5 issues with roleplaying in MMOs: why you can’t just live the dream

Tesh wrote an insightful post discussing why daydreaming about what a game might turn out to be like can be the best part of gaming. We all have our ideal types of games, our ideal IPs or genres, our ideals of what a game could be like to capture our hearts. And sometimes we love our favourite games because they’re a shadow of the game in our minds.

I see this a lot with early adopters of MUDs/virtual worlds/MMOs. These things started before the internet was really mature. Wandering around in a game and encountering an actual real person (well, behind the text) was exciting just because this kind of virtual life was such a new experience. And your imagination filled in all the rest. Even without formal roleplaying, the fact that all you knew about the other person was what you could tell about their character was very very immersive.

I’ve also seen a few posts recently about the notion of a RP-centric MMO. Wolfshead in particular posts about his ideal of a RP game. The concept of this terrifies me on several different levels, and I’m a dyed-in-the-wool roleplayer. I have played RP-centric online games, and they were fantastic. Also dreadful. But that’s what happens when you are so dependent on other players for the experience, you get a mixed bag :)

But if you see his post as describing the dream, unsullied by practical considerations (such as players acting like players), then it reads in a different light. After all, without a vision, we’ll never get anything better than the games we currently have.

There are some specific issues with making roleplaying work as the entire basis for a game.

1. Who watches the watchmen

The big difference between a tabletop game and an online game is the lack of a GM. In tabletop, one player assumes the GM role and ‘runs’ the game for the other 2-5 players. In virtual roleplaying, the players run things themselves. So there is no one to arbitrate when they come into conflict.

The GM actually has three roles in a tabletop game. One is to describe the world to the players (ie. we open the door, what do we see?). Another is to resolve conflicts in game (ie. I try to hide behind the door, can I get there before he sees me?). And the third is to weave a story around the player group and whatever they are doing.

In a computer game, no one needs to describe anything (this is the HUGE advantage of the virtual world), and players can tell their own stories, even if they aren’t particularly good ones.

But who resolves conflicts between players? Who decides if player cop #1 can track down player thief #2?

Any game like this needs to give players the tools to resolve their own conflicts. Random rolling isn’t good enough – it removes too much of the game if you just randomly decide whether the cop catches the robber.

2. So what is my motivation?

You don’t need to be an award winning actor to roleplay but players need to share some kind of common understanding about the game world. When you walk into a room, you need to be able to answer the question, “what does my character do next?” If someone addresses you in character, you need to be confident enough to answer them.

I’ll give an example of this: In EQ2 I had created a dark elf alt and done a couple of quests. It was on a roleplaying server so it wasn’t really surprising when another higher level player came up to me and addressed me in character. Except he mentioned names of (presumably) NPCs I’d never heard of, and threw in a few phrases in some random fantasy language I didn’t know.

I had no idea what to say to the guy. Clearly he thought my character should know these things. But I was a noob OOC (out of character) and just didn’t. All I knew about dark elves is that they were an evil race, and the questgivers had been vaguely sarcastic.

So in order to RP with any kind of depth, the game needs to present its lore to the characters well. And players in general need to understand that not everyone knows the background in depth and off by heart.

Wolfshead compares RP with a film:

This is exactly the scenario that the characters of Micheal Crichton’s amazing Timeline novel found themselves in. In his story, a bunch of modern day scientists and anthropologists travel back in time to the 13th century France and are forced to deal with the people and politics of the time in order to survive. One small mistake in dialect or custom and they would be imprisoned and even worse burned at the stake.  The result was that they HAD to role-play — it was a matter of survival.

Yes, but they were modern day scientists and anthropologists. They had the information they needed. A new player in a strange world won’t know all those things. You can’t expect them to RP as if their life depended on it – they simply don’t know the things their characters should know. (Unless you start them all off as amnesiacs, which would be a workable background, especially in a scifi type of game).

3. Hell is other people

One of the characteristics of a strongly social game is that they get very political. People can and do try to manipulate each other by faking friendliness, cybering, and ganging up against each other in their various cliques. Or in other words, metagaming.

