Oct 13, 2011

Posted by in All The Galaxy's A Stage, BioWare, News | 25 Comments

All The Galaxy’s A Stage: RP-PvP Servers and Rulesets

All The Galaxy’s A Stage is a regular column at Ask A Jedi with some lofty, creative goals.  On one hand, we will be discussing and exploring meaningful topics to support the role-play experience and community.  On the other hand, we also want to introduce the casual Role-Player to the writing-acting experience that can add so much more to an MMORPG like Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Share your perspectives and experience as we co-create magical story in that galaxy far, far away!

Recently, Senior Community Manager Stephen Reid confirmed that RP-PvP servers will be in the game at launch.  In effect, we will have Roleplay servers with open world Player versus Player combat in effect.  However, he also said that RP will be a suggestion only for such servers, and that no ruleset or naming convention will be enforced.

As you can imagine I got to thinking about what this might mean for the RP community.  I can see two perspectives at play and I think that overall the RP community loses more than it gains with BW’s announced approach.

Enforced RP Rulesets

An RP server that has an enforced ruleset will lay out a policy for expectations around behaviour and character naming.  For example, I will confess that bumping into characters named Ham Solo (and trust me, it WILL happen) really shows a lack of imagination and I’ve yet to meet an RPer who would approve of such names.  However, this is the least of my concerns.  What can happen with RP servers is that people with plenty of time on their hands will create characters on RP servers and go looking for people to grief.  RP scenes will be negatively impacted and carefully cultivated atmospheres will be crushed under the heel of disrespect.

Without an enforced RP ruleset you’ve effectively got no way of holding players accountable to respect the ‘suggestion’.  After all, a suggestion is just a suggestion.

At the same time, BioWare’s position is that the cost to administer such a policy doesn’t make much business sense.  And on that regard I do agree.  It’s tough to have a Game Master deal with submissions where someone decides that a name is offending them, or where a misunderstanding triggered the submission of a ticket.  Arbitrating such issues is hard enough in real life.

However, there might be an approach that would be cheap and provide RPers with a recourse.  Here’s an idea.  What about a reporting system that simply looks for the number of reports on a single player?  If the report had selections like ‘offensive name’ (this already exists on the forums) and ‘offensive behaviour’ then a report could be run.  BW would simply need to take the top 5 offenders in a week and investigate those.  This would greatly reduce the cost and actually provide an element of validation.  Getting hundreds of RPers to concur on an offensive name would be a form of natural selection and there’s proven intelligence in a crowd.  I believe my idea is win-win.  RPers know there’s some element of consequence for the most obvious offenders and BioWare has a cheap way to make a player base that could number in the hundreds of thousands very happy.

Dividing the Community

I also started to contemplate about the potential for another type of RP server to further divide the community.  A few thoughts around this came up.

When I think about the conversations I’ve had with members of the RP community I’ve been left with the general impression that there is a portion of RPers that love PvP and there’s a larger proportion that wouldn’t be seen dead on a PvP server.  They are there to RP and given the existance of warzones on RP servers the need for open world RP is somewhat limited.  If a scene needs to go to combat then players can always duel (although that’s another article of its own).  So, RP and RP-PvP servers might separate RPers but I don’t believe this will be a big split.  RP guilds are going to get involved with planning threads and band together to join servers.

For a while I also thought that timezone would be the biggest barrier to a unifed RP community.  However, I’ve come to realize that the dream of one mega RP server for all RPers is unrealistic for a couple of primary reasons.  I don’t believe that different timezones will turn out to be the biggest culprit for dividing the RP community.

The biggest issue to my mind really boils down to the sheer numbers of people interested in RP.  We’ve got some 5,000+ pre-registered RP guilds.  Assuming an average of 10 players per guild, that means a minimum of 50,000 RPers already involved.  And yet, in a recent AAJ poll over 40% of players have said they’re waiting for launch to join a guild.  In addition, we can safely assume that only the truly hardcore are following SWTOR fansites right now.  The reality is, we will likely have hundreds of thousands of RPers in the game.  Add to that the potential for BW’s story to incite newcomers to the craft of RP and it doesn’t take long to come up with the realization that it is simply unrealistic to expect a single server to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them.  Oh wait, wrong genre.

Reality Check

After thinking this through I’m of two opinions.  The interest in RP will result in numbers that make getting all interested RPers onto the same RP server unrealistic.  Timezones, RP, and RP-PvP Servers will be irrelevant given the numbers of RPers playing the game and plying their craft in BioWares stunningly groovy environment.  Those involved in pre-launch will band together, that server will become full, will be amazing, and will be the envy of all those that come after it.  I can’t see a way around this.  And even then, phasing may still be an issue.  Although, given the numbers of RPers in a scene the big risk with phasing is trying to get together with others who logged on a few hours before you did and are now in a different instance.  I can see cries of, “[OOC]I can’t see you…I’m here…where are you?”

