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Author Topic: Actual RP in MMORPGs and World of Warcraft (split)  (Read 5211 times)
AJ_Flowers
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Posts: 30


« on: April 29, 2009, 06:45:31 PM »

I'm kind of necroing this thread because it looks interesting to me and because as far as I know it's OK in the rules to do that. :)

Let me start by making a distinction that I feel is important to the topic: that is, there's a difference between asking, "Is roleplay possible in MMOs?" and "is roleplay possible in World of Warcraft?" I don't think every single person here is generalizing all MMOs as WoW, but as it's the most common MMO it also seems to be the point of common experience and the point in every example. You're going to find a very different kind of play on, say, EVE Online, a game I don't think was mentioned in the thread, than in a fantasy game.

What's needed is major design shift that places the creative engine in the players' collective hands. More on that later.

Okay.  Here you go. It's new; we got it just a few weeks ago. 

I'm really familiar with this game, so let me tell you as a long-time player, what happened next.

Some people are using a content creation engine to create Achiever-oriented maps and modules that exploit the game's systems for the highest possible rewards for their characters. (Those people may also have interest in roleplay, but, they want to roleplay being really high level.)  Enough said about that for right now.

Some people want to use the system to make their character's story.  So, say, they tell a story about their character, but you are the one that actually experiences it. A lot of people don't like to play a story in which they aren't really the star.  Some people complain about Mary Sues, but other people think this is OK.

Some people want to use the system to make stories for their own characters to experience.  So they design a mission for their character, and then... they do it.  It's sort of roleplay, but just one-person roleplay.

Many people are using the system to create stories for others and I think this is mostly the intent of the thing.  Some people make stories for just their friends, while others hope to get interest from the general public. Some people are using elements of the setting that are "canon" and using them in interesting ways, while others are saying, Hell with the setting, my story happens in an alternate universe where... or, my bad guy I invented is more fun because... or, you should really care about my personal hero's origin because...

The system is really imperfect, because you can only tell stories about certain kinds of things. You can try to bend it to tell different kinds of stories, but it's pretty hard. Your story will always include some kind of element of entering a place (office, cave, city park, whatever map you happen to be using) and beating up people who are in that place. Potentially you will get some kind of McGuffin-like item, but the item has no game effect other than you having the item.  (CoH doesn't have "loot" in the standard sense, so it isn't as if you can put real treasures in your mission.)  Sometimes the guy you have to beat up is a mook, and sometimes he's a challenging battle with a name and a face, and a little bit of dialog, but ultimately it's a story about beating these guys up, or avoiding guys, to get a thing, and/or possibly rescue some captured people.  If you want to tell an interesting bit outside of that environment, you have to do it in the in-game text pop-ups that happen between travel from Place 1 to Place 2.

People have complained about railroading. See, the mission arcs don't leave you any real choice as to what you do in the story, unless the author is very clever, and many aren't. So a lot of what happens is... a mysterious tipster sends you to Place A, where you beat some people up and steal their thing. But... surprise, you were actually beating up good people, and the tipster tricked you, and now he has the thing! Chase him and get back the thing you foolishly gave him!  Or perhaps your mysterious tipster told you to rescue a person, but the person... was actually the bad guy! Now go beat up the person you just rescued! People love to tell that kind of story.  Also, you might railroad a character in to taking some kind of action in the between-place text pop-up, that that character wouldn't have wanted to take.

So it's a system that's still in-process, but it is now out there. Is this roleplaying yet?  I dunno?

I guess I'll also point out that Tabula Rasa (now dead) and Matrix Online (pretty shoddy), and probably other games too, have experimented with having live "Gamemasters" running public events. Lord British showed up in person a few times in the old days too, as I recall... so some human element is out there among all the automation, but it's so rare, and the failure rate on this is really fairly high.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: April 30, 2009, 06:05:11 AM »

Hello,

Considering the length and relative compactness of that thread, I'll keep it as a single thing: Is actual RP in MMORPGs another next impossible thing?

However, the discussion may continue right here!

Best, Ron
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LandonSuffered
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Posts: 99


« Reply #2 on: April 30, 2009, 07:41:02 AM »


Hmm…reminds me of the old days when I used to try to create computer adventures using the Adventure Construction Set or even the Bard’s Tale Construction Set.  The results were always much more disappointing than originally envisioned.

