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News & Features Discussion  » General: Roleplay Servers Are Hard

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  Stradden

Managing Editor

Joined: 7/08/05
Posts: 6729

 
OP  7/10/09 4:09:58 PM#1

MMORPG.com columnist Sanya Weathers writes this inside look at the difficulties of putting together a roleplay server from the developer's point of view.

What's the first thing most industry insiders think of when they hear "role play server"?

"Noooooooooooooooo."

And that's the clean version.

Okay, not everyone that I pinged for this article reacted with horror and dismay. And let me be clear that the horror and dismay is for the server type, not the roleplayers themselves. Katie Postma, community queen for Jumpgate Evolution, said "I think the reason role players get a bum rap is because they are the most immersed and the most passionate about the game. Unless other players feel the same way, it's going to be difficult for them to relate to the RPing players."

But let me back up. How do RP ruleset servers come into being?

These are MMORPGs. The RP part comes from, as certain resident grumps remind us, the original pen and paper games. Six people with dice, painted figurines, and occasionally costumes would get together and pretend to be rangers, elves, clerics, and more, each according to their alignment.

Read Roleplay Servers Are Hard

Cheers,
Jon Wood
Managing Editor
MMORPG.com

  barezz

Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/18/07
Posts: 138

7/10/09 4:38:42 PM#2

A good article.  I agree with most of what you said, espically that for a true RP Server it would require a list of things like you listed.  And really, that is not worth the trouble.  The problem is that too many people are more interested in how other people are playing or RPing then they are.  The best RP community I have been part of is currently in AoC on Wiccana.  It isn't a "Official RP" server, and I do not think that it ever needs to be.  By player advertising and word of mouth we have gotten the word outr that the community is open to RP, and attract a lot of members.  There are no "rules" or anyone trying to dictate what is right or wrong.  Rather, people are invited to come and join in, and they soon find a group that fits their playstyle.

Star Wars Galaxies never had an official RP Server either, and we played on the Naitus server.  The RP guild that I ran lasted for three years and had over one hundred members, and ran very smoothly.  Talented players wrote countless stories, ran numerous events and even produced a movie, and all of this was accomplished on a "normal" server.

The only part of your article that made me raise an eyebrow was: "On roleplay servers the guild leader needs to be a raid planner, an imaginative storyteller, a charismatic leader, and a shrink."

Really, other than a imaginative storyteller, I would suggest that any guild leader needs to be a raid planner, charismatic leader and a shrink/  The shrink part is dangerous because it implies that RP guild members have a mental instability that "normal" guild members do not have.  Having been a member of RP and Non RP guilds, let me assure you that any group will have it's mix of wackiness.  A guild leader will have to play "shrink" in any guild, PvP, PvE or RP.

  User Deleted
7/10/09 4:42:27 PM#3

 Once again A well written bit. I am what you call a casual role player, in that I try to stay in character most of the time but if I am grouping with others who dont Rp  I adapt to fit whats going on. I also dont like the drama queen Rpers who have to emote every other second., that just drives me crazy!

I dont get too upset  by much of anything ,unless someone is trying to be an ass and even then I just putem on ignore and report them if the situtaion warrants it.

  BadSpock

Hard Core Member

Joined: 8/21/04
Posts: 7769

Logic be damned!

7/10/09 4:45:48 PM#4

Yeah..

As an orc we just RP'd that we didn't understand human speak "Me nub gruk oomie blah!" and then used the FFA PvP rule set on UO Siege Perilous to bash their face in for talking funny... and stole their shinies for tribute.

MMOs are too structured now to allow for any real roleplay.

Want to be an orc? Well you get to choose these looks and these classes and you can wear this but you can't wear that and you can't do this but you can do that...

No room left for imagination, too many rules and game defined systems.

I'm 100% convinced roleplay can only work as intended in open worlds.

We occupied a "fort" built by Origin full of NPC orcs, we just kept killing them (dumhed shardies!) for helmets and masks and built our houses near by.

Other guilds would attack our fort just cause it was our fort.

You don't see guilds claiming a town/tower in Warcraft do you? 

Now Playing: Destiny, WoW

  barezz

Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/18/07
Posts: 138

7/10/09 4:48:01 PM#5

Nice!  I like the fort bit :)

  Sovrath

Elite Member

Joined: 1/06/05
Posts: 17601

7/10/09 4:49:44 PM#6

Some of that I'm not sure is needed.

So, after years of trying to enforce the unenforceable, split hairs, and cut babies in half in order to discover the true mother, here's my own minimum feature list for an RP server:

•Dedicated CSRs around the clock, with special training in names and roleplay conventions.
maybe. At least CSRs that understand roleplaying or are willing to cater to this server. It doesn't make any sense to have a role playing server and not have CSRs who are interested in working with these players

•No OOC channel at all. Take it to PMs.
I'm not sure this is important. Simply make post before players enter the game that OOC actually means out of character. End of story.

•No automatic access to zone chat channels or /yell.
Sure

•Dedicated community specialist to grant individual access to zone chat channels and /yell for planned events.
How about just allow players to create their own channels and send invites to people for those channels.

•Dedicated event team consisting of at least two community people and a developer.
I think that role players can come up with their own stories but this sounds like something that everyone can enjoy.

•Object creator that creates items with no stats.
Possibly but I think the designers can come up with some mundane items themselves that are professionally done or at least fit into the game world.

•All names, personal and guild, to be approved by hand.
Not sure that is needed. Just explain some rules such as no il0veyurm0m or d00000dz or Zoltar X67. Then take the complaints as they come. An explanation of what parameters names can be such as no numbers unless designating Sovrath the 3rd or some such thing.

•Regional chat moderation tools as in IRC - in other words, the ability to mute a region at will.
sure

•In game bulletin boards and newsletters to share information.
good idea

•A warning that must be clicked before entering stating that roleplay is subjective, that no CS tickets asking for a ruling on roleplay minutia will be answered, and that the player's only recourse is the ignore button.
should be standard

•An unlimited ignore list.
I'd love one regardless of RP server or not.

If the company can't afford to do these things? Don't claim to have a roleplay server at all. It only ends in tears. Focus instead on tools for everyone to use to contribute to the world in which they live.

the thing is that in order to service a community of role players the environment must be conducive to role play. This to me seems like the most important aspect of a role play server. If players are prone to send in a CS ticket every time someone role plays something that is not in their definition of what the world supports a simple warning that the server is for everyone so no dicttating RP on others.

Add the no griefing rules to take care of the griefers and an intelligent person as the CS rep and you are good to go.

  Nightbringe1

Advanced Member

Joined: 12/23/07
Posts: 727

7/10/09 5:05:15 PM#7

I tend to be more of a casual roleplay person myself. My characters tend to have the same motivations I do, questing and exploring the world, and tend to talk using normal language. At the same time, I don't like to bring up real life issues or feel a need to discuss game mechanics. I can usually express issues from the characters point of vies instead of resorting to a discussion of game mechanics.

The biggest draw roleplay servers have for me is the stricter nameing policies and the generally more mature player base. These are huge issues for me. If someone is a more serious role-player than I am, well, I accomodate them. This is after all a role-play server.

For the record, I was a huge fan of PnP games, and still am. So big that I used to have holes in my living room ceiling where I would get carried away while gesturing with one of my swords. While my wife will no longer allow me to use swords as props while DM'ing, I do still enjoy playing the roles of NPC's and talking in funky accents. 

Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.
Benjamin Franklin

  OddjobXL

Novice Member

Joined: 9/05/08
Posts: 103

7/10/09 5:13:17 PM#8

I'd say in some games the percentage of roleplayers is much greater than 10%.  SWG, for example, boasts Starsider as its largest remaining server and it's no coincidence that was named by players as the Unofficial RP Server from day one.  Even now I'd say one in three folks there are involved in roleplaying on some level if not more.  They're everywhere and often easy to spot as most sport visible RP tags.  Even those that don't stand out with better designed wardrobes or names that fit the setting.

