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The Roleplayer's Redoubt

Is there a really place for roleplaying in MMOs? What do roleplayers bring to the table? How can developers foster stronger roleplaying communities? How do traditional concepts fit into the realities of contemporary online roleplaying?

Author: OddjobXL

World o Darkness Online: Commentaries II

Posted by OddjobXL Thursday October 7 2010 at 10:20AM
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Continued thoughts about WoDo taken from my posts elsewhere.

"There's a difference between the role of combat in a somewhat structured tabletop campaign and the role combat would play when driven by players that live for nothing more than combat in an MMO. Developers sometimes imagine rather elaborate ways PvP can help drive a narrative or feel thematic but it always comes down to just a big old football game and little more.

In some ways the struggle between RPers and PvPers is the age old struggle between nerds and jocks. Some folks like geeky things like roleplaying or reading for fun and some folks just like busting heads and scoring points. It's not a perfect analogy, of course. Some of the best hardcore roleplayers I know are active duty military personnel who have zero patience with the behavior of some in the PvP community and some of the best hardcore PvPers are stereotypical pencil-necks who act out their power fantasies through inflicting pain on others in PvP games.

Then there are the PvP-RPers who are pretty small subset but tend to be very cool folks. They just love competition every bit as much as creativity and are willing to put up with stuff other roleplayers simply won't hang around for. Still, they've been the bridge in some games that bring balance. There are just too few of 'em."


"The usual stuff developers think appeal to female gamers, the Sims aspects for example, also tend to appeal to roleplayers. Solid costuming options, customizable characters and housing, emotes, networking tools to help in-game socializing, etc.

Many of the most important leaders in the roleplaying communities of both LoTRO and SWG are female. I don't know the CoH roleplaying scene well enough to comment there but I wouldn't be surprised if it's the same story."


"How common are roleplayers? Well, I think we're really damn common but MMOs have a pretty bad reputation as crappy places for roleplaying in most communities. Many roleplayers in games like WoW, for example, don't even bother roleplaying. They just play the game straight up.

But here are a couple facts which explain why roleplayers are an important minority as it is:

1) Virtue, Landroval and Starsider. Look at the numbers playing there. They were all named unofficial RP servers before the launches of their respective games. They all are in the top three population wise, have visible cadres of people openly roleplaying, and Starsider is actually the most populated server in SWG.

2) We love stuff. I'll bet if you check on who bought the ten copies that sold of the Eve novel you'll find everyone who bought a copy was either a roleplayer or a member of the author's family. We buy books and comics and posters, we buy knick knacks, we buy extra accounts, we pile into stores for cosmetic items or pets or more storage space. We collect, we horde, and we display our hard won, or easily bought, plumage off for the masses.

3) We make our own content. There are communities on SWG that are so burrowed in on Starsider, and so tightly, it's going to take FEMA to get them out when that game finally closes down. SWG sucks, in pure game terms. If it were a singleplayer game who'd ever spend time there? But the roleplaying community keeps on rolling with events, storylines, gossip, planning, chatting.

This is why we matter. And at this point in time MMOs still are terrible vehicles for real roleplaying. Imagine what could happen if that changed."


"What this study doesn't show me is the difference on assorted MMOs. On some the proportion of regular roleplayers is likely to be higher than 20% and on others lower. I'd also be curious if the study had asked why the majority of people who weren't regular roleplayers (60%), but had tried it, didn't keep roleplaying.

It wouldn't surprise me if the problems were structural. They like roleplaying but couldn't find roleplaying they liked in the game they're currently in, for example. Roleplaying isn't something most folks just try for the hell of it, usually they like the idea but find it just isn't working the way they thought it should or would or don't know how, or have the time to, find folks with similar ideas and approaches.

Twenty percent is a very big chunk of folks in general though. That's the base of any political party right there."

World of Darkness Online: Commentaries I

Posted by OddjobXL Thursday October 7 2010 at 9:40AM
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These are just a collections of comments yours truly has made in the wake of the announcement of World of Darkness Online.  I'm sticking them here for later reference and for your feedback now.  This has the potential to be a very revolutionary development in MMO design that's to roleplayers and socializers what Eve Online is to PvPers and achievers.  Maybe.  But CCP's flown in the face of conventional wisdom before and White Wolf once overthrew conventional wisdom about what a roleplaying game could be.