I know that many people who play on-line games would like to bring more of the table-top RPG experience to the console, and I know that these RPG computer games grew out of table-top RPGs originally, but I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re really two different animals (the same way, say, role-playing is different from live theater).  They are two different art forms.  The computer game just can’t help being a static construct, whereas an RPG (in the pen & paper sense) lives and evolves based on the input and imagination of the participants. 

This isn’t to say you can’t have dramatic characterizations by players on a RP server in WoW, or that the designers can’t create engrossing story lines.  But as far as player choice having an influence on the game world (or future game world events), there’s very minimal impact…if any at all.

My brother (an avid WoW player) and I have debated the differences and positive aspects of computer gaming versus RPGs, and tried to brainstorm ways we could design a computer game that would incorporate more creativity than “good graphics allowing a virtual experience of killing monsters and gaining loot while customizing your character.”  We could never come up with a viable idea.  RPGs, because they operated in that SIS created through Social Contract are malleable only by the people playing them.  MMO games are designed like a neutral third party anyone can explore…very true to their original D&D (tournament style) roots, but failing to take advantage of the more recent evolutions in RPGs.

MMOs are fun and can serve as recreational entertainment, and unlike console RPGs (say Fable or Mass Effect) they allow cooperative interaction with other on-line players (and I include even PvP arenas as “cooperative;” everyone is cooperating to increase game play enjoyment even through direct competition).  This is the same as playing Halo or Rock Band or racing on-line…it’s a way to share an experience in video game play for the enjoyment of all parties.

But although MMOs are “role” playing games (you take on the role of your avatar character), there are many aspects of table-top RPGs that cannot be emulated in the MMO environment. Face-to-face discussion and human (eye) contact is not duplicated in a networked gaming experience, and that’s a very nice side-benefit in a society that is increasingly alienated from its members through technology. Kabitzing around a table that can ACTUALLY IMPACT “what happens” in the SIS, in addition to increasing the overall enjoyment. Improvisation by GMs to better meet the entertainment needs of players (not being forced to conform to linear plots), and improvisation by players outside the “standard” rules of the game (again, breaking away from linear plot requirements).

It’s an unfortunate development (in my mind) that some folks believe traditional RPGs are being replaced (or have been already) with computer “RPGs,” and some game designers seem to be buying this as well as they try to design their RPGs to mimic on-line game conventions.  I specifically point to the 4th Edition of D&D as a prime example; it seems squarely targeted at folks that are used to playing games like WoW; which is frankly crazy as you can’t out-do a computer game at what it does (i.e. “computing”).  If people wanted that kind of game, well…they’d play on-line.  And they do.  My brother refuses to pick up a dice or flip through a game book anymore (and he used to), yet he’ll play WoW for several hours at a time.  It meets his expectations for entertainment.

For me, MMOs can be entertaining (I’ve tried both CoH and WoW in the past), but as I don’t use them for social interaction, and don’t enjoy the direct competition of PvP, I find that I get bored with the linear and repetitive story lines despite the cool graphics and imaginative antagonists. 

MMOs and true RPGs may share some similarities, but they are two very different forms of entertainment.  Enjoy each for what they are but personally I wouldn't attempt to transfer game-specific expectations from one to the other.

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Jonathan
AJ_Flowers
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Posts: 30


« Reply #3 on: April 30, 2009, 09:26:14 AM »

Ah, thanks for the re-focus. I don't know if the new title was precisely what I was getting at with the first post: my primary example in the post refers to the game City of Heroes, which is dabbling in user-created content, though I see now I never wrote out the full name of the game, just linked to the site. But in this reply I'll continue to talk about WoW, so it'll all make sense.

In general, I want to avoid people making the mistake that WoW is exactly equviliant to every MMORPG ever made... even though it's the most successful one, the largest one, and is seen as the general case by which all the others are based. Designers out there are trying different things to support different kinds of play styles. I think it's worth noting though, that a lot of the different and radical experiments just haven't been successful, or have only been successful in a niche, rather than the broad success WoW has seen.

Going back to reply, I think it's a good point, and definitely one I've noticed, that DnD4th ed seems to be mimicking the gameplay of WoW, which seems in some ways like a backwards evolution.

