The Daily Grind: How important is roleplaying to MMORPGs?

    
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It’s not exactly a secret that one of my first loves in any MMORPG is roleplaying. The whole reason I have multiple alts in Final Fantasy XIV (a game where no one ever needs any alts) is for roleplaying, I’ve spent more time roleplaying over the years than I care to admit, and one of the things that basically caused me to write off Star Wars: The Old Republic for future play options is the server merge eliminating roleplaying servers. That’s one of the things I’m here for.

At the same time, I also don’t think that it’s something that everyone is obligated to take part in. I would prefer that you be into that if you’re on a roleplaying server, but even there you have your own reasons, and as long as you’re not disrupting people it doesn’t seem like something you should be at all obligated to do. Some people don’t want to spend hours carefully crafting character backstories; that’s fine. We all enjoy our hobbies differently.

For something that is right in the name of the genre, roleplaying tends to attract a lot of passionate opinions about how important it is to the genre’s identity. Heck, there are even people debating what, precisely, qualifies as roleplaying compared to not roleplaying. So what do you think, readers? How important is roleplaying to MMORPGs?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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NeoWolf

For me its the reason I play, but then my idea of RP is somewhat different than those who stand around doing some made up narrative in a tavern or contina somewhere or emote sexing some random (they dearly hope is actually of the opposite sex) to get their virtual rocks off.

For me RP’ing is playing “In Character” AS my character AS I play it isn’t a narrative its an immersion.

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Loopy

Mah immersion! Honestly, immersive elements are way more important than simply “enforcing” roleplaying. Make the game seem like an actual world, and you will have a healthy mix of roleplaying crowd as well as regular folk.

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Mattaui

Roleplaying in MMOs is as diverse as it is in actual tabletop gaming. I’ve played D&D with people who treated everything like a disembodied combat simulation, grinding in every sense of the word, and I’ve played MMOs with people who imbued their characters with a sense of self in the most subtle but important ways.

However, it’s hard to describe spending hours pretending to be a fantasy adventurer as anything other than roleplaying, even if they’ve got some ridiculously inappropriate name and never embellish their gameplay with extra prose, so I’d say it’s core to the genre.

shazanti
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shazanti

I don’t often verbally/textually ‘speak’ as my character in game. I’m not really against it, the situation just as to be right for me to take part on that (basically I need to have friends/a group/a guild/something, I’m a solo introvert otherwise). However, I always play my character in-character when it comes to making decisions & such. Whenever I create a character it doesn’t take very long before I mentally have a ‘feel’ for them, and so, in those rare games where there are actually choices to be made (such as in a quest), I know which choice she would make, and so that’s the one that’s made. So in that fashion I suppose I’m always roleplaying, and it would feel awkward to not be doing so. If the game were to actively dissuade me from ‘being my character’, I would get bored and driven off really quickly.

Even though I don’t often take part in in-character interactions with other players, almost every time I happen across other players doing so, it makes me happy, feels like it belongs, and just plain old FEELS right. There have been exceptions, of course (I can’t see it ever ‘feeling right’ to stumble into something that should have been private…ERP I’m looking at you), but if I run into a few players having a regular old in-character chat, it makes me smile. It expands the world for me, as it were. I tend to notice after a while if I never run across anything like that, and it feels like something’s missing.

So, even though I don’t seem to overtly roleplay, the existence of threads of RP within the overall MMORPG skein is vital to me.

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Nate Woodard

To be honest, I’m not sure we’ve actually ever seen a game that has truly captured the essence of MMORPG. I know there have been some close calls, but I think we have a ways yet to go before a MMO and a RPG go hand and hand. I’m holding out hope for this game, though! I really want one!

Now, text based RP in MMOs is a different animal entirely. Do we NEED it? No. Obviously not. However, between me and you, I’ve had some of my best experiences in MMOs on a RP server doing that text based RP thing. I mean, accidentally flagging myself and getting ganked because I was panicking and forgot to untoggle walk was probably, by far, on of my most memorable experiences in a video game.

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Toy Clown

I’m a roleplayer before I’m a gameplayer, but the two need to handshake before I can enjoy either experience. There’s so few MMOs on the market that appeal to me because they miss vital RP and quality-of-life features, combined with the graphic intensity I enjoy for immersion and a respectful playerbase.

Whether players realize it or not, they are RPing from the moment they step inside of an MMO and create their character for the setting. That is the avatar, the role, that they will play in their time there. They are playing with guns, light sabers, space ships, dragons and wearing loin clothes, robes or plated armor and riding horses, hover boards or tech bikes to get around, and interacting with all sorts of fantasy, alien, Lovecraftian, Conan, Star Wars, Star Trek, Hobbits and other sorts of races.

