Designing an MMORPG: Chat Systems

MMORPG chat systems have remained largely unchanged since the start of MMOs. Does that mean we found the perfect way to communicate in games or might there be a better method we’ve not tried yet? That’s the topic of Designing an MMORPG this week.

Last week we had a look at the different options for starting zones and the results were kind of surprising. Despite the fact that it would cause early separation amongst friends, Race Specific starting zones won out with 31% of the vote. Faction specific and one starting zone for everyone were at the bottom with 15% and 14% of the votes respectively. I had originally anticipated that Faction specific would win because it gives a good balance of the negative and the positive. Scow2 on Reddit made some very good points about how bad it would be to have the starting zone be the game’s central hub. It’s overwhelming for new players as they get thrown into everything all at once.

Having race specific starting zones win does create an interesting question. Where do Humans start? They’re represented in all three factions so maybe there will only be one Human starting area that is faction neutral, or maybe they’ll have to pick from one of the other race’s starting areas from their faction. We’re only a couple of weeks away from having completed 10 of this series, at which point I want to review everything we’ve done so far and reveal the map. This is when we’ll find out where the Humans will be starting the game. Be warned, the map will be made in MS Paint.

For now, though, it’s time for us to look at another topic and the topic this week is MMORPG Chat Systems, or more generally communication systems. This is one part of MMOs that hasn’t really evolved at all since the start. This was a topic that was recommended by a reader early on in the series, but if I’m entirely honest…I don’t have any answers on how to evolve communication. So, because of that, there won’t be anything to vote on.

 

The Chat Box

Personally, I quite like the chat system as it exists now. You’ve got your chat box in the lower left corner of the screen with various channels for groups, areas, sometimes even level ranges. How complex it is varies by game. I’m personally a fan of both Rift and City of Heroes’ chat systems. Complex and customizable. City of Heroes allowed anyone to create a channel and invite anyone they wanted as well. How would I improve the system? I would allow for even more customization. MMOs rarely allow players to pick the name that appears in the chat box. Some games, like Guild Wars 2, only allow for your character name to display. That’s not a great option though for any game that encourages players to have alts. Again, looking at City of Heroes’ system that had a mix of global and local names worked really well.

 

Voice Only

world of warcraft raiding

Another option is to use a voice chat system. This would come with severe limitations though. First, you’re requiring players to have a headset or at least a microphone. That’s an extra expense that not everyone can afford. It would also have a big impact on the trans community. Trans-folks often play MMORPGs because they are in safe environments where they can be themselves. Voice chat would only open up the harassment box for them. This is also a concern for women. Already many female MMORPG players will pretend to be men to avoid harassment. Voice chat would make that impossible. A voice only chat system would also make a game completely unplayable for anyone who is deaf, and yes, there are a TON of deaf gamers. They already face hardships from games that offer audio cues but nothing visual to go along with it. Now they’d be completely unable to communicate with players. There’s also the complication with roleplaying. It would put a greater barrier of entry in place for anyone who is shy and wants to try out roleplaying. Even a seasoned RPer like me, who has been doing it for well over a decade now, would refuse to roleplay over voice chat. Also, wouldn’t you hate to be the kid whose mother walks in on them ERPing? Wouldn’t you hate to be the mother?

On the other hand, a voice only chat system would be wonderful for dungeons, raids, and PvP, where voice is faster than typing and multitasking is a must. It would also be fantastic for anyone who has conditions relating to their hands. While these are great positives, I think that the reasons against doing it are far too great and a voice only system isn’t a good idea.

 

Social Media

MMORPG Chat Systems

Another option is to include social media. I’m not talking about the type of social media integration where you’re asking your friends for 5 berries on Facebook. In fact, I think connecting a game to your social media accounts is a bad idea all around. Instead, have a social media system in-game. Imagine if Secret World Legends had a built-in Twitter clone. This is a great idea for any games with a modern or futuristic setting, but with the majority of MMORPGs taking place in fantasy worlds that aren’t at our technology level, I don’t see how this could work. Bringing back the original idea of a bulletin board is a fun idea for very slow communication, but it doesn’t take into account one-on-one conversation in real time.

 

Maybe the way to revolutionize the MMORPG chat system isn’t to abandon the chat box at all but instead to change it. Perhaps more games need to embrace the idea that different races speak different languages and if you’ve not put in the time to learn the pretty Elf’s language, you’ll never be able to talk to her.

Or maybe the system is perfect as it is. So, instead of voting this week I would love to know what you think on this topic. Does the MMORPG chat system need a change? If you think it does do you have any ideas on how to do that?

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