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Roleplay Servers Are Hard

Sanya Weathers Posted:
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My favorite guy from CS calls is "But I WAS roleplaying. I was roleplaying a [naughty word]."

ARGH. No, you weren't! You ARE a [naughty word]! None of the people with this excuse are ever acting out an elaborate role as part of a planned scenario. None of these people are going off a script, with reason and logic behind their choices. If they are, none of the "victims" sent in a CS complaint, because the story arc was planned out in advance with more scripting and safe words than the average BDSM encounter.

I Google image searched BDSM and this was the only usable result.)

"But I'm a chaotic evil aligned character," says the guy who was kill stealing and gray ganking and spamming his emotes. Ah. And this is why roleplay online with thousands of strangers will never be like it was in your D&D group. In your basement, the guy who insists on playing chaotic evil can feel the peer pressure to reroll IMMEDIATELY OR BE KICKED OUT. Online, it's up to customer service people who know nothing about the players as individuals to differentiate between this kind of jackass and regular roleplay disputes. (Hint: Can't be done except in obvious situations... like kill stealing and gray ganking.)

Boy howdy, are there regular disputes. There are a very few people who believe that any mention of the world outside the game is a hanging offense. These people rarely level beyond tenth or so, because it's really freaking hard to gain levels in an MMO without referring to its mechanics.

The most common source of friction is between people who are genuinely love roleplaying and people who have come to the server because the open chat channels are cleaner and quieter than on other servers. And because some people don't want to play a fantasy game with characters named "Iscrew Urmom." Simply asking a question in open chat about an item's stats can set off a war between these factions.

The obvious answer is an unlimited ignore list. Yet, for some reason, most MMO players don't seem to know how to use the ignore function. If every roleplayer ignored everyone who didn't fit their definition of a roleplayer, eventually their interactions would be exclusively with likeminded people.

Or more probably, no one else at all.

All these special needs for a population that won't exceed 10% of the playerbase, and can't agree on a single definition of roleplay? It'd almost be more cost effective to make an entire niche game for this playstyle, rather than trying to make a massively multiplayer game that equally appeals to the roleplayer and a mass market audience.

I love roleplayers. I roleplay because I think it adds color and flavor to the world when people speak politely and use emotes judiciously. I don't talk in thees and thous, but I do say "Pardon me, good sir" when I'm speaking to a higher level character. When I move around an area, I try to avoid running through people. But I do it all on a regular server, and have ever since I tried to handle a roleplay server from a developer's point of view.

Does it sound like I'm trying to have it both ways? That's because anyone who works with customers wants to make the greatest number of people as happy as possible. But it's also because I think the industry can do a lot more and advance real roleplaying, the kind that makes our virtual worlds better, not the kind performed by psycho speech Nazis.

I'm not the only one with that view. Troy Hewitt, a community lead for NCsoft, said: "I've never been a big fan of company-anointed roleplay servers. I've always felt that roleplay servers were best left managed by the players themselves. That isn't to say that there isn't a place for separate PvE or PvP servers for a specific product, I just haven't been able to find a business case proving that segmenting your communities like that contributes to a better game for everyone.

"That being said, I believe that we haven't done enough as an industry to provide our customers with tools that really support and enhance individual play styles. I'm talking about everything from better social tools to help manage and grow your guild and protect against griefing, and yes- offering significant ways for customers to tell stories of their own making.

"This shouldn't be about devising new and interesting ways to fracture your communities, but building tools that make it easier for them to exist together."

So, after years of trying to enforce the unenforceable, split hairs, and cut babies in half in order to discover the true mother, here's my own minimum feature list for an RP server:

  • Dedicated CSRs around the clock, with special training in names and roleplay conventions.
  • No OOC channel at all. Take it to PMs.
  • No automatic access to zone chat channels or /yell.
  • Dedicated community specialist to grant individual access to zone chat channels and /yell for planned events.
  • Dedicated event team consisting of at least two community people and a developer.
  • Object creator that creates items with no stats.
  • All names, personal and guild, to be approved by hand.
  • Regional chat moderation tools as in IRC - in other words, the ability to mute a region at will.
  • In game bulletin boards and newsletters to share information.
  • A warning that must be clicked before entering stating that roleplay is subjective, that no CS tickets asking for a ruling on roleplay minutia will be answered, and that the player's only recourse is the ignore button.
  • An unlimited ignore list.

If the company can't afford to do these things? Don't claim to have a roleplay server at all. It only ends in tears. Focus instead on tools for everyone to use to contribute to the world in which they live.

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Sanya Weathers