You can actually see this across games.  Look for the older MMOs and look who is still there.  Tends to be, yup, the roleplayers.  They tend to be both social but unlike purely social gamers, who can be as migratory as folks more into an aspect of the gameplay, they're into the setting and a particular roleplaying community and its history.

The most successful roleplaying servers I've ever seen were always Unofficial RP Servers whether it's Starsider or Landroval or Wiccana or Virtue.  The pattern holds up.  Every single one of these is among the most populated servers (PvE servers in the case of Wiccana) out there and they all have strong roleplaying and roleplay friendly populations.  The latter are the folks you mention who may not be big roleplayers themselves but are attracted to the maturity of the population as compared to regular servers.

I've done some blogging about roleplaying and roleplayers here back when my RL wasn't eating my face.

Official vs. Unofficial Servers: Fight!

http://www.mmorpg.com/blogs/OddjobXL/022009/3365_Official-vs-Unofficial-RP-Servers-Fight

And there are other entries about other aspects of roleplaying in different articles.  A couple that relates to event/saga planning and how how players can and do well for themselves are here:

http://www.mmorpg.com/blogs/OddjobXL/032009/3485_Roleplay-In-Action-Spinning-The-Saga-of-GreshMaj#comments

http://www.mmorpg.com/blogs/OddjobXL/032009/3477_How-To-Roleplay-Lonas-Events-For-Dummies

Always notice what you notice.

  Sovrath

Elite Member

Joined: 1/06/05
Posts: 17601

7/10/09 5:16:53 PM#9
Originally posted by heerobya

I'm 100% convinced roleplay can only work as intended in open worlds.


 

Maybe. I imagine it would be easier for role players to do their thing in an open world. However, I also think that role players forget that what they are doing is a form of improv.

And improv actors don't just get on stage and do whatever the heck they want.

There are set parameters. And even in regular theater, a certain level of improv talent and ability is important. I was once in a show where the main character was talking to his buddy and he accidentally jumpted to the last line of the scene. Unfortunatley it was a pivotal scene because some extremely important information needed to be imparted to the audience. Also, he was a young actor and I could see in his eyes that he realized what he had done but didn't know how to get out of it.

So I just said my lines but wove some of his lines (altered of course) into what ended up being a sort of soliloquy. I was to remprimand him anyways so it was easy for me to take over the scene and finish it up.

That said, in an improv show, there is a loose story and the actors know where they have to be at certain times.

So given that, I don't see why role players can't use what they have in a particular game as a sort of backbone for their stories.

So a game like LOTRO or World of Warcraft would still be able to accomodate role play. Players would just take all the info at their disposal as their stage and go from there. One might not be able to say that Stormreach is their city and they are king but they could RP that they are a deposed king or that they are the secret illegitimate brother who was taken out of the city for hiding and then the monk who was responsible died.

Provided that they can get a group to support this story then it could work. If the group didn't want to support the story it still coudl work because they would just not believe him and think he might be mad. He of course would have to spend all his time as an unknown heir to the throne which would have consequnces to his actions.

In any improv there are rules set. Some can be very strict such as having characters act but with the idea that there is a "key" character who, when gives a cue, sets off a condition that whatever action the actor was doing must now be turned into something else that fits in with the character.

So if a character was chopping wood, at the cue he would then adopt a new action that would fit in with what he was doing. Now he could be trying to catch a mouse with the axe or trying to open a safe or just simply swinging his axe up to catch an object in the tree above.

Or one could say you are in a subway, define the character's relationships, give each character a flaw and say "go" wth the idea that the story must fit into a certain form. so perhaps one of the characters has to die. But it must be under certain circumstances.

So in the end, role play can still exist. Players must just use their imaginations and actually stretch their acting talents.

