Posted by: Sean | April 17, 2009

What are the limits of what Blizzard can do for role-players?

Too Many Annas points out this exchange between one Blizzard fan and Blizzard Community Manager Nethaera. It’s a little long, though not nearly so long as the thread it’s spawned from. That said, the long thread is absolutely bloody instructive in looking at the situation regarding role-playing on World of Warcraft. I’ve yet to read through the whole thing, but I’m damned well going to. Here’s some gems I’ve pulled out so far.

Blizzard do not understand the central gripe of the role-players.

Let me summarise part of this conversation in order to make it simpler to understand. It is, as I said, a bit long.

Original poster: Why is it that Blizzard seem to ignore the issues with role-playing servers? The lot of them have more people ridiculing the role-players – thus violating Blizzard’s conduct guidelines – than actual role-players. Why do Blizzard not enforce their own rules?
Nethaera: Hey, we’re not ignoring you! We’ve added in lots of fun role-play items for you, and the Argent Tournament has lots of nifty role-play tools like squires and city tabards!

Blizzard seem to continue to see the situation as being essentially modular: Role-players can happily play while non-role players play around them. True enough, except that the other players are often absolutely disinterested in playing along with this scenario. The real issue is enforcement: Creating environments that are friendly to role-play by limiting the actions of those who don’t, or better yet, just concentrating the numbers of those who do.

To be fair, Nethaera does look at the issue of enforcement later on, and notes the difficulty of drawing a line. I’m reminded of Ding! comic from Scott Kurtz’s ill-fated Phables-esque experiment. Two Blood Elves, frustrated with the low drop-rate on Felblood in the Pools of Aggonar, begin jumping up and down on the dead terrorfiends to try and squeeze blood out of them.

You know what I call that? Role-playing.

But others might disagree.

Role-playing is not a single state. It’s a spectrum. Hell, it’s a field. Spectrum implies linearity, and that’s not true either. There’s the hard-core angsty drama queens over there. There’s the comedy club rejects yukking it up that way. (I am proudly a member of this group.) The ERPers are in Goldshire. The darkness and evil crowd are in the Undercity. Every single one of these groups do role-play differently, but they’re utterly different. Not to mention those who are Full-Immersion RPers, versus the casual ‘role-play between raids’ types.


What we can all agree on is that the griefers, the ridiculers and the like are not role-playing. (OK, there’s even some disagreement there, but shut up, I’m working on this.) Blizzard need to do more to enforce these rules, they do need to crack down on the naming policy, they do need to understand that some level of immersion is required for a role-play server. Nethaera’s responses are welcome, but this central truth remains unacknowledged.

One man’s strategy is another man’s freakout.

I admit, this post amused me.

Back in Vanilla I was riding through Stormwind on my mage, just sort of flitting here and there, and there was a guy sitting on a bench by the mage quarter talking to an NPC. I sat there and watched him for about five minutes, and he just kept going and going.

Every time somebody brings up RP, I think of that. That’s why you’re being ignored, you freak normal people out.

Ignoring the amusing misuse of the word ‘normal’, the fun thing here is that I recognised immediately what that guy was doing. He was flagging. He was saying, “Hey, I’m a role-player! Come and role-play with me!” By talking to the NPC he was developing a potential scene for others to leap into. (Actually, we plan to test that strategy in our next Katafray Project.)

But this guy looked at him and thought, “Holy shit! This guy is talking to himself!” Which is also pretty fair.

One problem is that… well, we’re not not normal, but we are a bit weird, and I’m happy to admit that. But so are PVPers, who have their own in-game quirks, and the hardcore raiders have their own as well. They make sense to us, because our quirks are aimed at goals we understand. But if you don’t understand the goal, it’s perhaps understandable that the quirk will look very weird indeed.

Goodness me, I’m in the city already. Consider this a To Be Continued. I’m not nearly done with this thread yet.


  1. Looking forward to more on the topic. As a hunter who has spent time talking to and playing with his pets, I’m sure I’ve done more than my share to “freak normal people out.”

    Not to mention all the walking I do. I’ve yet to understand why people keep following me. I don’t remember putting any points into the drum major tree.

  2. I’d say the problematic view that most non-RPs have is the ability to view the world as ‘alive’ even in a static place like WoW. That human NPC is not just something that I can’t right click on, it is a person who maybe has a wife or could have been a former adventurer or whatever – but it is someone who is more an just an non-interacting NPC. It is very hard for people to understand that.

    Moving on to the Blizzard doesn’t care part…
    I don’t believe that the issue should be to look into “giving more to RPs” it should be to try and motivate the others who don’t RP or are disruptive to it to give a reason to add positivity to the community, while at the same time making it something that is also beneficial to current RPers.

    The most success I’ve seen in creating a positive RPing atmosphere without too much enforcement of rules was to give incentive to roleplay. Currently, there is nothing (game play related) that would give anyone to a reason to RP over doing anything else. How this worked in another game was to reward those that RPed better gear that could be bought/found, personal quests, and assistance in becoming an integral part of the world. Obviously, this can’t really work in a place like WoW, but ideas along this line of thinking could go a wrong way to creating the positive roleplaying environment we all want.

    I’ll give a real world parallel with what I know. Most underground mines have a sort of safety incentive program – meaning that being proactive in thinking and doing stuff regarding safety will get you things (i.e. gift cards, company merch, even things like TVs). A lot of people don’t like safety or the safety people and try to make light of it, even though it can get them fired. These incentive programs have a positive effect on getting people thinking about safety and acting in a safer manner in order to get the prize. Yes, there are people who will try to exploit it, but it has the overall effect of having more people care about safety. If you change a few words, it should be obvious how this could apply to RPing, the only difference is that there is no incentive to RP for those that think it’s “not normal”.

    I don’t claim to know what this incentive would be but it could be a solution to move forward. Until then, we’ll just have to support each other within the confines that are given to us.

  3. I like your take on this, you’re very thorough. Looking forward to reading more of your posts on RP.

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