[Roleplaying] Death of the Actor

Wolfshead writes (again) about the death of MMOs as a genre, and this time he explains quite clearly how a lot of gamers feel about roleplayers:

Why do actors in real life pursue careers as actors? What kind of person finds fulfillment in being somebody else?

In his view this isn’t the same as roleplaying, because you don’t actually create the character yourself. But the ability of an actor to ‘become’ their character and to immerse in that character and setting is very close to what immersive roleplayers get their kicks from doing. I’ve played one-shot tabletop games where we were given pre-generated characters, and there was definitely plenty of roleplaying going on.

I have also listening to actor friends describing the kick they get from acting, and I always felt there was commonality with a really kickass RP session where you got deep into your character.

Virtual worlds should be fertile ground for this type of immersive gaming, and in many ways they are. You don’t have to imagine what a room looks like if you can stroll around (virtually) and check it out for yourself. You can learn a lot about an in game faction or NPC by interacting with them rather than just having some data read out to you across the table. Yes, your role and storyline might be fixed but this doesn’t mean that it can’t also be an immersive experience, especially if (in games like DAO and ME) you have some room to personalise how you portray it.

But the key thing about this type of immersive play is that it can only work well in a large scale game if most of the other players are similarly immersive (or good enough at RP that you never notice) or you have a well crafted storyline and NPCs to interact with (mostly single player, but maybe with some group stuff too). As soon as you end up trading insults in trade chat or an instance with xxArthasdkxxx and lolboobies the immersion is gone.

Wolfshead argues that the Actor stance is a step back from the sandbox roll-your-own-role stance, and I’d say that it’s a shame if we can’t have both but players have shown that they’re more interested in winning and achievements than in either acting a role or making their own adventures. There was a time when Actors were more welcomed. When player run RP events brightened up MMOs on a regular basis (I remember RPed trade markets and RPed winter pantomines and parties, for example.)

Wolfshead concludes by saying:

MMOs should be proving grounds where players can distinguish themselves by testing their mettle against the environment and other players.

And I’d say that one of the sad things with MMOs is that this is all that players have wanted to do. What else do you call achievement collecting and PvP arenas/ battlegrounds?

So if I’m looking forwards to SWTOR, it’s in the hope that just a little of the Actor remains in the world and that some people at least will care about their characters and roles. Because I don’t see it happening in many other upcoming games.

[The Secret World] The Secret Roleplayer

Funcom’s ‘The Secret World’.

You’ve heard of it, you’ve looked into some of the concepts or gone through their initiation test to see which of their three factions you naturally fall in to. If you’re like me, you’ve shrugged that answer off and picked which faction you like the sound of based purely on their name, or external factors!

It’s a classless secret society MMO, set in a semi-real world environment (of course taking London and New York and the rest of the world and giving us the urban fantasy versions of the cities, where monsters and magic exist). If you’ve jumped aboard the hype train, you’ve also seen the Facebook videos, the ARG sites, and stepped firmly into the ‘Secret’ World.

I’m intrigued by the concept as an MMO. Not necessarily just because it’s something different, but because it harks back to the books I enjoy reading, the RPGs I played with pen and paper back in the day, and even to some extent to the card games I learned years ago and still play with friends when I get the chance (yes, Illuminati, I’m looking at you!!). But over the past few weeks I’ve realised that there’s another big hole for me in MMOs, and which I think The Secret World has the best chance of plugging amongst all the games that are coming up for release. It may actually offer a really good platform for roleplay in MMOs.

I’ve had this discussion and debate since the days of Dark Age of Camelot, and in order to make my point, I should perhaps list the MMOs I’ve played (it makes a difference, trust me). They are: Dark Age of Camelot, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online. Any others I’ve dipped into very briefly, such as Everquest 2, Age of Conan and Vanguard with maybe a month of each and not really in with a group or guild – or even seeking out other players, just keeping my head down and seeing what the game was like for a relatively short period.

In games I have played I always join the roleplay server. I try to roleplay, I will ALWAYS respond in roleplay fashion if spoken to first in one. But Dark Age of Camelot was the one most people around me /tried/ to roleplay in. We had some great events, we tried, we really did, but it never came close to text-based roleplay found in MUSHes and MUXes back in the day.

MMO roleplay is restricted by it’s very nature. It’s very inflexible. There’s no human GM tailoring the setting and story to the players. You can’t really choose any look or any background that works, instead you have to fit into a more fixed settingr, the emotes are often rubbish, and it’s hard to really settle into a character, for me, anyway. There are also lots of players who think exchanging ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ for ‘you’ is actual roleplay. Or ‘I have reached my 30th season of experience’ (ding 30!). No further comment.

You can’t really take the role of a baddie, your story progression is there for you, and it’s a hard reach to really think ‘what is my motivation for killing these 10 rats instead of telling this lazy guard with a massive sword to do it himself’. But we forgive those in the name of story and people genuinely DO roleplay on all MMOs… I just don’t have the tolerance for it as things stand right now.

But when it comes to The Secret World, my interest in roleplay is piqued. It reminds me of my World of Darkness MUSH days, and actually  creating a character that I could write a detailed background for and who could be internally conflicted and act appropriately. Maybe it’s because I did more World of Darkness and In Nomine roleplay than I did the more fantasy settings as I was growing up, and the urban fantasy really does grab me far more than Middle-Earth as a world I want to really roleplay in (with apologies to all the lovely fantasy settings, but they just don’t do it for me, roleplay-wise). Like nostalgia for board games, I’m now feeling it for roleplay games and ready to embrace it in a setting I like.

So, I find myself looking at the trailers and information differently. Instead of really caring about the smack-talk about what factions people will play and how much we’ll all hate one another and seek each other out, I am starting to create the background of the character I will play and that I will flesh out and breath life into regardless of everything else. It’s not a case of wanting to even know where and what my friends will play, I believe I’ll be able to have contact with them even if it’s cross-faction and we can form uneasy truces if we want to play together… but with a level-less, classless system, and the ability to play around more with character style and fashion (even if still limited to certain faces and body types), it’ll be an interesting journey, whether it succeeds wildly or falls to its face. And that’s the kind of anticipation I can live with.

Thoughts? Have you played pen and paper RPGs, and if so, how do you think roleplay has worked in current games? Do you avoid like the plague or actively seek it out a lot more than I do? Or if you are an MMO RPer, do you think the pen and paper grognards have totally unrealistic expectations?