 

  angus858

Novice Member

Joined: 11/17/04
Posts: 354

7/10/09 5:23:24 PM#10

Sanya, thanks for the well written column.

I think your expectations for RP servers are too high.  While it would be great to have everything on that list, I personally do not see the need for most of it.  I have played on some official RP servers and some unofficial RP servers.  They were all much more enjoyable than than the standard servers for those games.

There is only one thing I need to RP and that is other role players.  We need our servers even if they are unofficial.  We need the ability to form RP guilds.  Everything else is icing on the cake.

Of course if some game offered an RP server with all the things on your list I would subscribe for life.  But I don't judge the success of an RP server by its list of features.  I judge it by comparing the community on the RP server with the community on the regular servers.  So far I have never played a western-developed mmorpg that didn't have a successful RP server, even if it was an unofficial RP server.  The list includes DAoC, SWG, CoH, and LotRO.  EVE only has one server but there is a fantastic RP community there too.

Some games are better for RP than others but that is an entirely separate issue.  Give me a sand box any day.

RP servers are not hard.  We just need to have realistic expectations. 

  Nifa

Novice Member

Joined: 11/07/08
Posts: 327

You can get more with a kind word & a 2x4 than you can with just a kind word

7/10/09 5:38:34 PM#11

Well said.  Also, this article comes across as far more objective than Dana Massey's article yesterday.

While RP-Nazi's do tend to irritate me (because as Ms. Weathers stated, it's well-nigh impossible to level past about 10 or 15 without asking something related to game mechanics), there really is something to be said for a community that doesn't have names like "Eye Peedonu" and whose members tend to be rather polite and courteous (though this is not always necessarily true, either).  On a more personal note, I tend to prefer RP servers as a general rule because there is far less leetspeak and there are general unwritten laws about what is expected of most community members that agree with my preferences in how people - even those at the other end of a keyboard - should be treated.

Firebrand Art

"You are obviously confusing a mature rating with actual maturity." -Asherman

Maybe MMO is not your genre, go play Modern Warfare...or something you can be all twitchy...and rank up all night. This is seriously getting tired. -Ranyr

  Raithe-Nor

Novice Member

Joined: 11/08/07
Posts: 322

7/10/09 5:51:11 PM#12
Originally posted by OddjobXL

I'd say in some games the percentage of roleplayers is much greater than 10%.

MMORPG.com's own survey of about 12,000+ members puts roleplaying as the primary activity of about 13% of them .

The primary point of these articles seems to be that creating a divide in a particular playerbase is unnecessary.  I could not disagree more.  Creating a divide between dedicated roleplayers and those not-so-dedicated is extremely useful for maintaining a larger playerbase.  That is because the divide already exists, it is already there.  Pretending that it isn't is going to simply reduce the size of your playerbase and, eventually, the longevity of your game.

The problem is not with roleplaying servers.  It is with game mechanics.  As long as the game companies cater to those purely interested in grinding, a (perhaps slightly larger) minority itself, the ability to roleplay will be made more difficult.  The more difficult roleplay becomes, the deeper the divide between dedicated roleplayers and normal roleplayers becomes, with interruptions to immersion becoming  increasingly frustrating.

These articles are speaking from one side of the divide.  They assume things that are simply not true.  Everyone who plays MMOs is roleplaying to some extent, just like everyone who plays 007 spy games is roleplaying James Bond to a certain extent.  No intelligent game company should abandon the ability to play James Bond just because a significant part of their playerbase was unsuccessfully mirroring Ian Flemming's character.  In fact, they should encourage choices and consequences in their game that make people understand James Bond better.

MMOs used to be some of the very finest mediums for the activity of roleplaying.  In secluded areas of certain MMOs they still are.  The problems with roleplaying servers witnessed by the limited experience of a few column authors is simply due to the rampant confusion about the nature of MMOs and the relative youth of the expanded genre.

  GrumpyMel2

Advanced Member

Joined: 3/24/09
Posts: 1828

7/10/09 6:04:08 PM#13

Sanya,

I think it's really more about expectations then anything else. While toolsets/rulesets/events can nice...the only thing you really need for RP is.... other role-players and a decent imagination.

