This prompted me to ask whether anyone actually expected roleplaying servers to be policed, but honestly, that's a tangent to the real issue. I can convincingly argue that there are ways that the servers should be policed, but regardless of whether or not roleplayers expect this to happen, I think it's pretty absolute that not having a roleplaying server is much more slipshod than having one with inadequate support. The alternative suggests you really don't care whether your game has roleplayers or not.
Before I enter full-on rant mode, a caveat: I'll admit that I haven't read the official statements claiming that ArenaNet doesn't want to do official RP servers for Guild Wars 2, so it may very well be that this isn't the company's justification. What I have heard, secondhand, is that the argument is that roleplaying servers are targets for bullying and nonsense when they're flagged unless the company devotes time to policing them. As a result, it's a better option to not designate a specific server and let the community sort out which server will be the "unofficial" roleplaying hub.
This is a plausible and defensible position taken by many designers. And it is also rooted in some really poor thinking that makes it very, very wrong. I'm not pointing fingers at any given company; I'm pointing fingers at anyone who doesn't see the need for a flagged server. And the problem starts with the fact that the whole "unofficial RP server" concept is really obnoxious.
Imagine that you're a roleplayer named Leon. You like roleplaying, but you hate spending a whole bunch of time talking about a game on a forum instead of playing. Truth be told, you have time to roleplay in-game but not a lot of extra time to waste online otherwise. So you buy a new game, you install, you log in, and your first goal is to go to an environment where you're likely to find other roleplayers. But there are no servers actually designated as such, just one server that does occupy the role of the "unofficial" roleplaying server.
Now guess which one it is.
No matter how much effort the community puts into spreading the knowledge, the fact is that without an official designation, it's not clear which server is which. I started playing City of Heroes on what I thought was the unofficial RP server, but it turned out to just be another server, meaning that I found myself bored with the game and wondering where the heck all the roleplaying was. And that was after looking around and trying to find out which server was designated for roleplaying by the community.
Expecting the players to take care of things smacks of laziness. It's essentially an admission that the designers just left a known gap in something important. And under those circumstances, unless you allow the community to flag a certain server at the selection screen, you're not going to attract the desired people. It's not all that complicated to stick two letters after the server name.
You can argue that flagging the server makes it a target for the various players under the misconception that they're much cooler than you because even though they log into a fantasy world to play a pretend wizard, they don't try to talk like said wizard. That's remotely valid. But the fact of the matter is that the positives of making a clear place for roleplayers to gather overrides the slight risk of having someone decide to be a jerk. Trust me, players in MMOs come up with plenty of ways to be jerks without server designation. Making life easier for roleplayers is going to return bigger dividends than making it harder for the people who just like ruining things.
Of course, there's the defense that a studio would rather not do any sort of roleplaying server than do one in a half-assed fashion. That's a fine stance to take, but it's also a pretty transparent excuse.
The fact is that leaving the roleplaying community to designate a server for itself is doing a half-assed job. It's far worse than having a roleplaying server that is explicitly stated as being not policed -- there, at least, there's some effort and support, however minimal, in the form of a string of text. By having no roleplaying server, the studio issues the message that if roleplaying does happen, great, but if it doesn't happen, whatever.
If you're filing a claim for insurance, would you be satisfied to hear that your claim wasn't processed because the agent didn't know how to process part of it and would rather leave it alone than do a half-assed job? No. You would want the agent to ask a couple of questions and get you your money. Doing no work is not somehow laudable when contrasted with doing less work than should be done.
There are a lot of games that head to launch without any consideration for roleplayers beyond an acknowledgement that the player type exists. But it's part of an underlying philosophy that I'm not fond of, and I think having a roleplaying server -- regardless of policies -- should be a no-brainer. When it's left off, I get the sense that the developer doesn't really care about getting my business, which makes me less than inclined to provide it.
Comments can, of course, be left in the comment section below or mailed along to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I'm going to cycle back a bit and take a closer look at the whole question of policing a server for roleplaying, ranging from what players seem to expect to what services are actually reasonable in the first place.
Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did.