. You'll learn how skills are categorized, advanced, and most importantly used to do or create some fun and amazing things. And, in line with CoE's design goal #3, you'll learn how every skill the characters use, requires some degree of player skill.

Discuss

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TheOtherKid - 1 month ago

Will you only be able to buy/sell and do straight up permanent exchange sort of trades or will you be able to rent things out to people too? For example if someone was going to need to travel along a river but didn't want to have to buy a boat or otterbear since they don't do it often could they rent one from another character?

Eowid - 3 months ago

Can a contract be passed to someone else to finishit? Let's say I have a contract with an inn keeper to provide him with 20 barrels of mead but I have some IRL problems to login because myè boss doesnt like me to play the game during working hours. Can I pass the contract to another player, give him the already finished 19 barrels, he makes last one and enter the contract? Or do I have to make a new contract with that player to attest that he took over the contract.

If yes, what with assassination contracts? Passing them over and over is a way to get an assassin that cant be really connected or traced in game.

Daethos - 2 years ago

Contracts are neat, but you could also put job boards at Inns where people could post open contracts that players can fulfill, someone needs 10 wolf pelts for crafting but doesn't have the skills or the time to go hunting? Put up a contract on the job board for suitable reward and a player can pick it up and fulfill it. (person who puts up the job pays the payment and maybe a small fee as a deposit and the one doing the job can collect the reward at the job board. The contractor will get a notice that the wanted deed is done and can collect the items from the board).

Kregard - 1 year ago
@Daethos:

That is all well and fine but the whole idea the developers are going for is the actual interactions between individuals. If you just put a contract on the job board that completely negates direct involvement between the client (the individual who posted the contract) and contractor (the individual who completes the contract). The contractor will not personally care who the client is, what the client does for a living in CoE, or where this client resides. For all we know the items this client is processing could be valuable to the contractor.

If I was the client and someone took the time to get to know me I may even be willing to offer up discounts. I would also be more willing to assign the individual contracts as I know they will actually complete them.

Lunaus - 1 year ago
@Kregard:

I'd like to mention that if you do take on a contract, or see a job listing you still have to meet and interact with the person who put it up or the one who handles things like (for Nobility, or Guilds, etc). Think of it like the Witcher, you see someone needs help with something you visit them and iron out the details of what you'll be doing and possibly renegotiate terms if need be.

Mhaura - 2 months ago
@Lunaus:

Posted By Lunaus at 06:40 AM - Sun Nov 13 2016

I'd like to mention that if you do take on a contract, or see a job listing you still have to meet and interact with the person who put it up or the one who handles things like (for Nobility, or Guilds, etc). Think of it like the Witcher, you see someone needs help with something you visit them and iron out the details of what you'll be doing and possibly renegotiate terms if need be.

I haven't played The Witcher but putting a posting on a job board seems like a good idea. Though I don't think the posting = contract.

Examples:

"Miners needed. Job starts at 10 am sharp at the Dusk Mine, first come first serve. Narrow tunnels, NO Janoa/Dras/Brudvir!"

"Experienced hunters needed. Try outs are held at the archery guild, one week from today at sunrise."

"Apprentice baker wanted. Inquire within the Suntouch Bakery, located on the northeast side of the plaza square."

You'd have to meet with your client to sign the contract, I think.

Another way to arrange contracts is also through word of mouth. You'll only learn characters' name plates with consistent interaction so if you have someone in town who knows anyone and everyone, then they may be a good resource for people to get in touch with the right crowd if they're looking for a specific skill set.

Someone may get the idea to create a job agency too. I can see it happening. Someone who has a good diplomatic skill set and is able to see through lies can create a very lucrative business only supplying highly skilled and highly discreet services to people who need sensitive tasks taken care of.

SirSalsa - 1 year ago
@Kregard:

Posted By Kregard at 3:11 PM - Mon Oct 24 2016

That is all well and fine but the whole idea the developers are going for is the actual interactions between individuals. If you just put a contract on the job board that completely negates direct involvement between the client (the individual who posted the contract) and contractor (the individual who completes the contract). The contractor will not personally care who the client is, what the client does for a living in CoE, or where this client resides. For all we know the items this client is processing could be valuable to the contractor.

If I was the client and someone took the time to get to know me I may even be willing to offer up discounts. I would also be more willing to assign the individual contracts as I know they will actually complete them.

That is one way of putting it, I would argue that everyone does not have the time to meet up with in this particular example. People might have important matters to attend to as a count/sheriff, this way they could for example put up a bounty without having to wait for someone to come forward to them for the contract (that they might even not accept, just view).

Wolfguarde - 2 years ago

This solves a problem I've been chewing on for a while in regards to player-made content in MMOs. I've been wondering how the issue would be resolved, and this is a beautifully open-ended solution. Especially as exploitation of this mechanic adds to the gameplay, rather than detracting from it.

I can easily see the launch period resulting in a massive number of small, next-to-lawless nations developing as people seek to exploit one another through contract mechanics - and being smashed and subsumed by whichever country first develops to the point of having a centralised government with a functioning legal and economic system. This game's early development will be very, very interesting to watch.

CeciliaNightale - 2 years ago

Wouldn't it be a good idea to make contracts with witnesses too? Say, I want to deliver something really important and I add a witness to the contract making so in case the other person wants to brake it, he'll have to steal the contract and "silence" the witness. ;)

Surnear - 3 months ago
@CeciliaNightale:

And I could be a professional witness/notary. love it

Aeryn Suun-Brakur - 2 years ago

Love the article!!

