10 August, 2018
I’ve spent some time talking about why people RP and how to give them better tools, but let’s now look at the larger picture: why should developers care about RP in MMOs?
Let’s take a look at what RPers do for a game and why it’s a good idea to appeal to them.
They create content for the game
I think the most interesting thing about them is that they create content. By acting out stories in your game, they can make the world seem more alive. The crowd of people in the bar, the group of people in the city plaza, or just the quiet neighbors next door all add to the world and make it feel more alive. If a player is an RPer, they this content can be another thing they participate in.
Of course, you can argue that not everyone RPs. This is true, but not everyone raids, either. In fact, I’d argue that RP is more accessible because it’s not something you have to work up a character and gear it up to do. Of course, that also means the investment is lower. It’s easier for an RPer to quit RPing than for a raider to quit raiding given the investment in the character. But still, if someone is thinking of quitting it’s easier to get them interested in RP than raiding. However, the hardest-core of the RPers can be very invested in the game, as I’ll explain below.
You can also argue that the quality isn’t always good. This is true, for every group acting out a scene worthy of a movie, there’s probably a few people huddled in the corner with clothes off doing obscene things in private chat. And the vast majority of RP is going to be mediocre at best. But that doesn’t mean people won’t enjoy it, or can’t appreciate watching it.
They are superfans of the game
RPers are in that group of people called “superfans”. This is a marketing term for people you really, really like what you’re offering. RPers will scour your lore and writing to find little tidbits to enhance their character. The best RPers are the one who are super invested into your game and your game world, and thus are more tied to it than most other players.
Why does this matter? Because superfans are the ones who can convince others to try your game. The common reason for focusing resources on raiding, which is usually a niche interest in most MMOs, is that it gives people aspirational goals; Achievers see this and want to strive for it. Likewise, Socializers see RPers and aspire to that, to contributing to the world and having a good group to play with. And RPers tend to do more outside the game to support their characters. Taking a look at Tumblr with tags FFXIV and RP shows there are a lot of people sharing information about their characters. So you can see that people take a lot of pride in their characters. Seeing this can inspire others to try the game.
The bring more people to the game
Both of the above reasons draw into this: RPers bring more people to the game. They provide content to keep people engaged, and they can be superfans who spread enthusiasm about your game, usually by sharing information about their characters outside the game. These can bring people in and retain them, even newbies to the game.
We can also see this result from Richard Bartle’s four types of players. Socializers are a self-reinforcing group; the more socializers you have, the more you attract which in turn attracts more. By catering to RPers you can create a positive feedback loop. Socializer-focused RPers bring more Socializers to the game.
Of course, you need to be careful about the same problem with attracting Achievers; as you get more Socializers, you will attract more Killers. But keep in mind that Killers are just the Player Killers (PKs) of the days of yore, what a Killer in Bartle’s paper wants is control. In RP this is the person who wants to enforce their own stories or even perspective on other to serve their own entertainment regardless of how others feel. This can be a lot more subtle, because it creates the feared “Drama” that ruins experiences. This is a lot harder to manage than typical griefing in a game, because it’s not always obvious what the intent of an action is.
But I think as we understand RP better, we can grow MMOs to include a wider audience. A smart MMO can compete for Socializers instead of the same (seemingly dwindling pool) of Achievers already burning out in our games.