In a RP type game, who you know and what you know can be as important as stats in a typical MMO today. And if you can schmooze people OOC and persuade them to tell you interesting things about their character or other people’s characters then you may be able to use the information to boost your self in game. Being a particularly entertaining RPer (or just being good at cybering) can make a player very popular – even if it’s not appropriate for their character.

As long as this is an advantageous strategy (and it is) then you cannot stop players from doing it. They’re never ‘just playing their characters’. They are playing the other players too.

In many ways, our stat and gear and skill based games are much more even-handed and accessible. If you do the grind, you get the gear. You don’t have to actually make friends (or fake friends) to get anywhere in game. This is not to say that social networking isn’t a useful skill, but in social games it can get quite toxic.

4. He said. She said.

In an RP centric game, the influence of NPCs is kept to a minimum. That means that all the most important resources in game are ‘owned’ by players or player-factions. A resource might be anything from an important NPC (their influence may be monitored but that doesn’t mean that there might not be NPC faction leaders – often we do this to keep some continuity in the storylines, even though players may come and go), to a city, or a crafting guild, or any story entity. And that sometimes means that players need to somehow ask permission from other players before they can work story elements into their story.

I’ll give a WoW example for this. Assume a night elf player thinks up an awesome back story for himself – in the past he got captured by blood elves while spying near Silvermoon, then he was tortured, but he managed to bravely escape and make it back to his own people. This is fine as far as it goes, but what happens if the blood elf players say ‘Wait, why would we have let an enemy spy escape? Surely we’d have just executed them. We don’t agree with that history, it didn’t happen. He is ICly making it up.’

Now imagine this kind of scenario every time a player wants to write a backstory that possibly involves other player factions. Bear in mind that some players will never ever agree that their faction might have made a mistake which could weaken them in future, even though it might make for a better story. So given one faction which occasionally agrees to being flawed for the sake of making a better story and another who never ever agree to making mistakes, the latter has an in game advantage.

So basically, it’s very very hard to get gamers to put story above personal gain. There’s no real way to reward it. That’s where the GM comes in – s/he takes that option out of the players’ hands. Left to their own devices, players will tend to play safe.

In MUSHes, we got around this by having an active set of staff. We reviewed all backgrounds before characters went live and agreed any background details with appropriate people. We also made notes of who had which links so that we could set up various stories between different players. (For example, if one player had been a cop and another was an ex-con, we might OOCly point out to them that they might have known each other – then it’s down to the players if they want to run with it or not.)

This is important because although it’s all very well to write your own story in a vacuum, it won’t work in a MMO unless everyone else buys in.

5. Tracking the history

A characteristic of this kind of game is that political allegiances and storylines can change rapidly. Even vast world-spanning conspiracies may be over in a couple of months. What players do can and will affect the world –- or at the very least it affects other players. But how to keep track of the in game history? How are new players to know the recent history of some faction or other? And bear in mind that from point #2, they may need to know these things in order to roleplay with other players who remember it.

This is a very real and very difficult problem. It is best solved by bboards and wikis and other means for players to record their own histories for other people to read. And these suffer exactly the same issues as real life histories –- they are subject to bias, and to the author only having one side of the story. They’re subject to not being kept up to date, by the maintainer getting bored, by small grounds of players deciding to keep their own faction history somewhere else and forgetting to tell people, etc.

Hopefully some players will take on the role of chroniclers or journalists, so that the stories will not be forgotten. The reason this is important is because things that have happened in the past affect the present. If a leader of one faction was snubbed by the leader of another, then she may hold a grudge for years. Pity the poor player who doesn’t know what anyone in game at the time would have known (ie. not to mention the offending faction in the presence of the other faction leader) and gets into serious IC trouble for their pains.

Towards a better roleplaying experience online

I’m going to write a series of posts about improving RP in MMOs – probably one a week. I don’t think they ever can or should be the sort of game that Wolfshead describes. Aside from being full of RP Nazis (you know the sort of person who barrages you with whispers every time you open your mouth, telling you that your  character wouldn’t do or say that and that you’re doing it wrong?), it simply doesn’t play to the strengths of computer generated worlds.

