What is it about role-playing that developers forget in creating an MMO?
By: Jennifer Gundlach
Ever hear about the greatest game on earth? Ever thought you were playing the greatest game on earth? There are likely several "greatest game" answers for every gamer on the planet, but for the subset of gamers who like to call themselves role-players, the greatest game has yet to be made.
"What's a role-player?" you ask? A role-player is someone who allows the character on the screen before them to take on a life that is apart from their own. To some this just means that their toon is a digital representation of something they could never be—and that's role-playing. To others, that toon is just a conduit for their own thoughts and emotions to show themselves in the game. But to a growing minority of players, role-playing means a whole lot more.
To them, that toon is a living and breathing entity. They go to great lengths to learn about the history and culture of their toon. They learn to talk like the rest of the NPC's (non-player characters) in the game, and to them, the greatest compliment they could ever receive is "Oh, I thought you were an NPC."
Recently I had the chance to spend about three months playing in World of Warcraft (WoW), a recently released MMORPG from Blizzard Entertainment, creators of games such as Diablo and Starcraft. To my dismay, I began to see the flaws in their gaming design as it relates to those of us whom the majority of MMO-players call the "role-playing elite".
Don't get me wrong; WoW is a great "game". But if you want to truly immerse yourself in the game world around you, you're going to have to make a lot of excuses in order to make it work with the universe as the developers have envisioned it. And while the graphical visions in the world are stunning (and believe me they are; Blizzard Entertainment won a gamut of awards for their graphics last year), the beauty and dynamic feel to the world is simply crushed when you start looking at it from a role-playing perspective.
For starters, many of the instanced and epic quests are repeatable—which means that even if you've all ready killed that big baddy in the Deadmines, you can do it again and again. Fun-filled entertainment for the money-seeking, equipment-hording characters who have the time (or the levels) to spend on the affair. What makes this difficult for role-players is the fact that no matter how many times you thought you killed so-and-so, there they are again. While WoW never claimed that they were planning on making this a dynamically changing world based on the actions of its players, this is nevertheless one of the few reasons that it will be hard for role-players to accept the world.
Leaving that aside, though, as all of the quests are things that you will be repeating in your WoW experience as you train up new characters and the like, many role-players can explain away the lack of NPC deaths (they never –really- died; their henchmen fixed them up or raised them from the dead). And after all, their characters don't die either.
In fact, dying in WoW is about the easiest and least troublesome of affairs. You died? No problem. You're whisked away to the spirit realm, and can talk to the spirit "angel" in the graveyard where your "spirit" spawns. They will restore you back to life, albeit sick and with a lot more damage to your equipment, or you have the option to run all the way back to your corpse to be revived with nominal health and mana but without the sickness and armor damage. Now, let me begin by saying that I thought this was an interesting idea, and then let me continue with all the ways it failed to be as interesting as I had hoped as a role-player.
"Great! I'm in the spirit realm! Neat…I can talk to this spirit angel thing. What is this spirit angel thing? Well, no matter…spirits are everywhere in the world; I'm sure this one is just a rebirth spirit of some sort. Right. But I don't want to get sick and have to pay a ton of coin (which I probably don't have) to repair my armor; so, I'll just run back to my "corpse" and re-mesh my spirit to my flesh."
So there I am running back—albeit not far—to my corpse. The little grave icon on my minimap shows me right where I died, and luckily I know my way around enough to get there. As I get closer to my body, a little pop-up box flashes up on my screen. Do I want to resurrect now? Looking around, I spy my body. It doesn't appear to be around any baddies. Sure! All right…let's leave this spirit realm behind.
So I click the little button, am revived, and look to see…my skeleton? What the hell is my skeleton doing there? Do I still have all my bones? Yep…I sure do. Man…that's…just…odd.
