The Elder Scrolls Online’s rationale for roleplay
After reading the roleplay-oriented AMA that released Monday on the official Elder Scrolls Online website, I resigned myself to the fact that I’m never again going to get to play an MMO with chat bubbles. I will miss you, my lovely communicative vesicle. I shall remember fondly the times you allowed me to easily distinguish between those who spoke right next to me and those who sat halfway across a tavern. Apparently, you are now a dated device that no longer holds importance to designers looking to make a game that revolves around player-to-player communication…
I know that chat bubbles are not the only important device in the roleplayer arsenal of storytelling tools, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t find the irony humorous. And I am extraordinarily happy that developers took the time to answer some very important roleplay-related questions. As someone who happens to be very interested in the ability to roleplay effectively, I’d like to take a few moments to discuss the answers the developers gave. And surprisingly the discussion we had last week about the ESO community-building tools fits in quite well with the theme on the whole.
Communication appears to be the primary thrust of the roleplay-related questions. It makes sense; communication is the primary tool for excellent roleplay. Besides the aforementioned chat bubbles, there are multiple ways players can communicate with each other. Chat channels, like guild chat and group chat, come to mind. Spatial (or local) chat serves as the primary place for in-character dialogue, so if that channel is filled with out-of-character communication, then not only does it possibly break the immersion of the moment but it can also clutter the channel with irrelevant chatter.
What was ZeniMax’s response to the communication question? “Though you can’t group together if you’re from different alliances,” the developers explained, “many of our social systems are focused on you as opposed to on your characters individually, and you’ll be able to communicate across alliances through these systems.” At this, I emote an eyebrow-raise and a look of complete confusion.
The devs have said in the past and reiterated in the AMA that guilds ignore factional differences, but they have also stated that Cyrodiil is the only place that opposing factions will be able to meet up. “There’s nothing stopping you from sharing a peaceful (if tense) round of drinks with characters from another alliance in Cyrodiil,” the AMA states, so most likely there will not be a language barrier between the factions. But what are the other “social systems”? I can only assume that means things like whispers and in-game mail. To which I say, “Yes! Finally, a game that will allow me to coordinate events with opposing factions!” If that’s not what that means, then I’m going to be wearing a very sad face.
Luckily, ZeniMax didn’t completely dodge the EU vs. NA megaserver question as it did the sitting-in-chairs question. Having many roleplay friends who live in Europe, I am pleased to know that I will be able to play with them without territorial restriction. And I was also surprised at the candid answer regarding personal profiles. Although that type of interface will not come standard, roleplayers will be able to create add-ons that will allow this and other roleplay-centric tools. Maybe that means we can have chat bubbles after all. Players in beta, get to working on that now.
Commenters last week could not decide which direction was best for developers to create a great community. However, I think there was a consensus that many recent games have taken a direction contrary to community building. Steve1 stated that the “comfortable path [of progression] should be one that leaves the players seeking a group by the time they leave the newbie area.” He questions the idea of a strong character-focused story with a checklist of achievements; he does not believe there would be a reason to care about the other players “except for the sake of comparing their accomplishment lists.” AnatidaeProject echoes this sentiment by declaring, “We are in the age of Massive Multiplayer Solo Games.”
Oftentimes, I wonder the same thing. Are we living in a time in MMO development where the personal trumps working on a cooperative or world story? World of Warcraft became the MMO to emulate shortly after its release, and unless you’re leveling via the dungeon finder, it’s essentially a solo game until you reach max level. Even Guild Wars 2, a game that in my opinion made co-op leveling extraordinarily easy and fun, told a personal story that seemed to shut out the rest of the players. Unfortunately, I don’t see a great solution to the overarching issue, but I do think that games like Star Wars: The Old Republic did at least attempt to incorporate a larger group-based storyline within its flashpoints. Perhaps Elder Scrolls Online will attempt the same thing (or something better).
The AMA and last week’s comment discussion bring up some interesting points about communication and what makes these kinds of things important to an MMO community. First off, I’d like to ask whether you’re going to roleplay in ESO or not. Given the single-player feel of the storyline of past Elder Scrolls games and the direction that ESO tends to be heading, I’m not sure to what extent I will roleplay. It appears that it might be an uphill battle, one that I might not be willing to take at this moment in my MMO career. If you are a roleplayer, why or why won’t you roleplay in ESO? Are there any tools ZeniMax can give you to help solidify your wants?
Those of you who don’t roleplay, tell me what you think of personal story in MMOs. Does it separate you from the playerbase at large, or does it actually make you feel more connected to the world around you?