It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...
derspatchel

long MMORPG post: LOTRO and the nature of players, plus we drop some SW:G history (HALLO ACRONYMS)

This started out as a comment to scholargipsy in a post I made on my MMO filter (which you're welcome to join if you're not already on it) but I exceeded the 4300-character comment limit (who knew?) and decided to bring the discussion out here, where you may have some extra insight into things. In the filtered post, I talked about creating a new character in Lord of the Rings Online. He is a captain by the name of Spaulding; a man with bushy black eyebrows and mustache whose bio reads "One morning I killed a warg in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know." You know me. I'm an MMO goof. I'll never let a good laff go by.

scholargipsy, however, was disappointed with what he'd seen of LOTRO, as he absolutely loves Tolkien, loves the lore and is an admitted Tolkien purist. The game doesn't live up to his expectations with regards to fully committing itself to the game world and the canon, and neither do the players. And he made some good points when he commented:
MMORPGs are interesting in large part because everyone can play them in their own fashion -- but Tolkien's world is for me a pure one. It has a certain aesthetic texture that is fragile and too easily broken. During the preorder, my hobbit Tolbras had to share space with Spartanguy of the race of men. That, along with the horrific character models and animations, really bugged me.

So I guess for me LOTRO would never work, Spatch, because you're one of the clever, witty ones, but even your playstyle would break "my" Tolkien.
Okay, here's the thing as I see it. You are not alone in holding Tolkien's world sacrosanct and, to an extent, Turbine has tried to do the same. The option to turn off the display of your shoes, for example, so that hobbits may run barefoot, is a small feature, yet it means so much to hobbit fans and there are quite a few of them out there. And Turbine is wise to limit the character class to the third age, keeping Istari out as a playable class. No, you can't be a powerful wizard like Gandalf. There weren't many who were to begin with. And as long as Turbine sticks to that rule, and doesn't give in like Star Wars: Galaxies did (see below) then they'll be good.

And you're entirely correct with regards to the game experience. Each player's experience is what they themselves make of it, and there are so many contrasting archetypes. For every roleplayer with a fully-formed character background and whose out-of-character speech ((is always surrounded by two parentheses, even in private messages)) there's a player who just wants to play while chatting about last night's episode of Lost and whether or not Rosie O'Donnell is a big fat bitch. For every hardcore number-cruncher there's a casual player who doesn't care that her DPS isn't the best it could be or that her talent build isn't totally perfect. For every SERIOUS BUSINESS player, there's one who takes things lightly. For every player who respects the game and other players, there's a griefer who doesn't give a shit. For every player who knows how to play in groups, there's another player who continually charges ahead and won't let the healers recover their mana in between fights (to nobody's surprise this is also usually the player who continually hollers "HEAL PLS" when their hit points drop below 50%.) For every player who wants to hold strictly to canon, there's another who's mad that Turbine won't let him name his character Leeroy Jenkins. (It's true, too; the name and its variants are in the forbidden filter.)

Many of these play styles don't mix and won't mix.

One of the best moments of the closed beta for me, honestly, was farming pipeweed with a bunch of other players, who laughed and joked around as they worked the fields and harvested their crops and sorted the goods out at the table. Someone cooked up some food for snack breaks, someone else started playing their lute (the music system in the game has come a long way) and all of us busy little hobbits had more fun, because we'd turned what is one of the most dreaded MMO grinds of all -- the crafting grind -- into a neat social activity. And truth be told, it is fun to play a hungry hungry hobbit when you've got other hungry hungry hobbits around enjoying the same kind of thing.

But at any time some jackass could've come up and started fucking shit up, dancing in the field, wanting to talk smack or whatnot. That's one of the problems with MMOs.

So how do you make sure the majority of the playerbase gets what they want out of the game? How do you make sure the "serious" players don't have to put up with too many cretins? One of the typical solutions is to implement a role-playing-only server. This would be very popular in LOTRO and indeed it's one of the most asked-for features (there were discussions in beta over which server would be the Unofficial RP Server if one wasn't made official, f'rinstance.)