And what do you think The Secret World might add or ruin for the genre?

Thought of the Day: How do you decide when to pay in a F2P game?

I think that the amount people decide to pay in a F2P game is highly dependent on what their friends are paying.

If you have friends in the game and they are mostly playing for free, you’ll feel like an idiot if you pay. If your friends are mostly buying a few things, you’ll be encouraged to do the same. If you don’t know anyone else who plays, or haven’t made any in game friends then chances are that you will only be playing until the next game catches your eye anyway. (Unless it offers a stellar single player experience which is not usually the case.)

So one goal for a F2P developer might be to nudge new players to engage socially with the more hardcore who are already paying.

The LOTRO F2P strategy of having both F2P and subscriber players on the same server might prove to be very smart indeed.

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Thoughts on burnout in MMOs and how to avoid it

via pwnware.com I was reading about Nick Yee’s idea of the five-phase player lifecycle in a game.

This can be paraphased as:

  1. Starting out. Everything is new and exciting.
  2. Ramping up. You know the basics, now you’re setting more long term goals.
  3. Mastery. This includes being settled in a social group for endgame as well as mastering your character, for whatever type of endgame you decide to do.
  4. Burnout.
  5. Casual/ Recovery.

The first thing that strikes me is that many players (probably the majority) don’t ever go through the  mastery and burnout phases. They hop straight from ramping up to casual, possibly even skipping the ramping up phase if the game offers that option.  (There should probably be a “6. Bored/ Distracted by new game or hobby” phase too.)

This means that casual guilds potentially attract a mixture of ex-hardcore players and never-will-be-hardcore players. Or in other words, our definitions for casual need  more work because some people will play a game casually but still be far more invested in it than others who play similar hours.

The other thing that strikes me is that ramping up is often seen as a noobish phase. It’s the part which the elite players try to rush or even jump, and everyone else is encouraged to short cut it by making use of offsite guides, videos, and other player generated tutorials.

And yet, if you ask players which their personal golden age was in their favourite game, often it will be the one where they had the longest time in the first two phases. Usually the first MMO they played, or the first one they were invested enough in to master.

So the pressure to master a game quickly might actually be encouraging players to have less fun, and get them to burn out faster too.

Another thought is that if people keep playing similar games and then picking similar classes, it will mean that they master a new game more quickly. Sometimes that’s even part of the appeal. If you anticipate a lot of competition in the role or an aggressive playerbase, it’s a confidence booster to know that you have previous experience with a similar class.

Once enough people do this, there is no one for the ramping up people to play with. We see this happen in older games. Starcraft (original)  is a good example, people have been playing that competitively for over 10 years. How many of them do you think are still ramping up or might be fun to play with for a newbie? Eventually, designers don’t bother with much of a tutorial. They assume the majority of players will be familiar with the genre. You see this a lot in shooters at the moment.

And people who pick a similar class because they just love the playstyle will still master it more quickly. That means that sometimes, playing the games and classes you love is a fast track to burnout.

I suspect this is part of the reason why post-WoW style MMOs have struggled to maintain long term subscriptions. The hardcore players mastered them fast because they were so similar to existing games, and it’s very difficult for a new game to instantly ship with enough content and depth to keep the hardcore interested for several months. Yet at the same time, casual players checked the games out and decided for whatever reason that they didn’t want to make a longterm commitment.

Burnout can be a mental health issue

If you type burnout into google, you won’t get a bunch of gaming links up top. You’ll be directed to mental health websites.

Here’s a definition which I picked from one of them:

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Being burned out on a game is very different from just being bored of it. This is why burnout is so strongly associated with hardcore players, who make the most commitments and feel the most stress.

So if you care at all about your own health, you really should act if you feel that you are burning out. Why? It will make you happier and less stressful in game and, perhaps more importantly, can show you how to cope better with burnout in real life if you should ever face that.

There are two types of player, those who burn out and those who don’t

And yet, there are players who do play similar games or similar classes for years at a time without ever seeming to get bored. They either find challenges in tweaking the playing style they love, or they enjoy the ease which familiarity gives. Or maybe they mostly know how to skip happily to the casual phase of play without ever worrying about mastery.

So what are the secrets to avoiding burn out?

  1. Recognise the signs of burnout before it hits. Unfortunately you probably need to have burned out on a game at least once to do this accurately. If you start hating the thought of logging in on a specific character or to do a specific instance or doing so puts you into a bad mood, then that’s a fairly good indicator.
  2. Is there one specific issue causing the burnout. One instance that you detest, some players in your guild who are driving you nuts? If so, can you find a way to minimise those?
  3. Diversify your game. Try a different character or a different spec. Join another guild with an alt and get to know new people. Try a different server.
  4. Play less on the character/ playstyle that is burning you out. This can be tough if you have time commitments to a raid guild, but you won’t be any benefit to anyone if you burn out. And no decent guild leadership would pressure  you to stay if that was the case.  (If they do, it’s a sign that you need to find a new guild anyway.)
  5. Diversify your hobbies. Putting all your free time into one hobby may help in mastering it, but it can help a lot with burnout to look at doing other things too. Getting more sleep also can’t hurt.
  6. Step away from or minimise stressful commitments. If being a guild leader or raid leader is stressing you out to the point of burnout, find someone to share the job or step down. Yes, it’s hard but this is a game. Also, it won’t help anyone if you burn out. It is sometimes possible to find ways to delegate or reorganise guild management so as to put less stress on one person, look into those. The bonus of recognising the signs of burnout is that you can do this before it is too late.
  7. Talk to people. Make new friends. Friends and communities in game can be surprisingly supportive, even just by being there. If your community is not supportive, it’s time to find another one. Spending more time with friends offline can help a lot too, it just resets your perspective.
  8. Know your limits. If you have X hours per week to play a game, don’t mimic a playstyle that really requires X+1. Don’t rush to be as hardcore as possible if it’s just not practical. Stress between life/ gaming balance will make burnout more likely and may make the consequences way more severe.
  9. Redefine your notion of success. In WoW at the moment, a hardcore raider might see hard mode Lich King as the only achievement worthy of note. And yet, many casual guilds are rightly proud of their normal mode kills. A casual player with no guild might be just as proud of having gotten a character to 80 and earned enough emblems to buy heirlooms for alts. So who is right?
  10. Consider whether you want to make the shift to a casual/ recovery playstyle. I’ve mentioned a couple of times the possibility of switching guilds or reducing responsibilities in game.
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BEP and the Goldshire Conundrum

bloodelf

Tobold stirred up the blog community last week with a post asking why there aren’t more porn oriented games and MMOs. After all, the core audience for both has traditionally been similar. So surely adding porn to MMOs would be a sure fire winner, right? He concludes that it’s probably much cheaper to pay an actress than to create a game engine with good enough models and animation.