In a MMO, no one ever has to ask the GM ‘what can I see?’ or ‘what can I do next?’. Every time you see an awesome vista in game, fly across a crazy zone full of giant mushrooms, or cast a fireball, you’re experiencing something very different and very special compared to your tabletop compatriots. It’s like being there.

Tabletop players have all the freedom in the world. But computer gamers don’t have all their experiences filtered through a GM. Vive la difference! And that’s the charm.

Links, and what I’ve been reading

What I’ve actually been reading lately are C J Sansom’s Shardlake Mysteries (which are great and very well researched if you like historical murder-mysteries).

Also from the web:

  1. evizaer wonders how we can keep track of the ‘real’ histories of MMOs. All the guild drama, and the various interesting things that actual players have done.
  2. Tamarind suffers a brief bout of level-80-phobia. Anyone else find themselves curiously reluctant to actually get to max level once it’s practically within reach? I know I often coast the last level or so, maybe a last ditch attempt to string the levelling game out for as long as possible.
  3. The Escapist reports that a guy in the UK (oh why am I not surprised?) has written a boot fetish version of Pong, the venerable old console game. The boot is actually the controller, you have to grope and fondle it to play the game …
  4. On a not very similar theme, Adele Caelia talks at BrightHub about embarrassing mistells and other ways in which sex can be entertaining in gaming. Well, she says embarrassing but I say there are few more hilarious things in MMOs than a totally inappropriate mistell. (Random factoid: mistells used to be known as ‘mavs’ in MUSH, named after a particularly notorious player called Mav.)
  5. Ysharros saves my EQ2 sanity with a noob-friendly guide to EQ2 addons.
  6. Naamah@Aionic Thoughts (a blog you really should be following if you’re into Aion) asks when Mass-PvP becomes a zergfest, and whether one is more fun than the other.
  7. Andrew Douell, a roguelike developer, posts a very smart article about narrative in games and how some narrative tricks from other media just don’t work. I’m particularly taken by his observation that you can’t tell a story well with repeated play (eg. I killed an orc, then I killed an orc, then I killed an orc isn’t a very interesting story.)
  8. Kirstimah at Rustled Leaves explains why DPSing reduced her IQ, a phenomenon many tanks and healers have also observed!
  9. Syp writes about all the MMOs he could have tried but didn’t, and explains why not. I never played EQ because the only person I knew who played was a really annoying dork and he was really scarily obsessively into it. I knew if I tried it I’d be stuck talking to him any time we were in the same room.
  10. What does it mean to roleplay in a game? Psychochild takes a look.
  11. You’ve heard about the upcoming WoW film? Jess at Pretty in Plate starts wondering about who she’d cast to play her characters. Who would you cast for yours? (I dunno about that but Brian Blessed for Hemet Nesingwary with the help of some CGI is my pick.)
  12. Dusty makes the case for a finite MMO, like a TV series with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

My New Hobby

My new pastime when bored (and online) is typing names of random fictional characters into Twitter.

No really, there’s a surprising amount of roleplaying going on there. People create accounts under the names of their favourite characters and … go ahead and act in character. I remember seeing this on Facebook and MySpace too. And you’d have to be blind not to see the similarities with logging into an MMO, or any virtual world, under a new character name.

It probably was rife in IRC, webmail and just about any online forum that lets you pick your own name and id when you create an account also. I remember there was once a guy on rpg.net who used to RP being Her Majesty the Queen. I don’t know why exactly but it was very entertaining.

I wonder if wanting to roleplay when given the opportunity to pretend to be someone else is a basic (and emergent) part of human nature — it just never surfaced before because we didn’t have the means to easily take on different identities.

Can regular achievers and ‘emergent’ players be friends?

Goodbye to Blogatelle (I wish I’d discovered it earlier now) – which is/ was a blog about roleplaying in WoW with advice and commentary.

And in the spirit of the out of the box thinking that I was talking about previously, here’s what Sean has to say about unintended play and why some players feel threatened by it. Roleplaying in MMOs lives in a kind of halfway house. It isn’t specifically intended by devs but I do think they design worlds with roleplaying opportunities in mind.

