The thing that separates MMORPGs from other types of games is the ability to interact with hundreds or thousands of other players on a single server. However, in games with opposing factions, it is common to see limitations in place to prevent players from speaking directly with players on the other side. This is done for a variety of reasons. Some consider it an important deterrent to griefing and other activities that are damaging to the community, while others believe that cross-faction communication encourages community building. In this weeks Community Pulse, I'm taking a look at the active debate surrounding this subject on the official forum.
One thread on the subject, created by Vappy, is still a hotspot for debate among the community after more than two years of debate and two separate incarnations of the thread. The original post is short and to the point.
Ok, so I'm surprised I haven't found a thread discussing this yet. In nearly every MMO with rival factions, communication is impossible while in-game. However, we all know that in the Star Wars universe, most species/factions of people can communicate freely. What are your opinions on this subject? How should BioWare deal with this issue?
This is alluding to the fact that in the Star Wars universe, most humans have a knowledge of Basic - the language spoken by the characters in the films. Star Wars: The Old Republic is not deviating from canon in this regard; due to the fully-voiced nature of the project, all player characters will speak Basic. The argument can be made, then, that any barriers to cross-faction communication would be artificial and not supported by lore.
However, sometimes artificial restrictions exist for a reason. Many other MMOs have prevented players from speaking to players of the opposite faction as a way to cut down on "smack-talking". JediMasterFenix brings up this point, recalling his PvP experiences from previous games in which players would use crude forms of communication to taunt their opponents on the battlefield.
From a logical standpoint, it would make sense that everyone can pretty much understand everyone. So cross-faction should happen....
From a 'I don't want to be harassed in PvP' standpoint, I would rather not see this implemented. How many times in PvP during a game where they couldn't say anything to each other did people merely use emotes to come across a complete a##? And even with just emotes it managed to piss you off? Imagine if people could say all the horrible nasty things they possibly could ever want to? I mean...this is a game, why do I want someone to be able to make my game less enjoyable by being a total dip to me?
I vote no.
While most posters acknowledged the point that an anonymous MMO environment can encourage poor social behavior in-game, some didn't believe that the negatives outweigh the positives in this case, particularly when there are in-game tools for dealing with such people. Korser voted yes, and encouraged people who have a problem with other players to make good use of the ignore function.
I voted yes, I can understand why some people wouldn't want it but as long as ignore lists work for both factions, i.e. I'm Sith & want to ignore list someone from Republic, then it shouldn't be a problem, even if you don't have it, you're always going to meet those from the other side that so desperately want to be an idiot they will find ways round the no x-faction chat.
In games which have had x-faction comms I've found plenty of people I get on with from the other side as well, the only thing that not having it does is divide the community, as only a small percentage usually use the forums.
The debate continued, with posters on both sides making their arguments and weighing the cost of personal freedoms versus a respectful environment. Some even suggested certain limitations on cross-faction communication, such as this idea from SpaceCadetTyrone.
Here's an idea:
Limit cross faction PM's to pre-approved phrases, and probably on a cooldown so they can't be spammed.
You go to send a holo message PM whatever to your opponent who you just thoroughly trashed. You get to pick.
- I just crushed you into bantha poodoo (I know...I'm trying to keep it palletable to the SWTOR customer base)
- You should bring more friends next time. Then it will be an even fight.
- The ability to use the force is insignificant, next to the power of my groin kick.
Just as an example...I'm sure someone is a master trash-talking writer and could come up with better ones.
I could live with that.
Another idea was that certain forms of cross-faction communication would be allowed, but not others. For example, preventing players from sending tells/whispers to players on the opposing faction. A poster named Fodigg posted an example of such restrictions in the original incarnation of the thread.
Local chat should be cross-faction: /say, /shout, /emote, but "comm traffic" should be "encrypted" cross-faction: /tell, /zone, /world, /trade, /guild, /group
Many posters felt that something along these lines would be a solid compromise, where players of opposing factions could understand each other, but not grief each other with tells over long distances. The idea seemed to be that if players were close enough to speak to each other, they'd also be close enough to shoot each other.
Some individuals even went so far as to suggest that "trash talking" and similar methods of communication actually improve the community. "I think the most important part of cross-faction talk is that it creates genuine rivalry throughout the entire ladder of the social structure: individuals, guilds, and factions," wrote GripenWard, citing his experiences with previous MMOs that allow cross-server communication.
Ultimately, support for the idea was largely positive, with 70% of the community voting for cross-server communication. However, it's important to remember that while the community may support an idea in theory, that's no guarantee that they would be supportive of it in practice. As always, BioWare is the final arbiter of what goes into their game, and it appears that they have at least given some thought to the idea. This is a quote from former BioWare Community Manager Sean Dahlberg at Gamescom 2010 on the subject.
It is possible to talk between factions. Some very specific quests, pending or not, can rarely be conducted together and exceptionally between factions. But it will be very rare and in a very specific purpose. The multi-faction guilds will not be possible, guilds will aim to compete on both sides. But who knows, maybe this will be possible in an add-on is still in discussions.
It's important to note that this answer comes from a translation of an interview from French fansite Jeux Online. As always, this information is subject to change based on decisions from BioWare's development team, and things may have changed since last summer. Even if cross-faction communication is possible, there is still plenty of room for debate on its possible implementation, and the pros and cons that could come as a result.
In my opinion, communication between players could be implemented in a number of different ways, and it's impossible for me to present scientific evidence supporting one communication model over another. Faction-locked communication is certainly successful for some recent MMOs, but it's unlikely that a lack of cross-faction communication was the sole reason for that. At the same time, many online gaming communities have created strong rivalries between players through the ability to communicate with enemy players.
The question of whether cross-server communication would be harmful to the SWTOR community ultimately comes down to the ability of players to socialize with one another and police their own behavior. It's true that cross-faction communication can result in griefing, trash-talking, and other negative acts on the part of players. However, it's also true that these behaviors will likely exist within a player's own faction, regardless of whether or not they can communicate with the other side.
BioWare must carefully weigh the pros and cons of each feature, determine whether or not it fits with the vision they're trying to create, and decide whether it's something they want to commit resources to. One thing is certain, the decision to go with faction-locked communication or cross-faction communication will have a significant impact on the community of Star Wars: The Old Republic.