TimeWaster - 2 years ago

@Kartysan: That would be cool to have an author profesion and creates librarys of player made books or even a record keeping building in large cities for past contracts. I was thinking that with the ever changing and developing world, historians would be a real thing to document the passage of time and the major events and players in history.

Smokey9000 - 2 years ago

Would there be a thing like magical blood contracts like in the weapon of flesh trilogy? (Assuming there was an evil wizard scribe willing to put it into effect)

zobuggin - 2 years ago

Would there be some kind of contract for assassination/contracted murder?

Kartysan - 2 years ago

Wow, reminds me of this anime called "Log Horizon".

And speaking of which, I wonder if it would be possible if players can publish in-game books. That would be pretty neat if someone ever goes down the path of the writer - which I'm certain I certainly would - maybe not so certainly would, hahaha!~

SkepticalViking - 2 years ago

This sounds incredible. What a fantastically unique way of shaping gameplay and making every player's experience completely unique.

The game sounds like it has taken the best aspects of Star Wars Galaxies (possibly one of the best social MMOs of all time) and improved on them exponentially.

I look forward to seeing more about this in the future.

Salik - 2 years ago

Nice being a bounty Hunter can actually be a real profession. Rather than Npc Bounty hunter quests!

stubs - 2 years ago

Two questions from my part:

Firstly ... Can you exchange items for other items other than gold in a contract?

and secondly, more importantly ... Can you make recurring or conditional contracts?

Say for example you're an accomplished craftsman with a backlog of orders but you rather do them while you're offline rather than in your game time. So you want to leave your character OPC to finish the goods, but at the same time you want him to stock up on mats which fall below a defined minimum by offering out contracts.

Devlonas - 2 years ago

I have also wondered how CoE will address same-sex marriage, the "Soul Mate" concept is what first made me wonder; is a "Soul Mate" going to be the opposite gender, same gender, random? Hoping for random; "Soul Mate" can be played romantically or platonically or adversarially at the player's discretion

stubs - 2 years ago
@Devlonas:

I'm quite positive Soul Mate was not meant in the romantic way. For starters the majority will most likely be male, and besides that they said Soul Mates have a good chance of only being temporarily in sync, as I understood it anyway.

If you ask me, they should leave the legislation of same-sex marriages up to the region in question, like that they've wiped their hands clean and give the players something to extra to chew on xD

Nossida - 3 years ago

Could someone from the dev team shed a little light on the degree of liberalism concerning say.. gay couples and adoption contracts? You don't want your game to be accused of homophobia do you? (and I know this will sound highly sassy, but please for the love of god don't say "yes we do, controversy is great and attracts people to the game." Which it would. Since it would be one of the bigger controversies in gaming as far as online interactions are concerned that isn't the old and consumed "blah this is too violent".) Now in all seriousness, how will the game address the demand for adoption contracts? And if so, how will this be balanced? Inb4 everyone makes a male character and adopts and everyone starts out in the ward to have both the benefits of character customization and family. You could technically draft laws that deter adoption and support having kids and all (which would make a lot of sense from the perspective of a (realistic) insert position of political power able to draft laws in a insert region here, since they would probably want their region populated, and giving birth to more kids translates to a larger population, right? Well, not exactly, not in the terms of this game as I see it, since if you disregard realism and keep the meta in mind, you would probably have a way higher population if you would do the exact opposite thing since players would obviously want more customization AND the benefits of a family. Not sure how cohesive this whole rant is, my apologies, but I hope someone can make some sense out of it.

Kahetabi - 3 years ago

Screenshots and ideas are very interesting. Is that the title, the only one for which I was waiting for all of my life?

Luca - 3 years ago

This reminds me of Log Horizon lol, that anime had a character who writes contracts. Honestly out of all the animes out there, Log Horizon has been the closest to actually making a game very similar to a typical MMO.

I like this, specially since its hinted that stealing the contract is possible, gives a big opening for the thieves guild or even assassins guild (being possible enforcers for either the contractor or contracted).

Mouseman - 3 years ago
@Luca:

"I like this, specially since its hinted that stealing the contract is possible, gives a big opening for the thieves guild or even assassins guild (being possible enforcers for either the contractor or contracted)."

^ this is just ONE of the many reasons I'm looking forward to release!

Bladechris21 - 3 years ago

My question is what happens if you commit a crime and you leave that county will the laws be different or what I'd like if someone can give some insight on this topic.

Caspian - 3 years ago
@Bladechris21:

Extradition laws. Some regions will support extradition, some won't. So there will be places criminals flee to avoid being captured.

Senu - 3 years ago

watch out gankers!

Senu - 3 years ago

sounds good, makes people accountable and act from integrity and moral principle. this will create good strong communities,clans, orders etc

Ravhawk - 3 years ago

This is a very interesting and potentially creative solution to the games design. This is very similar to the way that Eve Online is played. While there are certainly a lot of aspects to the game that are run by the programming, most of the game is designed and run by the creation of the players, including contacts. There have been many times that the game has taken turns and the players have done things the devs didn't expect. This is the truest nature of a sandbox game and one I think can be both good and bad, when done properly.

Dex Atromis - 3 years ago

If anyone has every played cRPG (Mount and Blade:Warband Mod) Then you know how easily someone can break a diplomatic contract or even just an agreement, To implement this into a game would be very unique and even opens up different professions such as a Courier or Crier?

7Shadows - 3 years ago

Congrats if original idea but I am just mentioning that in the anime Log Horizon Second Season which is about a bunch of people inside a game a person finds out he can manipulate the world with contracts if high enough level equipment was used and also use it to purchase parts of the surroundings previously unknown to be able to be owned. I am just mentioning to see if you are aware

Atselmya - 3 years ago

This sounds very interesting, I cant wait to see it in action.