I wish we could be friends

The other night, I found myself dancing frivolously next to a Tauren at the Eventide bank in Dalaran, laughing and cheering. Obviously we were both bored out of our wits, which happens more frequently to players these days, and as we were both wearing our special pre-Cata event costumes it seemed like a fun thing to do. At this occasion I’d like to say once more that the Darkspear Pride is possibly a million times cooler than the Gnomeregan one. Yeah I know, I chose the wrong faction.

That little, silly intermezzo lasted 5 minutes before the Tauren warrior /waved a goodbye at me, disappearing. And I couldn’t help but feel a little sad about the fact that the Alliance and Horde are doomed to never be able to communicate or interact any more in WoW than in such fleeting moments and gestures. I never felt that Blizzard did a particularly great job with their faction model and the language barrier is one big part of that. So I’m supposed to hate the Horde, I got that….wait, why is that again?

Good vs. Evil in MMOs

Unlike Ferrel from Epic Slant I don’t believe that division is a bad thing in MMOs; I think we both agree though that it is mainly about how you approach such division in games. I’m all for a little conflict and I believe there’s a lot of potential in implementing opposing factions of “good” and “evil” in a game – it’s a driving force of the fantasy genre after all. However, the way Blizzard tried to manage this in World of Warcraft is one of the great examples of how not to do it. I was always baffled at the parallel society the Horde and Alliance form in the game, with hardly any interaction besides some forced outdoor PVP zones, battlegrounds and arenas and no relevant impact whatsoever on the world we all play in. I don’t think most of us care whether our enemy in a BG is horde or alliance at this point and that kinda proves my point.

If you want to include the element of ethos in a game, you need to establish things like freedom of choice, consequence and impact. Players should become good or evil, because they choose to play the game in a certain way, taking different paths that will impact on the world they play in and on their own character’s development as a whole. Fable has managed this in a rather nice way in 2004, whereby every player starts the same way and chooses his own path from there. Your character’s playstyle will influence future choices, quests and even your looks will adapt to how you play. The world around you will offer different options and consequences depending on whether you’re of noble or foul spirit.

All that WoW does for me on the other hand, is say “here’s a Tauren, now hate him” – without any immediate motivation or reason for me to do so. It’s actually quite racist if you think about it: I’m supposed to hate another player not because he did something evil in my time, but because somebody else tells me so or because it’s written in some old lore of the game. I’m not sure I want to play a dickhead like that to be honest (which the Alliance already appears to be according to WoW lore).

If you want players to pursue each other with a passion and fuel the fire of conflict in your game, there needs to be a clear and immediate motivation for that. This you can only achieve by letting all players, independant of more cosmetic factors like race, choose how to play the game and installing different paths, rewards and restrictions from there accordingly. In Ultima Online for example, the game would flag players gone rogue in different colors (for example after killing other players) for a set duration, depending on which your options in the game would change. Entire guilds would be created around protecting yourself from criminals on whom you could set bounties in cities. Criminals would in return form bands and while the game would punish them (for they would be pursued by city guards), there was still incentives to go red, for example lootwise.

PVP is not the only option

I think UO showed one of the more “authentic” and open approaches to conflict in a fantasy MMO; there were regulations but there was still a lot of freedom of choice and the element of chaos. Most will agree that this is preferable to pure racial conflict whereby enemies cannot even communicate. Stark images of trying to talk to my cats come to mind when gestures and sounds are all I have to communicate with the Horde. And I have a very hard time hating animals.

Even if you loathe any form of PVP action in online games, there are better ways to manage conflict than how we’ve seen it done in WoW so far. The problem with places like Halaa in Nagrand for example, was that nobody actually cares that much to capture the place repeatedly.

We need choices for good and evil in a game, incentives and rewards and we need them to impact on the world we play in. If I’m supposed to hate or fear somebody, it should be because he did something to deserve that – dancing in front of a bank with me, even dancing badly, doesn’t exactly qualify.

I don’t know what future MMOs will do about ingame conflict but I’m looking forward to new concepts.

18 comments

  1. I suggested something along those lines a year ago, when Blizzard launched the faction changes. I thought – and still think – it would be a cool idea if I could join the horde as a gnome traitor.

    http://www.pinkpigtailinn.com/2009/09/why-not-offer-true-faction-changes.html

    About the communication problems with the opposite faction I’m on the fence. It has happened that I’ve been frustrated about it, on the other hand, it can actually be a little bit of fun when you find yourself in a situation where you want to cooperate and have to use your imagination to work around the restrictions.

