Allow me to preface this by saying this isn’t a hateful post. It’s merely an observation.
I’ve got absolutely nothing against DDO. I think it’s a fine game. Not the best game there is, but does it have to be? It provides fun and that should be the basic mandate of any game. I like the visuals overall. It’s AD&D which, despite its DDO-specific splashes of flavor, is basically a known quantity and familiar waters if you’re into that kind of swimming. It treats its F2P players well and the Eberron setting is interesting.
However, after coming back to the game and playing it more or less steadily for the last couple of weeks something rather ironic stuck out at me: The RP scene is quite barren. The sadly ironic part of all this is that we’re essentially talking about D&D, kickstarter extraordinaire (however you wanna slice it) of Roleplay Gaming, paper or not. So it should have a more or less healthy RP community, but I haven’t observed it (and yes, I know where to look. Us RPers are like dogs sniffing each other’s butts when it comes to this).
So where’s the disconnect?
Lacking RP scenes in online games usually happen due to three major factors, one of them a rather overriding one.
First, it could be that there simply is no critical social mass of players. Whether this is due to a new game that finds itself largely off the radars, or because of an aging game that cannot retain a bleeding playerbase, the end result is the same; there just isn’t enough people around. And since RPers are (almost by default) a minority, well there you go. But I don’t think this is the case with DDO. The game might be aging, yes, but it’s hardly bleeding players away. The much-touted conversion to F2P has definitely netted the game a nice influx of players.
The second common reason is that the game’s setting doesn’t lend itself well for players to RP with, but we can toss this one out of the window when it comes to DDO. I found Eberron to be interesting to be in, and at no point I got turned off by environments, content or lore. There’s plenty there to exploit.
The third factor, however, is the big kahuna and the one which DDO I think fell prey to: The game doesn’t give any tools to its RPers for them to use and create anything of note.
Now, let’s not beat around the bush here. To date, NO MMO, has succeeded in this. Some came closer than others, naturally. Some did better jobs. But MMOs are largely static environments with static resources in which the words “user content” (which is essentially what RP is) are as much holy grail as they are a cuss word as far as most designers are concerned. I’m not ragging on DDO and DDO alone because it fails to adequately cater to its RPer population. It’s endemic to the genre as a whole. But I am ragging on DDO because it only provides an absolute minimum in this area.
It’s quite painful to see AD&D, the game system which has been the great catalytic agent of RP to the masses, the one which spawned countless worlds, settings and variants, one which is so ripe with possibilities to be reduced to this; not only a static playspace, but also a rather confined one as well. RPers essentially generate their own content, and as such they only need two things: room and tools.
What I mean by room: Not strictly geographic or game world room (although it’s always nice), but rather room to play in. Bringing our characters as close to life as we can requires that they feel and seem as alive as they can to us and to those we play with. To do this, a large selection of visual emotes are necessary. Many clothing options are necessary, with a good level of granularity as well. A good interaction with the environments our characters are placed in is necessary, because that usually finishes selling the illusion.
What I mean by tools: Mechanics and options that us players can use to improve and finish fleshing out our characters in a believable way. This is beyond mere cosmetics and naming/titling options, but it does include them. It includes a metric asston of fluff items. It includes the ability to use dyes and accessories on wearables. It includes mechanics to enable us to distinguish our guilds and associations from one another. It includes mechanics to allow us to create our own fluff items and quests.
DDO, sadly, lacks in providing room and tools for its RPers, so it’s not surprising the scene seems to languish. As a norm, due to how static our game worlds are, RPers tend to play around the game and its limitations, and the saddest thing about DDO is just how evident and how strong its RP limitations are. The DDO Store does a good job in providing cosmetics for a price (and we applaud that, seeing as how many of us here at KTR are fans of letting people pay for fluff), but even the Store has its limits. Seems to me DDO began with a very basic framework of what is the absolute minimum of things required for RPers to exist as players in that world but never progressed past it. The list of emotes is paltry, and visual emotes are even more rare. Wearables largely tend to come as a package deal in which you wear something or not, not many parts allowed. Character interaction with its environments is pretty dismal.
So you end up with what essentially is a large stat-based dungeon crawl game. By the way, nothing wrong with that at all. I enjoy those as much as the next guy. But it could have been so much more had it paid more attention to the “RP” instead of the “G” almost exclusively. It’s a very fine game which, unfortunately, tends to make it severely uphill to roleplay in. Two different things.
And since we also love food metaphors in here so much, DDO is like pizza without toppings. Nutritious enough. Serves it purpose. Myself, I like to indulge on cheese pizza too every now and then when we order. My kids like it. But it lacks the layers of flavor, texture and extra nutrition that toppings provide. It’s just the base, and none of the art. Leaves no room for RPers to top it as they see fit.
Memo to Turbine (and while we’re at it, to arena.net too, since they also created another huge cheese pizza a while back): Even my kids are now beginning to have their cheese pizza with olives. We can eat more than base. We want more than base. Give us toppings, give us a large enough base to put them on and let us use it.