As for rulesets, it is my opinion that if you have no consequences for choices experience has shown the RP community that things won’t go well.  A fairly vocal opinion that’s surfaced in the community that I’ve observed comes down to, without enforced rulesets why bother at all with an RP server?  In short, many believe that a suggestion is worthless.  Given my experience and preference I agree with this.  I also think that given the use of reporting, categorization and elementary data mining (which BW is proving they’re most adept at) the costs to manage the offenders of such a ruleset can be extremely low and yield a way to provide consequences to the worst offenders.

What do you think?  The more RPers that comment the more importance this topic will yield.  Do you agree or disagree with my opinions?  Would you suggest other approaches?

  1. This “enforced ruleset” mentality is counterproductive. As you pointed out yourself, why would BioWare make a set of rules for a server set that they have no hope of being able to enforce? That will upset people even more and leave BioWare in an untenable position. Besides, will it really solve the presumed griefing problem? No. (I don’t mean to suggest that there will be no griefing, but it may not be as bad as people fear. Here’s hoping.)

    Besides, what is this “ruleset” everyone is talking about? I’ve yet to see anyone suggest an actual ruleset. Is the enforcement of a naming policy a ruleset? All I have seen so far are people calling for ways to punish trolls, griefers, and people who “aren’t doing it right”. Be sure, if any such policing is implemented and enforced, conflicts and elitism will rear their ugly heads. The ability to register such complaints will be used as their own form of griefing. Ultimately, who really decides what’s right and what’s wrong in this little, virtual police state? BioWare will very much be obligated to be quite lax.

    It’s starting to sound that the problem is a sense of entitlement. Is it a case of, “We want RP servers where only RPers ever go and nobody will bothers us and RP will be perfect. If you don’t promise us this and make it happen you obviously don’t care about RPers”? Or is the problem that RP servers may as well be called PvE servers, for all the differentiation that the two have? If it’s the former, you’ve got a real problem and you’re stuck, because BioWare can’t solve that short of turning RP servers into their own little game. If it’s the latter, that’s an issue that can be solved. I’ve got some ideas on that and can repost them here if there’s interest.

    • There’s actually a precedent for RP ruleset. Turbine created one for their RP servers. The impression I’ve gotten from people who’ve played within it has been generally positive. Ironically, when I went to grab it I hit a ‘problem with the forums’ message. However, Googling “turbine LotRO RP server ruleset” got me to the respective link.

      You make good points and for me it’s definitely the latter. The reality is that there are problems that are real, not about entitlement and that have an impact on the RP experience overall (a ruleset should never be about specific styles of RP just the common sense elements of what supports a positive RP experience).

      I’m always interested in reading ideas of approaches that have worked in the past (and this is why I like Turbine’s approach for RP in LotRO since from what I can tell it worked).

      In short, you’ve opened up the most important question. What are the real interests behind the need for ensuring that an RP server and its player base has the most fun experience? In turn, can BioWare actually be a part of providing a cost-effective and workable mechanism to accomplish this goal?

    • Simple you get a big enough griefer they dont deserver to be playing the game gm should just simply lock their account for about 3 days lock it longer for each infraction they do that in the forums do it in game they will learn eventually i dont really care how much money these ass hats spend on the game it still doesnt justify the cyber bullying we see in our online games these days these griefers need to be dealt with a little more harshly and yes its in the tos company can cancel and delete someone account with little to no notification.

      • I do understand why you feel this way, I really do. But at the same time there is a very delicate balance for developers to strike. Enforcing ToS with consequences really comes down to the skills of the GMs involved, the clarity of the rules to interpret, and a fair system for consequences. Miss any of those elements and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

  2. I like your idea on having a “top offender” database for determining if a name is offensive or not. I have only one problem:

    It can’t be known to people how that system works. Because, inevitably, someone might try and “game” it by having a high number of players report on someone else whose name they don’t like (or, in rarer cases, someone they specifically don’t like). As long as the system remains mysterious, it could be done right.

    • And now I’m going to put my Stats-geek hat on. There are actually simple tools within Statistics (for example, Control charts) that allow you to measure and identify when such ‘gaming’ occurs. From what I’ve heard BW have investigated significant resources in data mining. They can stack many attributes of data. Extending their existing approach to this report would allow the use of statistical technique to actually highlight when such offenses occur.

      However, I agree. You don’t want to publish the method since you put strain on the need to analysis and use said statistical tools.

