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The Guild Counsel: The battle for character names

Karen Bryan

Identity is a theme that comes up a lot in The Guild Counsel column. Guild identity shapes a variety of areas, from recruitment policies and guild rules to tone and atmosphere. And for players, everything they do in game shapes their character identity.

But one of the first things players select when they make their character is a name, and that's also the first thing that identifies our characters to other players. It sounds simple, but getting a name, and then keeping it, is actually harder than it sounds. And for players, not getting a favorite name can actually take away from enjoyment of the game.

How important is a name? And do players have a right to keep it forever even if they aren't necessarily using it on an active character? Let's look at some of the complexities behind a simple name.

I am who I am

Some players select their name by closing their eyes and mashing keys, and others just go with a randomly generated name. But for others, a name is something they carefully select, and they might even take that name with them to other MMOs they play. For them, it's not just a character name but a larger online identity. And for every character named Brtuiaj or IlIlIlIlIlIl (yes, I did see a player with that name, and in the game, it came out as llllllllllll), there's a Tigole or a Furor.

Players build a history around their characters, so when they switch to a new MMO and create a new character, it's almost as if they're bringing the character's identity along with the name. I've received tells out of the blue in a new game I'm playing asking if I'm the same character from a previous game, and it's that familiar name that helps re-establish old friendships. Longtime players now have potentially over a decade of memories, accomplishments, and social connections associated with a particular character name. So when they lose the name, there's also a loss of the identity that was carved over a number of years as well.

Name game

Given the fact that character names can be so important to players, I think there are several instances when games seem to make life difficult. Server mergers always cause problems when two characters end up on the newly merged server with the same name and only one is allowed to keep it. Meanwhile, older games like EverQuest run into a problem of having too many names generated through the years, making it difficult for new players to create a name at all. At one point, EQ decided to delete inactive characters under level 10, which left some players surprised when they came back to find that their bazaar mules were gone.

On the flip side, pre-order deals for new titles often come with early access, and players who care about their character names will scoop that up for a chance to get in quickly and claim their preferred monikers. The unlucky who can't get online the moment the servers come up can coordinate with friends and guildmates to have them reserve the name by making a placeholder character. The notion of camping a character name might sound strange to some, but being able to keep a common name across all games means a lot to many MMO players.

The Guild Counsel The battle for character names
What about just recycling names? Some games have announced that inactive characters will lose their name, and if another player takes the name while they're gone, they have to choose a new one. The problem is that again, identity is lost. What if someone's established a well-known presence in that game and then goes on hiatus? What happens when Facebreaker, the popular destroyer of beasts, loses his name after a hiatus, and suddenly there's now a Facebreaker, the notorious knitter of scarves and mittens? Or worse, what happens if Facebreaker goes from community paragon to loathed pariah? It's easy to say that the player should just log in every month or two just to keep the name, but that's a bit more complicated when it's a subscription-based game that would require a payment in order to do so.

When you think about it, people out of game share common names all the time, so why can't we do so in our MMOs? Heck, many games let us create surnames, so why not just establish a rule that there can't be any duplicates of first and last name combinations? That would help solve a lot of the stress involved with preserving a player's favorite names through the years and through game changes like server mergers and ever-growing name databases.

In the end, it might not seem like a big deal to not get a particular name, but if you've ever logged in to find your character with an X or a Z at the end of its name, or if you've unwrapped that shiny new MMO only to find that your favorite name has already been taken, it's a bit of a disappointment at best and a source of real frustration at worst. Players will go to great lengths to keep their names, from petitioning GMs to working out deals with a player who already has it. Server mergers are more and more common these days, meaning more and more duplicate names. And the rise of free-to-play has led to a massive increase in the number of created characters, with many of them getting shelved after just a few days or weeks. If anything, the issues surrounding names are only getting more complicated.

How important are names to you? Do you go with a randomly generated name, or do you have your favorites? And have you ever lost a character name? Let's hear your thoughts below.

Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.

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