Thoughts on MMORPGs and RP support

In Uncategorized on 2008-07-03 by Kyle Maxwell

Disclosure: I was the Roleplay Senator for Star Wars Galaxies for several months in early 2008 and stepped down for health reasons. Today, I still have an active SWG subscription but rarely play the game.

I’ve been mulling over the recent comments by the SWG lead designer, Blixtev.

“Too much time was spent on that “feedback” like 2543122 types of emotes/moods, chat bubbles with ice around them if you were in mood icy, etc.  They should have been building quest tools and system backend work and the long term foundations of systems.  I could go on about this for a long long time.”

After several people, including a friend of mine, vocally objected to the apparent derision for the RP community, he later clarified:

“Do I like emotes/moods? Yes.  Do I think they had to be as elaborate as they were at launch at the cost of core game functionality? No.”

As part of the backdrop for this, the Events Manager (Jason “Pex” Ryan) recently left that position for another job within SOE. That job, which included running live events and playing canonical characters like Darth Vader and Wedge Antilles in player events, is not being back-filled in lieu of the Storyteller system which allows players to do some of those things themselves, though not play canon characters.

SWG is a great MMORPG and I’m not about to knock it. I spent nearly three years heavily immersed in that game and the community that surrounds it. One of the long-standing virtues of the game is that it “has great support for roleplay”. Largely, this is due to the character design system, the ability to decorate houses, cities, and ships, the highly customizable clothing and armor, the Entertainer profession, and a thousand tiny details in the worlds. SWG supports the flavor of RP very well.

But the game itself has moved away from being immersive. Character abilities have less and less in the way of in-character explanation, the timeline has not moved in the five years the game has been in production (Hoth is being implemented as an instance outside of the timeline), and don’t get me started about smuggling.

So we have flavor RP, but not mechanical RP. The game itself is not immersive; the world is. Those who really enjoy RP in the game essentially treat it as a themed Second Life; they may enjoy the game, but much of it is treated as being out-of-character (OOC). In a roleplay sense, it “never happened”.

EVE Online goes to the other extreme, as nearly every single game mechanic has an excellent IC explanation and there is considerable effort to track the storyline. This is easier in a “fresh” fictional universe like the New Eden cluster of EVE Online rather than the Galaxy Far Far Away of Star Wars Galaxies, of course. But EVE Online supports the mechanics of RP rather than the flavor. This is evident in the fact that avatars are unchanging portraits; for most game purposes, you are just a ship and a character sheet.

Game designers should keep in mind both sorts of RP support in the future. The games they create should make sense and reward suspension of disbelief, not stretching it too far. At the same time, they can include lots of systems like emotes, appearance, and more so that players can take advantage of them. While only a small minority of players consider themselves “hardcore RPers”, many many more enjoy the immersion to lesser degrees. They’re all worthy of consideration and support, not derision.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

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