MMO. Why Bother With The RPG?

Whilst writing yesterdays article, I noticed something a little odd about Ten Ton Hammer’s 2009 MMO awards (note that their tagline was “Recoginizing excellence in the MMOGs of 2009″): their award for best RPG went to... Dragon Age: Origins?

"Don't forget to taunt when you're tanking"

"If you draw aggro, I'm so not healing you"

DA:O is a great game and deserves recognition but I was slightly baffled as to why it was happening in an award “ceremony” reserved purely for MMO games. Unless I slept through a gigantic patch, Dragon Age is strictly an offline single player game and thus not only should it not even be a consideration for the category but surely it should be getting stomped into tiny little pieces by all of those glorious games that are defined, by name and nature, as being Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games.

However, as Ten Ton Hammer pointed out in the article, they couldn’t actually find a MMORPG that offered any decent sense of roleplay or story and therefore had to look further afield for something suitable. A little odd but, more to the point, extremely concerning. If not even a single cotton-pickin’ MMORPG can win an award for being a RPG in the MMO category then, by Gawd, something must be utterly wrong, right?

I’m not entirely convinced by TTH’s argument about lack of roleplay in MMOs though as I believe it just takes form in a different way from than in a single player games. In single player games, you are force to conform to a role yet in MMO you, the player and your personality and the way your talk and interact with others, are responsible for your own roleplay. You don’t need to do anything to roleplay other than to just log in and start doing it.

However, I can definitely certify that fewer and fewer MMORPGs are supplying roleplaying functions and facilities. World of Warcraft, the most popular MMORPG, doesn’t even give you the option to write your own character’s biography, something that I find pretty shocking. Plus, the story in almost every MMOs is pretty minimal and forget about doing anything to permanently influence NPCs or the outcome. At the end of the day, when we compare our MMOs to great single player games like Dragon Age, the RPG mechanics come across as lacking (to say the least).

So I can completely understand why TTH gave the RPG award to DA:O. It’s sad though and depresses me a little. I mean, why do we even bother using the term MMORPG anymore anyway?

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  2. Dragon Age: Origins. Done.
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25 Comments

  1. Longasc says:

    Impish reasoning, but they definitely have a point.

  2. Fremskritt says:

    I just wonder, will the industry take notice?

  3. Windsoar says:

    And yet those communities do have roleplayers? All MMO’s have a different frame of reference, if you will, than a single-player rpg, so comparing the two for their offerings in role-playing seems… shockingly inconsistent.

    The opportunity to role-play, in a MMO like WoW is much more open and determined by the players than any opportunities offered in a story driven RPG. While an excellent RPG, I would not say that I could have a better role-playing experience in a game that is inherently on MY story which I have no overall control of.

    I don’t see the need for a “personal history” that is available upon inspection to be a good baseline–isn’t that the sort of information that becomes shared in the evolution of your characters interaction with other characters? Hmm, for someone who hasn’t seriously role-played since the Realm, this seems rather long-winded *waves*

    • Gordon says:

      To me, roleplaying is about creating a unique character and becoming them completely so people don’t see you, the player, they see the character. Of course, you can just start roleplaying in a MMORPG with everyone you meet but ideally we’d still have the facilities to do it properly i.e. bespoke character traits and abilities, backgrounds and history. If you look at say WoW, there is really nothing separating one Prot Warrior from another other than a couple of talent points in different places. That makes it a lot harder to roleplay.

  4. Dustin Moore says:

    If any of you ever played LOTRO you felt like storylines in MMO’s were back. I never read the books (only saw the Lord of the Rings movies) but it makes me wish I did read them. It helps the roleplaying aspect when you have an amazing storyline. They showed it can be done in the MMO world.

  5. Occam says:

    I agree with them. I played EQ for almost a decade and a few years of EQ2, but playing DAO, I thought “this is what an RPG should be.”

    I’m not sure any MMO can ever be as “good” of an RPG as a single-player RPG though. It takes tons of time and effort even in a single-player RPG to account for all the various choices and decisions your character can make. Now multiply that by hundreds of thousands or even millions. What you end up with isn’t so much “role-playing” as “customizable.” The only things you really have control over is what gear you use and what quests you complete. But even then, those quests are meant for everyone, so there’s really no way to differentiate yourself.

    None of your choices matter. You never make decisions that influence anything, really. You can’t do anything unexpected, by definition. If you want to progress, you progress the same way everyone else does.

    A couple times in EQ2, I got questions like “Which parent was an elf?” (I played a Half-Elf), and for a brief moment, I was engaged. But once I answered, it was clear that it really made no difference what I chose. It was nice flavor, but sadly it looks like “flavor” is all role-playing in MMOs will ever be. Anything “real” has to take the form of fan fiction and roleplaying guilds, because that’s the only way to break out of the MMOs’ narrow molds.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily Blizzard’s or Sony’s or whoever’s fault. It’s pretty unrealistic to expect to have all these multitudes of permutations of different choices. Perhaps it’s just futility to even try.

