Hyperspace Beacon: The sorry state of roleplay in Star Wars: The Old Republic
Some of you might remember the late ’80s, but for those who don’t that was a period of time when the only thing keeping Star Wars alive were the RPGs. Timothy Zahn would not pen Heir to the Empire until 1991, the best video game we had was arcade-only made in ’83, and The Phantom Menace was well over a decade away. This was the period of time that the keeper-of-canon Pablo Hidalgo started his quest to become a part of the Lucasfilm family. It was the time when only two things were keeping the Star Wars alive: the Kenner toys and West End Games’ Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. We know it wasn’t the made-for-TV Ewok Adventure movies.
Roleplayers have been the undercurrent that has kept the franchise alive, even during the dark times — during the prequels. What is their current status in SWTOR?
Fleet instance 1 – no, make that fleet instance 2.
Into the wee hours of the morning, you can find a sizeable group of people from five at the slowest times to one hundred during peak times looking to roleplay at the central bar area. Sometimes, the amount of chat spam is unbearable. A typical Saturday night will usually have twenty to thirty people near the main staircases and the bar below. But the problem is that you have to find the right instance.
Just the other day, there were four instances of Vaiken. I was in instance 3, which had next to nobody roleplaying at the bar. When I went to look at the map to switch to instance 1, it was red, meaning that I couldn’t travel to it. In fact, the message was that it was “depopulating.” I guess that is the servers way of saying that it’s going to get rid of that instance, so don’t travel to it. It was possible that most roleplayers would be in that instance. But if I couldn’t get to that instance, does that mean that the other roleplayers couldn’t either, so they were congregating in instance 2?
I tried instance 2 first, only to find it devoid of roleplayers. This meant that the RPers were gathered in an instance that people couldn’t readily get to. There is a way around it by adding someone to your friendslist who’s in that instance, but not everyone knows it. And it’s possible that they might be on an instance-switching cooldown like I was.
This kind of situation could be avoided altogether if the developers had thought to at least add a roleplay instance as they did for PvE and PvP.
Do not roleplay in public.
Despite the number of roleplayers still gathering on Vaiken station and having in in-character conversations, many roleplayers don’t like to actually roleplay there. Chat spam is part of it, but mostly it’s the number of trolls. There are so many people who seem to enjoy berating roleplayers and actively attempting to interrupt their fun.
If you’re not a roleplayer, imagine that every time you attempted to run a flashpoint, another player who wasn’t part of your flashpoint group would jump in front of your camera and spam particle effects. He wouldn’t say anything, or if he did, you had him on ignore. But that didn’t stop the particle effects or his ability to interrupt your boss fight.
That’s pretty much what roleplayers have to deal with when there is a troll in roleplay.
This means that the vast majority of roleplayers have taken their roleplay to strongholds, personal or guild-owned. This makes it very difficult to try to grow a guild. Most of the time, it means that a guild doesn’t grow at all. There isn’t a good influx of new blood, and roleplay becomes stale when it isn’t externally visible, killing a guild really fast. By my estimation, the average roleplay guild will last maybe a month before it dies off. This puts a lot of stress on guild leaders and discourages leaders from taking on that kind of position. I know that I don’t want to do that anymore.
In Star Wars Galaxies, there wasn’t a time were roleplay was not a popular way to experience the game. The developers even had a community ambassador (Senator) to specifically represent that gameplay style. I even served in that position for a time. It’s not as if there weren’t struggles for roleplayers even then, but the developers — or at least, the community management — didn’t actively discourage that gameplay style.
Roleplayers have been an active part of the Star Wars community from the beginning. From the cosplayers to the kids playing with the action figures to the tabletop roleplayers. Not everyone has had the same style of roleplay, and maybe they didn’t mesh, but they have always been there and encouraged to continue to do what they were doing by the people at LucasFilm.
When I talked to Stephen Reid, the Community Manager before the game launched, he said that there would not be anything in the game that would actively enforce roleplay on the roleplay servers. That remained apparently true through these last six years. Although the storytelling encouraged individual roleplay, there has been nothing added to the game that would encourage corporate roleplay. Roleplay happened in spite of the game because it’s the core of the Star Wars community.
I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet, but most of the roleplay leaders have already. And those who are still here have been beaten and bruised. It won’t be long until they all move on too. I will throw this question out to you: Is there anything that BioWare can do to bring back roleplayers at this point? Or if you’re not a roleplayer, does having roleplayers on your server bother you or encourage you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Every other week, Larry Everett jumps into his T-16 back home, rides through the hypergates of BioWare‘s Star Wars: The Old Republic, and posts his adventures in the Hyperspace Beacon. Drop him a holocom on Twitter @Shaddoe or send him a transmission at email@example.com. Now strap yourself in, kid — we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!