Psychochild followed up with a post which looked at attempts to do exactly this (porn MMOs) and why they failed.

r u hot?

It’s obviously not true that people don’t want sex in their MMOs. How else can you explain Second Life? (This is a post about sex in Second Life, probably not safe for work. It is an interesting article though, she discusses the difference between porn and cybering.) They may not want porn per se – games are all about interactivity and it isn’t clear whether people want to interact with porn in that way even if the NPCs were pixel perfect. But talking dirty to real people? That’s hot.

So is being able to roleplay through scenes in a game that aren’t possible in real life, either because it involves some fantasy kink or even just because the people involved are miles away from each other. It shouldn’t be surprising that virtual environments have been popular with furries and with some parts of the BDSM community – they are mostly safe places to play.

From my experience with MUDs et al, I have formulated a new internet rule:

Spinks’ Rule: If it is possible for people to cyber in any medium, then they will.

This has been true for every MMO I have ever played. It was also true of Usenet, IRC, MUD, MUSH, livejournal, SMS, and I assume people are cybering on Facebook and twitter as well.

But it is ironic that Blizzard announced the intent to police Goldshire on one of the US servers, due to complaints about people cybering there in public, in the same week bloggers were arguing that sex in an MMO could never work.  And if you don’t play WoW then don’t worry, they’re doing it in your game too!

Iiiit’s Timmy!

I said this weekend that I pitied the GMs who were stuck with patrolling Goldshire. Especially when there’s a game full of players who would probably happily play at being the cyber patrol for free.

This story reminded me of back when I was involved in running a Vampire MUSH. I may have mentioned this before, the game was based on second edition V:tM and was set in London, and most of the players had vampire characters. The specific game/edition is important here because part of the background was that Vampires didn’t have sex drives or sex at all, in general. In the words of one of my co-staffers who was writing this up for the in game theme news:

You’re dead. Look down. It is too.

Another part of the lore was that some vampires could become invisible. We had code to mimic this ability so people could wander around stealthed. We also had a staff mailing list for that game, to help us communicate over the various time zones. Players who had roleplayed dramatic scenes of which they were especially proud could send us the logs in text form and if we were impressed by the standard of RP, we’d give out XP awards.

You can probably see where this is leading. Add Spinks’ Law (if people can cyber, then they will) to stealthy player characters and what you get is …  Timmy, the soi-disant morality patrol.

Every couple of weeks a big fat text file would land squarely in the staff mailing list. It would be from a player whose character was called Timmy. He was a stealther. His hobby was being a virtual voyeur. And he sent staff any evidence he found that people were breaking the theme of the game by RPing sex on their vampires. Morally, it was an odd situation for us. What he was doing was perfectly in character. What the cyber crowd was doing was generally not, and doors were lockable in the game if people really wanted to make sure no stealthers could sneak in to their bedrooms.

But more importantly, having to read through a ton of badly written semi-porn would ruin anyone’s day. As to what staff could do, we posted up information reminding people that doors could be locked. We tried to give Timmy some different plot hooks. We also posted some general info reminding people that this wasn’t the game for RPing torrid sex.

Then we left it and hoped for the best.

What about games designed around sex?

Back in the MUD/ MUSH days there were games which were unashamedly adult in theme. Many of them were also furry and/or BDSM in theme, I, being sadly vanilla, was happy with my vampires and never had much interest, but I did hang out on a bboard for MU* Admin where people sometimes discussed the seedier side of the hobby.

One particular game was known for the ‘anything goes’ theme. You could go create any type of character you could imagine and then … do adult themed stuff with it. And some players took this as a challenge – there were centipede men with 1000 pairs of legs (and presumably the other bits to go with it), there was a woman/ icecream van hybrid (don’t ask), and several people played historical characters and apparently roleplayed them very well. (I know this because people posted the more way out or amusing character descriptions on one of the MU* Admin threads to amuse everyone else.)

And apparently, when they weren’t all having bizarro sex, the general level of RP and discussion on the game was very high. I always found that quite curious, although it makes sense that sex is a social activity so a sex game would tend to turn into a social game.

The type of design which would make a game amenable for cyber would also be good for other types of roleplayer. Lots of private spaces. Ability to dress up your character. Some kind of character matching to help people find others with similar interests. Engaging hangouts with activities that encourage people to chat and get to know each other. You don’t need to design the porn into the game, just let players set the scene and RP out their own fantasies.

Spinks’ law will take care of the rest.

Can Goldshire be contained?

One of the biggest issues standing between MMOs and the mainstream right now is whether it is possible to clean up the real time chat channels. Granny may be happy to come and kill kobolds on her paladin, but what’s she going to say when she hears trade chat for the first time? Or when some jerk in LFD talks smack to her in an instance? And before she does any of those things, she will have to brave Goldshire. (For the sake of hyperbole, let’s ignore that Granny probably knows more about sex than all the inhabitants of Goldshire put together.)

As an aside, I sometimes wonder if an influx of older female players would have a good effect on manners in game. I’m sure a few people like my mother in law (a retired teacher) would soon have trade chat sorted out with its Ps and Qs and teach it grammatical English at the same time.

But the general issue isn’t going to go away. The cyber crowd can be chased out of Goldshire (they’ll go somewhere else) but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They don’t want to go to a specialist game. They want WoW … and the cybering is something to do in downtime.

Can a massively multiplayer game ever be really controlled unless you ban chat channels altogether? Or would an army of nosey stealthers set to embarrass people in public do the trick?

Blue Booking, PvE Grind, and what do we do in games inbetween scheduled groups?

I have been thinking recently about the patterns in which I tend to play MMOs. I’ve been spending more time in LOTRO recently, and my guild there is mostly made up of older players. They’re grumpy and proud, and they are very very good at organising their gaming to fit lifestyles which involve kids, non-gaming commitments, and a mix of casual and hardcore players. They are also awesome (if any of you are reading this!)