This deficiency gets even worse when you begin to add in the element of resurrection by various classes (priests, druids, shamans, paladins) and player-vs.-player (PvP) content. Not only can your "enemies" raise from the same spirit-realm-graveyard-corpse-run as you, but in many cases, they use the same graveyard! Now, imagine that for every area there is a graveyard, and imagine you're defending a town in an area from attack. It's great if you're defending, because you don't have far to return—but neither do your enemies. Not only does killing them do…well, nothing, but them killing you does about as much nothing as you're killing them did. There are no penalties to PvP death, and nothing to recommend it save the fact that you can. Now mind you, this is great for people who just want to run out there and butcher each other senseless, but if you're a role-player, this presents a host of problems.
To make those problems worse for the role-player, WoW makes it impossible to speak to your opposing faction. For WoW, this means that Horde characters cannot talk to Alliance characters, or vice versa. Problem is this: in their online documentation, they say that the truce between these two is fragmenting—not that there's all-out war. Unfortunately, Horde guards will attack you if you're Alliance and vice versa, on sight. So we're not at war, right?
Peace is…to use a pun here…virtually impossible.
So not only do you have a death system that negates the beliefs of these characters and makes resurrection as a skill more or less pointless in the game, you also have a game mechanic set up to instigate war when supposedly peace should still be possible. Granted, if you're a role-player and are hoping to bring about peace for the betterment of all, you can pretty much hang it up, because not only are the non-role-players on the role-playing servers setting up raids, but the death you receive when you try to surrender to the enemy is meaningless. Death, in essence, has no meaning in WoW, and therefore makes it very difficult for role-players to actually role-play anything akin to what the world should be allowing them to do.
In PvP, killing your enemies should have some effect. Unfortunately, WoW falls far short of this, and instead of using the PvP element to further role-playing and Blizzard Entertainment's hopes for such in their world, they've allowed it to remain a gamey aspect.
As if death, repeatable quests, and the inability to speak with your opposing faction in the hopes for peace weren't enough, there are no repercussions for a lot of odd little things in the world that ought to have them—fighting in a tavern, for example. Don't you think the guards would move in and stop it? Or are they placing bets on the side, too? I'd think the inn-keeper would have you thrown out either way, and I doubt you'd be allowed to return. I mean, let's face it; if you tried that in a real bar, you'd be out faster than you could say "boo", and I doubt you'd be invited back to try that stunt again.
And what about repercussions for people that just murder you, even after you've surrendered to them—should they be hailed as great warriors by all in their faction? How come you can't just capture the opposing faction's characters and take them back to some camp or other where they have to wait to be rescued or find a way to escape? And for crying out loud—why do they just reappear somewhat wounded when their bones appear on the ground and their body flashes to life in front of you again?
I suppose I had a point with all of this, and the point is namely that game designers design their games to be "games" first and a role-playing experience second. They center on the tenets of fun and achievement, and leave the role-playing "environment" as extra "fluff" they just threw into the game as an after-thought. Blizzard Entertainment didn't even announce they were going to create role-playing servers until the game was released—not even in beta did it seem they were considering it. And if this is the trend of most game designers and companies, then role-players are always going to be left with no "greatest game" to call their own.
It is my hope, and I imagine it is likely the hope of many role-players around the world, that perhaps game designers will take a closer look at making their worlds "make sense" a bit more in the future, rather than just trying to appease the masses with a "fun game that sort of fits with our ideals of this background information we wrote to make the game seem more interesting". And if game developers think that not having role-playing servers because "our game is all about role-playing" is going to work, I think they ought to take a long, hard look at most of the games out there today—including the ones that do have role-playing servers. Because if you don't make rules and enforce them as the designers and developers, no one else will. Especially not the players.
So take heed you designers and developers—you wonder why you're losing players from your games? It isn't because they aren't fun. But perhaps you're forgetting that if you want something to last, you have to be willing to put in the effort to make it worth staying for. And so far, we role-players are still waiting.
El arcticulo es interesante y la discusion de este pueden verla aca