However, there are two main problems that pop up when running an RP-only server. The first involves which ground rules to set: Will you just forbid people from creating out-of-character names for their characters and kinships? Do you require names to fully follow Tolkien conventions, or is it okay for a dwarf's name to end in -ias? Will you require all public speech to be in character? Require hobbits to go barefoot at all times? Everybody has their own idea of what an RP server should be and how far to take things, and this causes serious conflict.

The second problem, of course, is how to enforce the rules. Should you have a dedicated GM staff in place to monitor goings-on, or should you rely on player enforcement? No matter what you do, of course, you are going to end up with some angry players: some who start crying that their "free speech" has been censored (opening the ol' You Are Not Guaranteed First Amendment Rights In A Privately-Owned Internet Presence And Besides There's More To The Internet Than America can of worms) and others who don't feel the RP aspect is being enforced enough.

Then again, you could go the route of World of Warcraft and only go so far as to say "Oh, hey, this server is RP" and leave it at that. I can personally attest that, unfortunately, playing on a WoW RP server does not guarantee you fewer cretins. Blizzard uses the RP label as merely a suggestion, there to help place players looking for an RP experience in a common server. It is not a requirement, however, and I think the AOL speakers outnumber the hardcore RPers at this point. The more players that join the game, the more diluted the niche players get. I had a bitch of a time Hordeside the other night trying to level a newbie blood elf rogue up. First I was bitched at for not accepting a blind guild invite, then I watched five people carry on one conversation across two separate channels (three people were talking in General, two were talking in LocalDefense but hey, it all goes to the same window anyway) and then I had a kill stolen as I was finishing a quest.

My quest involved turning in an item which would cause three or four mobs to appear and charge me and the quest-giver NPC. It was my job to defend the quest-giver, who had the strength of an anemic newborn and didn't raise a hand in defense besides. One of the mobs who appeared was a named mob, meaning it was unique (instead of being a Generic Undead Demon Thing, it's known as Bob The Undead Demon Thing.) And Bob the Undead Demon Thing has a better chance of dropping delicious magic items ("greens", as denoted by the color of their name.)

So I turned in the item, the four mobs showed up and charged -- and then some smackjob of a player ran up and attacked Bob The Undead Demon Thing first, so that I couldn't get the credit for killing him (and, more importantly, the looting rights.) When I told him to back off, he said "i'm helping u". When I said I hadn't asked for help and he hadn't asked to join in, he replied "o ya like i would ask a noob." And after I had quite politely elaborated on my thoughts and feelings towards him and the whole matter, he provided the following impeccable logic: "if i'm the moron how come i have the green haha"

Yes indeed, he certainly was a World of Warcraft Superstar for stealing a kill from a level 9 player and bragging about it. And this was on what was supposed to be a server for players who generally respect the game more than the kiddies and griefers. Ah well. Stick him in the /ignore list and hope he doesn't follow you around.

So. Yeah. RP servers. Like communism, they're great in theory but not so hot in practice.

There is another option, though it breaks every single EULA out there: run your own server with an illict server emulator. Then you can enforce as many rules as you like. This would help bring in and keep only those you know who would want to play that way. However, this under-the-nose-of-the-devs option is difficult to maintain (your server must stay as up-to-date with the actual game, which means considerable downtime after each patch while your emu server's dev team works to update things), hard to keep a secret (playing on a emulated server usually involves having to hack your game client, making your actions easily detectable), requires a lot of computer power, and will only bring in a limited number of players. Maybe you'll get exactly the kind of players you want, but certainly not enough to fully populate a real game world. Some of the private EverQuest servers such as Winter's Roar did a fair job of gaining a decent bunch of players before Sony lawyered them out of existence. Still, if you don't mind the risk of being banned or cease-and-desisted, you can tailor the game experience completely to your liking.

Right now, as the LOTRO playerbase is in its initial growth stage, the balance is favored more towards the hardcore gamers and lore fans, with casual/fun gamers coming up behind. There's a reasonably peaceful co-existence between the "serious" kinships on Silverlode, such as The Order of the Silver Flame, Strength And Honor and Defenders Of The Nine, and the "fun" or goofy kinships, such as Pipeweed Enforcement Agency, That Ent Right and (my favorite) Sauron Owes Me Money. But then there's Electric Meatloaf...

