Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

24 August, 2019

Are there reasons not to have RP in MMOs?
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 11:47 PM

To end the week, I wanted to think a bit about a contrary opinion. I’ve spent all week talking about RP from a development point of view and how to facilitate and support it in the game, particularly in ways that don’t disturb other parts of the game. But are there reasons not to have RP in the game?

I’m not sure where this post will go, but let’s consider this a bit as I write.

My initial reaction is that there isn’t really a reason to try to remove RP from your game. Now, I’m willing to accept that this is because I’m an RPer and I like to have my playstyle in games. But part of being a good developer is divorcing yourself from your own preferences to look at things on a different light.

What are some of the negative aspects of the game that is associated with RP? Elitism, drama, conflict… but those aren’t really unique to RP are they? In fact, elitism is more commonly associated with raiding than with RPing, and games haven’t been quick to eliminate raiding from their games despite the problem. In fact, all these things are associated with raiding as well: drama over someone being picked over someone else for a raid slot. Conflict between teams trying to outdo each other. A lot of these “problems” show up in other areas as well. You might argue that the heavy sexualization of RP can be seen as a negative thing, but I think that this is hardly unique to RP… it’s just more visible in RP. After all, most raiders I know of have stories about how some guy and girl in their group started showing more interest in each other in personal communication rather than in the mechanics of the raid. This is the internet, and people are sexual in many different areas.

Further, I think it’s hard to really remove RP from MMOs, or to use the full acronym, MMORPGs. RP is right in there… but that’s a holdover from single-player RPGs (and the original MUD) that mimicked the mechanics of tabletop RPGs in computer form. RP has not been a particular focus, but I think the nature of MMOs: the gameplay, the history, the settings… all these combine to form a situation that is perfect for RP. And people with imaginations will come in and RP even without explicit invitation or catering to. All designing a game for RPers does is encourage more people to do so.

In the end, I’m kind of stuck trying to figure out any reason not to include RP in MMOs beyond just personal preference of the developers. A developer may not see much value in RP and thus work to remove it. But I think that diminishes the game, chases away potential players who would otherwise play, enjoy, and even pay for your game. The only thing RPers really do is add a reason for someone who might be unhappy with other elements of your game to stick around and try something different. Get involved in an RP group when grinding, leveling, raiding, or any of the other usual MMO activities start to grow stale for them. Here’s a community of people who create more content for the game by their participation. And most of the negative things happen in other areas of the game because at the end of the day, it’s still people playing.

I’d love to hear other thoughts, particularly reasons beyond, “Because I don’t like it.” :P

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  1. I don’t think it’s possible to completely remove RP from an MMO. RPers will find ways to RP if that’s what they want to do. Developers could purposefully make it difficult for RP: avoid dialog bubbles or zone-based chat all together, don’t create any hubs where characters are likely to meet up.

    Comment by Alli — 25 August, 2019 @ 10:25 AM

  2. I think as a developer you’re always battling against boredom and a feature that some players will sink time into is great Particularly emergent gameplay which implies the devs don’t need to do much work either.

    In the modern age people will be streaming or otherwise uploading their experience more and the younger generations are particularly receptive to this content. And the RP stuff is basically free advertising.

    OK so why not have it?

    I actually think the reasons are quite weak.

    - player drama. This is the conflict that arises when humans interact and arises, as you say, in any form of activity. In fact the only way to avoid it is to have people not play. Which means at some point they will stop paying. From a business perspective drama is a non issue, it means players are engaging and competing in some way, whether it’s to be world first raider or to be Queen of the Summer Beauty Pageant.

    - it might mess up your cash shop. Historically cash shops were snuck into MMOs by promising that the stuff was “just cosmetic” so that the most strident and aggressive players wouldn’t care less. In Eve Online my enemies are small red squares because I’m zoomed out to max. What do I care if some guy’s ship is pretty? I don’t even see it. For RPers though the cosmetic stuff is their end game and if they feel that the art team is making regular loot look like Soviet era farming smocks to drive everyone to the cash shop they might get pretty pissed off. I think you solve this by making cash shop as good but different so that you can look good without spending money but if you really want that pirate hat you need to purchase it. It’s not always going to be easy as the surprisingly vehement reaction in Eve Online to the $80 monocle showed. It probably mattered that the most influential player, The Mittani, is both a narcissist and a role-player so he may have been in the 0.5% of customers who felt compelled to get one.

    The flipside is that you sell a lot of stuff. People really like virtual decorative items, who knew?

    - some RP gets pretty sleazy. This could be an issue in a child-friendly game. RP does seem to mean we will see elves humping on inn tables and all sorts of salacious suggestions and this doesn’t seem to happen at all when RP isn’t a feature.

    - back in the day there used to be stupid arguments all day long in chat about whether someone was breaking some arbitrary RP server rules. This eventually settled on the side of no one policing anything. I think most of us, shamefully, only reported people who we thought were jerks for some other reason, using Customer Service as a weapon to beat a rival. But there were some regulars who were sincere who tried to get out of character comments stopped because they felt it was wrong. In any event there’s likely to be a real business cost to policing customers if they again gain the idea that they can report people for being OOC.

    Comment by Stabs — 25 August, 2019 @ 10:42 AM

  3. I’m not even sure it IS possible to remove RP from an online game – if people can communicate, they can RP. If they can interact, they can communicate, so they can RP. If you manage to make a game where players can’t interact, it’s a single player game (and some of them will still RP in their own heads :)

    I CAN see arguments for a developer not doing much to support RP in terms of providing emotes, costumes or suitable venues within the game world – mostly those will be cost/benefit decisions based on return for the effort involved (likewise Stabs’ last point about customer service enforcing RP rules – too much pain for too little gain).

    Comment by Tremayne — 25 August, 2019 @ 1:33 PM

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