Do racial variants add much value to MMOs?

Last week we got the word that Lord of the Rings Online has a new race in the pipeline — the Stout Axe Dwarves (which, as someone noted on Twitter, can pretty much refer to all of Lord of the Rings’ Dwarves). We know that this race will have a new starting area, be a little taller than the current Dwarves in the game, and offer a female option (a first for LOTRO — at least from the player’s side). We can presume that they will have different racials and animations.

Almost as soon as this race was announced, I started to hear familiar rumblings from some quarters asking the question of whether this actually added value to the game. Is it just a cheap cash grab? The easiest way to add a race in a game hemmed in by lore? And where oh where are my playable Ents already?

Playable racial variants seem to be a minor trend among MMOs lately. DDO has several of them (such as Deep Gnome and Aasimar Scourge), LOTRO brought in the High Elves back in 2017, and World of Warcraft of course has been going whole-hog with allied races ever since the pre-Battle for Azeroth patch.

When a new race isn’t completely new at all, but rather a reskin or an old race spruced up and given a few new minor abilities, is that really enough to warrant an inclusion? It’s not a flashpoint for controversy, but I’ve seen people taking sides on this. Some love them, and some see them as only slightly better than pointless.

Yes, they may be cash grabs and easy ways to get “new” races in the game from a development perspective, but I do think that racial variants offer value to MMORPGs — because they matter to some players. Making characters in MMOs are all about choice and personal expression, who you want to “be” in this virtual world. The more options, the better. I think it’s as simple as that. If it makes some people really happy to have them, then what skin off your nose is it to have it in the game, even if you don’t play it? There are lots of races I don’t play, but (other than Elves) I don’t begrudge their inclusion.

In World of Warcraft, I’ve considered allied races as a rather tantalizing carrot worth chasing, and I’ve gotten a rush over the past few weeks as I’ve unlocked two new ones (Kul Tiran Humans and Dark Iron Dwarves) as well as a minor Night Elf variant. I might well never play any of them, but there’s a satisfying feeling to having them as a future option if I want to try one out. And any excuse to roll up an alt is a win in my book!

As for the Stout Axe Dwarves, I’m betting that LOTRO is going to do the same thing as it did with Mordor and include them in the pricier editions of this fall’s expansion as well as sell them a la carté. That means we won’t be seeing as many of them in the game, but the allure of having a female dwarf is going to send some players in a happy frenzy to roll one up. It also helps to keep this MMO in the spotlight, and that’s definitely a good thing for 2019.

6 thoughts on “Do racial variants add much value to MMOs?

  1. Bhagpuss August 9, 2019 / 11:53 am

    I’d definitely rather have them than not but it’s a very far cry from an actual new race.

  2. Yeebo August 9, 2019 / 9:25 pm

    It depends a lot on how many systems are tied to race choice. For example, race has very little effect on gameplay in WoW and LoTRO. In SWTOR even a full new race is almost completely pointless in terms of mechanics.

    In DDO on the other hand, every race and racial variant has it’s own enhancement tree. Elves, Wood Elves, Drow, and Half-elves all have wildly different stat bonuses and build options available. Even Deep Gnomes have options that are different from normal gnomes.

    All that said, to me a new race, subrace or race-class combo is always a welcome addition even if it’s really just a new cosmetic option.

  3. Shintar August 10, 2019 / 5:29 am

    More character customisation options are always good. When it’s something that feels like it could have simply been an extra skin colour option for an existing race though, it feels somewhat cynical to advertise it as a new variant just to sell more pre-orders.

  4. DonV August 11, 2019 / 10:04 pm

    @Yeebo DDO Definitely does races right in a lot of ways. One of the things that revitalizes my interest in the game is a new race. I am currently enjoying my Aasimar zen monk archer. Looking forward to trying out the Tiefling Scoundrel as my next project.

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