We so need to be done with MMORPG factions as they stand

One of the unfortunate effect of video games falling into lazy trope wells in development is that they start to carbon-copy and dilute interesting ideas into the realm of the bland. Take factions, for example.

Aligning yourself with a faction — or factions, plural — could be a really fascinating part of your game experience. You could start out without being aligned to any of them, and as you learn more about them, you could pledge allegiance to one or more and engage in overt and covert activities to support them.

Or you could just pick a “red” or “blue” side at launch from the two sides that the developers present, which means practically nothing more than the color of your character’s hair to you. You’re picking a side with no context or personal experience, just because the devs figured that PvP needs an “us vs. them” setup. If it’s a fancy MMO, it gets three sides, not two.

I’m seriously tired of this. I think a whole lot of players couldn’t care less about their factions. Every year at BlizzCon, cries of “For the alliance!” and “For the horde!” sound a whole lot weaker than the year previous. That’s because even die-hard fans know that it doesn’t really *mean* anything. Horde has been bad and then good and then bad again. Alliance has done the same. Both sides have been allies and then heated enemies and then allies depending on whatever nonsensical story beat is being played out.

I just don’t think that devs picking our sides for us in MMOs is effective, especially at character creation. Factions could be realized in exciting ways, especially in a developing game world. Imagine if one month while you’re playing a game and a new faction emerges after rumors have been spreading. People debate this faction’s intentions, and there’s a scramble to work for or against it — or even to investigate its workings and sell that knowledge to the highest bidder.

Players could be double-agents between factions. Players could be empowered to create factions that are a level higher than guilds. Factions could offer real stigma and consequences if you ally with one of them. Factions could even be destroyed, creating yet more memories of players recalling past regimes.

I don’t think we can water down factions any more, but studios certainly could seize upon the idea and build them up into something useful, engaging, and more complicated than an Orc shouting at a Human or a Klingon getting all testy with a Vulcan.

3 thoughts on “We so need to be done with MMORPG factions as they stand

  1. I thought picking a red or blue side at launch was literally the entire point. It’s like a pick-up game in the park, isn’t it? Why does there have to be any more to it than that?

    The real problem isn’t any lack of lore or “reasons” to choose one side over another, it’s the inability of developers to establish and maintain equal-sized numbers on each side. That’s what needs re-thinking.

    Obviously, that’s for PvP. For pure PvE more variety would be welcome in theory although experience suggests PvE players are never happy until they can have all the benefits no matter what faction they choose. Systems that penalize players for changing factions tend to get watered down very quickly and once you can have all the things no matter what banner you wear the whole thing becomes somewhat pointless.

  2. The issue I have with factions is being locked in arbitrarily. When I play Call of Duty my ‘faction’ is randomly assigned. I can pick a preference but if there’s a spot on the other team I’ll get slotted so I can play.

    I don’t know what faction I’ve picked for any mmo outside of SWTOR and WoW. I know I’ve had to for a bunch of them, but it just didn’t matter. And that does suck especially for PvE

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