This means a lot of scheduled runs, even for small 3 man groups. Of course you can just log in, see who is around, and put a group together, but players with time limitations prefer to be able to arrange their free time in advance. I’ve noticed that players are also quite conscientious about notifying the other people involved if something comes up in advance and they can’t make it. I’m sure there are also a lot of informal but pre-arranged levelling groups and skirmish groups which don’t use the bboards and calendar to organise.

And this reminds me a lot of my old pen and paper groups. We’d have regular gaming nights and if anyone couldn’t make it then they’d let the rest of us know.

It’s a good rhythm for any organised group hobby. You have ‘group’ nights. And then if you want to work quietly on your hobby you can either skip a group night or do it when no one else is around, or at home.

But I’m interested in what it means to work quietly on your hobby if your hobby is an MMO. Because these games tend to be based on progression, then either time spent solo will progress your character (in which case all min/maxers will feel they must do it) or else there is some other purpose.

Blue Booking in RPGs

Blue Booking is a pen and paper technique that has dipped in and out of popularity. And it is all about immersively answering the question, “What does my character do in between scenarios?” You can imagine a pen and paper scenario as a short story. A  bunch of people turning up to a group and improvising their way through a brief storyline which consists of a plot hook, a few scenes, some conversation, roleplaying, fights, and a conclusion.

So if your character’s life is a bunch of short stories (think of it as an anthology) then what happens inbetween?

The idea was that players could try to answer that question and the GM would award xp for good efforts. They might write a short story explaining what their character had done, or was trying to do, after the last scenario. Maybe it would represent a day in that character’s life, or introduce some of their family or friends who the GM could use in scenarios later.  Players might draw pictures or use any other type of creative activity to do this. They might have a private chat via email with other players to discuss what their characters were getting up to, and then let the GM know later.

And if a RPG scenario is like an instance (which it isn’t really, apart from the fighting) then MMOs answer the same question by actually letting players play through some of what their characters do between group adventures. But of course, RPGs are all about roleplaying so we expect players to seek immersive answers. MMOs – for a lot of people – have almost nothing to do with roleplaying at all. Most players won’t care what their character is doing between fighting dragons.

And yet, MMO design is so rooted in old immersive goals that these things tend to be built in anyway. The origin of our grinds is not just to keep people playing but to answer the question, so what does your character do when they aren’t killing dragons?

  • Maybe they are a crafter or tradesman, and have to keep up with the day to day demands of running a business. (In MMOs, that means gathering, crafting, playing the auction house or otherwise toying with the economy.)
  • Maybe they have an active social life with friends, parties, drama, love affairs. (Roleplaying.)
  • Maybe they are involved in defending their homelands. (PvP … sort of.)
  • Maybe they just like wandering the world (not really much to do in most MMOs here.)
  • Maybe they are ambitious and are trying to impress superiors in some organisation? (reputation grind.)
  • Maybe they are ambitious and trying to impress other players in an organisation, for example in their guild. (Organise guild activities, offer to help with guild website, other out of game activities.)

And you can see that PvE grinds and activities try to replace the notion of the blue book, with some occasional success. Many possible activities are not modelled at all (which is a shame because it would give non-raiders more to do in the endgame). Others are not well supported because devs just don’t like or understand the gameplay (like roleplaying.)

But truth is, the majority of players will prefer to log off and do something else in between adventures. They won’t want to play out every single thing their character does, or even the majority of it.

And here is where the blue booking side comes in. Even players who don’t want to spend hours gathering to simulate the crafting activities that their character does might still be interested in having the activity recorded. There are games where you can set your character to do something useful while you are logged off. You don’t need to actually pick all the grass. Maybe you could just leave your character to do it and then when you log back in the next day, your packs are full.

And this I think is where the opportunities are for integrating casual or even mobile gaming with an MMO. What does my character do between adventures could be answered with ‘runs a farm’, for example. I don’t honestly know if this is the way that MMOs will go; for every EVE which is trying to integrate a MMO with a shooter (Dust), there will be others who decide it’s easier just to leave separate games to be separate. WoW is looking to battle.net and the RealID to push the solution that says, “I play SC2 while my WoW character is not involved in anything,” for example.

But I am intrigued by the possibility of finding more and more varied answers to the question, “What does my character do in between group runs,” in MMOs.

The problem of really dreadful roleplayers

There has been a lot of drama in the WoW blogosphere this week, what with invented drama (it’ll bite you on the butt one day, kids) as well as thin skinned bloggers throwing up a drama storm and rage quitting when someone disagrees with them strongly.

Yes, I’m calling it thin skinned blogging to throw a wobbly when you stir up a storm in a teacup. And if your post genuinely upsets another writer, of course they will respond. Think of it as an opportunity to either engage in vigorous debate (i.e. write some more and explain why you’re right!) or else learn from someone else (i.e. think about it, and then post a thoughtful post explaining why you changed your mind).

Anyhow, since Cranky Healer has left the field, I want to talk about the problem of really bad roleplaying and how we can deal with it. Really bad roleplaying can mean a lot of different things:

  • playing a character that’s horribly inappropriate (eg. I am the vampire stepson of Thrall and Alezxstrasza)
  • horrible writing skills
  • playing a very inappropriate scene (eg. cybering in goldshire, especially if it is explicit), or playing a scene in an inappropriate place
  • doing anything else that shows you have failed to understand the game’s lore, theme, and background at a really basic level.

Anna’s response post contains CH’s original suggestion – mock the weak. This is similar to mocking idiots on trade channel. Except that trade channel shenanigans will amuse the rest of the server, mocking roleplayers only entertains the people who happen to be around, the majority of whom are probably the people you are mocking who will not be amused.

Here’s a secret also. The majority of players on a RP realm will not cry if really bad roleplayers get mocked. It’s common practice on the realm forums, which the perpetrators are unlikely to read. On the other hand, a lot of roleplayers will also freely admit that their first ventures into RP were fairly awful too. And if they’d been mocked as soon as they got started, they might not have stuck with it.

Anna suggests instead that you could report the offenders. And if the offence did involve sexual language in public, the GMs may well take action. Or they might not. They’re not even overly proactive in even enforcing name changes, which is far easier to prove and to report.

Ultimately, the accepted way to deal with terrible roleplayers is to ignore them and let them get on with it. Our roleplaying servers don’t have active GMs who make sure everyone sticks to the theme. And if you aren’t a GM, it isn’t your job either. All we regular players can do is not include people in our own RP if their view on the gameworld and lore is radically different to ours. Or in other words, we show our disdain by not accepting their roleplay as valid in our RP.