When the going gets tough, the tough start roleplaying

Roleplaying in MMOs has always been a minority pursuit. I think a lot of people do enjoy being able to interact with the world and the setting, but it takes a certain mindset to forge ahead with a character background and try to tell your own stories as well. Plus an understanding of what it actually means to be in character or out of character (if you think of roleplaying like amateur improvisational theatre, you’ll be fairly close to the mark.)

You have to be just a little bit bloodyminded to ignore all the other activities which the game offers and go stand in a pub and chat to people, virtually. And tell stories.

So in economic terms, roleplaying has a high opportunity cost. If you choose to go and roleplay, it’s because you’re rejecting all those carefully planned tour bus quests, grinds, PvP battlegrounds, barbie dress-up, pet collecting, or whatever else wacky activity the devs intend for players to do. You’d rather go your own way.

It is possible to roleplay while doing other activities. You can use chat channels or just interject the odd, ‘For the HORDE!’ while you’re in a battleground but really, proper roleplaying requires 100% attention. You’re actually supposed to pay attention to what other people are doing and saying and respond appropriately. This means that it is in some ways more demanding than raiding.

Roleplaying servers have their own conventions too. Some games let you flag yourself when you are roleplaying. It is very common for people to set themselves to walk instead of run to show that they are in character. Some channels are usually in character (say usually is) and some are not (trade and general usually are not). And guilds may have their own conventions on top of that.

I combined my desire for a new death knight alt with my curiousity about hardcore RP guilds, err and about inscription… and created a new death knight on another RP server. I joined a RP guild. I started inscription. It has been good fun so far and an interesting change of pace.

I’ll have more to say about that all later (DKs are good fun,  but I tanked my first instance the other day and … why am I still playing a warrior again?), but what I have really noticed recently is that as people get bored of the expansion, the roleplay has really picked up.

So what’s going on in WoW

Even just on my server, there have been events in which the Royal Apothecary Society (ie. the ones who didn’t know anything about the Wrathgate) have been tried and given a second chance to prove themselves in battle against the scourge. Someone is organising a western themed gold mining day out in Tanaris. We have regular roleplay evenings in various different in game pubs. I think the night elf players have get togethers in Ashenvale.

There’s a lot going on if people are curious, and it really isn’t all cybering.

Aleora has an awesome What’s On in Azeroth blog where she chronicles all the roleplay events that are being organised across both EU and US roleplaying servers. Just go look at the wide variety of things that are actually going on. And I’d bet that the organisers would welcome anyone who wanted to go join in as long as they were polite about it.

And tell me again that players are dumb, lazy morons and that the game is being dumbed down. (Note: I see that LOTRO, having already eased the levelling curve and reworked some of the more tedious old zones is also making old epic storyline quests soloable — all very smart changes in my opinion. Does it still count as dumbing down if it isn’t WoW? :) )

What makes a good in-game hangout?

You know how some nights you’re not really in the mood to run instances or PvP or do anything remotely stressful?

You don’t have anything scheduled in game and you don’t feel like organising anything. You just want to chill out and chat to people. Maybe you have something you can be doing while you chat – like some light farming, or sorting out tradeskills, or playing a minigame. Maybe you’ll run a few battlegrounds/ scenarios without putting too much effort into it. Or you could just pick an in-game hangout and sit yourself there while you chat.

Then again, if you just want to chat to friends online, do you need to log into the game at all? You could just mess around with twitter and your favourite bulletin board, or sit on your guild’s TS server and chat while you do something else out of game.

I love in-game hangouts but I don’t use them a great deal in MMOs, and these are the reasons why:

  • I can always find something better to do than sit around, even when I’m only chatting. Even if it’s just mining or farming for food buffs.
  • Lag. There’s a reason that Dalaran is known as Lagaran.
  • Increasingly, I have other ways to chat to my gaming friends than by using an MMO as a chatroom.
  • I don’t have any special reason to go to a hangout. They aren’t where I meet people, which is one of the reasons to go to hangouts iRL. They’re just places to dump your toon while you do something else. (Like chat or work on a draft for your next blog post)

It’s a very different environment to a roleplaying MU* where you really do go to hangouts to chat and meet people. In fact, you spend a lot of your character’s ‘life’ hanging around in bars, to the point of ridicule.

