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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

Roleplayers: The Last, Best, Hope

Posted by OddjobXL Wednesday February 25 2009 at 6:03AM
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When I'd read that AoC was consolidating servers what stood out to me was the presence of Wiccana as one of the destinations.  According to IGN's report Wiccana has been one of the highest populated servers since launch and in no little part that's due to the fact it was voted in as the "Unofficial RP" server of AoC.  Now whilst FunCom, in their infinite wisdom, only named PvP-RP Official Servers the roleplayers mostly knew what was coming and made a unified dash for a PvE server.  Ol' R.E.H. may have loved bloodshed and violence but it always had a reason behind it in his tales.  Reasons better than kill rankings and ladder scores and sheer bloodymindedness.

I played on Wiccana for a good while and noticed the constant stream, one way, of refugees from the PvP-RP servers to it.  Mature non-roleplayers as well often make for RP servers simply to get away from the lollerhordes and that helped Wiccana too.  Anarchic violence without purpose or consequence really ain't gonna sustain much immersion and I say this as a pretty big Eve Online fan.

Now if this were just one example in isolation it would still be worthy of a footnote.  However, as SWG entered into its free server transfers we saw one server's population skyrocket.  Starsider.  Like Wiccana, Starsider was baptised as an "Unofficial RP" server by the Star Wars Galaxies community.  An offsite forum of roleplayers, long turned to dust and bones now, voted prerelease and then everyone piled onto Starsider together.  They built guilds and cities and storylines.  The unique, at least pre-NGE, economics of SWG further built ties between crafters, gatherers and component producers to create a serverwide network with a practical purpose - but it also served as the nervous system for a truly serverwide community of roleplayers as well.

When Jump to Lightspeed came out, it was the roleplayers (and flight simmers who are roleplayers' kissin' cousins with their in-character mission AARs and game-based fiction writing) that formed up squadrons and created both PvP and PvE events in space which made up for the lack of actual content out there.  Over time, Starsider became famous both for its roleplaying community and the elite and numerous pilots who made it a home.  And, as with Wiccana, older players tended to gravitate to the more reasonable and behaved community.

Now Starsider is by far the most populated of all SWG's servers with Bloodfin, the Unofficial PvP server, and Bria the former top server, in third and second places.

Talking to other players from other MMOs one sees numerous examples of MMOs with declining populations seeing the roleplaying servers and communities holding on long after less motivated customers have moved along. 

Roleplayers are some of the most likely to hold multiple accounts, to play assorted personalities as well as classes, and to buy just about any fiction or toys associated with the games they love.

Why is this?  Well, we can't know for sure until some labcoats get curious and turn the microscope on us but let me speculate.  We love our characters and, to better understand our characters, we have to understand the worlds they belong to.  We spend time developing an understanding of place and accumulate histories we care about, that uniquely to roleplayers actually make for good stories, with people we grow very fond of.   Roleplayers that stick to a game will stick hard and keep their friends around almost regardless of content or consequence.  Roleplayers make their own.   Whether that makes us the cockroaches of MMOs, who will survive a nuclear disaster to rule the world, or simply Boy Scouts who know how to thrive in the wild it does make roleplayers the last, best, hope for smaller MMOs and MMOs with dwindling populations.

That next MMO?  It may have better PvP, it may have more quests, it may have breakthrough and brilliant graphics and animation, but it doesn't have the same history, mythos, community and continuity a roleplayer craves as the MMO he's currently attached to.

So that leads a guy like me to wonder what would happen if anyone ever made a game for roleplayers.   A game that gave them tools for telling stories themselves.  An interactive place where players could affect the world but without, necessarily, the ugliness of direct PvP?   What would happen if a game were designed with a strong setting, or from a known IP, and reached out to creative players who weren't necessarily MMOers?

As it is, like our cockroach friends, we roleplayers feed from scraps, we improvise, we adapt, we overcome.  Imagine what could happen if someone laid out a four course meal for us.