So let's take for granted that World of Warcraft, the biggest MMO, is a baby of Everquest, which is a baby of Diku, which is an illigitimate child of Dungeons and Dragons itself. It seems like now everything has come full-circle, and DnD is stealing from its children.  What gets lost in the translation here?  And, more interestingly, if another RPG, such as one with a different CA than DnD, became the child by which all future games were copied, what would be our World of Warcraft today?  Can we envision some kind of alternate history or is that not even remotely logical?

(Aside, if any reader has any interest in the history of MMORPGs, check out that link on DikuMUD, as it's really interesting and informative.)
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LandonSuffered
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Posts: 99


« Reply #4 on: April 30, 2009, 12:04:38 PM »


Quote
So let's take for granted that World of Warcraft, the biggest MMO, is a baby of Everquest, which is a baby of Diku, which is an illigitimate child of Dungeons and Dragons itself. It seems like now everything has come full-circle, and DnD is stealing from its children.  What gets lost in the translation here? 



It’s kind of hard to address that question without seeming to devolve into Hasbro/WotC bashing, mainly because it boils down to a) D&D being a particular brand/license that’s being sold as a product (like say “the Serenity RPG,” or the “Star War RPG”), and b) the game company being “out of touch” with both new innovations, and the potential inherent in traditional RPGs.

Of course, some might say that they are much MORE “in touch” with market considerations than traditional RPG designers (because they recognize the large demographic of WoW players that is their target audience and thus stand to make more money), but that a subjective observation one way or the other.

Quote
And, more interestingly, if another RPG, such as one with a different CA than DnD, became the child by which all future games were copied, what would be our World of Warcraft today?  Can we envision some kind of alternate history or is that not even remotely logical?


That’s pretty hypothetical, and it would take some fairly radical technology (like an AI capable of taking player input and improvisational “self-coding” on-the-fly or something). Though it can be said that WoW (and other MMOs) appeal to a simulationist CA as well as a gamist one for folks who just like to explore the pretty landscape and skin raptors or whatever. Hell, there’s no gamist CA to 2nd Life, is there?


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Jonathan
E
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Posts: 21


« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2009, 01:32:11 PM »

(Hello, sorry for my english)

Roleplaying in MMORPG seem closer to LARP then to table top roleplaying.

In MMORPG as in LARP you are limited by your "avatar" and your playfield environment.

GM even intervene in a similar way, they need to be present on the playfield and act as a referee and as administrator of events.
In both case player characters have to play with what is physically available for them, props, costumes, locations, etc...
In both case, game events are often planed around social events or gatherings.

In MMORPG, you are limited by your gameworld rules and physics, who are often similar to limits imposed in LARP.
In MMORPG, yes you can fight monsters, but they are not played by your game master, they don't care about your story or you roleplaying. Fighting and killing a other character is also very limited (as in LARP). Your avatar dead is not permanent or don't equal to your character dead. Avatars just respawn and can be meet a few seconds or minutes later by anyone. Note how in MMORPG as in LARP you can meet each other avatars in out of character situations.

I think that far more insight in MMORPG roleplaying can be gained by comparing it with LARP instead of table top RPG. 
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Callan S.
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« Reply #6 on: April 30, 2009, 06:48:59 PM »

For myself, I don't think in terms of "What isn't roleplay" and more "What bits did they do, which are in roleplay?". If they've done any, that's a good start. Mind you, I get told I look at the atomic level and that's no good.

I think "Why does it matter whether it's roleplay or not, if you've gotten over all the bits from table top sessions you basically want to get over?"
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John Adams
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Posts: 90


« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2009, 06:26:53 AM »

RE: City of Heroes. When I heard they were releasing a mission editor I rejoiced ... for about 5 seconds. Then I realized what that feature set would and would not add to the game and I shrugged. I cancelled my account a while back for lack of playing time, but AJ confirms it's pretty much exactly what I expected.

So here's the thing: I don't get myself worked up into a lather over what is or is not role-playing; the term is too vague. I also submit that no one who plays an MMO wants a true table-top experience. I don't want to create a SIS when I log in. I expect to trade the SIS for a *virtual space*, that's the whole point, right? I want to see my fireball rather than describe it, and I want everyone else to see exactly the same thing.