Somewhere, there must be a happy medium. Because chilling out in an in game hangout is not only a pleasant way to spend downtime or take a break inbetween bursts of killing stuff but is also good for immersion and (maybe) getting players to socialise. So if devs could find ways to encourage this behaviour, it would be good for our virtual worlds.

So why would anyone go to a hangout?

First question to ask is, why would you go to a hangout instead of doing any of the other things you can do in game? It shouldn’t just be a negative reason, ie. didn’t feel like doing anything else.

Here’s some possible reasons:

  • You need to meet up with another player and the hangout is the easiest place to meet. eg. maybe you need someone to enchant an item for you in WoW.
  • You’re in a roleplaying guild/server and it’s the best place to meet other roleplayers. The Prancing Pony in Bree in LOTRO is very popular as a hangout in RP servers because it’s large, very atmospheric, is very easy to get to, and everyone likes pub RP because it’s easy. Plus it’s a hangout in the books the game is based on.
  • There is an in game advantage from spending your downtime in a hangout. In Star Wars Galaxies, players could benefit from sitting in a hangout and watching entertainers. ie. they had to be online while sitting there, as opposed to gaining rested xp whilst logged out.
  • The hangout contains other game utility (eg. cheap repairs, daily questgiver, auction house)
  • The hangout contains other fun minigames. Maybe even a casino. But if you’re going to chat to people, they need to not be too overwhelming/ spammy. OR there needs to be a way for players who want to chat to cut out the minigame spam.
  • The hangout is a travel nexus. It’s very quick to get to your raid/ instance/ guildhouse from the hangout, so it’s a convenient place to wait for people.
  • You know that you have friends who will often be in the hangout (aka Cheers)
  • It’s a good place to catch up with server news/ gossip. Maybe there are special bboards you can access there.
  • The hangout is a good place to show off your latest gear/ pet because other people will be there who also want to show off their gear/ pets. ie. you need to be where other people can not only chat to you but also /see/ your character.
  • The hangout is cool. It’s where the cool people are.
  • It’s your hangout and you run it (a la Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca), or you are a staff member. So being there to keep things running smoothly is what you DO in game.

This last item (letting players run their own hangouts) is something that is very appealing in virtual worlds. If players could own, decorate, and run their own hangouts, then it would be their job to try to attract other players to hang out there and build up a regular clientele.

Unsurprisingly, running a successful hangout has been a pretty big deal in Second Life which has a much more freeform approach. It also worked well for us in MUSHes, but with some caveats.

A player-run hangout is only active when that player is online. So there are timezone issues. These can be gotten around with coded NPCs and/or recruiting other players to help. When a player gets bored of the game and leaves, the hangout often dies. Sure, someone might offer to take it over, but people who want to run these places often prefer to create their own from scratch.

Still, I’d love to see MMO devs experimenting more with player run hangouts. Especially if it’s possible for players to design their own minigames so that the hangout could have some unique content. (Again, in MUSHes or Second Life it was easy to slot in some player created content to provide another draw to the hangout. I’m still impressed at the MUSH player who coded a working chess game for hers, MUSH code is kind of a bitch for that sort of thing.)

Conversation Booths in Hangouts

Argh, why has no game implemented these yet?

The idea is that you can sit at a virtual table and automatically join the tablechat. No one outside the table can hear it. You can still hear the hangout chat and any other chat channels which you might be on (unless you choose to turn them off).

It’s the perfect way for people to be in a busy hangout and still have their own private conversations. And it was a very very popular piece of code in MUSHes.

In any case, I think that a MMO hangout can be more than just a virtual chatroom. So why aren’t they? And what would it take to get you to hang out?

In which I get probed

So I’ve been tagged by Regis and by Arbitrary for a 10 question meme that was kicked off by Jennifer@Girl IRL.

As Jennifer wisely notes:

And what is a meme if not good filler material?

But that’s not actually why I decided to press on with it (I do actually have posts lined up for the rest of the week this time ;) ). I like these questions, I think I can answer them in a way that might be interesting to read,  and I like  to see how the answers reflect my changing playing style/s.

1.  What is your current main character’s name (or names, if you play multiple games)?  Explain how you chose the name.

My warrior is called Mrs Spinks. I don’t know if I ever really figured out what her first name was. I don’t remember entirely how I picked it but we were sitting around during the WoW beta discussing what we were going to play in live, and I said ‘My character will be an undead warrior and her name is Mrs Spinks.’

It’s meant to indicate that she’s a Mrs Kray type of character (mum of the Kray gang). I liked it at the time because I thought it had a lot of personality. I have noticed though that she doesn’t fit in well to the sort of RP that goes in in WoW because that kind of character is unlikely to sit around emoting.

It’s great for a warrior though, I always wanted one of those rolling pin maces that drops in the Deadmines for her.

2.  What was the name of your very first character in an MMO?  Explain how you chose that name.

My first MMO character was a minstrel in DaoC. I called her Linnet because it sounds  like a name and also is a type of small songbird (which I thought fitted with a minstrel). Apparently it also means something in Swedish.

This  is something that crops up a lot on EU servers. If your name means something obscure in Hungarian, Portuguese or (in at least one case) Urdu, you can be sure someone who speaks it  will let you know.

3.  Have you kept a specific name through various games, or do you tend to change your naming habits based on the individual game?

It’s a mixture. If I’m feeling uninspired or I want friends to know who I am, I’ll pick an old name. But if the game and the setting has inspired me, I’ll think of a new name that fits into it. It’s because the old names are attached to characters who have already told their stories.

Amusingly, I always always think of new names for characters in City of Heroes. I can’t palm off a hero with a name like Mrs Spinks, although a better writer probably could.

4.  Do you ever reserve names, planning to use them for characters that you might play later?  If so, what are they and why do you hold on to them?

Yes, I totally do. It’s whenever I have a brilliant idea for a character name and/or concept. Many of them never actually make it into the game.

In WoW, I have one slot taken up by a level 1 undead priest called Nepenthe. I think it’s an awesome name, and only slightly pretentious. But never used it. It was inspired after a word-of-the-day post which referenced Poe.

Quaff, Oh Quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!

That’s so goth. I love it. Even though I’ve never been a goth, although I once did share a flat with one, and I loved playing the Vampire RPG.

5.  Of the three common archetypes in MMOs — tank, healer, DPS — which is your current main character?

My current main is a tank. And when dual specs go live later today, she is also melee dps.

6.  What archetype was your very first character in an MMO?  Why did you choose it?

I picked the minstrel in DaoC because it had the best run speed buff in Albion. Plus it did a bit of everything. But the runspeed was awesome.

7.  Are you usually attracted to one archetype over another, or do you play them equally?  Why?

I have played pretty much all archetypes in MMOs and enjoyed them. I like healing. I like support characters. I like tanking. I really like melee dps. The ranged dps classes I liked always had some support aspects (like crowd control, or healing).

Much as I like healing, I have realised that it’s only fun for me if I can either solo well also, or always be with another player, and/or be in very strong demand for groups. I like the groupability of it as much as the actual healing.

I think it’s because I’ve liked so many types that I tend to prefer characters that aren’t locked into one role. I have a fondness for the minstrel/burglar type which is more of a hybrid dps with lots of buffs or debuffs. But they never seem to really work out well in MMOs.

My favourite class ever was my old sorceress in DaoC, which was a crowd control class with good damage, and a permanent pet, and lifetaps, and a group speed buff. Crowd control is so fun in PvP when you are the one doing it and you have a nice selection of AE crowd control to choose from. In fact, it was totally overpowered and fun as hell :)

8. What is your favorite feature from an MMO you no longer play?

I loved that in Tale in the Desert that you could be in as many guilds as you wanted. It was really common to be in one local guild (ie. local to where you ‘lived’ that focussed on building stuff), one or more to do with favourite activities in game (eg. crafting, or acrobatics, etc) and some which were mostly chat channels or created to help organise temporary events.

