Role-playing in MMOs is an interesting thing. Despite the “RP” in MMORPG standing or role-playing, the origin of this comes from computer RPGs where the focus was more on mechanics than collaborative storytelling. MMOs adopted this, taking the mechanics and world building but not leaving much room for structure storytelling between players.
But this has been tried before. UO was notorious for expecting players to clean up and bring justice to those who broke social norms. Eventually the developers realized this wasn’t going to work, because the cost to create mischief was much lower than the cost to enforce social norms. And some players exploited the system to take advantage of mechanics to let them create mischief while remaining untouchable by the enforcers.
So, let’s take a look at RP options in MMOs, with an eye to how a designer could improve the experience.