Roleplay vs. Ruleplay

  • Post author:
  • Post category:MMORPG

I’m always analyzing what makes players behave a certain way or more accurately the way in which people play MMOs. My latest thought process brought me to this idea of Roleplay vs. Ruleplay.

Players these days tend to follow rules laid out for them. Players are told to level up so they do. They are told to grind dungeons for gear then move on to the next dungeon, and so they do. Players are told to be the combative hero and center of attention. MMOs tell the player exactly how to play the game. There are parameters — defined parameters — controlling the extent to which a player can exercise conscious thought about what it is they are doing and why.

Older MMOs had fewer parameters or rules. Older MMOs required the player to imagine their own parameters, create their own rules, and the community created the way in which everyone jointly played together.

Throw an average player today into a game roleplay situation and their response will be, “What am I supposed to do?” People haven’t become less intelligent or less creative in the past 10 years. Humanity hasn’t seen a decline that drastic that quickly. The problem rests on the games and the ecosystem which has been created and fostered by developers/publishers looking to stamp our McMMO franchises. Start to change the games and the players will adapt to their surroundings.

When a player can choose their path, choose how to play that path, and have the freedom to cross paths back and forth, the entire experience becomes more organic and dynamic. Constrain the player to one path with every other player on the same route toward one goal or objective and much of that is lost.

I want to stop there because this topic can now split into several specific topics about specific ways in which players are encourage to Roleplay vs. Ruleplay. For now, think about the ways in which you as a player are being confined to a set path and how you might do things differently if given the choice of freedom. What role would you play, and how? Suddenly the game world becomes a virtual world full of possibilities.

  • UO I use to play on catskills. The three evil big groups were the Undead, the Orcs, and the crimson Alliance. All three were really good but rather hierarchical and regimented. Instead I joined the Zombie Horde, a small guild. It was a lot more laid back without ranks and structure, but was still part of the community. I rather enjoyed it. Its a role i really enjoyed.

    I normally like to be a mix class(bear shamen, Mesmer ,ect ect.) of some sort but outside the main group. A small group of respect but not normally elite players. I like having a slightly unorthodox or specialized style. Being good with a gimped class it something I enjoy doing.

  • Here’s something you might find of interest Keen.

    The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains;

    It’s a far bigger issue than “game play”. It’s about our ability to improvise and synthesize solutions on the fly.

    I grew up playing games that simply didn’t have a manual. Often their objectives were completely obscure. You had to learn by doing, through experimentation and observation.

    I like to frame the discussion as more of a “Toy vs Game” paradigm. Games, by their nature, have rules and states. That’s what makes them distinctive from toys.

    A soccer ball is a toy. An object that can be used in a variety of different activities.

    But as soon as you take it on the soccer field and begin to play a “soccer match”, suddenly interaction with the object takes on certain rules and properties (e.g. You can’t touch the ball with your hands, you must stay within the field of play, only shots into the “goal” will score points.. etc).

    Both of these activities, “Toys” and “Games”, both teach human beings unique skills. I think what you’re describing might be as a result of the decline of “toys”. The situation where you “make your own fun” within a loose framework of function.

    My family used to joke that they could give me an empty cardboard box and keep me busy for hours. These days, children are hyperstimulated almost from birth. Their entertainment needs are handled for them, with little effort.

    “Working at fun” is a skill that seems to be dropping off in the population. The implications in the long run could prove difficult to say the least.

  • Then again, perhaps games like “minecraft” offer a counter point to the discussion.

    Minecraft, for all intents and purposes is “digital lego”. I would class it as more of a “software toy” than an actual game, given how loose the framework around it is.

    Given it’s success, one could suggest that at least some individuals are still keen on the “make your own fun” approach.

  • I don’t think that it’s the publisher’s fault, nor any individual player’s. It’s just a naturally emergent characteristic of any hobby or group endeavor: a combination of popularity and familiarity causes the playerbase to tend towards optimization. While the race to optimization can be fun for awhile, you eventually end up at a place where nothing besides optimization feels rewarding. Some small subset of the community usually feels “left behind”, since their sensibilities aren’t those of optimization. But that’s what the new community is usually interested in. I think that’s the spot you are in Keen.

  • I don’t know if you can make much of a distinction in a video game (vs. a tabletop game where the adjudicators are human and able to improvise).

    EVE Online fits the “older MMO” design philosophy you describe fairly well, but there was just recently an assertion by one of the older players in one of the largest alliances there that manufacturing enough to be self-sufficient in the player-controlled area of space was “literally impossible,” by which he meant “inferior to other alternatives in terms of cost/benefit.” What made it “literally impossible” rather than just “suboptimal” is that in a PVP game where loss is painful, any suboptimal gameplay is a self-inflicted wound that an enemy can exploit, and then you lose, and it’s painful.

    That being the case, even though the game doesn’t explicitly require or direct anyone to behave any particular way, there is a clearly optimal path, and the reward for taking that path is significant enough that roleplay is considered quaint and kind of weird there, and the most successful alliances are managed by hardcore ruleplayers.

    That’s a tough nut to crack.

  • @ Dersen Lowery: Really great points. It circles around nicely to the “illusion of choice” discussion. It doesn’t matter if you appear to have 10 choices, if only one of them is actually worth taking.

    Giving players “absolute freedom” seems ok on paper, until you realise that the vast majority of your efforts will be wasted on the tiny number who choose “the path less travelled”. Most of your players are going to try to find the “best” or “correct” path through the game.

    It reminds me of a comment a WoW Raid designer in wow made a few years back. Blizzard looked at their stats in Vanilla and found that only around 1% of the server populations was completing Raids. While that was awesome for the 1%, it was completely unprofitable to exclude the 99% of their customers from content they were *paying* to experience.

    That’s why each release say Raiding become more and more accessible.

  • Vanilla WoW had a direct path. It was all about leveling up, reaching the max level, getting good enough gear to beat a boss, then getting good enough gear to beat the next boss. That’s why Blizzard had the 1% problem. They had a clear path in their game to follow but 99% couldn’t go down that path.

    If the game was more open ended, and 1% chose to raid, that would have been fine. Maybe 5% would have chosen something like building their own houses or opening shops. Maybe if crafting was more open-ended and fleshed out some people would have devoted more time to a fully-realized crafting system. If leveling up and killing big bosses wasn’t the entire game, other activities would reflect more choices and ‘roles’ to fill.

  • “If the game was more open ended, and 1% chose to raid, that would have been fine. Maybe 5% would have chosen something like building their own houses or opening shops. Maybe if crafting was more open-ended and fleshed out some people would have devoted more time to a fully-realized crafting system. If leveling up and killing big bosses wasn’t the entire game, other activities would reflect more choices and ‘roles’ to fill.”

    Exactly, Keen. For the life of me I cannot figure out why there are not multiple endgames to keep more people sticking around in an MMO. Raiders, PvPers, merchants conducting economic warfare a la ArcheAge, farmers growing and selling things, housing & real estate enthusiasts, shopkeepers, hardcore crafters, roleplayers…imagine if all were catered to in an endgame. What a rich virtual world it would be!

  • Yep. That’s why UO and SWG had such long-lasting appeal for me. So many different styles of play were all needed, catered to in an end-game, and available to choose from.

  • @Dersen Lowery – That’s kind of funny about the comment about null sec. I play EVE and having looked at null sec, I’ll never go there. I don’t like bubbles and a lot of the other stuff found there. Instead I play in low sec in a one-person corp carebearing it up. So for me, EVE is role play, because one person thinks is the best way to play, another may think is a total, unfun waste of time.