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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

Official vs. Unofficial RP Servers - Fight!

Posted by OddjobXL Thursday February 26 2009 at 8:18AM
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Okay, don't fight but help me out here a bit.

For some reason it seems the best roleplaying servers I've encountered have been the unofficial ones; servers named by the players themselves rather than designated by the developer.

The names will ring down through the ages (or for a couple years at least):  Starsider, Virtue, Landroval and Wiccana.  All of these servers are among the most populated in their respective games with SWG's Starsider and CoH's Virtue leading the packs.

My theory is that this works on three levels:

1)  When roleplayers get together and vote on a single server they end up on that server rather than being split up over multiple sites as is often the case with Official RP Servers.  While not every potential roleplayer gets the memo, not all read forums for example, over time there will be a steady drift of population as the word does get out.   Of course, people hostile to roleplaying emigrate, naturally, to new games or other servers while those neutral or friendly to roleplaying add in.

2)  Just as in real life homeowners take better care of property than renters do, when players themselves name an unoffical RP server they've taken ownership of the responsibility to make it work.  They know there will be no developer support so they have to figure out how to keep things interesting, how to get along with nonroleplayers (rather than berate them or report them) and to promote the server to other potential roleplayers around whether on other servers or not yet playing the game at all.

3)  As nonroleplayers will be a big part of the population this creates a natural pool of potential new roleplayers.  You can see this playing out vividly in the history of SWG's Starsider.   The initial wave of colonists were a mix but heavily flavored by the first generation roleplayers who adopted the server.  Over time most of the first generation burned out for assorted reasons, most of which owed to SWG's design, however what they left behind was ultimately what shaped the server's corporate culture.  A tradition of roleplaying, knowledge of event organizing, histories of colorful characters and Player Associations and a whole slew of former nonroleplayers who were now the very leaders of the roleplaying community.  I suspect because many of these nonroleplayers hadn't roleplayed before they had a much higher tolerance for SWG's foibles than the more impatient and critical first generation did.

I wonder how many roleplayers on Landroval, Virtue and Wiccana came to the server as nonroleplayers but encountered something new there.  Something that entertained them when the rest of the game was getting dull or repetitious?  Something that got them to flex creative muscles they didn't know they had...

My experiences on Official Roleplaying Servers are much more limited.   What I've seen, in general, were smaller populations of roleplayers, compared the the general public, but with more insular seige mentalities.  Quick to lash out at nonroleplayers, assume anyone they don't like is a griefer, make hobbies of writing down names that don't conform to canon, and often cultivate more trouble than they've prevented by being on an Official Server.  I've yet to encounter an Official Roleplaying server where the rules were actually enforced, and not resented, by GMs there.   Very often staff have no understanding of, or sympathy for, roleplayers and don't go very far out of their way to enforce "silly" rules or deal with the reams of annoying and, to them, trivial complaints.

So, help me out here, what do you think?  What works better for roleplayers, based on your experiences not mine, Official RP Servers or Unofficial RP Servers?