If a really bad roleplayer is in your strict RP guild, then an officer will deal with it. And they’ll do this by explaining patiently to the offender what the problem was, and suggesting other ways to handle it. If you aren’t in a strict RP guild or don’t roleplay at all, then it is really not your problem, any more than you’d expect a random person to start yelling at you about your horrible talent spec while you were off quietly soloing somewhere.

The cost of WoW not being a RP-friendly game is that we have no way to enforce theme on people. But it’s a  big world and there are lots of players. If you want to roleplay, then find some like minded friends and set up some roleplay.

But Anna is right. Griefing is griefing. And how any sensible minded player could think that it was reasonable to encourage her guild to go mock people for their own amusement when she knew fine well that her guild was on a roleplay server? Yah. Don’t mess with our RP servers. They may have some truly shitty roleplayers on them, but they are OUR players and they’re part of OUR community. So if you really joined a RP server just so that you could mock the roleplayers, please leave now, because we don’t want you.

Just ignore them and bitch on realm or guild forums, like everyone else does :)

Improving Roleplaying: Measuring and Rewarding Roleplay

This is the sixth (and last) in a series about improving roleplaying in MMOs.

But in this last installment, I’m going to cut to the quick and ask how we can legitimise RP as a playing style. In order to do that, we need to find ways to measure and reward it in games.

Previous posts were:

People have been roleplaying for fun or for ritual since forever. Depending on how you define the term, roleplay can include anything from putting on funny voices to tell a childrens’ story, improvisational theatre, playing out sex fantasies, or acting out elaborate ancient rituals in full costume (some people would put modern religious rites into this category too).

But as an actual gaming system, roleplaying is bounded by rules and rewards. The standard tabletop session ends with the GM assigning points to people based on various criteria including their roleplaying and how well they completed their character goals for the session. (In D&D this was traditionally done by giving xp for monsters killed and treasure looted, since that was pretty much always the characters’ goal.) The players could then spend their points on improving their character.

MUDs and MMOs simply mechanised the process. You still get xp for killing mobs and completing quests. But somehow, the optional extra xp for good roleplaying disappeared.

This isn’t because good RP is subjective any more than good writing or good acting is. Sure, there’s a subjective side to personal preferences but you could imagine some rough rules. Give people a few ways to define their character. See how well the role was played, given the circumstances of the scene. Judge the use of language. How well did the person play with others and accept their RP. There are ways in which you could make a start on the problem.

But computers are not (currently) good at evaluating style. G Christopher Williams writes in Pop Matters about why you can’t have a Project Runway type of computer game. He’s also musing about whether style has its own internal rules, which could be coded into a game.

And the biggest problem of all – before we measure anything, we need to define what it is.

Automatic Measures – Activity, Language

In the text-based days, we knew what we meant by roleplaying. It was all to do with playing out scenes with other people by typing in sentences of text. You wrote your character’s action, then waited for other people to respond. The action might include something they said, or something they did, but you’d input one pose at a time.

We experimented with automated measures. Activity was the most obvious one – measure how many hours a week a character has spent in a scene with other people where all of them were active. Of course it could be subverted by macros, so you weight that metric down accordingly. You could also add a factor if they have interacted IC with a lot of different people, as opposed to always the same one or two. Giving a bonus for attending large scenes adds an incentive to do it.

You can also reward people for writing backgrounds, writing chronicles of their play, or some other form of non-direct RP.

Measuring language is a more difficult prospect. This would involve weighting scores towards longer and more involved sentences. So the people who wrote more would basically get some recognition. There’s no guarantee that this meant better roleplaying, but the person who never posed more than “X nods and smiles,” would be encouraged to write a little more.

You could imagine a smart parser that was able to do a more thorough review. But it’s a lot of work and a lot of computing power, and even if it was possible, you end up having to argue with a player as to whether or not their character would really have said or done something or not. The point at which you say, “Sorry, we don’t think your character would have done that,” is the point at which you’ve failed, even if you were right. Because it has to be their decision on how to play their role.

MMOs add more possibilities for people to act out roles, and they won’t be purely text based. People use emotes, whispers, and all sorts of props and external details to get into role and interact with other players.

But if you had, for example, some roleplaying instances, you could measure activity within them. Even if it was just time logged in. What might a RP instance involve? It might be no more than an environment which could be manhandled by players. Imagine a town hall where you could rearrange the chairs, a theatre with optional backdrops and sets, anything that is designed purely for roleplaying purposes.

And even that would still exclude RP that happens in other places. The act of introducing measurements already limits how people will choose to play.

Human Measures – Voting, Parsing the Logs

The other way to measure any social gaming metric is to use social measures. Let people vote on each other’s RP. Give everyone a handful of votes which they can cast every week. Make it easy for them to nominate anyone with whom they have interacted. Then every week, tot up the scores and assign some kind of weighted average points. Maybe even reward people for using their votes to vote for someone they hadn’t nominated in the last month to encourage them to mix.

This is subject to all the usual voting issues. People can form into cliques. People can organise tit-for-tat voting. But ultimately, as long as they are voting for people with whom they enjoyed RP then the system has some value.

The other big issue with this type of system is that it rewards certain types of character more than others. The socialite who flits from bar to bar has a great excuse to get into lots of scenes. The reclusive, hunchbacked, xenophobic wizard (whilst probably being a really cool character) probably doesn’t.

Another method is for expert judges to scour the logs and watch the scenes and give out bonuses when they observe good RP. Again in text games, we occasionally used to do this. It was considered rude for staff to sit invisibly in a scene without telling anyone, but we encouraged players to send us the logs of any scenes they’d really enjoyed. Partly so that we could put them up on the website to encourage new players and demonstrate how the game could work, but also so that we could reward people.

However, what is practical in a small private game isn’t always smart in a massive MMO. It’s a huge amount of time and effort to judge scenes. Even beyond that, judges can be biased.

So using voting is viable, if you limit the effect of cliques and cartels. Using activity monitors is viable, as long as you are careful not to reward time spent in game too massively. Using GMs to judge selected scenes is viable, if you can find a way to be fair to all the playerbase while doing it.

What sorts of rewards do roleplayers want?

Although xp was the traditional award for roleplaying, it was never the only reward given out in tabletop games. GMs used player RP as a stepping stone to introducing new storylines, new NPCs, and maybe even giving out loot.