  2. I agree we should have a better reason for why we’re supposed to kill eachother on sight ^^

    But I do kind of like the fact that we can’t communicate however. I’ve been in a similar situation as the one you describe, especially when questing on a pvp-server and getting along with someone from the opposing faction give me those “I love you” feelings (thinking about Dr Evil and Minime). But I think that feeling would be ruined somehow if I could get to know the person behind the ugly gnome. Our mutual understanding wouldn’t be as cool anymore, because understanding without communication is about the coolest there is.

  3. It would be nice if our starting zones helped drive conflict. Maybe something as small as a misunderstanding: we’re off on a patrol and stumble over a border or a Forsaken coughs and the Alliance assumes it’s a plague attack. Start the fighting and there we go, we’ve got the cycle of violence rolling. It doesn’t justify every single battle, but it does at least set up why we’re breaking the peace treaty.

  4. @Larísa
    hehe I remember that post and I agree roles like traitors and spies would be awesome.

    I’ve made such funny experiences too and obviously it makes it more special if you manage to cooperate (or dance) with an opposing faction because the game really doesnt want you to. but i’m still sad that we are cut off from each other so dramatically for most parts, for no better reason than race. =/ I’d like to choose my friends and enemies myself and for real reasons. what about implementing something like ‘language learning’ questlines or professions in wow? that could’ve been one great way to resolve this too.

    @Zinn
    That’s an interesting point about pvp servers. i’m obviously on a PVE server so I rarely ever experience this sort of thing. it must be a little different for you, even though I wonder how often that actually happens for the majority of players. from what I heard pvp servers are only marginally different from pve ones, with most of the intended outdoor action missing there as well(?)

    @Klep
    ah you mean like old feuds between towns that date so far back nobody remembers what started them (possibly someone’s donkey gone missing)? ;)

    I guess including the starting areas would be a start…I would love to see blizzard create incentives to attack or dominate certain bases in the game, but then they’d really have to make an effort to reward this properly.

  5. On a gut level, I disagree. I think part of the problem with the “hate” issue is for players who’ve never experienced a PvP server–it really brings into focus personal motivation to NOT get along with the other side, even though I’ve had my moments of cross-faction cooperation even there.

    The mythos, or rather, our assumption, that the Alliance is good and the Horde is evil is simply not one encouraged by the story of either faction. If you consider each group as a nation-state, and the two alliances of people as groups aiming to spread their influence and protect their borders, then I think you’d come much closer to the reality. Yes, there has been conflict over resources, and those wounds still remain, but despite these historic and current problems, the two factions attempt to work together when larger problems arise.

    The language barrier among the “grunts” is natural and to be expected. It makes those moments of unexpected aid and communication the sweeter, and really brings home the “humanity” of the other side.

  6. I agree .. only partly :)

    When I started to play WoW I thought that the language barrier was ingenious. I actually did not like Night Elve hunters. A real emotion of dislike in a game. Wow. ‘Hate’ would be too strong of a word, but I could not stand them, perhaps I despised them. Of course I have always been aware that it is just a game ;)

    Now .. since the introduction of arena (not to say the end of vanilla :), there was no RvR in WoW anymore. There were silly BGs, even more silly arenas and PvE.

    And the language barrier is a problem for PvE. So for TBC and WotLK I agree with you: The language barrier is stupid and serves no purpose. It only harmes PvE.

    But, and that is a big BUT :) if Blizzard manages to re-introduce the conflict between Horde and Alliance with the coming of the Cataclysm, that barrier could once again make you dislike the other faction. And that emotion is valuable – as are all emotions inside the immersive world that a MMORPG manages to instill in you.

    If it was no stupid design error, I am pretty certain that was also the original idea of the language barrir. Or .. do you have a better explanation ?

    PS: Anybody else hates the broken immersion when Horde and Alliance heroes talk to each other in cut scenes as if understanding each other was no problem? .. I guess most players did not even take notice ;(

  7. @Windsoar
    Yeah i guess it’s different from a PVP server’s point of view, like I said to Zinn. but I think the whole division is not explained and made visible enough in the world of warcraft as a whole.
    also if factions are such a big deal, why install horde and alliance happily next to one another in hubs like Dalaran or Shattrath? city guards or not, that peace seems very controversial to me.

    also, if different languages are there for more authentic feeling, why can I not aspire to learn more over time in the game? If WoW is serious about the different races and nations, they should also be more careful about details like that; the first thing you’d do to try conquer the enemy, is to understand it?

