Tuesday, December 2, 2008

MMO character name recycling

One of the most annoying things about starting a new character in an MMO is trying to pick a name that isn't taken. All the best names always go in the first hour of the MMO game being released, and then everyone after that gets stiffed. I'm usually always left making characters with an obscurely spelt variation of the name I wanted, or have to pick some less attractive name. When I created my second character on Guild Wars, I tried to name her 'Crimson Starfire'. Unfortunately the name was already taken and so I had choose a variation of the name. I did however add that person to my friends list in the off chance I would see them online and possibly barter for the name. Four years went by and I've never once seen that person online! Me = annoyed!

I don't know who to blame more, the annoying guy who always takes the name I want, or the MMO game company for forcing over a million people to pick unique names. In a lot of the cases, games allow for multiple character slots and so one person can be holding on to 10 plus names. If that person goes permanently inactive, those names are lost forever into the ether of the interwebs. Seems like such a waste.

So as online gaming populations grow, it makes more and more sense to be able to recycle the character names floating around in this ether. If a player is inactive for more than 6 months, then I think their character names should be made available for re-use. If the player returns for some reason, then they simply have to pick new names for their characters. It does seem a bit harsh, but I think it's fair. If you choose to leave a MMO game for a large period of time, other players shouldn't be penalized for your abandonment. It's possible that losing a character name may cause the player to not want to return, so the inactive period would need to be made long enough to indicate that the player was never coming back anyway. The game company could even send out a courtesy email informing the ex-player that their character names are going to be recycled if they don't log in before a certain date.

Melf_Himself once comically said:

When I was born it was a very long labour. Apparently my parents had to switch servers until they found one on which there were no other 'Phil's...

It's quiet a funny joke, but sadly that's how MMO games operate. Seems extremely unrealistic to me, especially if the game was aiming to increase realism. This brings me to my other solution to the unique naming problem. Why not let the players name their characters what ever the hell they feel like, with no restriction on uniqueness. The player then also has to create a unique 'call-sign' which applies to all characters on the account. The call-sign can be made of tiny picture icons, different coloured text and what ever else would add to the uniqueness. When you add someone to your friend list, you add their call-sign. When ever they are online it shows their call-sign and the name of the character that they are currently playing. In PvP tournaments, it would be your call-sign that shows next to your stats. That way people can identify you even if you change characters. This would definitely solve the unique name problem and a few others at the same time.

I don't know... seems logical to me...

13 comments:

BigBadB said...

City of Heroes has actually done what you suggest a couple of times - make the names of characters on inactive accounts available.

I'm not so sure about the 'callsign' thing. Surely you're just moving the issue from character name to 'callsign', and still ending up with the same issue of 'all the cool callsigns are gone'? =)

Also, not all players like to have all their characters visibly linked in-game to the same account. Imposing such a system is unlikely to be popular with them.

Lars said...

Yeah, City of Heroes did that a while back. I thought it was a great idea at the time.

However, I don't think this would be as much of a problem if games required two word names and used both first AND last name together to determine uniqueness. That creates a much larger namespace.

Guild Wars and Dungeons and Dragons Online implement it that way, and I don't think either of those games has the same issue. Everyone can be a "Phil" if they want. They just have to have different last names.

That might not be appropriate for a game like City of Heroes where heroes often have one word identities (Superman, Batman); so recycling character names might be their only option. But for fantasy games like EverQuest/World of Warcraft, etc., its certainly frustrating when you show up late on an aged server and all the good names were taken by people who got to level 5 and stopped playing five years ago.

Thallian said...

I like the callsign idea a lot. As far as first and last name, that isn't a bad idea either, but the callsign would be more like an ssn. (without credit fraud problems resulting from it being made known)

Fortuente said...

Whatever other shortcomings it had, I liked how Tabula Rasa implemented this - by forcing you to make a single server-wide last name then letting you make your first name whatever you like.

Tesh said...

Puzzle Pirates has periodic pirate purges, but it only catches those accounts who never paid money to the company and who have been inactive. It's a decent system, but only partway to where you'd like to be.

They also let established players grab their names on new servers. If someone else grabs the name first, you can contest it and if you can show that you have a valid claim to the name, you get it and they other player has to adapt.

Crimson Starfire said...

@Lars and Fortuente
Hmm... I haven't actually played Tabula Rasa or CoX, but it sounds like they both had partial solutions to the unique naming problem. The unique last name idea sounds good, but I'm notorious for creating many characters with lame RP names and they always have different last names. Hence my reasoning for the callsign idea.

@BigBadB
Surely you're just moving the issue from character name to 'callsign', and still ending up with the same issue of 'all the cool callsigns are gone'?

The difference is that a callsign doesn't need to make sense. It's more of a visual thing. It can be a name or a bunch of little picture icons. Kind of like a signature or an ID. Of course there would be a chance that someone else would have the same callsign, but with the introduction of pictures, you can both have the same name, just with a different picture icons either side of it. It would dramatically reduce the chance of name conflict.