Roleplaying in games became synonymous with planning your character’s next moves. I always felt that this was a trap. The strategy of ‘what is our optimal best move to do next’ wasn’t always the same as ‘what would my character do next’. So we have to be careful of rewarding strategy when we actually wanted to reward RP.

But opening up new storylines for the character is one of the ways I used to try to reward good roleplaying. If someone wrote me a great background about their long lost friend who had become a vampire hunter and I was impressed with their RP, there was a good chance that the long lost friend would show up in the game.

Really, the best rewards for RP are props, plot hooks, and new storylines that open up avenues for further roleplaying and empower the player to go ahead and drive it. If you let a character find an ancient book which is being hunted by powerful secret societies, she has a strong hook by which to involve other characters in her story.

Proactive RPers will happily suggest plot hooks which involve their character playing a key or starring role in some storyline. If they are also good RPers and good social players, then one option is to let them have their plot hooks. They can take the responsibility to go run with the plot.

RP as a pure style is probably best removed from xp altogether. Because it was never about making your character more powerful by sitting in bars and talking about the weather. Or rather, those things may make your character more influential, which is a form of social power rather than a shiny new skill or weapon. But players love xp and use it as the only form of measurable advancement in game. So it is a dilemma.

If you give out the rewards that they want and will use, then those rewards won’t be valued as highly as the unimmersive xp point. I suspect that until we have good social systems that measure influence and gossip as well as how many monsters you have killed, we’ll never get to the bottom of this problem. It is an issue that remains to be solved, not only for RP, but for any social activity in game.

Perhaps having a good social network has to be its own reward. There certainly are side-benefits for whatever type of game you are playing.

Should we even try to measure and reward some styles of play?

This is the big question. As soon as you introduce game metrics, people will jump in and figure out how to game the system.

But it would be cool to find ways to reward people for interacting in character, for taking decisions because it’s what their character would have done and not just because it leads to the optimum quest reward, for writing clever backgrounds, for involving others in their RP, for entertaining each other and telling smart stories. Because as long as we don’t reward it, it can never be a mainstream playing style.

Improving Roleplaying: Sharing our Stories

This is the fifth post in a series about improving roleplaying in MMOs. Previous posts in the series were:

All roleplaying involves telling stories about our characters with other people. They may not always be exciting stories, but they are ours. Through those stories, characters change and grow. Farmboys become heroes, students get bitten by radioactive spiders, political movements rise and fall, love triangles form and reform, characters meet new people, destroy threats, and write their own histories into the story books.

Our characters and their stories exist in the same virtual world, so to bring that world to life, we need to share those tales. People need to know what other characters have done in the past or are doing in the present – it might affect their own story. If you ask any roleplayer what they’d most like to see in a game, it is very likely that they’d want to see their stories affect the gameworld around them. Since other players form a large part of that setting, this means finding a way to share those stories or at least the parts that might affect other people. If you engineer a revolution in a city in the woods and no one knows about it, did it still happen?

Keeping everyone up to date on everything is an impossibly complex task in a large game. Even with as few as 20 players, it’s hard work to keep the updates rolling. Even if you just focus on the parts that affect people individually. But we can take a leaf out of the real world and how we keep up with the news in real life. We can focus on picking out the relevant information and figuring how to let people tap into it to improve the RP experience. We can ponder opting in to information streams, and locating people based on their current plots and goals.

In the end, there are two main tasks here.

  1. How do we share our stories? This involves sharing events that happened before the game started (ie. character backstories or histories), sharing the history of events which have already happened in the game so that new players can catch up, and sharing information or collaborating about plots on which we are working at the moment.
  2. How do we get other people to read our stories and act on them appropriately? Most people have limited interest in other people’s stories unless they are personally affected (this is true of the RL news too). So how can we pick out the information generated by other players/ characters and show people only the parts that might affect them?

Why bother with character backgrounds?

In some games, players can write a few paragraphs about their character’s background (ie. what they did before the game started) and store it somewhere in the UI where other players can read it. I asked last week how many players actually read other character backgrounds. Quite a few people said that they did.

The purpose of a character background is to answer the questions, “Who am I, and how did I get here?” where ‘here’ is the point at which the character ‘goes live’. From a roleplaying point of view, the background also gives you a jumping off point for RP. It explains who the character is, and perhaps why s/he became that way. A publically accessible background can let other people hook into that story too.

  • For example: If you came from one specific town, then other players whose characters are from the same area can RP that they knew you as a child. (note: it is polite to whisper someone first to ask permission and check that they’re OK with the connection before launching into RP about it.)
  • Another example: If your character is a notorious crook and someone else plays a policeman, this might suggest RPing that you have crossed paths in the past.

We call these types of starting points ‘plot hooks’. So part of the purpose of a RP character background is to provide plot hooks for both yourself (e.g.. “my character is searching for her lost brother”) and for other people (e.g.. “I am a notorious con artist, anyone in law enforcement probably recognises my name and curses it daily. I might even have ripped your character off in the past. Contact me to work out a story.”) So backgrounds are not just self indulgent fanfic, they can provide useful RP pointers both for the player herself and for other players too.

Here are some things that make people more likely to read backgrounds:

  • the game rewards you in some way for reading/ acting on other player’s backstories (this happened in MUSHes)
  • background is short and easily accessible from in game. No one is asking you to read and memorise a novella.
  • background is well written.
  • background belongs to a character you play with regularly so you either like the player or think you might want to use it in RP with them
  • you are given hints that the background might be interesting
  1. character looks interesting (has a good costume)
  2. character acts interesting (maybe you see them roleplaying)
  3. you find the lore interesting and know that the other player does too (maybe they posted on forums or said something in a channel that caught your eye)
  4. the game itself tends to inspire interesting backgrounds (superheroes in particular often have strong backstories, it’s just part of the genre. hobbits in LOTRO probably don’t.)
  • You are bored or have some downtime and it’s something to do
  • You were asked to read it, or they read yours first and you want to reciprocate
  • You regularly read character backgrounds whenever you get the chance .. and you get the chance

So the background story can be both interesting and useful to roleplayers. If given the opportunity, more people read them than we otherwise might assume. Actually discussing how to write a compelling, non-clichéd backstory with which others will want to interact is a whole different issue and not something I’m going to cover today.

But a block of text on the screen is not the only way to introduce a character’s history to other people.

Towards more interactive backstories

The great advantage of freeform writing – the blank box of text – is that you can write anything. The problem with freeform writing is that people can write anything. It can be totally off-genre, it can be poorly written, it can miss the point completely (people who don’t understand that a backstory is history and use it instead to describe their characters’ clothes, for example), it can be wildly unbalanced or simply unbelievable, it may not fit with the game lore.