"While it wasn't obvious at the time, eventually, entertainer players (in SWG) ended up being the kinds of players who enjoy being around people and actually entertaining them. So they ended up being the ones who'd organize events, help other Player Associations with their own events, end up as the OOC nexus for loosely organized RP storylines between multiple cliques, and so on.

Some people just like roleplaying or socializing and it's easier to do in an MMO than IRL for many of us due to time constraints or geographical issues. Or they just like the graphical nature of MMOs."

"I can also point to Virtue and Landroval as other examples of servers where the RP/social population was a draw as games aged. These are both consistantly among the most populated in CoH and LoTRO respectively."


"Permadeath can work but only in a small group context, like a MUD or MUSH, and then it can still be perilous without a consent rule.  On one hand, Permadeath actually can reduce random fighting and silliness because folks often don't want to lose their characters."

"I've also seen grudges play themselves out that decimate entire MUSH populations to the point folks are so pissed about losing favorite characters they just quit en masse. Eventually, consent comes into play which is essentially a rule about character ownership and prop control. You can't do anything to my character or places/items associated with my character without my permission."


"Now what he could be hinting at would be that the app itself would interact with Facebook or twitter feeds so characters themselves could act through real, existing, social medial outlets as fully fledged individuals.

This I find a little more intriguing. Social butterfly characters could create ads for events on Facebook, people could sign up, Coterie/guild leaders might run twitters for their fellows to keep up with events rather than falling back on old school guild forum portals and the like.

I think that's probably a natural evolution of MMOs and makes sense particularly given the contemporary setting (it seems) of WoD Online. "


"This is why I much favor SWG's old Storyteller system (over CoH's Architect) as clunky as it was. Folks could put together adventures that involved much more live interaction and freedom to improvise than the highly scripted, limited and solely combat focused scenarios in CoH's Architect.

Storyteller's interface was, charitably, ass. But folks still grapple with it for the benefits it offers. One other notable advantage is that SWG's Storyteller actually cost time and credits to use. There were no rewards for building scenarios or playing them. So you didn't get the glut of "farming" missions that choked Architect and, to this day, drove many players to revile it so heartily.

If someone was breaking out SWG's Storyteller it was to tell a story or design an event space. Period. It offered no other benefit. That seems benefit enough for the kinds of folk you actually want designing adventures and running campaigns."


"The question is, can you really translate that fragile and complex web of relationships into MMO dynamics without just creating just another flavor of PvP mosh pit?

How do you get players who, for the most part, aren't going to be all that sophisticated and clever acting like manipulative and wily vampires rather than superthugs with guns and mutant powers and an excuse to use them on each other, lots?

I'm admittedly skeptical about PvP after my experiences with how it impacts and warps the flavor of established IPs. Once you get the PvPers in the forums whining 24/7 about play balance, nerfs and buffs, on that eternal lobbying tear for more PvP oriented gameplay (regardless of at what expense it might come)...other considerations just seem to melt away.

It tore the hell out of SWG as the whole overarching conflict between the scrappy Rebels and all-powerful evil Empire was reduced to packs of gangbangers just running around and blasting each other. In Conan where you'd think PvP would fit the setting, they somehow overlooked the fact that even Howard's characters PvPed for actual reasons, not just sadistic malice or ladder rankings. Only in Lord of The Rings Online, with its monster-play approach (shoving PvP off stage entirely as an optional side activity), did a designer manage to do a decent job of preserving the flavor and identity of its core IP.

Sure, there's plenty of violence and action in Vampire: The Masquerade. But there's usually not only a point to it but a narrative purpose it serves. PvP rarely cares about such niceties. Words are just words that one fast forwards through to get on to the bashing-each-other-over-the-head-with-rocks portion of the evening.

Eve Online probably had the most meaningful PvP but it also has probably the lowest number of roleplayers per capita of any MMORPG I've ever played. They're good ones but they are very, very, few. I don't think it's just the lack of avatars that's the issue."

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