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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

World o Darkness Online: Commentaries II

Posted by OddjobXL Thursday October 7 2010 at 9:20AM
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Continued thoughts about WoDo taken from my posts elsewhere.

"There's a difference between the role of combat in a somewhat structured tabletop campaign and the role combat would play when driven by players that live for nothing more than combat in an MMO. Developers sometimes imagine rather elaborate ways PvP can help drive a narrative or feel thematic but it always comes down to just a big old football game and little more.

In some ways the struggle between RPers and PvPers is the age old struggle between nerds and jocks. Some folks like geeky things like roleplaying or reading for fun and some folks just like busting heads and scoring points. It's not a perfect analogy, of course. Some of the best hardcore roleplayers I know are active duty military personnel who have zero patience with the behavior of some in the PvP community and some of the best hardcore PvPers are stereotypical pencil-necks who act out their power fantasies through inflicting pain on others in PvP games.

Then there are the PvP-RPers who are pretty small subset but tend to be very cool folks. They just love competition every bit as much as creativity and are willing to put up with stuff other roleplayers simply won't hang around for. Still, they've been the bridge in some games that bring balance. There are just too few of 'em."


"The usual stuff developers think appeal to female gamers, the Sims aspects for example, also tend to appeal to roleplayers. Solid costuming options, customizable characters and housing, emotes, networking tools to help in-game socializing, etc.

Many of the most important leaders in the roleplaying communities of both LoTRO and SWG are female. I don't know the CoH roleplaying scene well enough to comment there but I wouldn't be surprised if it's the same story."


"How common are roleplayers? Well, I think we're really damn common but MMOs have a pretty bad reputation as crappy places for roleplaying in most communities. Many roleplayers in games like WoW, for example, don't even bother roleplaying. They just play the game straight up.

But here are a couple facts which explain why roleplayers are an important minority as it is:

1) Virtue, Landroval and Starsider. Look at the numbers playing there. They were all named unofficial RP servers before the launches of their respective games. They all are in the top three population wise, have visible cadres of people openly roleplaying, and Starsider is actually the most populated server in SWG.

2) We love stuff. I'll bet if you check on who bought the ten copies that sold of the Eve novel you'll find everyone who bought a copy was either a roleplayer or a member of the author's family. We buy books and comics and posters, we buy knick knacks, we buy extra accounts, we pile into stores for cosmetic items or pets or more storage space. We collect, we horde, and we display our hard won, or easily bought, plumage off for the masses.

3) We make our own content. There are communities on SWG that are so burrowed in on Starsider, and so tightly, it's going to take FEMA to get them out when that game finally closes down. SWG sucks, in pure game terms. If it were a singleplayer game who'd ever spend time there? But the roleplaying community keeps on rolling with events, storylines, gossip, planning, chatting.

This is why we matter. And at this point in time MMOs still are terrible vehicles for real roleplaying. Imagine what could happen if that changed."


"What this study doesn't show me is the difference on assorted MMOs. On some the proportion of regular roleplayers is likely to be higher than 20% and on others lower. I'd also be curious if the study had asked why the majority of people who weren't regular roleplayers (60%), but had tried it, didn't keep roleplaying.

It wouldn't surprise me if the problems were structural. They like roleplaying but couldn't find roleplaying they liked in the game they're currently in, for example. Roleplaying isn't something most folks just try for the hell of it, usually they like the idea but find it just isn't working the way they thought it should or would or don't know how, or have the time to, find folks with similar ideas and approaches.

Twenty percent is a very big chunk of folks in general though. That's the base of any political party right there."