I know you could do much the same thing with custom chat channels but it felt very different.

9.  Is there an MMO that you would play if it was free?  Which and why?

I’d definitely play more CoH if it was free. It’s such a casual friendly game. Any others … dunno. I like to get deep into my MMOs so there’s a limit on how much MMO time I really have.

Similar with WAR, my sub there isn’t up yet but I just don’t play enough to make it worth the subscription. Just I have fun on the odd times I do log in.

10.  How do you measure the success of a character in an MMO (total kills, titles accumulated, wealth, rare items collected, level reached, etc.)?

I think of my characters in two ways.

Firstly from a RP point of view: was I able to tell that character’s story? In an MMO, that usually means telling the story the devs want you to tell, and levelling to max level.

Secondly, the character is a tool for me to use to play the game. So was I able to explore the heart of that MMO. Did I try everything? Did I really grok how to play my character in different aspects of the game. Was I able to accomplish my in game goals for her?

So a successful character for me is usually one that reached max level, but also one which I became invested in. I have to care about the character, somehow, for it to really be a success.

I’m not tagging anyone but if you want to take part, feel free to get probed either in your own blog or in comments (if you aren’t a blogger ;) ). In particular, how do you define when a character is successful for you?

5 reasons we love in-game festivals

  1. New Content. It’s something new to do that wasn’t there yesterday.
  2. Lore and Immersion. A fantasy culture feels more believable if it has its own customs and festivals. So it’s important that we know the history of the festival and of any local customs that we’re invited to honour. And also that the holiday fits with the feel of the game.
  3. Mirroring real world festivals. Sounds like the opposite of the previous reason but this is why so many games have special festivals around Christmas. Players are celebrating in real life, and it gives us a kick to be able to celebrate in game too. This can fall flat in a multi-cultural environment — a game that celebrated American Independence Day would leave the non-Americans feeling that the game simply wasn’t aimed at them.
  4. More activity in game. Smart designers have learned that an in game festival can help point players at content in game (such as instances, PvP, etc) which means more people around for everyone to group with.
  5. They are time limited. SALE ! SALE ! ONE DAY ONLY ! We love time limited events that only happen for a few days every year. It adds to the air of exclusiveness and excitement if you know there’s only a brief period in which you can get your new shiny title/mount/whatever.

Warcraft is a gonzo game so their events veer more towards mirroring RL than establishing a coherent in game culture (and I’m putting that kindly — Hello Olympic Event? WTF??!!). But in a game like LOTRO, the events really do enhance the organic feeling of the game world.

I never could figure out events in City of Heroes, they all seem very grindy. But since it’s a game that is set in a modern day city, it’s very easy for them to mirror real world holidays and they don’t really need to establish a fantasy culture.

Warhammer, by comparison, is more of a gamist design than an immersive world but they do draw on the rich Warhammer lore to set the scene for their holidays.  I liked the Warhammer holidays that I’ve seen. They get people interested and out there, encourage more PvP, and have some cool lore attached. You can’t really ask more.

Note: I’ve not played EQ2 or Guild Wars, I know they have holidays also but not much about them. I’d be interested to know more about how those fit in and how fun they are?

Same as we did last year

But holiday events are repetitive, which is true in real life too, it’s the whole point. Of course they’re the same every year, that’s what local customs are all about.

If you’ve been playing a MMO for more than a year, this means you’ll  see the same events come round again. This isn’t a bad thing per se, it just means that the amount of play you get from a holiday may be on diminishing returns.

I wouldn’t say I get bored of holidays, I look forwards to my favourite ones and I try to log onto games when they are on. So in that sense, they’re a huge success for me. And opening presents never gets old.

But I’d love to see more support for player-run holidays. In DaoC, we used to have annual fairs and the GMs would help decorate the fairground on our server. Just our server, because we had the in game organisation that ran the fairs and asked them for help. And our server felt as if it had its own culture. Not one that was just created by developers and slapped on top of it. (Well, we had that too.)

In the drive to more user created content, this is the sort of event I’d like more support for. Holidays run by the people, for the people! And each server it’s own organic society.