Sean Bulger's Column

Community Column: Player-Made Factions


Last time we explored one of the major types of factions that exist within a game world – the types that game developers create for people to join. This covered such things as the realms of Dark Age of Camelot, and other similar concepts in games. However, these are just one kind of faction that can exist within an MMO. Players can sometimes create their own forces to affect the world.

Now, to clarify one thing: Basically every game has guilds. In a sense, guilds are factions themselves and are almost always player-created. Yet, guilds do not always have the sheer power that, say, developer-created guilds have. Thus, we will take a peak specifically at systems were players are able to create factions that do have that power.

What Games Have Them?

Since I am speaking about something more specific than guilds, we need to take a look at games that actually have had things like what we are dealing with. Certainly not every MMO has given players the ability to create their own influential forces, but some have. Regretfully, not all of them have been shinning examples within the MMO community.

ShadowBane had such a system. Players were able to build towns, cities, and effectively empires within the game world and they battle each other in wars. They did not fight under common, static, banners such as in Dark Age, but rather they formed their own factions in their attempts to conquer the world. Other games, such as Lineage 2 and ArchLord, allowed guilds to take over castles under their banners as well. Of course, save Lineage 2, it’d be hard to call some of the other examples successes. These two also did not feature quite the same level of dynamics either. I also barely touched (or in the case of ArcLord, never touched) these games.

Luckily, I can use EVE Online as an example too.

EVE had its empires: the Amarr, the Gallente, the Caldari, and the Mimnatar (woo!). However, in all reality, these empires were largely background for the game, racial options, and a way to divide up ships for players. The Empires weren’t really factions in the sense that the realms of Dark Age were – well, at least not at the time of writing. Instead, EVE focused on the player-created corporations.

Now, if you are a new player to EVE, you may not really realize just how much of an effect on the game that these player corporations have. In fact, many smaller corporations have rather small effects. However, out in lawless space, it is player factions that fight over the control of huge sections of the galaxy and resources in a quest to control space, crush foes, and become rich.

It wasn’t developer created factions. It was player created factions that formed alliances, waged war, conquered space, and all of that fun stuff. EVE effectively empowered players to create their own in-game factions and then gave them a lot of power.


So, you empower players, give them the ability to effect the world and others, and set them lose. This is either going to cause some sort of great community and gameplay, or some sort of chaotic mess. Well, in a way, it kind of does both. There’s a sort of organized chaos that begins to form into something resembling how countries work. Suffice to say, however, there are certainly some negatives when it comes to player-created factions as well as some benefits.

Problem-wise, it isn’t to hard to find the flaws. Players are given control of the game world in a way that can have huge impacts on the game. Well, the players in large organizations do anyhow. This definitely means that you are looking at a game that is focused on large organizations of players, and those smaller organizations are going to be left out of a huge aspect of the game. They can still have fun, and provided that you give some content for them to do as well, they can still enjoy the game. Regardless, they will not have the level of access that large groups will. Well, generally speaking anyhow.

That can be a real problem. People can play the game, but not ever find themselves in what has been billed as the greatest aspects of the game. That can turn off quite a few players and it is a very hard hurdle to overcome.

New players may also have some issues with such a system as well. They can enter into the world, belonging to no organization, and having absolutely no idea what to do. There’s no history, no background, no simple selection for them to make – and nothing to point them toward an option without a recruiter being involved and word of mouth. This can be disheartening for a new player, and indeed, there’s plenty of EVE players who never made it past the initial stages of the game.

New players can also face another problem. While the game supports player-created factions, new players will find doing so excessively difficult as time goes by. Getting new factions starting up in an aged game could pose to be very challenging. The game world can grow rather stale as powers settle in and become hard to remove. This is a big reason why ShadowBane’s servers are being reset. Of course, at least the option is provided at all.


It isn’t all doom and gloom for systems like this, however. There are also plenty of positives to such systems as well. Games like this have the potential to give players the tools to dramatically affect a game world, to truly stand out amongst the rest, to form truly political intricacies, to form very strong group bonds, and more. This sort of a system has its issues, but it can also have a major impact on a game community as well.

To keep using the EVE example, because it is oh, so handy, we can really see how true this can be. There’s been plenty of people out there who’ve expressed how EVE can feel more like living in a society as opposed to playing within a game world sometimes. Why might this be?

To begin with, I will have to counter one of the negative points. New players do not start with a faction. This can be a bad thing for the reasons listed above, but it can also have positive aspects too. As I mentioned in the last column, when joining a faction players have the ability to be surrounded by more like-minded players. This is much more true in a player-created faction game, as players are going to have much more freedom of choice. They will not be limited merely by the factions that the developers have created that they enter into right at character creation, instead they are limited to what their fellow players created. They also can spend time deciding which group they wish to align themselves with, allowing them entry into a community that fits their personality better.

Well, players have a certain power. They can get out and do something, and that something will have an effect on other people. Be that a war between two alliances, to simply a pirate attacking another player’s ship. Of course, there’s also the economic level too, which adds a certain … believability to the game as well.

Politics are also strong. Players can unite and ally together and form very strong bonds as they stick it out in the universe. At the same time, amongst them, there might also be an agent from another organization plotting to take them down, or scam them out of obscene amounts of money. Alliances of corporations form together, have in-fighting as well as tight bonds. They form allies with other alliances and wage wars against others – and with politics, an ally today may be an enemy tomorrow.

It is this level of freedom that can draw people into the game and create not just a really social game, but also a believable societal structure within the game. In a game that can do this, a very strong community can begin to form.

Is This a Good Option?

Of course, if a system like this will work in a game, you have to consider the goals of the game. If you’re doing anything but a competitive game (read: PvP), then probably not. If you want a game that is easily accessible for new players, then probably not unless you can come up with some amazing systems to help them out. If you don’t mind a niche audience that happens to be very dedicated, then maybe this is what you’re looking for.

It can be difficult to recommend embracing a system like this, but there are definitely benefits that can be reaped. My suggestion, at the very least, is that developers should learn from what works in these systems, and see if they can be applied to other types of games too.

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