Simply doing something as simple as declaring "This is the official RP Server".... and doing nothing more including no different rule-sets is enough to be helpful. to RP-ers.

Why?  because as you mentioned the MMORPG community is very diverse in their play styles and interests and RP represents only a portion of that. So anything that helps RP-ers connect with like minded individuals IS useful.

Simple question..... Which is more helpful to a customer interested in RP in finding individuals of similar tastes when logging into an MMO for the first time...

Choose Server: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie

OR

Choose Server: Alpha, Bravo (roleplay), Charlie

 

For the same reason it's useful when choosing Guilds to get some information about who the people in that Guild are...and what their play-style interests are before making a decision about joining..... getting more information about a particular servers likely population can be useful as well..... it increases your chances of finding people with similar interests.

The problem comes when you setup false expectations of what it means to be on a RP server.

To me it simply means....a higher likelihood of finding people interested in RP, everything else is icing.

 

A more interesting question I think to examine would be what the untapped profit potential for an MMO company to target a niche audiance like RP-ers......either with an entire product devoted to them or with special set of tools or staff devoted to them.

 

It's interesting because MMO Developers seem to be looking at only one real business model for success.... trying to go for the largest/widest possible audience appeal and offering a low entry price...basing your profit on doing volume (i.e. The McDonalds model). But MMO's are at their heart a service industry.... and most other service industries understand that there is a different type of business model that can be very successful... the High End Premium Services Market.  In that model you don't need volume to be successful... you just need people willing to pay a Premium price for a higher level of service (i.e. The Ritz model)

The Ritz may only serve a 20th the volume of customers of a typical McDonalds franchise... but it doesn't matter because each of those customers is willing to pay 40-50 times the price of a meal at a typical McDonalds. It's really struck me that more MMO companies haven't experimented with this model.

For instance....look at Simutronics and it's Text based games.... I think last time I checked, it's Platinum Services were charging like $70-80 a month....and had a decent number of subscribers....and this was a TEXT based game.

One thing about RP-ers is that they tend to be older, more mature and more financialy stable then an average MMO gamer.... it's also not a market that alot of games seem to be focusing on serving heavly.... so not huge competition...

Sure...a typical RP-er may demand a higher level of service then other players.....but if their also willing to pay alot more for that service...does it matter?  Furthermore there ARE savings inherint in serving a SMALLER volume of customers who are each paying a higher price point.

From a resource perspective...I'd MUCH rather have 10,000 player paying $50/month then 50,000 players paying $10/month.

Just something to think about.

 

 

 

 

 

  User Deleted
7/10/09 6:08:10 PM#14
Originally posted by Raithe-Nor
Originally posted by OddjobXL

I'd say in some games the percentage of roleplayers is much greater than 10%.

MMORPG.com's own survey of about 12,000+ members puts roleplaying as the primary activity of about 13% of them .

The primary point of these articles seems to be that creating a divide in a particular playerbase is unnecessary.  I could not disagree more.  Creating a divide between dedicated roleplayers and those not-so-dedicated is extremely useful for maintaining a larger playerbase.  That is because the divide already exists, it is already there.  Pretending that it isn't is going to simply reduce the size of your playerbase and, eventually, the longevity of your game.

The problem is not with roleplaying servers.  It is with game mechanics.  As long as the game companies cater to those purely interested in grinding, a (perhaps slightly larger) minority itself, the ability to roleplay will be made more difficult.  The more difficult roleplay becomes, the deeper the divide between dedicated roleplayers and normal roleplayers becomes, with interruptions to immersion becoming  increasingly frustrating.

These articles are speaking from one side of the divide.  They assume things that are simply not true.  Everyone who plays MMOs is roleplaying to some extent, just like everyone who plays 007 spy games is roleplaying James Bond to a certain extent.  No intelligent game company should abandon the ability to play James Bond just because a significant part of their playerbase was unsuccessfully mirroring Ian Flemming's character.  In fact, they should encourage choices and consequences in their game that make people understand James Bond better.