Also, not all players like to have all their characters visibly linked in-game to the same account.

I'm not sure if you've played Guild Wars? When you added someone to your friends list, you added their entire account. It didn't matter which character they were playing, you could always see when they were online. Also when you join a guild, you join your account, not the character. I thought this works a lot better than how WoW does it. There may be a few WoW players that don't like the idea, but I'm confident it Guild Wars had it right.

@Thallian
Yeah exactly like an SSN (although we don't have social security numbers in Australia)

@Tesh
You love your Puzzle Pirates. I'm really going to have to try it out some time. The ability to contest a name sounds a bit hardcore. Not sure if many players would like having their name contested all the time (especially the Gandalfs and Drizzts). I thought about having some kind of wait list for a name that has become inactive. If a name has become inactive for more than 3 months, you can lay claim to it but you can only use it if the other player doesn't claim it back within a certain time frame. If someone lays claim to your name, then you get an email suggesting that you log in and claim it back.

Melf_Himself said...

The callsign thing isn't bad but might be annoying if some guy has a callsign one pixel different to yours.

I like the common last name thing.

A system that might work is if people are just allowed to name their characters whatever they want. People in your friends/guild list would show up in a different color.

When you add someone to your friends list, it would put their "true name" on there, which you use to PM whatever character they're on etc.

So if I see some guy running around named "Crimson Starfire" and his name isn't, say, glowing in gold, I know it's not my version of Crimson Starfire. The same way that people in the real world can be named the same as me but I don't have to go into a nerdrage about it ;)

madlep said...

That's why I've stuck with using 'madlep' as a handle for all these years.

You never ever meet another 'madlep' (thankfully for all involved)

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Tesh said...

CS, consider that Puzzle Pirates has less than ten servers, and new ones are months apart, and it's not really as hardcore as it might seem. Some players don't care, either (I inadvertently snagged a used name on a new server, found out later and contacted the guy to see if he wanted the name, but never heard back). Still, there are those who bank on being recognizable across servers. If you ever see a "Shuranthae", for example, it's the same player at the wheel, no matter the server, and you can be assured that their puzzle performance will be outstanding. It's nice to have the option of maintaining that identity.

On something like WoW, with dozens of servers, it's not going to have quite the same flavor... but I'd still like the option of laying claim to a name.

...and yes, I love my Puzzle Pirates. ;) It's not perfect, but it does so many things right and/or differently from the mainstream that it makes me happy. That I'm a puzzle nerd is a bonus.

Anton said...

I like the "add a last name" idea.

Chris F said...

I was always an advocate of the last name, even before TR did it. It is just brilliant.

You could make some changes to it, so it is just the account tied to the last name, not the "name" in game. For example:

I meet Crimson Starfire. Click on him, "add friend", it adds the "account" name [which just happens to be STOPSTEALINGMYNAME, in this case, oddly enough].

Now whenever THAT Crimson Starfire pops on, I know it's my friend, and it tells me so. If he hops on as another character, same thing.

Last thing I like about the thought is that the "account" name would also be the name used on forums, to help ease forum trolling. 1 identity, that you are responsible for, in one space. Your actions in game and out will be noticed.

Also - if you ignore a character, it ignores ALL of his characters. Flags the "account" name, so you never have to worry about that again.

I keep using "account" in quotations as you obviously don't want it to be the true account name (for hax purposes) but a designated account name by the player. It is more of a bookmark (or callsign, as you would).

Earnest said...

Well, I hate to bring this to Guild Wars, but they had something vaguely like Call Signs. When you added a friend, whatever character they were playing showed up on your friend's list, and it was fairly effective. Usually, I was familiar enough with the person that when they logged on, I knew who it was regardless of what character they were playing.

Fortuente also brought up the interesting point of Tabula Rasa (Shame that it got so boring after the first planet...) and how yoru last name was your call sign. Mine was, I think, Smith, and all of my characters' names started with 'J' (John, Jane, James, Jimmy, Jack, Jill, etc.)

But the thing is, with Tabula Rasa, is that it was only effective with their cloning system. If you did that with, say, World of Warcraft, it wouldn't make any sense, because if you made a Drizzt Do'urden Night Elf, then made a Dwarf named Bruenor, then you would have a Dwarf named Bruenor Do'Urden. Drizzt and Bruenor are good friends, but they aren't THAT close. But for the purpose of Tabula Rasa, it was very effective.

The use of Callsigns would be excellent, as it signifies you as an individual, but allows you to be creative with your characters, and it doesn't really matter. If you're playing Counterstrike, does anyone care that you Steam ID is Fart_Man 223? No, they're going to see Sniperphobia when you pump a magazine into their face. They'll only see Fart-Man when they add you to their friends list for kicking their ass so hard. So if a person is that concerned about their call sign, then they can go sit on a pike and twist.

And if someone doesn't like people knowing what account their character belongs to, I would be suspicious of their intentions.