I also assert that even though we traded in the SIS at the door, there is a close parallel to the Big Model and the Creative Agendas online. So far MMOs have imitated a hard line Story Before model, with more an emphasis on either the Right to Dream or Step on Up. Like early RPGs, Story Now folks have had to wing it as best they can within a system that obstructs or at least does nothing to support their agenda.

What is a major pitfall of Story Before gaming? Railroading. I'm not at all surprised poeple complain about it in City of Heroes, it's been the core game design since Day One. All of these games are different flavors of "kill a goblin, get a reward" and that's all they are designed to be. A mission editor won't change it into something else. (I'm still really glad they released it and I have an itch to create a mission or two to see how far I can take it, but I have no illusions.)

The sameness of MMOs is mainly due to market forces. It will take an amazing act of will and imagination to break the mold but once broken, many new designs will appear.


... if another RPG, such as one with a different CA than DnD, became the child by which all future games were copied, what would be our World of Warcraft today? 


So what if Capes was the inspiration for City of Heroes instead of Champions? Turns out I've put a lot of thought into that.

* Players would play heroes AND villains AND civilians. Each character type would provide unique rewards and interact with the other types in unique, story-reinforcing ways.

* Players would spend resources to create conflicts and earn resources when other players engaged those conflicts.


My villain burns a few points so he can dangle Mary Jane over the edge of 20 story drop. If I drop her and she goes splat! I get nothing in return, so I'll do it when your hero is rushing up to save her. If I drop her and you heroically save her, I get points. You would spend points to catch her, but maybe you earn a different kind of reward at the same time.

By the way, Mary Jane is played by Bob. Bob spends points in this situation for a "terrified scream" which inspires (buffs) your hero so he can punch my villain's head in.

All of this currency/economy is built around creating an exciting, genre-appropriate story with theme.

* Players would cooperatively assemble a scene from a large collection of parts, rather than travelling to a certain place in a huge, pre-defined game world.

"That was a great scene. Can we do one where Captain Awesome finds out who took the Gauntlet of Power?"

Set Piece: wrecked science lab
Characters: Captain Awesome, Firebrand, Penny McCord
Type / Subtype: Dialog / Revalation

etc.

The hard-coded bits would define not just the the set pieces but also which game sub-systems or mini-games would be in play and how the players would resolve the scene.


I also have ideas for a completely different style of game which would fit with the Right to Dream and allow players to directly and profoundly affect a huge, shared world. Maybe later. Point is it can be done, it just needs an indie-style publishing force to get past the massive inertia of WoW.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #8 on: May 07, 2009, 01:37:12 AM »

Roleplaying in MMORPG seem closer to LARP then to table top roleplaying.

*blink* I never looked at it that way, but now that you say it, yes, of course!

I've heard people say that there used to be some Neverwinter Nights free shards with a rather small community and very dedicated, active game masters which were rather strong on the "role playing" side and "plots". I still don't have a firm idea of what that would look like. Just like I don't have a firm idea of how "plots" in LARP work. I used to think it boils down to following the clues someone lays out for you, as outlined in the OP. But I'm probably missing something. I'd love to read a detailed actual play report of such play.

- Frank
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Daniel B
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Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #9 on: May 07, 2009, 10:19:32 AM »

Roleplaying in MMORPG seem closer to LARP then to table top roleplaying.

*blink* I never looked at it that way, but now that you say it, yes, of course!

I've heard people say that there used to be some Neverwinter Nights free shards with a rather small community and very dedicated, active game masters which were rather strong on the "role playing" side and "plots". I still don't have a firm idea of what that would look like. Just like I don't have a firm idea of how "plots" in LARP work. I used to think it boils down to following the clues someone lays out for you, as outlined in the OP. But I'm probably missing something. I'd love to read a detailed actual play report of such play.

Isn't this how the better kind of "illusionist GMing" works? The GM maps out a few potential paths that the players could take, and if one of them is chosen, the GM leaves down clues that they may or may not follow. (If the players choose a path not designed, the GM has to start building one up on the fly from the scraps) In that respect, for that type of game, MMORPGs, LARPGs, and tabletop games would be equivalent (except that they'd require different amounts of effort to generate the SIS, and the players have different amounts of control over the medium).

