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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.