Without all of the above, I think that’s what’s called a basic shooter, maybe? A basic sandbox where people just log in to kill each other? Where none of that much matters? Okay… I admit I’m guessing here, but in past experience the people who seem to have the biggest issues with roleplay are PvPers. Which also brings up the point as to why PvPers have such issues with RP. It was sort of the same mentality when I was in high-school some 30 years back where the jocks picked on the nerds. Maybe it’s an age-old pecking order. But I digress.

I think story is very important when it comes to games, no matter the platform or type. But there’s some players that don’t need story, nor all the bells and whistles as they just want to kill each other. Devs realized how cheap this crowd is to cater for and are moving more MMO features toward PvP and are spending less on story. For the most part, with the exception of a few indie titles, only AAA titles indulge in story anymore, it seems. Or at least putting a lot into it.

(Edit: Wow, I really digressed! I was going to edit it, then waved my hand dismissively and wrote this instead.)

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starbuck1771

(Without all of the above, I think that’s what’s called a basic shooter, maybe?)
Even in a basic shooter you’re still role playing. I believe the Role Playing Eliot is talking about however is where even in chat you’re in character. The majority are usually against such RP because it takes a lot of time to do it properly and cuts into their fun and relaxation time. If I had a busy or tough day at work I wouldn’t want to come home and put more work into a game that is supposed to be fun. I would just want to kill and chill.

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Anstalt

I disagree with your assessment that MMO devs are focusing more on PvP and ignoring story.

What I have observed is that the themepark model shifted the focus onto story, almost exclusively. It’s actually easier and cheaper to develop solo story content than it is to develop interesting sandbox features. There is also a larger market that enjoys solo story content, hence the success of WoW, LotRO, SWTOR, ESO etc. Story has reined supreme for a long time, to the detriment of the genre.

That said, the balance is now being redressed. The issue is that story does not work in a massively multiplayer setting. It’s just really shit. This is why MMOs have such low retention rates – with story being the primary focus, you join, play through the story, then leave because there is very little else to do.

This is why developers are now starting to move back towards more sandbox features, with PvP being a popular one. In the west, we haven’t made that switch yet, but the east has started making that change with games like BDO and AA. In the west, we’re going to have to wait another year or two until the indie MMOs release.

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Mr Poolaty

Corpselot from YouTube has major issues with mmorpgs even being rpgs… Love his style!!

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kgptzac

If we are talking about “in-character” roleplaying, then my answer is: it’s not important at all. The vast majority of developers don’t make their game to cater this activity because the vast majority of players ignores in-character rp as it doesn’t exist. This is a legacy behavior stemming from tabletop games that frankly doesn’t make a lot of sense in mmo video games…

It’s like a radio news announcer resort to read a newspaper article and call it a day. If I want that then I’d go read the news article myself, or use software to do that for me. What I expect a radio news host do is deliver news that makes sense in the audio format, rather than transcribing a piece from an older technology.

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Nate Woodard

It’s like a radio news announcer resort to read a newspaper article and call it a day. If I want that then I’d go read the news article myself, or use software to do that for me. What I expect a radio news host do is deliver news that makes sense in the audio format, rather than transcribing a piece from an older technology.

While I appreciate your opinion on the subject at hand, you completely lost me with this analogy.

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Anstalt

As others have already said, it really depends on your definition of roleplaying.

If you mean the more general sense of being able to create/define your own role in game and then be able to use that role within the gameplay, then it is mandatory, otherwise it’s not a roleplaying game.

If you mean the more specific sense of being able to make your character act out a role then I’d say it’s not important at all. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to see it, I think it’s fun and I’m glad people enjoy it, they definitely make MMO communities more enjoyable. But proper roleplayers are small in number so we could afford to lose them.

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A Dad Supreme

Roleplaying to me is very important in MMOs, but not how it’s typically viewed.

Now I’m not talking about people playing “in-character” and only talking or acting as if they are the actual characters in the game to one another in Olde English or Elvish. I find that boring, droll and far too demanding to always have to “stay in character” with NPCs and other real people playing.

I find that for me, it works out best roleplay-wise if I play a character in an MMO as if I’m watching a television show of a guy who started out weak and frail with no clue of their true power in a troubled world/universe, but eventually rises to the highest level of that place/time to wield some of the mightiest weapons and armor there.

Basically, I play MMOs like they are Telltale Games. I make choices so that character evolves, not me.

I get much more out of MMOs when I’m actively directing a character in a game’s actions than to actually pretend that I am that character in the game for me.