And there's the Serious Fun players. Hi! Serious Fun players are those who really enjoy playing the game, and do the best they can at it, but who still take things lightly and try not to let the drama llamas get in the way. In MMOs, I often play with the Something Awful goons. The first wave of goons in a game are usually the ones who want to play for serious fun; griefers come in much later and usually sit in their own splinter group after being kicked out of the original group with Much Drama. The group of goons who've stayed with City of Heroes/Villians, for example, are awesome folks, some of whom I've been playing with since EverQuest days into Star Wars: Galaxies and beyond. Given the sheer number of SA forums readers, some of whom are hardcore players, a Goon presence in an MMO can often be formidable. Currently, from what I've read, the Goons are holding serious power in EvE-Online, and in Star Wars: Galaxies, we were one of the first player groups to actually build a player city. Goontown was an amazing work of Sim City-style civic engineering, streets and all, with residential areas surrounding the important buildings such as the cantina, city hall and shuttleport and city decorations such as plazas, tree-lined boulevards and the like in between. It was glorious. Even so, those self-same Serious Fun players, the ones who loved creating an endless circular parade of pets and droids (who could be ordered to follow each other around) were the ones who razzed me the most when I created my souvenir stand by the Sarlaac Pit on Tatooine.

The LOTRO goon players in The Nazgûn ("The û Means Everything") are a bunch of good folks, who enjoy goofing around with each other as much as they do gathering up a Great Barrows group and having an adventure. I wouldn't expect us to fare well on an RP-only server, however, nor would we wish to go there.

I really wish you could have a great LOTRO experience, one you really want, to be able to play the purest vision of the game as Turbine envisioned: the chance to give every player their own epic adventure in Middle-Earth alongside Gandalf, Frodo, Gimli or whoever your favorite character is. While they got the lore and world creation down, as far as I'm concerned (we shall not speak of character models here) you're in the one demographic -- a very key demographic, considering -- that is the hardest to please. Turbine can only go so far before letting the players take over and determine how their epic adventures are run, and that's one factor that you can't treat as a constant.

FOOTNOTE 1: OH, THOSE WACKY JEDI. Star Wars: Galaxies completely lost it when, in the gigantic game revamp, they made the Jedi a selectable player class from level 1 on, instead of retaining the original concept of making sure only a small percentage of players would ever actually get the ability to play as Jedi. Jedi were supposed to be rare and, given that the game was set between the first Death Star explosion and the Empire's attack on Hoth, forced into hiding. When finally implemented, Jedi were extremely vulnerable: the instant you whipped out that lightsaber or used the Force in any way, you were open to attack from all sides.

I say "finally" implemented because the devs could never quite figure out exactly how a player was supposed to be able to "discover" his or her force-sensitive character slot. As it turns out, for the first -- what? six, nine months? -- of the game, SOE's claims that "oh yeah, Jedi are in, you just have to figure out how to get them" were false. Jedi hadn't been implemented. And when they finally were added, the method of gaining your force-sensitive slot was a long, long, long task split up into multiple long, long, long parts. It was like getting your Epic weapon in EverQuest times ten.

First you had to actually find a "Holocron", an extremely rare drop on only a few certain mobs. I remember camping one area of Dathomir for days on end to find the rare mob and then hope for the rare drop. The Holocron would tell you what you had to do next, but only up to a point. And what you had to do... was grind an profession, arbitrarily chosen and possibly not one you care to grind, all the way up to Master status. But wait! You're not done! Now you have to find another Holocron and do this step all over again with another arbitrarily chosen profession.

When I finally had a Holocron drop, it told me I would first have to master the Armorsmith profession -- a long, tedious, time and money sink of a grind. I said "funk dat" and continued on my merry way as Pistoleer, Musician and Chef. Then I quit the game and played something else.

You can guess this was not a satisfactory adventure for most players either and, indeed, one of the things players wanted to do the most was be a Jedi and run around with lightsabers without having to make the fzhwoom-fzhwoom-fzhwoom noises themselves. And once Raph Koster and his merry crew were out of the development department, in came the sweeping game revamp and hey presto now you can be a Jedi JUST LIKE LUKE SKYWALKER!

Which was the better solution? One stayed in keeping with game lore but was poorly implemented, the other catered to the playerbase and... was poorly implemented. Shame, that.
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