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.