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Does Roleplay Still Matter?

Christopher Coke Posted:
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Roleplay is in the foundation of MMORPGs. Without its important role in the history of MMOs, the MMORPG landscape would be a far different place. Yet, if you log into your current favorite, the chances are you’ll have trouble finding anyone who even bothers. Why is that: does the blame lie with players for giving up on it or developers for not supporting it? Does roleplay even matter anymore? That’s our issue in this week’s PVP!

Ryan “The Potential Closet RPer” Gethcell: Ryan thinks RPing can appear as a dark scary world, but that’s because Developers don’t put any light on it.

Chris “” Coke: Chris can tell where the wind is blowing. He’s been a roleplayer for years but it’s clear, mainstream MMOs are no longer havens for RP fans.

Chris: Roleplay is important to me. Maybe it has something to do with my roots as a MUD player, but from the very beginning, I was that guy roleplaying his way through Elwynn Forest in World of Warcraft. That said, I think it’s clear that RP is no longer what MMORPGs are about. You can find pockets, but, by and large, roleplay is dead in the modern age of AAA MMOs. We can blame the players or the developers, because we’re both responsible, but it doesn’t change the fact that MMORPGs are no longer places roleplayers can easily find roleplay.

Ryan: I agree, I would say after Ultima/EQ, MMORPGs became more about the gameplay and less about what players can imagine. I wouldn’t go as far and say RP is dead, as I think RP is very much alive, but it’s become that awkward secluded nephew. RP is a lost world, one that I think many players would enjoy if it was easily available to them. That I think is the biggest issue, MMORPGs don’t make RP aspects easily accessible; everything is player run and, information-wise, is usually done on a third party site. The Elder Scrolls Online has one of the largest RP communities I’ve seen, and within the UI of the game there are zero RP features. Why can’t the devs add in a backstory box, allow players to create their own stories for the characters? Allow other players to read other people’s backstories via a “inspect” type option. I’m not a major RPer, but I would write a backstory for my character if it was an option available to me. Perhaps it’s dead more so because developers are more scared of it than players are.

Chris: Perhaps, but then maybe we’re just a niche audience. This is what matters: We are not most MMO players. Most MMO players began with WoW and care more about levels and raids than roleplay. Which is a shame because some of my favorite RP events happened in WoW. Heck, even Lord of the Rings Online, an RP friendly game if there ever was one, struggles in a post-WoW world. That game has one of the most vibrant, well-known RP communities in all of MMO gaming and it’s still just a small subset of the playerbase. How can we expect developers to invest time and resources into systems that most players will ignore or, face it, make fun of?

Ryan: If it’s a feature they’ve added to the game, I bet a lot of the people who you think would ignore it, would actually use it. Like I said, if a game offered something as simple as a text field for players to create a backstory, would you ignore it? There are those that would ignore it, but why must developers only focus on the majority? Of course it’s about money, but it’s not just the “majority” who play the games. How hard would it be to create simplistic RP features like the backstory idea, or allowing players to create their own diary entries. RPing for the most part is done via text, is it really that difficult to allow players to save blocks of text? As you said, WoW is the majority of players, and they aren’t familiar with how great MMORPGs can truly be, but it’s all about baby steps. Slowly introduce RP features and before you know it, the majority of people will have RP experience.

Chris: But developers have to target the majority! I agree, it probably wouldn’t be hard to develop features like backstory tabs on a character panel, but at the same time, if it’s a choice between their developing that and developing a feature that would add substantially to the actual game, then I’m going to have to support them in going with what’s best for the majority of players. Let’s clarify, though, that there are lots of games and add-ons out there that let players do just these things. It’s still not mainstream. If you want roleplay, your best bet is to find a guild and make do or abandon AAA MMOs altogether. As RPers, we’re left to make our own fun. Here’s a question, : Why should players care about roleplay?

Ryan: Don’t get me started on add-ons; that is a cop-out for developers in my opinion. As for their having to target the majority, I agree, but they also need to consider the minorities as well, which isn’t happening. It’s like going to a hot dog vendor and he only has ketchup because that’s what the majority uses; they’re saving money by not needing to supply mustard, relish, onions, etc. Sounds pretty lame eh? It’s the same thing that’s happening within the gaming world, we’re only getting what the majority wants and nothing for the minorities. I’m not asking players to care about roleplay. Players should be able to play the game the way they want to, but why should roleplayers be stuck standing by the majority jumping up and down, waving their arms screaming “what about me?”

Chris: I agree, but everyone needs to evolve and change their expectations. I don’t walk into Lord of the Rings Online expecting full-loot PVP. The same thing goes for roleplayers. We all have to target the games that meet our needs. I like roleplay as much as you and some of my very best memories are from roleplay events. It’s like so many things in the MMO industry: players like us just aren’t the target of mainstream MMOs. For us, we’ll have to turn to games like like Project Gorgon and Revival, MMOs that promise the return of live events and developers being active in making RP an integral part of their games!

Do you think PVPers know how great RP communities really are? Just kidding. I love you PVPers.

Ryan: I do agree that I think we need to change our expectations, but I think it needs to start with the developers. All we’re getting are rehashed ideas with different colour schemes and names. We’re not seeing anything new come out for us to change our expectations, and I think the change needs to head back towards where it all began. Bring back the RP that MMORPGs are supposed to be built around. Do I think PvPers know how great RP communities are? No, not even close, but I’m speaking about the majority here. Most of the PvPers only care about their kill:death and win:loss ratios. It’s rarely about the story behind the fight or why you’re fighting the other player. Have you ever wondered why Arathi Basin in WoW is so important? Why do the Alliance or Horde care about those resources? What advantage does winning provide? None because all those matches are about is winning.

Chris: But how long would players care about roleplay in that situation? Is PVP for roleplayers? I don’t think so, but I also digress. I think it’s time we turn this one over. What do you say, readers?


Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight