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Know-How: Role-Playing In MMO Worlds – Why Some Games Have More Opportunities For A Role-Player Than Others?


Know-How: Role-Playing In MMO Worlds - Why Some Games Have More Opportunities For A Role-Player Than Others?We all know that some people like to role-play in games, we have friends that like it or even love to do that by ourselves. After all, any game that a human being ever made – be it a children game, or a table, or a computer, or an online game (especially an online game!) – it is all about playing some role. Online games took it out onto a new level where not only we can see a lush, 3D world with some lore, but also we are able to share it with other people. But as you may know, not every game is good enough for a role-player person. Why is that so? What is that “role-playing heaven” thing, why it’s present in some games and totally lacked in others? And how to find a game that will suit all your needs as a role-player?

Making a story good for playing a role in it is a hard task that is being solved constantly for many years by people like Gary Gygax or Steve Jackson, and many others – authors of tabletop game systems, AD&D, PC games… They have found a lot of “do’s” and “don’ts”, and proven that there is no “miracle cure” that will suit every case out there, but they also found several different approaches that would work in most situations.

RIFT Planes of Telara Soul Tree System allows players to create their own classThe first rule
And the most simple of them all – there should be a diversity of characters to play. If a certain game world has a “standard mage”, things look blue then. If there’s 2-3 variants to the “standard mage”, it’s not much better. A player character should be special, not one of thousands – this is why AD&D was made with hundreds of classes, spells, “prestige” system and all… Implementing something like this in an MMO isn’t something hard to do (another thing, that it’s hard to balance), but of recent games i can only point to RIFT: Planes of Telara fully complying with this rule.

The second rule
A character must be fun to play even outside of combat – a good example to that rule is Vanguard, where you can gain levels as Diplomat or Crafter, not doing any fights whatsoever. This is a thing harder to accomplish in an MMORPG game and many developers don’t even consider doing so. In a heat of battle there’s not much time for playing a role, and besides that, what kind of “role” could be there for a person that kills everything that moves, day and night? (And if it doesn’t, he’ll move it and kill it all the same). It’s not a person, it’s an electric meat-mincer. In a good tabletop game fighting won’t take more than 50% of playing time. This is why Korean/Chinese games usually aren’t good for role-playing – not because they are about another culture, but because they are full of grind, and grind doesn’t leaves place for role-playing too.


Know-How: Role-Playing In MMO Worlds - Why Some Games Have More Opportunities For A Role-Player Than Others?The third rule

Every MMORPG has a rule – an ecological mechanism, if you please – either the developers must provide something for those who like to explore the world, or they should exterminate the means to compete with the game or other players, i.e. kill the game’s PVP part. If either one of those requirements aren’t met, role-playing people are going to be eaten by other, more competitive kind of players. As an example to this rule i can point out Eve Online – it provides players with an enormous world that is huge enough to explore for years and live in even if you’re out of PVP zones. Another example is Lord of the Rings Online, where Turbine took “the third rule” on another step – they both exterminated any in-game PVP experience (except for a very small substitute for it available only from lvl 40) and provided a huge world to explore at the same time. This is one of the things that makes LOTRO a role-player’s heaven.

The fourth rule
To filter the players. In a tabletop games or AD&D session most of the good dungeon masters won’t let some random people off the streets into the playing, and even when let into the game every person passes several checks to appear “reliable”, i.e. not ruining the game for others. Because in a role-playing session there could be a person that doesn’t wants to role-play at all, and makes that game miserable for everyone – so this person simply gets kicked out or not even let into the game in the first place.

For a commercial game this is, of course, not an option – even World of Warcraft is getting criticized over banning some “scammers”. The simplest way for an MMORPG to solve this problem is to divide people into areas – they open RP servers for those who want them and warn everyone else that an off-topic chat on an RP server leads to a ban. Barrens Chat* on role-playing servers aren’t marmalade either, but it’s at least not so horrible as on regular or PVP servers.


Know-How: Role-Playing In MMO Worlds - Why Some Games Have More Opportunities For A Role-Player Than Others?*“Barrens Chat” is a term used for a situation when a lot of low-level characters gather in one place with general chat option. It came from World of Warcraft where Barrens area – due to geographical and other reasons – gathered pretty much everybody of 10-25 levels and many other high level players just passing by.

Usual themes discussed in Barrens are: latest worldwide news from a school kid point of view; music; facts about Chuck Norris; Where’s Mankrik’s wife??!?1; Your mom- jokes; LA2 sucks; Staff of Jordan; Anus- jokes.

The fourth rule works even better with “gateway method” when there’s more than one gateway to separate role-players from everyone else – when there’s not only RP-servers for role-players, but a whole game made for them, and also another game for everyone else. For example, when World of Warcraft was just out, it took role-players off Lineage, then WoW became the leader – and everyone else rushed into it, so Lord of the Rings Online came in as a role-playing heaven and took the role-playing auditory off WoW once again. I saw myself a lot of times when rude asshats were told to go back to WoW – not very fair, but very revealing.

So, time to wrap things up and write a conclusion: the most popular game out there, whatever it’s name might be, unlikely will be a good place for role-playing. So role-players shall eventually try to find a smaller place for themselves – not every one of them, but many. Gateway effect always works against the leader here.

And, of course, the fourth rule doesn’t replaces all the previous rules – to make a virtual world where most of the players would play a role that world’s developers should comply to all four rules. And also make it fun to play!

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