      The focus on ‘trends’ rather than individual complaints really renders risks like a report on someone they didn’t like really moot. Statistics is one of those sciences (and yes it IS a science) that has an unbelievable amount of power. Combine that with the data mining system that BW has in place, a well constructed report and process/policies, and this this could be efficiently dealt with.

  3. Unfortunaly, these days there are trolls everywhere, and punishing them will not avoid your game being affected (since you will be offended so you can take action and report that player). The best way to deal with it is to ignore those players that you dont want to ruin your game. Bur BW could do filters and simple UI to deal with those players, no doubt about it.

    • I appreciate why you would say this but unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. The craft of role-playing takes a lot of mental energy. You’re thinking about what’s going on in the environment, your character, what other characters are doing, the on-going story, and the various surprises that come up. When a griefer wanders in and starts to flood the local /say channel it is not only totally breaking the atmosphere but role-players have to emotionally and mentally recover from this. The mood is spoiled and sometimes epic moments that took hours to craft (and weeks/months) to get to can be ruined.

      I wish it were as simple as that. But trust me when I say, that as a role-player I am not alone in the desire to see consequences for such behaviour. Ignore is not enough unfortunately as I hope the example above helped to clarify.

      • Grinstone says:

        The problem with the eye-for-an-eye approach is that you’ve already been griefed. The mood and work may well be ruined. Nothing will undo the griefing and you may well never know if that person has been punished. Certainly they’ll not be punished as quickly and easily as they interrupted your RP.

        The idea that punishing these individuals will eventually lead to a protected environment in which people can RP in piece is, frankly, a pipe dream. It rests entirely on the premise that the punishment will, eventually, outpace the griefers. If the griefing should prove to be anything close to the kind of problem you anticipate it will be, that’s simply not going to happen.

        This wouldn’t be such a hot topic if roleplayers weren’t fully aware of, and expected, this kind of problem. So, let us accept the premise that griefing will be a problem. Let us also accept the premise that the enforcement of a ruleset on RP servers will have a minimal impact on griefing. In this case, are we really talking about making the RP servers a better place or merely about the vindictive pleasure inherent in the idea that someone might be punished for upsetting you? (I say might because, as I said above and should be clear to everyone, it’s likely that you’ll never know if, or how, someone was punished.)

        I’ve read the comments of a few people here and there that give testimonial of how unmolested RP is thriving on this or that game. I’m fairly certain that in every such instance that results from the community on that game or server, rather than from any kind of highly effective policing and enforcement.

        This is why I stand by my idea that RPers should be asking for things that will measurably improve their RP experience and even their ability to RP. Such things will be of use all the time, every time. 100% up time, if you will. How often do you honestly expect to need to use some means to lash out at someone?

        • I have an idea the would be good for keeping characters (as you call them griefer’s) out of an RP in a populated area. The only thing is Bioware would have to do it. In every cantina block of an sizable area that a someone can go into, almost like the story modes with the green and red energy shields and make a split of area where only the people they invite can come into so the RP will go undisturbed and everyone doesn’t have to worry about someone walking in a messing everything up. They could also make these area’s at random places out in the while where people could meet up as well.

          • Grinstone says:

            This solution rests on the principle of exclusivity and is likely to promote an atmosphere of elitism and distrust. Someone new to the server would probably find it extremely difficult to obtain a recommendation or an invitation to join such an RP circle.

            If all you’re going to do is RP with a few of your closest friends and you won’t let anyone else into your VIP zone unless they meet some standard, why bother going out to a public area at all?

          • A good point made, sir.

  4. You gotta put this into perspective here. How would you like it if you spent thousands on a new car and had a speed limiter and tracking device placed on it so that people could see where and how fast you drive? To further this, you would receive emails threatening to have your car taken because someone saw you driving and didn’t like the way you drove?

    You paid for it right? Your purchase is legal right? So why discriminate me to fit in with a minority?

    Mature players will respect the fact that it is an RP server and steer clear if it doesn’t float their boat out of respect for that community, but on the other hand it offers bored immature players the chance to have endless hours of griefing ‘fun’.

    It simply boils down the the irony of MMOG’s. As I have always said… The only problem with a massively multiplayer game is the ‘other people’ …

    • So what you are saying is that if you are in the middle of an RP with a group of your friends and it is going the way you like it, you wouldn’t mind someone coming and a getting in your face ruining the RP just because they wanted to have fun at your expense?

      Your whole car explanation is fine and all but remember there are laws in place to keep people from speeding and police there to stop those who don’t follow the laws. I you got a new car and speed all the time because “Hey, you can do what you want” There are going to be consequence for your actions mainly you’re car getting taken away from you. So yes you bought it and yes it is your but no you can’t do what you want with it because if it gets out of hand it will be taken away from you.

