A player’s role is certain, rigidly defined, and perhaps unnecessary.

One thing that always stuck with me from my experiences with World of Warcraft pick-up groups was that in the vast majority of cases people referred to one another by their role or class, not by character name. ‘Healer you suck’. ‘Tank can’t hold aggro’. ‘Weak DPS’. In WoW, and many MMOs of the traditional form, the players pick The Rogue, The Priest, The Warrior, which are further generalised into The DPS, The Healer, The Tank. It’s akin to games such as League of Legends, where players pick a character type to play which primarily defines the player’s role in the group, the abilities they will have to available to them, and the general strategy they will need to follow; nobody in LoL picks Irelia, the Will of the Blades in order to expand on the story of her spiritual companionship with Soraka, the Starchild.

Admittedly there are many players for whom that is the desired system. But I also get the feeling, however, that an equally large portion of the traditional MMO player base desire not to be classified as a character type, but as a character; they want to be a Shepard, a Geralt, or an Altaïr. They wish to be a character, but in an environment where they can share adventures with other players.

It comes back to the thorny issue of defining what is meant when we say RPG. For some this is categorically defined by the role you play in a group, it is a system forged by levels and stats which enables you to fight dungeon monsters. For others, however, that is only one part of the definition, the other being about storytelling and playing a character.

In the case of role-playing, some people like to play the function, other people like to play the part. Role-function, and role-part.

I’m beginning to wonder if Star Wars: The Old Republic is meant to appeal to the latter audience. At the moment it seems to want to bridge the two, carrying with it much of the role-function baggage from the more traditional MMOs, while also trying to introduce the more character-focussed style of the role-part, more often encountered in single player MMOs. My concern is that, in trying to appeal to the general market of MMO players, Bioware have given up the chance to break the traditional mould and bring a truly innovative character-based RPG to the massively multiplayer genre. The danger is that TOR will frustrate traditional role-function players because it focuses too much on character and story and not enough on the optimisation of stats and abilities, while at the same time leaving enough of the relics of the role-function system in place to leave cold those players who want to play a part in a story and not concern themselves so much with increasing arbitrary stats in order to be able to defeat a dice roll. In trying to take a bold new direction, I wonder if Bioware didn’t free themselves enough from the shackles of the traditional MMO form, and will thus end-up pleasing nobody. At best they may have come up with the most expensive way yet for players to play alone, together.

For a pioneering role-part MMO for the mainstream market, we should perhaps instead look to the studio best known for bringing a successful MMO to the market which breaks many of the traditional MMO rules; CCP’s World of Darkness MMO will hopefully be influenced more by EVE Online and White Wolf’s Storyteller system than by World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragon’s munchkinised dungeon crawling, and as such will stand a better chance of appealing to that different but significant market within the MMO genre that Bioware were perhaps intending to target with TOR.

4 thoughts on “A player’s role is certain, rigidly defined, and perhaps unnecessary.

  1. ArcherAvatar

    It’s really a shame… but, I think your fears are correct. It seems there will never be a shortage of folks attempting to cross streams of water while standing with one foot each on two different horses… which rarely ends well… or dry.

    Initially I was fascinated by TOR (I still am to a much smaller degree) but the announcement more than a few months ago that they would not only NOT be going away from the crippling, stagnant ‘holy trinity’ system but, in fact, were embracing it completely – followed by the re-design making it possible for ‘Boba Fett’ to spec as a field medic (rampant WTFery) has cooled my enthusiasm for the project considerably.

    (Boba Fett addressing Darth Vader) “Does uddems need a boo boo strip?” …honestly, WTF?!?

    It’s clear from what we’ve already seen of it that the game has very high quality, and many of the mechanics look to be interesting, however, it’s also clear that something forced (no pun intended) them to fall back on old standards and styles in far too many areas instead of reaching forward to something new and innovative.

  2. Jeff

    NPCs often address your character by class or race, without anyone getting offended.

  3. Melmoth Post author

    @ArcherAvatar: Oh I don’t know, The Adventures of Boba Fett M.D. sounds quite fun to me.

    “What seems to be the problem?”

    “My little Timmy sprained his ankle, Dr Fett”

    “I’ll need to disintegrate the foot”

    “I… uh, think I’ll get a second opinion from Dr Slzzk, if that’s okay with you.”

    “I disintegrated Dr Slzzk”

    @Jeff: I think the NP part of NPC obviously grants them a little more leeway with their lack of formal honorifics, but it’s something I would certainly consider removing. For example, Dragon Age’s use of the Ser/m’Ser title is much more natural, in my opinion.

  4. Zoso

    @Jeff I always get offended by that. My quest conversations typically go…

    NPC: Elf Champion! Fetch me five boar livers.

    Me: Human, actually.

    NPC: What?

    Me: I’m a human. I know I’ve got this cowl covering my head so you can’t see the ears, but I’m definitely not an elf.

    NPC: All right, Human Champion! Fetch me five boar livers!

    Me: And just because I’ve got two swords, you think I’m a Champion, did you not notice the bow? I’m a Hunter!

    NPC: Champions can wield bows from level 20, and I couldn’t just call you ‘Human’ could I?

    Me: You could say ‘Dennis’

    NPC: Well obviously I could say $PlayerName, but that would break the carefully crafted immersion as how would I know that?

    Me: You could look at the giant letters floating over my head…

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