Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

9 August, 2018

Better tools for RPers in MMOs
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:46 PM

Okay, a few days ago we looked at RP in MMOs and why people RP. Now let’s take a look at how MMO designers can make games that are ready for RP. These ideas are based on my own experience RPing in FFXIV through the eyes of a developer.

So how can we give players better tools to help facilitate better RP in the game? I’ll give examples from FFXIV, but many of these could apply to just about any game.

Better world building

I think most MMOs do a pretty good job of world building thee days. Things started pretty simple; Meridian 59, for example, had a story cobbled together from all sorts of fantasy works at the time, equal to a pretty good fantasy RPG campaign. But there weren’t many hooks for RP as the world was pretty bare-bones. There was more lore in the world if you went looking (or listening) for it, but for the most part the world was generic fantasy.

But there has to be a balance. If our world is too fleshed out then there’s no empty spaces for fertile imaginations to fill in. For an RPer, it’s the blank spaces in the world that are the most interesting. A good design should leave some of the word unexplained so that the players can fill in the blanks, then resist the urge to fill in those blank spaces, lest the players feel their work has been wasted.

I think the best thing to do is to provide a lot of high level information: structures, organizations, places, groups, leaders, etc. And then provide a few examples for people to draw upon: what the life of a villager looks like. Let people fill in other blanks and build up their characters.

Better chat options

One of my banes in FFXIV is that many people like to write out longer says or emotes, and the chat tools are kind of awful for this. The two main problems I have are that the chat box stays a single line despite the length, making it harder to edit what you’re writing. Especially in fast-moving RP, you might want to edit what you’re writing to adjust to the new realities of the scene. The other problem is that the common ctrl+arrow keys does not skip past whole words as it does in other editing systems.

In fact, some people have taken to using other tools for RP, such as that will allow them to break really long posts into manageable chunks the chat system can handle. This also allows them to use spellcheck available in most browsers. Building these features into the game itself would be a nice feature, potentially improving the quality of writing and handling any technical limitations imposed by the system.

Better social options

While MMOs have pretty good social systems in the games these days, they could still be improved. Meridian 59 had clunky client-side broadcast lists, whereas FFXIV has server-side linkshells that allow people to communicate in more social groups along with guilds (called free companies in the game) which are more gameplay-centric with game buffs and group house ownership.

As with everything, it would be nice to have more. You’re limited to just 8 linkshells and it would be nice to have have more for different groups of friends, or even an easy way to have a one-on-one group to chat while another is in a dungeon. While role-playing, it’s nice to have multiple linkshells for multiple different groups you are part of. FFXIV also has friends lists, but again, the limit of 200 people can feel stifling if you run into a lot of people who are kind of “maybe I’d want to RP with them” types.

It’s also a good idea to let people find each other easier. FFXIV implemented the “RP” tag to let you find other people who are RPing, but just because someone is RPing doesn’t mean that’s the RP that interests you. For example, you might be looking for a long-term RP but someone else just wants a fun drinking partner for one night of silly RP. Allowing people to find each other based on their RP interests might be useful if you can get people all using the same measurements of what they want. I think a lot of the lessons about designing for friendship also works for designing to get RPers together; the difference being that you’re working on a character level instead of an interpersonal level.

Better infrastructure options

This is where we touch on technology. One of the biggest problems in FFXIV is that the most popular North American RP server is also the busiest. Balmung has long been the unofficial server, but the server has been closed off for a long time. It was re-opened briefly, only for it to be closed down again when the server was flooded with people. To solve this, the RP community has dubbed a few other servers as other role-playing servers, but Balmung is still seen as the desired one.

Being able to add resources to a server to expand it to handle more players could be useful. To be fair, the developers have added more features to allow you to play with friends across severs, as log as your in the same data center. You can have them on friends list and even party with them, although it’s a lot less convenient than starting a party with a friend on your home server. But this could be handled better.

Better character customization options

This is probably an obvious one, as customization allows you to more fully express your type of character. FFXIV actually allows a lot of appearance customization, which is nice. As its often said, appearance is the real endgame.

But it would be great to have more options as well to reflect character changes. FFXIV allows you to change some things in a barber shop, so you can change hairstyles and a few other options based on character development as your character goes through a personal story arc. Having the ability to add cuts, bruises, even damage like a cut ear or tail would allow people to have more character options to show off how their character is changing.

What do you think? Anything I missed here that would make for better RP tools in games? Anything you think could be done better?


  1. I’d like to see design tweaks to the chat UI that has now become a common standard for MMOs, shunted away in a tiny window in a corner. It kinda implies that text communication is unimportant, as compared to the view and the action front and center. Other players are tiny dolls where one can barely discern any body language and easily dismissed like swarming ants.

    RPing, or indeed, just communicating on MUDs utilized a client displaying text front and center, in scrolling dialogue form. It incorporated emotes (socials). It was blended into the gameplay, that of navigating through rooms of text. People and communicating with them was thus impled to be just as important.

    Perhaps something like a social chat mode where the chat window moved into the bottom center portion of the screen, and the camera zoomed in on the people you were talking to… or bringing up a closeup of the face of the avatar as well, plus something like GW2′s rotating of your character to face another (looking down or up as height differences require) when you target them. Granted, one would also need some important things to do in this chat mode – be it crafting or trading or discussing dungeon tactics or playing music instruments or exchanging emotes with unique buffs or whatever.

    Saving chat even after logging off would be another cool feature. One could have asynchronous conversations then, even with others who don’t often play in the same timezone. I really liked it in A Tale in the Desert – I would have some 30+ windows open for various guilds and 1-on-1 communication with other players. For most other people, the closest analogy is pretty much Discord text chat, but as part of the game, not outside it.

    Comment by Jeromai — 10 August, 2018 @ 6:26 AM

  2. It would be great if the meaningful text could easily be saved after it happened, without knowing in advance whether you’re going to want to save it.

    To me “meaningful” would include what NPCs are saying, and quest narration, as well as interactions with other players. What I want to filter out there is all the transient info, “You scored a hit on the orc”, “You have acquired a log of wood” etc etc.

    Re servers, I don’t know how far it is a technical issue, but these days it would be good if there was no hard North America / Europe division and people were easily able to play – including RP – with friends wherever they are.

    It would also be good to be able to switch servers freely rarher than having to decide up front if you’re going to want to RP.

    Comment by Pasduil — 10 August, 2018 @ 8:46 AM

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