Is it time to have less factions in MMOs?

by on August 12, 2011

I must admit, I like the two-factions element in WoW. But I partially like it because of all the choices it theoretically offers – the peace movement for those who want to join the two sides, the rogue Night Elf who secretly learns Orcish from his lover, the mercenary who’ll work for whichever side pays the most.

In reality, of course, it doesn’t offer any of those choices – just a stark “you’re on this side and on this side you’ll stay” mentality. It’s so endemic to many MMOs – WoW, SWTOR, RIFT – that we mostly don’t even consider the possibility of being outside the box. But today, Ferrel of Epic Slant has been thinking outside just that, and he’s got some very interesting ideas:

We cannot be who we want to be, only who Big Brother tells us to be. Rift’s elves will kill defiant. That is it and any other view is inappropriate. Of course it doesn’t help that this is a PvE game and the rule set generally makes it impossible to kill the “enemy” (not that I even want to)! We can only kill them if they flag or if we are whisked away to a magical battleground in the sky to play capture the flag or open a special rift. What breaks immersion more? Battlegrounds in the sky or a defiant and guardian hanging out as friends.

Ferrel goes on to talk about the factions system in Everquest, which I must admit sounds like an extremely interesting idea. Essentially, it’s broadly similar to reputations in WoW, but also replaces all factionality – so, if you wanted to be the only elf welcome in the Undercity, you could aim to do that.

As a writer and roleplayer (albeit not in WoW at the moment), this sounds like a great idea – a great opportunity to make meaningful choices and distinguish your character. And yet, with the exception of the ever-promising Guild Wars 2, the really big MMOs still stick to the simplistic two-sides idea. Why?

Do you like the simplicity of the two sides? Or would you prefer a more shades-of-grey game world?
Quote taken directly from Ferrel’s article.
Find Epic Slant’s homepage at

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Jamin August 12, 2011 at 8:44 pm

I could see there being a Mercenary Faction. Kind of like ‘Dogs of War’, from the Warhammer world. Just a idea I recently glazed.

- Jamin


Hugh Hancock August 13, 2011 at 11:49 am

That’d be cool. What I really want, though, is the chance to change my mind half way through – to decide that as a result of Varian being a pillock one too many times, my PC has decided that he’s going Horde, and to start gathering rep…


Erik August 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I never really liked either Alliance or Horde in WoW or even in WC3. When I was playing TBC and early rumors on WOTLK were still quite vague I greatly hoped that Blizzard would introduce Scourge as a permanent third faction in WOTLK, of course equally hostile to both Alliance and Horde. How players would feel about that experience one can guess from judging how they felt through playing DK starting zone. Not to mention, that for years players asked Blizzard to introduce a neutral faction in WoW (Goblin cartels mostly). Two-faction is just easy, it’s become a template. It is time to have more factions in MMOs, be they hostile by default or not.


Cleeyah August 14, 2011 at 8:06 am

I would so kill for that. It would be perfect if the process of gathering rep with one faction would include quests like “learn the language,” “learn about their culture/history” etc. This would be a big chance to dig into the individual backstories of each faction.

Also, there should be something like an ambassador role you could try to aspire to. You are neutral to all factions and reap neither the disadvantages nor the boni from them.


Hugh Hancock August 14, 2011 at 11:55 am

“Ah, Ambassador, with these [Ferrero Rocher Of The Whale] you are really spoiling us!”


Arazu August 14, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Everquest’s faction system was effectively meaningless. Yes you could be the only high elf in Neriak, but groups and raids were comprised of all players, factions had no impact there. Everquest’s actual faction-based PvP servers had limitations similar to what other games have; if you were race X on this server or deity Y on that server, you could only engage in PvP with *this* subset of players. On the one server which had deity-based PvP factions, if you grinded to make the other faction like you that didn’t change which players were able to attack you. The Neriak NPCs wouldn’t kill you but you’d be completely open to most other players there (and the guards wouldn’t jump in to help either of you).

Creative faction-changing runs into difficulty when your game adds PvP to the mix. Everquest-2 had it for a while (you could switch factions but it required a long quest-line, where you actually betrayed your own faction and had to work to get the other one to accept you), but after a year or two they also loosened faction restrictions to be more like original Everquest. Factions no longer really mean anything and raids bring anyone.

I think the PvP factor has to do with identity, or something. If I see an orc in Warcraft, that’s the bad dude, that’s the enemy, that’s the guy who I’m supposed to hate so hard I can’t even chat with him. If I enter a Ferocious Battle Over the Innocent Trees of Warsong Gulch and there’s a human there with a red name, working with the enemy, it kind of puts a damper on this whole Orcs vs Humans thing. I dunno, I can’t figure out this roleplay crap.


Imakulata August 15, 2011 at 7:32 am

Arazu, I think that the identity in WoW is related to the race but it doesn’t have to. Your identity can be tied to your faction, your guild (alliance) or whatever. (Although I have to admit that guild alliances would probably result in “too many enemies, too few friends” situation in world PvP over pre-set factions.) But the “who you’re supposed to hate” part does work well without pre-set factions too.

I agree that WoW’s factions are probably set in stone by now, I can’t imagine them being changed but WoW is merely a MMO that got a lot of things right (and didn’t have to compete with WoW), not The Right Path for Everything. As I said, guilds alliances would probably not work well for world PvP but I would welcome having some pre-set factions you can chose after starting your character. WoW requires you to chose when creating it – it also “front-loads” the class choice and I am not sure this is the right thing to do because it requires the player to decide on something without having any information about it (unless they read web guides).


Mhorgrim August 15, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Actually in ages past there were mmo’s out there that weren’t so faction biased. Remember SWG pre NGE? I worked both sides of empire and rebellion keeping my faction teetering back and forth. That was a blast. Also, Rememebr Age of Conan when it was still kinda cool to play, they had no factions unless you went specifically to their faction pvp server. Every other server it was all out fair game to kill or befreind as you wish. But most use the simple formula because it’s safe. It’s like the 18th century armies of the world, dress up in a bright hey Im Prussian or English uniform , line up on opposite sides and commence the blowing to smithereens. It’s simpler for many people to digest. Personally I wish WoW would do away with Horde and alliance and let it be a free for all. They killed open world pvp so it doesnt really matter. Why not let all races come together when they wish or not when they dont? but that doesnt sell because people are often afraid to experiment.


Tesh August 15, 2011 at 10:53 pm

I want my Tauren to be able to renounce both Alliance and the Horde and go join the Cenarion Circle and just maintain Neutral relationships for trade reasons. I’d be happy with sharply defined NPC factions if my own character’s loyalty could be flexible.


Carson August 16, 2011 at 3:17 am

I find it hard to find too many good arguments in favour of two factions.

For PvE, the two faction model used by WoW and its imitators just serves to arbitrarily divide the playerbase in half, restricting grouping options. I think LOTRO, for instance, works more smoothly with any players able to group up with any others.

For PvP, I think it has been amply demonstrated that two factions leads to a vicious circle of population imbalance, as players desert the weaker faction to join the stronger one. WAR was the best example of this, highlighting as it did just how much better Mythic’s previous three-faction model worked in DAOC.


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