  6. Pindleskin says:

    I think that there are different levels of “RPG”. Following the storyline and reading the lore while questing away is a valid form of RP. I played my warrior slowly through the vanilla content, totally immersing myself in the sheer atmosphere of it, and it felt “real” to me. I as one character could not change the storyline drastically one way or another, but then I am just one humble warrior. Multitudes do change the story though (Think AQ opening event: thousands of people working together to a common goal and actually changing the world slightly). What you’re getting at here is more the player’s role in RP, how the game engages you to build your own story; and yes, that is lacking in any big MMO at this point.
    RP is about immersion and at the end of the day it’s up to the player how much he gets sucked into it all.

    • Gordon says:

      “RP is about immersion and at the end of the day it’s up to the player how much he gets sucked into it all.”

      Agreed. I guess if we judge RPG by metrics such as choice, story and influencing the game world, MMORPGs wouldn’t rate very highly. But if we judged them by the freedom to become a role, they would do well.

  7. Kyff says:

    Ten Ton Hammer shouldn’t have awarded any price for best MMORPG then.

    If the MMOs can’t get the award, because they are not RPGs, Why should a game that certainly is an RPG get the award when it is no MMO. Don’t these two elements have the same weight?

  8. openedge1 says:

    All I can say is …THANK GOD most MMO’s are NOT like Dragon Age.

    If I want to play a novel again, I will pick up one of my paperbacks and get a hockey stick and smack it around.

    Long. drawn out conversations is NOT what I want in an MMO. I easily get my RPG on in most MMO’s I play with the people I play with. The game does not need to control that feature for me.

    Sorry, but Dragon Age was NOT the almighty game people made it out to be, and I will stick to the more fun aspects of gaming.

    Cheers

    • Gordon says:

      “If I want to play a novel again, I will pick up one of my paperbacks and get a hockey stick and smack it around.”

      LOL. Yeah, I must confess I did find myself skipping through some dialogue…

      • Longasc says:

        I can only second Openedg.

        Dragon Age makes for a nice single player experience – and the story is told in an appropriate way for this. But for a MMO? It has already too often lengths and becomes too cinematic and lengthy for my taste as single player game, in a MMO you can so totally forget this.

        A MMO needs to tell a story in a different way. Dragon Age has a great story, but you cannot take it as 1:1 template for a MMO at all.

        • Gordon says:

          I agree, although there still is quite a lot a game like DA:O can teach MMORPGs. I loved the choices and ability to infuence the overarching story – there are the things I’d definitely like to see in more MMORPGs.

  9. nugget says:

    Ahh.. character bios.

    As an enthusiastic RPer on MUDs, (I can’t really RP in MMOs – the graphics are to distracting to make the RP possible for me)… as an enthusiastic MUD RPer, I LOATHE having to write character bios.

    It’s not that my characters don’t have their own histories, their own quirks, etc. Oh indeed, they do.

    I just have an allergy to bios, proper. They make me feel like I’m on a disastrous date where someone feels inclined to spill their entire life story before we’ve even gotten through the entree, because they think that’s ’sharing’ and ‘conversation’.

    Ahem. Ranty nugget is ranty.

  10. Ferrel says:

    I think part of the reason that role-playing has been reduced in general us due in part to WoW culture. WoW is not a roleplaying game. WoW is a game and a pretty good one at that. You can play WoW BGs, WoW Arena, WoW Raiding, WoW Grouping and what not. Most WoW players outside of RP servers don’t have “characters” they have “avatars” and that distinction is pretty important.

    MMOs also do everything they can to be WoW these days. It is unfortunate but true. Investors don’t care if the game has awesome RPG elements or not. They want the team to make them WoW money. I think after 2009 they will realize these expectations are unrealistic but that was certainly an issue. I think designers and investors now understand that you can just cobble together an MMO and make that mark. You’ve got to offer something new or different.

    Roleplaying might just be that. The Old Republic seems to hinge heavily on that. Other games might as well.

    One other minor culprit that I’ll throw in here is the issue of random tasks. Some of you might call them quests but they’re not. Most MMOs have less “quests” than I have tweets. Generally you’ve given chores to do and nobody cares about them. The guy who writes them doesn’t care. The person who codes them doesn’t care. The player who does them doesn’t care. As long as the bar moves left to right at the appropriate pace, everyone calls this good.

    This chore hub system as trained us not to care about quests. In EQ1, when there weren’t many quests, we read EVERYTHING. If we didn’t we might not be able to succeed. Doing that now is hard. You don’t know what NPC gives a chore and which one gives a quest. Filtering just doesn’t work.

    To bring back some of those roleplaying elements we have to start reducing chores and increasing quests. We have to treat the products less as a collection of mini-games and more as a roleplaying game. This has to be heavily developer lead though. Their actions change our behavior.

    • Gordon says:

      Great comment. I think a big issue with WoW is that it’s all about instant gratification now. The Dungeon Finder is a great example of how people just want the rewards, they don’t want to have to work together to get it. It’s hard to spend the time trying to roleplay in such a group when no one even says hello.

  11. Bootleg says:

    Maybe I don’t understand what role playing is… It occurs to me that Eve is an example of an ultimate role playing game. I AM a space pirate. Or I’m a ship manufacturer, or I’m an empire builder, or a corporate ceo, or… When I played that game, I thought of myself as an economic tycoon, an entrepreneur. I role-played.

    Does role-playing require speaking with a funny voice and different vocabulary or total immersion?

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