      • Your absolutely right! And there will also be a ‘general law’ for everybody who plays the game in the form of a ‘user agreement’ but serious offences with ‘consequences’ aside, if I felt like pulling up alongside someone in
        my ‘car’ and throwing chicken nuggets at them from my window, then I’m sure I won’t incur the blue fury of the police department any time soon. So no, you can’t do what you want but there are ways of ruining things for others without doing anything lawbreaking. Not saying that I ever would either. Just that it’s possible.

        • These are very interest comments. But I like to feel that the people in the RP community will come together to make for a better experience regardless of what BW does or doesn’t do. Yes, I’d like to see more support but I think we have to take a positive and pro-active approach to this.

  5. I highly agree with your opinions… I have seen the worst of the worst RPer’s on WoW and a few other games including Star Wars Galaxies, they are foul and rude, as well do and say the grossest thing’s I have seen, the bad thing is these people that do that would never do such things in real life… it is highly disturbing what people will do when no one knows who they are… no integrity what so ever…

    • I’ve seen a fair bit o this in my time. Again, I’m hopeful that community will do a good job of raising awareness as to the people and places that are focused on this sort of thing, and crowd-intelligence will help us know the best places to go and the worst to avoid.

  6. In the case of BW making RP-PvP not RP enforced…BW fails, and I haven’t yet seen a circumstance where my saying that was vailid but it is here. There’s really no point at all in maiking an RP-PvP server if your not going to have it RP enforced. It’s like an open invitation for juvenile asswipes to come annoy the hell out of RPers. I love PvP and RP, but I’ll let PvP take a backseat to avoid the imminent disaster that kind of server will be.

    • A fair comment. And I believe I’m in the same camp. I’m still trying to rationalize how to resolve this though. A ruleset would take a commitment from BW to enforce. And whilst there are ways to make it economically feasible, there’s still a serious journey to get it right. How committed would BW be with that?

  7. YiddishYeti says:

    Im quick to agree with you. Im not a hardcore RPer. Im not even really a casual RPer. Im just a guy that wants to play the game for what it is, and no well done game deserves to have some 14 year old named MrSneeKypaNTs going around griefing people. I grew up on 2 games, Ultima Online and WoW. Id have to say that i felt the demographics of those games we’re really quite opposite. UO was such a classic sandbox game, truly a make your own fun type of environment. Impromptu archery competitions, and world wide races and scavenger hunts. The community was so active that even Game Masters would come in and give out awards to winners of these Mock competitions. The funny thing was, there was no such thing as RP servers. This was all because of the player base. In WoW, i played on an RP-PvP Server. The only elements of RP preserved though, was weeding out inappropriate names. Major RP guilds we’re forced to keep events secret to avoid greifers, reporting offenders did little; by the time the tickets were actually handled it would be hours later and the reporter left with nothing but a shucks and a pat on the head. My particular server actually was still well known in the RP community as one of the better ones. But all that would cause was unwanted attention from unsavory server transfers. Without a ruleset, it all comes down to the player base. This game is going to attract millions, with all those people it will be hard to truly create a niche within This MMO, without a little help from BioWare.

    • I’ve been thinking about this following reading your comment. And I think some of it will come down to the RP community really banding together on a few servers and using critical mass to deal with this. It won’t be perfect, but if we’ve got lots of activity going on the volume will drown out the noise…hopefully.

  8. These are some great ideas about RP. It is disappointing that that BW isn’t going to police the RP policy on that server and to your point, “What’s the point of having it then?” I totally agree.

    Members of my guild have been discussing, (hypothetically of course until 12/20!) and I’m not sure what is the best way to deal with griefers. I’m not sure there is a sure fired way that works fairly every time. Some grievances will be legit, and others will be petty and personal. And issues of non-SW styled names or chat are going to happen.

    What’s my solution? I’m not sure I have one. People are idiots and unfortunately our advanced technology has given rise and power to people like this. They hide in the anonymous nature of the Internet, without fear of true reprisal from those they’ve wronged. And the worse of it is that people who like to grief would never, ever say/do these type of things in real life and would more than likely wet themselves at the thought of true face-to-face confrontation with the people they do this to. I guess the only people who actually really “grief” in real life are those a-holes from Westboro Baptist Church.

    I’m saying all that to say that perhaps, the RP communities on the RP servers in SWTOR will need to police themselves. I like Sa’s suggestion that BW do a top 5 offenders list every week. Run a report on who’s names keep popping up consistantly on the “grief” report. BW could pull that person aside and say, “Hey…cool it. We’re watching you”. A warning..first one’s free kid. Then after that, ban-hammer.

    To my fellow RPers, I look forward to playing, fighting with and against you on 12/20.

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