Ditto on your last comment, Frank. Anyone have any LARP experiences they could post in "Actual Play"??   ;-)
Daniel

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FredGarber
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« Reply #10 on: May 07, 2009, 01:07:38 PM »

Don't have a lot of MMORPG experience, but I have a LOT of LARP Plot crafting experience.  (I was involved in a 20-40 person Larp for 4-5 years, helping run it for 2-3).  We ran a Vampire WOD larp, and we had a pretty average mix of Creative Agendas:
  • We had a handful of players who were very Story Now in their goals: they didn't care exactly what was going on, except as creating a reaction to it, and speechify somewhere in the play site.  I would say they were about 10% of the group, but they were loud, and popular (ie, almost everybody want to be in a scene with them).  We had a couple of themes develop around these characters (which gained or lost momentum when certain characters died/or entered play): "What will you pay for power?"  and "How far will you go to protect your clique?" 
  • We had about a third of our players as more Step On Up in their goals: Show them a werewolf, and they'd look for their silver weapons.  Show them a ghost, and they'd get a wizard to exorcise it, etc.  They tended to have the most and strongest powers, and even though they didn't always wade in swinging, each plot element the StoryTellers introduced was another plot element to put down. They loved to hear that a storyline was finished.
  • The majority of the players, however, came every night to watch the Combats (and maybe participate in a round or two of a combat, if the risk.reward was high enough), or play as the audience to the speechifying (and maybe choose a side or not.)  I don't want to indicate that they sat on the couches and watched (although we had some of those), but their primary interest was staying in character, and experiencing how things developed.

When designing a plot, usually we set out a Bang, something for the characters to see that their stasis had changed.  Some would then go to try and kill it, some would figure out what it meant to them personally, etc.  As a Storyteller, you had to plan for a wide range of potential outcomes to the plot. 
  • Successful plots couldn't depend upon a certain character being in a certain group, because that player might not show that week, and the whole plotline would fall apart. 
  • Plotlines couldn't depend upon key items being found and/or used, because you couldn't MAKE the guy with the magic heart shaped gem put it in the magic heart-shaped opening in the rock to open the magic, heart shaped door.  He might decide to cut the gemstone up for money, and what would THAT do to your plot?
  • Plotlines ended when either all of the NPCs you introduced had been placated or killed.  Unfortunately.  Sometimes, you could build a big set piece and throw a lot of cinematics in there at the end to make it look like a story climax.
  • "Player Driven Plot" was code for PvP conflict.  Many weeks there was so much PvP going on that we didn't need to add PvE to keep the players entertained.

I was writing a book about it, until I realized that the vast majority of my advice actually boiled down to "know your players."  If you throw a bunch of Challenges at characters who are more Story Now oriented, they will spend all night talking about what to do, and never Stepping Up.  If you throw Premise at Step Up characters, they will deal with the irritating event, usually lethally, and then sit back down and wait for the next thing.  They won't wonder if they did the right thing, only that they used the right tactics.  If you start sending Ancient Elder Vampires after the powerful Challenge Characters, the Shared Dream characters will be upset because those things are supposed to be rare, and they'll see them every week.

MMOs tend to be, well, Massive.  I don't know if they can be as aware of the mood and attitudes of their playerbase.  Maybe they can.  But IMHO, they tend to throw out new content to keep Stepping On Up, and occasionally they sell a new supplement to Change the Dream, and they put all the Story Now as Story Before in the fluff text or scripted NPC speeches.

Also, the fact that your character can't be permanantly killed (except by the developers) means that there's a much greater allowance for risk. 

Without any easy access to resurrection, it made for a constant conflict between the players who treated their characters as a collection of skills of varying Effectiveness to interact with the SiS, and the ones who really went for the Deep Immersion.  There were Speech Codes as elaborate as "activist judge" being American Political Speech Code for "Pro-Abortion and Gay Rights judge"
"It's only a game" was code for "who cares if your character dies, just make another one, you drama queen." 
"I just show up for the people" was code for "If you try and MAKE me react to plot, I will sit here and turtle,"
"I don't like to worry about Game Mechanics" was code for "Listen, GunBunny, I'm trying to ACT over here."