We could try to distill out the information that is useful to other players, while still giving people some room to just write about their characters. To do this, we’d need to think about what other people might want to know, and we’d need to encourage players to decide which of the information in their background might be publically known. (It’s silly to put information in your background that contains major spoilers or that you have to ask other people not to use.)

They might want to know where the character is from. You could imagine a game which put you through a series of questions while doing your starter zone. Maybe you are offered a map of the world and allowed to pick in precisely which region your character grew up. Then add in some kind of search function and it becomes easy to see who else is from the same region. Maybe even give them their own chat channel. Mark on the list which characters are new to the game so that more experienced characters can (if they want) make an effort to involve them.

They might want to know which in-game organisations you have been associated with. Is your character religious? Does it have links with the city guard? Was your character’s mother an army officer? Does it have criminal contacts? Again, being able to somehow associate yourself with those groups means other players wouldn’t have to pick through all the background information to find out who they might know. Instead they could just do a search, or even have the information delivered to them.

They might want to know what other plot hooks are associated with a character. In a MUSH it would not have been especially unusual for players to be asked to think up a couple of plot hooks for themselves to put into their background information.

Players also might want to be able to collaborate on backgrounds. If you have a great idea for a family of travelling players, you may want to find out if anything like that already exists in the game, or if anyone else is interested too. It isn’t as easy to find good collaborators as it might sound. Not only do you have to roughly share the same goals, you need to be on similar time zones, have similar play styles, and be able to get on OOC. You won’t know if all these things are true until you actually spend some time roleplaying with other people, so there’s a good chance that even if you could put up some kind of advert for people to join your band of travellng players and got some responses, most of them wouldn’t work out.

Having said that, sometimes it is possible to collaborate on backgrounds without committing yourself to a heavy RP schedule. You could agree to have been members of the same band of travelling players in the past, for example, and then collaborate to decide what happened to the group, why it split up, and whether there might be some good plot hooks there for people.

We can also make use of social media for our collaborations these days. It doesn’t all have to be mailing lists, bulletin boards, and IRC. I see this as a big trend in MMOs and it will be fantastic for roleplayers, who do need to coordinate with other players.

Bottom Line: If we abandon the totally freeform backstory, we can make it easier for players to hook up and interact in MMOs. I think this is true for a lot of MMO roleplaying – by narrowing the scope and limiting options, we can get a more productive and accessible RP environment.

There will always be room also for the totally freeform style of roleplaying. It may require small, disciplined groups, good GMs, and a lot of give and take, but it works just as well in MMOs as in chatrooms. However, it will never be accessible or massive. Complexity in sharing backstories and coordinating schedules is one of the things which simply does not scale well.

Recording our In-Game Stories

If history is made by the players in a roleplaying game, then where is the history recorded in a persistent RP MMO. Who knows about how the game has changed and what plots have been run? Even on a small scale, who can keep up with the social drift within a small RP circle? Who is sleeping with who? And why? What does a new player need to know to catch up?

Again, this is a huge and complex problem when large numbers of players are involved. Most people don’t want to be told to go read novel-length write ups of things that happened before they even joined the game.

So how can we get the news out and how can we record it? Wikis have been some use in this respect but have the problem of RL news outlets – who is going to keep updating them, who is going to keep them free from bias?

I don’t have a good answer to this one. In the past we have archived stories using player logs (in a text based game, it’s easy to store the log of a scene online), we have set up forums and encouraged people to keep their stories updated, we have allowed people to alter their character backgrounds to keep them current, we have seen people write in-game newspapers and news files or summaries.

So rather than run on, I’ll just say again that it is a huge problem. If lots of players are actively RPing then there are a lot of stories to keep track of, and no one can really hope to track them all. The best you can hope for is to channel players into a smaller number of larger plots and try to note any major worldchanging events that would affect large numbers of people.

Again, making good use of social media is where today’s MMOs can really start to shine. We’re on the cusp of this really taking off – we’ve seen integration with MMOs and websites, twitter, chat channels, achievement lists, and other information that can be accessed outside the game. You could imagine a newsfeed that is accessible within and outside the game and is updated based on in game world events and character plots.

Achievements in particular show the progress of a character’s story. As they are currently, they don’t do this in a very exciting or compelling way, but they do record the story of “I did this, then I did that, then I did that,” in a way to which other players can relate.

Fanfic

I will be honest, I am not a fan of fanfic. But writing stories about events that happened to your character in game is a time honored way of recording a personal history. Whether it’s a fully blown novella, a set of comedy sketches, or a blog/in-character diary, it is another way for players to find out what has been going on in game.

Allowing players to link somehow to external sites on which they can store fanfic, visualisations, family trees, descriptions of their character’s homes, or anything else that helps to flesh out the character and share its story would reward people for the extra work. It would also let them explore each other’s writing and character stories. It is something that devs could easily encourage, just by making it accessible from inside the game.

More mechanical methods to share stories and collaborate

Achievements, gear lists, calendars, automated scene logs, progression histories and guild histories can all be part of a character’s ongoing story. And these have the advantage of not requiring players to pour their souls into fanfic or spend hours working on a character website. Calendars and sign up lists in particular represent a form of online collaboration that is still in its infancy. We could have in game whiteboards, methods for people to collaborate on storytelling or working out backgrounds or organising RP events, and I expect to see more of these things as time goes on.

In particular there is a lot of work going on at the moment in tools for joint storytelling. It isn’t happening in the MMO field, but if it exists then players will use it. And if it is brought into the MMOs, people will use them in MMOs.

We could imagine scene schedulers, plot arc schedulers, co-operative NPC design (usually in MMOs someone will play the NPC as a low level alt) and so on.

But with all these complex character stories going on, who can stand back and see the long view of how they all intersect? This has always been an issue with scaling up roleplaying. So many stories going on in parallel and it’s difficult to see how things play out on the grander scale. The complexity involved is terrifying. You can’t code your way out of complexity, but you can look for ways to make it easier to manage.

Improving Roleplaying: Props, emotes, Titles, Class Design, and Dressing the Set

This is the fourth post in a series about improving roleplaying in MMOs. Previous posts are:

We’re really getting somewhere with roleplay now. You’ve created a character, worked out some kind of backstory, found other roleplayers and maybe tried a scene or two in a pub or shop. But you’re still limited to just typing out what your character says. How can you bring your character to life other than just by reams of typing?

