Roleplaying in today's MMORPGs is an uncommon activity - even on most roleplaying servers. Some of the reasons are obvious - there are no rewards for roleplaying - it actually takes you away from earning experience/faction/realm points; fleshing out a character requires downtime, actually takes you away from in-game playtime; talking funny and emoting while playing is a difficult task for most players, not something easily done on the fly, and just kinda weird - and besides, it can distract from mastering the mechanical elements of combat.
Roleplaying offers no reward, actually takes you away from "playing the game", is difficult and makes people uncomfortable, disrupts other elements of gameplay, and has no game systems in place that facilitate it. Now that's a niche activity!
And roleplaying will stay a niche activity - until game designers dedicate resources and development time into making it mainstream. Mods and addons have started to provide what's needed, but until roleplaying is actually designed into games, it will stay a slightly strange niche activity.
Brainstorming. What kind of design elements and systems would better support the RPG community, remove the stress, and make Roleplaying part of the game without interrupting the instant gratification of being able to log in and just play - what systems could pull roleplaying activity into the mainstream and make the gameplay more fun for everyone?
Character Customization - Include customization tools, right there beside the body and face customization when the character is created, that allow players to define how their character's fit into the context of the game. Elements with real in-game effects - reference the lists of characteristics, traits, advantages/disadvantages developed by tabletop RPGs for ideas. Some examples:
Allow more advantages/disadvantages to develop during gameplay - a characteristic tree where elements that effect your in-game context can be selected as you level, just like ability traits.
- Pick "hated", pick an in-game faction. In game, npcs of that faction are hostile to that character, showing a tendency for attacking him first.
- Pick "hunted", pick an in-game faction. Have members of that faction show up occasionally trying to kill that character.
- Pick "faction" and select an in-game faction. In the game, be recognized as a member of that faction - "Goring City Guard", complete with ranking systems and recognition by members of that faction. Give the character access to areas only open for members of that faction.
- Pick "mentor/patron", select an in-game npc. In game, be recognized as a member of that individual's group - "Red Arrow Inn, staff" - pick a job, and be recognized by the npc/establishment, even spend time there dealing with npc and pc customers and earn an income. Give the character access to areas only open for members with that mentor/patron.
- Pick "addiction" then select a malady. In game, suffer debuffs when not regularly using the substance of choice.
- Pick "friend" and have a particular named npc recognize the character, greet him appropriately and treat him differently.
Give similar options for guilds - choices that will define the way the guild fits into the game world. Factions that the guild is especially friendly with, factions that hate the guild, special skills and special disadvantages - characteristics that expand as the guild grows/levels.
Allow players to define background elements while playing. NPCs ask questions about family and personal history as we game - either giving choices along wide trees or recording text responses - questions that require short, direct responses and explanations, with options for longer responses for those with the desire. Let those responses influence in-game elements - perhaps a player "house" that's filled with the family he defined, going about their daily business, with "puppet" controls so that the player can stage plays by jumping between the members of his household.
Player-Made Quests - Systems that facilitate player-made quests.
- Ways of listing active storylines in which your character is involved and invite others to join them.
- Ways to deliver pre-written quest dialogue
- Ways to deliver different pre-written dialogue to different individuals (separate bits of background info known by different characters - how to host a murder mystery, anyone?)
- Ways to have existing npcs deliver pre-written quest dialogue. If I am mastering a quest series, let me tell an npc to deliver quest dialogue y when any player who has received that quest series from me speaks to him.
Dialect Options - Automated translation of player-typed text into the quirky language-style of the character. Players are already doing this effectively in mods and addons. DAOK included a personal language filter each player could fill out. An automated translator that defaults to "on" with options to turn it "off" - not to see the translated text.
NPCs/Mobs - Static content is the enemy of Roleplaying. Randomize activity a bit.
- Let NPCs move around within a limited range (not so far that they become difficult to find) and engage in "life" activities (sitting on a bench in the shop eating lunch, then working, then resting on a cot).
- Let shop owners actually sell what they buy from characters instead of "trashing" the things they buy, and let them buy and re-sale supplies for their crafts.
- If we want rare creatures for people to hunt or for pet classes to tame, establish x number of location around the world where those creatures can appear. At any time, have creatures in 5% of those locations. When one creature is tamed or killed, have a creature appear at another location. Have NPCs in the area immediately begin talking about the thing wondering in the wild. Include less static creatures - some random elements that can make each iteration of a creature somewhat unique.
- Mobs and mini-quests - same as pets. Define a large array of potential locations, with event tables that produce events at 5% of those locations at any time. When one event is "solved", have another event generate at one of the other locations. Bandits appear, are wiped out; a merchant with a broken axle appears elsewhere in need of someone to run into town to bring supplies or escort someone back to repair; suddenly a race of sea creatures emerge and begin harassing coastal villages, and so on. Let characters actually solve problems, then have problems appear elsewhere.
- Make static quests more general in scope. Don't give quests to kill "the Orc Snarlgrot" to every player who walks up - have them defeat "the Orc shaman" and generate a new Orc shaman with a randomized name every time one is killed. Let me kill Snarlgrot, let the next guy in line kill Borsnot - let each of us feel like we've done something that's unique to our character.