Nalestom writes:

There is indeed a game that was made for roleplayers, although it does not really have a big enough population to call it an MMO. I forget what it is called, but I know I have it installed somewhere on my computer, so I'll look it up for you =)

Wed Feb 25 2009 8:00AM Report
TenchiMuyo writes:

PlaneShift is a game focused solely on Roleplaying. If you don't roleplay, you're warned...continue not to roleplay, and you eventually just get kicked, or punished in some other way. You learn the story as you progress through the game, and your character is a finite part of that community. I did a small blog about it a little while ago, if you want to read into it, and learn about it.

Wed Feb 25 2009 10:51AM Report
Sakky writes:

Well said, before long, any game gets stale, relying on scripted quests and pvp and raids... after a time, it becomes almost like reruns... You done it all before, repeatedly. It's stale, boring, and repetive after a time. World of Warcraft's many raids, which you have to do over and over and over again to get the loot you need. Or AOC's combat, it's more involved than most MMO's, and has some great, and unique things about it... but soon it's hollow. Pointless.

RP, in any game, goes beyond the mechanics, keeps our interest even when a game becomes no longer fun in itself.

The communities we build are games in thier own right, friends and family, nemises and allies, a story of our own and like minded others.

RP'ers are social in general, because telling a story alone is boring, we conregate, and develop our characters side by side, through whatever happens. 

At that point the game scarcely matters, which is why RP'ers as said, are so hard to get rid of.

Wed Feb 25 2009 11:08AM Report
OddjobXL writes:

Thanks for the heads up, TenchiMuyo, I'll have to take a look at that.  Aesthetically, the setting seems a little convoluted for my tastes but they do seem to be trying some new things out there.  I'm a sucker for that.

Wed Feb 25 2009 12:01PM Report
OddjobXL writes:

I totally agree, Sakky.  I think many MMO players, roleplayers or not, get attached to their characters and communities but not for the same reasons or with the same intensity.  For most players the game's about the gameplay, about showing off swag to swooning admirers or battling up the hill to crown one's self king, if only for a day.

Roleplayers tend to want to know more about the world, why things are as they are, how their character fits in - much like a reader of a good novel, or a fan of a TV series, can't get enough information about a favorite setting. 

On one hand this breeds a crazy kind of brand loyalty but on the other, well, you hit a phenomenon where the more players learn about a setting the more they find the gameplay really doesn't simulate it very well at all...even if the setting was invented for the game itself!

More about that in a future blog post. 

Wed Feb 25 2009 12:06PM Report
OddjobXL writes:

Quick note about server populations on Lord of The Rings Online.  Been digging around and it seems, there too, the Unofficial RP Server (Landroval) is one of the top two populated servers with Brandywine edging out for the #1 spot, for now at least.

See how this goes folks?  One, two and three.  Hey, Pirates of The Burning Sea - feel a little foolish for prematurely shutting Bonny down yet?

Wed Feb 25 2009 1:05PM Report
Salvatoris writes:

RP servers are heavy population because there are fewer of them.. usually ONE is plenty. 

If roleplay is the answer... the question must be pretty silly. ;)

Wed Feb 25 2009 6:40PM Report
Kordesh writes:

 Don't you have some "phat lewtz" to farm Salvatoris? Also, your name appears to be lacking the requisit amount of numbers and special characters that seems to be standard for the type of player you think is acceptable...

Personally, I miss the RP part of MMORPG. Even in the larger RP servers, it's still few and far between, and rarely do mechanics get added to games that don't directly relate to loot or somesuch anymore. Player housing and other fluff pieces become rarer and rarer and it's sad.

Wed Feb 25 2009 7:59PM Report
Tinagame writes:

I wish more games cattered more to rp feel. Don't get me wrong. I do love PvP too, but the rp just comes natural when you are really into your character. A game with a true balance for both would be awesome.

My main game has been WoW for a while now as I have been trying other games out but not finding another to grab me. AION looks interesting but all the pre hype could mean another let down.

Wed Feb 25 2009 9:41PM Report
Shealladh writes:

Ah to Role Play, or is that Roll Play.....


There is too many games out there that claim to be roleplaying but is a joke.

Take any current MMO and there is little for us to Role in!

Thu Mar 05 2009 3:28AM Report writes:
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