If you walk into a room with roleplayers, how can you indicate that something about your character has changed? How can you ACT the part instead of just typing text? Fluff is what makes roleplaying in an MMO different from roleplaying in a chatroom.

If roleplay is like improvisational theatre, then fluff in MMOs is all of the props. It’s the costumes, the pets, the emotes, the titles, the mounts, the house decorations – anything you can use to express who your character is and show what it does. An MMO is a visual environment, that’s one of the big draws. So our roleplaying should be able to involve visual elements.

A lot of these things are also fun for collectors. People love collecting pets, mounts, and titles, for example. But a roleplayer will be looking for items that they can use to act their character’s role. Sometimes the fluff will even inspire a character. If a roleplayer likes a cute pet or a silly hat, then RP can spring up around it and the story of how the character acquired it.

Some groups of roleplayers are more focussed than others on the dressing up side of the game. Many will happily let you emote what your character is wearing, rather than forcing all pirate characters to go farm for pirate hats (for example). So there is some confusion in the player base as to what fluff is really for and when or where to use it. You could imagine a strict RP game where people were always assumed to be whatever their costume would imply.

This is a good example of how rewarding achievers with fluff also nudges the RPers to chase the achievements whether they want to or not. From a roleplaying point of view, the ideal would be to have an in game wardrobe mistress who just handed out props and costumes as needed, the way actors would do it in a theatre. Devs think that fluff is pure entertainment, and that it doesn’t affect gameplay. But for roleplayers, a chef’s costume could be more important than a vorpal sword of dragonslaying – without it, no one can convincingly RP being a chef.

Instead, current MMOs require that every players has to also be their own stage manager and source their own props. I’m not knocking this entirely because working out what props you need and figuring out how to get them can be fun. But still, if MMOs were designed for roleplayers then they wouldn’t send us halfway around the world to get outfits that should be purchasable in any major city.

Variety is the spice of life

So what sorts of props do people want? The key is in the variety. Lots of different gear pieces means lots of ways to mix and match. Once you imagine gear as the wardrobe department in a theatre, or the old dressing up chest you might have had as a child rather than a bunch of stats, things come into better perspective.

But at a basic level, costumes should be available for lots of ‘normal’ professions, uniforms for in game organisations that might be accessible to players (town guard, for example), formal wear for formal events, and peasant/ normal townsfolk costumes for dressing down.

I’m a big fan of cosmetic costume slots too. In games like EQ2 and LOTRO, you can display a set of gear that’s just for show, as well as whatever your character is actually wearing for stats. So if you wanted to dress up as a pirate but actually be in your full raid gear, you can do it.

Emotes and non-verbal communication

The beauty of roleplaying via text is that you can type anything. Anything that you can imagine. You’re in the game world but not limited by it. But as soon as you want to perform any non-verbal gestures or movements, then you are limited by whatever emotes have been provided to you.

It’s a challenge, rather than just a limitation. I’ve played games where some players worked the emotes amazingly well to tell their stories and portray their character’s feelings. But it could go further.

I mentioned the chef’s outfit earlier. Imagine if there were a set of good chef-type emotes that players could use. /stir, /boil. /chop, /knead, /burncake … all would be props that chef players could happily use in among the text to portray their characters more vividly to others.

We could go further than this. What if your character had been injured and had an arm in plaster, or a limp, or an eyepatch? How about extra costume pieces or emotes to cover those? It would be easy to imagine a jacket that made your character’s arm look as though it was in a sling, for example. Wouldn’t that be a great way to show your RP partners that you’d been in an accident?

There is one other type of non-verbal communication about which MMOs have been wisely silent. And that is to do with interacting with other characters. You don’t generally emote actually giving something to someone. Or hugging. Or shaking hands. Unless you’re playing Second Life, you don’t emote cybering either. This is probably smart because it raises all kinds of permission issues. I remember in Castle Marrach (a text based game) they had a careful system of permissions which came into effect if someone approached you and wanted to stand next to you – which was a prerequisite for being able to touch another person in game.

But not being able to shake hands on a deal, or knight someone by touching their shoulder with a sword, or stroke a cat, or hand someone the salt across a table … these do hamper our ability to use emotes to communicate in game the way we would in real life. Maybe the system of permissions (so when you try to shake hands with someone, they get a box up on their screen asking if they agree) would be better than not having it at all.

Class design and roleplaying

One good thing about the holy triad (tanks, healers, dps) is that these roles are very effective for immersion. When you are tanking, you will feel like a big damn hero who is standing between the monster and the rest of the group. When you are healing, you will feel that your role is to support. When you are dps, you will feel a visceral thrill at the big numbers, and you will feel that you are a bit fragile and have to rely on the other classes to help you do your job. Playing your class actually helps you to get into the mindset of that role.

And from the point of view of roleplaying, that’s a mark of good class design. As soon as people are unsure of their roles, it becomes harder to roleplay being a member of that class. Again, this is a place where the demands of roleplaying may not gel with the demands of PvP balance or other game design goals.

Instead, we can make up the difference with fluff. (My examples here are for fantasy games, but there’s no real limit.) Support classes can buff people, and that’s something that can be used in RP, especially if the buffing spells have colourful emotes attached to them. Heavy armour wearers can clank as they move, and slam mailed fists down onto wooden tables, or tote around heavy shields that no one else can pick up. Casters may have access to cantrips (little cosmetic spells, the equivalent of fireworks or small illusions) and familiars. Healers can actually apply bandages to people or hold up a glowing holy symbol.

I would love to see more class specific emotes in games. It is a lot of work producing animations for such a small audience, which is why we probably won’t get them, but I think they’d be well liked by non-roleplayers as well as the RP crowd.

Set Dressing

One of the great things about in game housing is that a character can decorate her house however she wishes. The house itself could play the role of a theatre, dungeon, brewery, or zoo assuming that the fluff to decorate it appropriately is available.

But it’s a shame that more of the social areas don’t allow for players to change their ‘sets’. Why not let players rearrange the pub seating from time to time, or set out the town hall for a player meeting with rows of chairs? Maybe even give the more noted RPers special privileges to flick the in game switch that allowed for a set change in a building?

In conclusion, the big leap forwards that MMOs made over text based roleplaying was to let people experience the game world on a very visceral level. But to tell our stories, that means we need better visual tools. And we need to learn how to use them.