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The Political System - Precedent or Controversy?

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Every time En Masse Entertainment releases a new batch of screenshots or developer videos for their upcoming MMO, TERA, I’m amazed by the game’s sharp visuals and unique approach to combat.  We’ve seen quite a lot of TERA’s fantastic, fully realized world and heard about its “action-oriented” combat system that plays more like a first-person shooter than a traditional MMO.  While it remains to be seen how players will respond to the distinctive art style and gameplay, TERA’s political system has the potential to polarize the game’s community even further.

At E3 this year, En Masse revealed a few details about the political system in development, which will add a new social dimension to TERA’s traditional MMO features.  High-level players will be able to compete for leadership of different regions of the world by either garnering support through popular votes or achieving world domination through PvP.  After winning your popularity contest or fighting your way to the top of the face-punching ladder, you’ll get a bunch of leadership perks, such as the ability to raise or lower taxes or allow PvP in your region, and some serious bragging rights.

As interesting as it sounds on paper, TERA’s political system has set the message boards aflame because no one – not even En Masse, it seems – knows exactly how it’s going to be implemented and balanced.  How are the voting and PvP ranking systems going to work?  What are the leadership perks and responsibilities?  How is En Masse going to prevent a small “upper crust” of the player population from continually dominating the political sphere of the game?  Who would win a fight between a Care Bear and a Popori?

We have several tentative answers to some of these queries, which bring up a host of other questions.

What We Know

En Masse gave the gaming press and MMORPG.com’s own Richard Cox a first look at the diplomacy system at E3, and we learned that there will be two types of political leaders in TERA: Vanarchs and Exarchs.  Vanarchs will earn the right to rule over different provinces, while Exarchs, who were only mentioned briefly, will preside over entire continents.  Players will have to be guild leaders at the level cap of 50 to compete for Vanarch spots.

Once sitting pretty on a Vanarch throne (we seriously hope there are thrones, or at least a royal court), a Vanarch can alter the taxes in their province, open specialty shops, create player-made events, allow or prohibit open-world PvP, and throw people in jail.  They’ll also keep working to earn policy points to stay in power, either from popular support or by undertaking dangerous quests.

According to the Official TERA Forums, there will be six Vanarchs per continent, for a total of eighteen, who rule for three weeks at a time.  Elections themselves will take a week to complete.

What We Like

If you’re like me, you probably try to max out all of your party members’ reputation bars in Bioware RPGs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age.  Who doesn’t want to be liked by everybody?  TERA’s political system seems to have the potential for in- and out-of-game campaigns to win the hearts and minds of your fellow Arboreans.  How many times have you saved some poor sap named “LagoLaas34” from a group of monsters without getting any recognition for how magnanimous and spectacularly good-looking you are?  Hopefully, if your good deeds get some notice in TERA, you’ll receive some new supporters, and more importantly, policy points.

If you’re not the altruistic type, or prefer good old-fashioned fisticuffs over sweet talking, maybe you’d like to get more out of your usual PvPing than a grind for uber gear.  It seems like you can prove that might makes right in TERA, allowing you to rule with an iron fist as long as you demonstrate your fighting prowess over that of your enemies.  Go ahead and fill your coffers with your province’s hard-earned tax money – who cares if people don’t like you?  You can take on an epic quest with your guild to defeat one of TERA’s BAMs (“Big Ass Monsters”) and get your policy points that way.

Whichever route you take to Vanarch, TERA’s political system has the potential to add an interesting dimension to the game’s social scene and end-game content.  As any avid online gamer will tell you, an MMO’s community is what makes or breaks its long-term success, and designing a new incentive to get involved in the game’s social scene could prove worth the effort.  Imagining that players can take to the forums, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, or create websites and videos as parts of their campaigning is pretty neat.  Adding a social aspect to the PvP endgame for high-level guilds to participate in is also huge, providing more options than the standard raid, PvP and reputation grinds.

What’s Controversial

What we know about TERA’s political system and what we like about it lead us to more questions about how it’s going to be implemented and balanced.  As our News Manager Garrett Fuller put plainly in his feature about En Masse’s E3 coverage, will it work?

The first issue that comes to mind is that in a genre filled with games that try to balance “hardcore” vs. “casual” approaches to gaming, how is En Masse going to prevent an elite group of players from taking over the political system for long periods of time?  If certain guilds tend to have more influence with their constituents simply because of their sheer size, or continually dominate the PvP scene, what place do more casual players have in the diplomatic process?  Will they feel like they’re involved in the political system, or just log in to find the same two or three guild leaders becoming Vanarchs?

As for the Vanarchs themselves, what are their responsibilities, and how do players support them with policy points?  What if a guild leader is elected or punches her/his way to the top, and then doesn’t log in for a week?  It only makes sense to have some sort of built-in activity requirement for being a Vanarch, but until we know the actual mechanics, it’s hard to say how it will work, or if a ruler’s constituents will have to “rebel” or simply withhold policy points to get them booted.

Another controversial topic is the jail system.  Sure, it’s a pretty hilarious idea to jail someone who keeps spamming your chat channel with “NE1 NO WHERE TO GET QUESTS,” but what are the controls in place to prevent abusing this ability?  Can you just run around town throwing Poporis behind bars with a right-click and a maniacal laugh?  Furthermore, how long do people stay in jail, and how is En Masse going to make it fun for players?  The developers themselves seem to still be working out these details, mentioning in their July Production Chat that they’re considering scratching it unless it’s fun.

In addition, we wonder what social meta-game issues might arise from the political system.  If a guild starts a smear campaign against an opposing guild on the forums, at what point does En Masse step in and determine what’s being said in jest and what’s inappropriate or detracting from the community atmosphere?

Clearly, from what we know about TERA’s political system, there are a lot of opportunities for success, with a lot of controversial issues that need to be ironed out before the game’s launch.  We haven’t heard anything about Exarchs yet, and it seems as though En Masse is still working out the details for a lot of the different aspects of the system.  Still, other MMOs like Aika and Eve Online have implemented different approaches to social competition in the forms of PvP political systems and complex player-driven subterfuge, which vary in popularity among players.  There’s precedent for TERA’s politics to work, and be spectacularly fun, but we’re waiting for En Masse to tell us how it’s going to shape up.

What do you think about TERA’s political system?  Will it work, or would you rather En Masse focus on the other parts of the game?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Guest Writer