  8. @Nils
    The main issue for me is that the faction hate is a very primitive way to inspire feud; you’re expected to hate someone not because of what he does or how he acts, but because that’s what lore dictates – and that isn’t very immersive, no. I’d say it’s actually rather broken according to Tony Ventrice’s definition, because it requires way too much pre-req knowledge about WoW. I don’t wanna go and read WoWwiki in order to understand why I should be hating the horde. if WoW wants faction feud, then the reasons should be all around me, impacting on my game.

    Furthermore, if I actually do go and read up, all it tells me is that the alliance are/were basically fascists and that is once more an immersion-killer to me. on a personal level, i have a very hard time identifying with traditional conflict; I guess it fits a more blunt, medieval setting of ignorance, but I can simply get a lot more passionate about hating morons (for ex. in tradechat) for being morons, rather than hating “them strangers with the dark skin” because that’s what my nationalist fathers did too.

    I also think language barrier should go hand in hand with the endevour to overcome it; especially if it’s about warring factions. Like Larísa suggested too, the first thing you’d do is try infiltrate the enemy and spy on their lines of communication.

  9. I think it would be awfully fun to be able to learn the other side’s language. Sadly, that would lead to an instantaneous translation add-on, but it sure would be fun if you could do something to make the pacifist/diplomat effort.

  10. I had no idea about Alliance v Horde conflict when I started playing. Then slowly I “learned” that I, as Alliance, was supposed to hate all Horde. “OK”, I said to myself.

    But I was never satisfied as to why. I roll Horde toons and learn that they are not Evil, so there must be a reason. I think WoW fails to introduce those reasons from the early stages of a toon’s life. Like you, I don’t want to go reading somewhere for hours on end why the two factions must hate each other. If there is going to be faction hating, there should be a lot more story introduced, experiences that you go through at a very low level, that give you reasons to hate.

    Personally I love the idea of behavior determining the level of hate someone feels for you (or vice versa) as opposed to forced opposition with no story to make you want to feel animosity for a good reason.

  11. I feel the same way really, however now that I’ve been “conditioned” this way, I bothers me that during the Gunship battle, and Deathbringer Saurfang encounter, we can understand everything that Saurfang (junior, and senior) are saying.

    And gosh darn it, if I have to hate someone, then I need a good reason to!

  12. @Disciplinary Action
    hehe true, I didn’t think of that. but of course we’d do it the hard way and not use any of those mods!

    @Gronthe & Annmariah
    well maybe blizzard is going to create some more background story and reasons for the division in cataclysm again. somehow I doubt it though.

  13. Excellent article and I agree 100% with everything you said. I’ve disliked the fact that from day one I have been able to interact with the opposing faction other than an emote. There are a million and one better ways to run the opposing factions. Spot on thank you for the well written article.

  14. As you say, player interaction with the Alliance/Horde factions are broken. But that’s largely because these two factions are unlike any other faction in the game. With other groups, you can earn rep or destroy it by your actions in the game. For the Horde or Alliance, you cannot do anything that will reduce your reputation even a little. The goblins and the bloodsail pirates have linked reputations. The same could exist for Horde factions and Alliance factions so that earning one might reduce the other. I think it would be a much more interesting world if you were born into a group with a good reputation and neutral rep with their allies. Then, as you go through the world, you choose whom to ally with and whom to fight against. The mechanics already exist in the game for this. Blizzard just needs to decide to do it.

    It’s sad that languages exist in the game but are underdeveloped and under-used. It’s like they had the idea at first and then never did anything with it. It would be nice if you could learn a “foreign” language through some large effort, like maximizing fishing. And, like learning a language, maybe it could be easier to do at lower levels.

  15. Sorry to derail but…is that…THE Klep? THE legendary troll shaman sage of WoW?

    /praise

    Phew that was a blast from the past.

    I don’t have a whole lot to add to the subject except a memoriable little thing I happen to recall.

    Back on the US servers there was a small horde invasion (3-5 dudes?) in Redridge and they were hanging out on the bridge and the path before it towards Elvywn etc. Most of the allied folks there were trying to converse in emotes but then along came one or two that started writing in symbols and gibberish, and the Horde guys replied in similar fashion. Obviously this was the work of an addon.

    This was pretty early on in the game and while I do not know if it was around in the beta I remember being very impressed that something like that had been developed so early on in a game’s life.

    -kash

  16. I am indeed the same Klepsacovic. I’m surprised anyone remembers after thing long.

    The gibberish might have been a few phrases that players figured out would be ‘translated’ as something understandable. For example, as Horde you might see an Alliance yell something like “me lo ve you”, which I imagine is complete gibberish to type.

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