MMOs used to be some of the very finest mediums for the activity of roleplaying.  In secluded areas of certain MMOs they still are.  The problems with roleplaying servers witnessed by the limited experience of a few column authors is simply due to the rampant confusion about the nature of MMOs and the relative youth of the expanded genre.

 

and perhaps the relative youth of a lot of the players.

  Smokeysong

Advanced Member

Joined: 9/11/03
Posts: 234

7/10/09 6:16:36 PM#15

Thank you for a respectful view of a difficult topic. You did a good job I think of cluing in the MMORPG community of some of the difficulties in creating a quality RP experience.

One thing that occured to me as obvious now that you mention it  - :D - RP servers cost more to run, even as they are now. I think it might be appropriate to charge a higher monthly fee for a legit RP server. Certainly, I would be willing to pay more.

 

;)

Have played: Everquest, Asheron's Call, Horizons, Everquest2, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer, Age of Conan, Darkfall

  Aignur

Apprentice Member

Joined: 7/26/05
Posts: 3

7/10/09 6:39:30 PM#16

Considerably better and more balanced than Dana Massey's complete idiocy yesterday, but I still think you've been permanently damaged from listening to an extremely vocal minority of what you very accurately call "speech nazis".

I've seen my fair share of roleplaying and roleplayers both on dedicated RP servers and mixed in with everyone else, and I've never - not once - experienced an attitude towards RP that wasn't "hey, roleplaying is great if it happens but if it doesn't... oh well". Honestly. Never.

  IstvanND

Jumpgate Evolution Developer

Joined: 9/20/07
Posts: 42

7/10/09 6:42:16 PM#17

Excellent, well-written column.  Thank you.

  mOoK

Novice Member

Joined: 9/04/03
Posts: 26

7/10/09 6:43:09 PM#18

 

I think you should read some of my earlier posts, but I'll give you the cliff notes.

When EQ was released, the world thought 250k subs was a LOT of people.

WoW was released, showing that this was in no way the cap, it was just that a demographic was yet to be tapped, i.e., the casual gamer.

Does this mean that EQ and DAoC and EVE and a slew of others have ceased to exist? No, just that the market has room to not only grow, but shift.

This is where reading my previous blog posts really come into play.

A game tailored to RP needs to be smaller in scope, larger in flexibility and here is the big one: More expensive.

RP is a niche, just like PVP is a niche.

Time is money. My time, your time, the dev's time. We as consumers, want different different things to do with our time. A per son who wants a collaborative story may not want 1000 quests to choose from, that are being done by 5000 people. They my want 1 or 2, that are mailable, changeable and unique to just a few.

Some people are willing to pay for more interaction and a collaborative story telling environment, that is funded by a smaller group of individuals that ISN'T available 24/7 because the group they play with is not playing, 24/7.

Please read my previous posts if you are wonder how I feel these could be accomplished.
 

  Methos12

Hard Core Member

Joined: 9/05/08
Posts: 1218

Its better to be quiet and perceived as stupid, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

7/10/09 6:44:18 PM#19

Nice "Good cop vs. Bad cop" performance there. Kudos.

Nature without Technology is little more than animals running about.
Nature without Magic is without wonder or miracle.
.........
Magic without Technology is fantasy.
Magic without Nature is formless and useless.
.........
Technology without Nature is application without understanding.
Technology without Magic is repetitious and uninventive.

  delateur

Apprentice Member

Joined: 8/06/04
Posts: 157

7/10/09 7:05:50 PM#20

Nice article, and I certainly hope at least some of these ideas can be incorporated into future MMOs. I would enjoy a RP server that does its best to maintain the illusion without degrading into a bunch of people trying to force you to speak and act their way instead of just RPing to the best of your ability and learning what works from the examples of others and the responses you receive.

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