The Challenge of One

An idea that I always come back to that I wish MMOs would figure out a way to feasibly implement would be to allow a player to have only one character (or one character per server). My main reason for liking this idea are for community and accountability. If people are who they always are, its easier to find them, to remember them, and reputations have a much better chance of sticking.

However, building a game that only allows one character would necessitate design changes to the existing paradigms, or major overhauls in player expectations. Assuming I can stick with this theme for a bit, I’m going to examine different elements of existing MMOs and how they would benefit from and/or need to change for a single character per player (per server) design.

This inaugural entry is going to begin to cover what I think will be the biggest impact from a single character decision: alternate characters.

The issues brought up by not allowing alternate characters are many and deep. The first and foremost is education. If a player is new to MMOs, they may not be familiar with the various archetypes present in the genre, so when presented with a character creation screen they might be presented with descriptions of what a warrior or a cleric is, but without game experience they probably won’t understand what that description really means.

One thing I would propose would be introducing the concept of a “trainer module” to the game. A simulation of the game. Let players build a character for the trainer, any level, any skill set, any stats, any items. Then throw them into a randomly generated dungeon, an instance just for them completely detached from the game world. On one hand, this will give players a place to try out and understand characters. On the other hand, it also gives you and your players a tool for testing character builds for bugs and flaws.

If this worked out well for solo play, let players do the same thing but run through the dungeon with a group. Even PvP if you wanted. This might also be a good place to work on that LFG tool so players wanting to test can find each other. Hook it up to an IRC chat server and players can even sit around discussing the game. And if the multiplayer aspect of it works, you might even consider throwing in raid training.

The catch is, nothing is saved. These characters are not persistent. You leave and they are lost. You gain nothing. No experience points, no items, no badges, nothing. If you want to test a buid over and over, you have to rebuild it over and over. Maybe if people complain you could allow them to store builds, but that shouldn’t be a first priority, the major objective here is giving the players the ability to understand characters without investing hard work and time that they’ll get angry about later when they discover the character does not play the way they interpreted the description.

A good idea? A bad idea? Of course, no idea can exist in a vacuum, and future entries I plan to explore more options and issues.


  1. While a common belief, I think we’ll find that the main benefit (community and accountability) will not benefit from this.

    In the real world, you don’t have to go far to escape even “word of mouth” bad reputation, and that’s in a medium where casual communication is the norm, where we reside 24/7, and where we have persistent means of transferring info (print) greater distances.

    We have none of that in-game. Any character is online for only a fraction of the time, the number of people far exceeds our capacity to manage in a social network, chat is cumbersome and prone to interpretation issues as it lacks the full toolset of communication isses, and developers regularly prohibit things like “blacklists” that could serve to communicate reputation more effectively.

    A single common character won’t make a dent against any of that.

    If that’s the only reason to go down this path, I’d say it wasn’t worth it. There are plenty of alternate techniques that can be less constraining on the individual and more constructive in addressing that problem.

    Things like reputation servers come to mind.

  2. That’s not it entirely. Its both sides of the fence. The most common use of alternate character is probably not for playing, but for tradeskills, item/auction mules and bank space. If the game only has one character per player, the developers will be forced to actually deal with issues rather than players loopholing the system using half a dozen characters when they themselves would rather be able to play just one. But that’s going to be another post.

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