One of the things that was constantly in flux in the LARP was the lethality level and the spillover from the challenges.  For example, the powerful characters wanted challenges, and they didn't want the game to become The League of SuperFriends (Vampires version), where the players swooped in like Superman and saved the world from the Deep Black Evil, without challenge.  On the other hand, many of the other players were not happy when they were finally making that deal to learn the forbidden lore, and their teacher was killed by the Deep Black Evil which they had neither sought out nor planned to defend against.

-Fred
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Callan S.
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« Reply #11 on: May 07, 2009, 03:15:06 PM »

Quote
Also, the fact that your character can't be permanantly killed (except by the developers) means that there's a much greater allowance for risk.
I'd be thinking more an allowance for the illusion or impression of risk? Or am I being pedantic? Sometimes the distinction gets lost though...
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FredGarber
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Posts: 95


« Reply #12 on: May 08, 2009, 03:49:11 PM »

I'm parsing my sentence, and getting lost in my own grammar....

I mean to say that in our LARP, once you died, that was it.  Generate New Character, leave your loot on the corpse.  It made most people avoid combat or situations where their avatar might die  (they were Avoiding Risk) , because they spent a lot of time on the persona and upon building up their persona's place in the SIS.  We had a rule called the Inigo Montoya Rule: your next persona had to be sufficiently different from your last character to avoid taking over where the dead persona left off.

I watched the movie Darkon, about the foam sword LARPers, and they had a less permanent sort of death.  In that LARP, it was somewhat like the MMORPG model - if you were Killed in LARP battle, you had to take a time out from fighting to "travel to the underworld and back," but then you came back as the same persona. 

I can not imagine WOW's business model surviving if they implemented my LARP's death of the avatar.  Are there any MMORPGs that do?  Are there any WoW quests that are try once, and fail?  Or all they all try and fail until you succeed?

-Fred
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #13 on: May 09, 2009, 12:02:50 AM »

Fred,

As far as I know, permadeath hasn't seen any sort of implementation in any MMO. The trend has actually been toward making death less harsh, rather than more. Ultima Online's original death penalty was probably the harshest ever implemented (in an MMO; I know nahthing about MUDs/MUSHes), and it's gone more 'care bear' since then.

That doesn't mean it hasn't been talked about. I used to follow discussions on MMORPG.com for a while, and there was more than a little bit of advocacy for permadeath in MMOs. Now, I honestly believe that many of the strongest advocates for it would find that they actually hate it in practice.

The effect it would have on step-on-up gaming would be phenomenal. The effect on deep immersion roleplayers would also be sizable, as suddenly there would be real reason to react to defeat in battle, and the roleplayed respect for valorous action would likely be supplemented by real respect, because the risk is real.

Likewise, the "single use" quests would have a fairly profound effect. Roleplayers wouldn't have to tapdance around talking about an "epic" quest that they'd both accomplished. "Oh, I just assisted in taking down the liche who ruled over the Vale of Shadows." "Oh, yeah.. I, uh, also took down a liche recently. Probably a totally different one, of course." Step-on-up gamers wouldn't be able to master a quest by doing it over and over. There wouldn't be websites devoted to lessons learned on a quest as group after group goes through it and tries new tactics. Your bragging rights would be "I accomplished this one quest, it was badass." "Oh yeah? I failed that one. It was really hard." And so on.

But those sorts of things would discourage the casual gamer, which is where WoW largely makes its money, so you'll never see them in a mainstream MMO. It'll pretty much require some little indie upstart to do the scary failure-ridden things, because we're not ruled by that bottom line.
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~Lance Allen
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Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: May 09, 2009, 01:47:34 AM »

That kind of raises the question of 'Why a mmorpg at all?'. For instance, nethack has quite a following, dedicated players, a real passion and has certainly got perma death. If you were to make nethack a mmorpg, would it really add anything?

Thing thing with a mmorpg is that you could use it to foster a certain community with certain values, atleast in terms of the activity (perhaps a bit like the forge that way?). But that goal certainly isn't compatable with "Get as many punters in as we can" which I think WOW does, with only a slight concession toward any non fiscal goal they might have. If you want to foster a certain mindset, you have to put up with a certain amount of unpopularity. The more focused the mindset, the higher the unpopularity, I'd postulate.

I suppose, and perhaps table top is like this too, they lend themselves to appear to be a bunch of enthused people available to engage some new idea. There seems to be that potential.
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