It was recently confirmed that BioWare would NOT be implementing player-based bounties in Star Wars: The Old Repbulic. That is to say, players won’t be able to put hits out on other players, allowing Bounty Hunters—if not all classes—to hunt them down and kill them to collect the prize. Well, if people are bummed about no game-supported player bounties, they can always turn to their own devices via the roleplaying community.
As people can’t help but compare SWTOR to the previous Star Wars MMO game, Star Wars Galaxies, a game which did have player bounties, fans have been asking for a player-bounty system in SWTOR since it was announced. Various player bounty systems have been suggested by the community, but SWTOR has one problem that SWG lacked, faction-exclusive classes. Unlike in SWG where bounty hunters could be either faction or even neutral, in SWTOR the Bounty Hunter class is restricted to the Sith Empire. One of my earlier articles dealt with the difficulties that this raised for the prospect of player bounties.
BioWare seems to agree that any sort of player bounty system is problematic as they recently announced that they will not be in the game, at least not at launch:
Rhudaur: “Can I put a bounty on other player characters, that is the big question???”
Stephen Reid, Senior Community Manager: “As Georg is not in the office right now, I’ll answer on his behalf (and with his words) – the answer is no, not at launch.
“As always with an MMORPG, things may change in the future, but player bounties are not planned for the launch of The Old Republic.”
So what now? Knowing there won’t be even so much as a voluntary bounty hunting mini-game, what are people to do who really wanted player bounties? Well, MMOs are community enterprises, so if the developers don’t provide something then perhaps the community can instead! Of course, nothing community-run is perfect, and I have my doubts that SWTOR will be player-driven in any significant way so tools for such a program would be limited, but one shouldn’t underestimate the force of organized players cooperating together. A player bounty program can be implemented through roleplaying.
Now, many players hear the word “roleplaying” and immediately think of stereotypes such as the ultra-dorky LARPers portrayed in the film Role Models, the D&D roleplaying nerds in the popular bit by the Dead Ale Wives, or ridiculous bedroom-style roleplay. All of these are overstated to begin with—roleplaying is simply collaborative storytelling—but they also ignore what else is included in the umbrella of roleplay, which is anything that immerses you in the premise of the game. These are “roleplaying games” after all. Every time you’re excited about a cut-scene, every time you read the quest text, every time you get seriously pissed at Ganon for taking the princess, every time you take notice of the world around you beyond your current list of objectives, you are roleplaying.
And this doesn’t always have to be narrative-based. You don’t have to be thinking or acting “in character” to be roleplaying. The desire to customize the look of your in-game avatar is a form of roleplaying. Vying for supremacy on the auction house is a form of roleplaying. So is messing about with in-game /emotes and the like. Heck, Samm—probably the least likely to identify himself as a roleplayer within the TOROcast crew—proved that, in one way at least, he is our biggest roleplayer in that he despised the Crew Skills method of crafting because it wasn’t actually his character standing at the work bench doing the crafting. Nothing had functionally changed, and it’s not like Samm was acting out building each piece of gear in-character in every other MMO he played, but it still mattered to him that he couldn’t “be” the crafter.
So, when I say “roleplaying,” don’t think that I’m saying you have to go to the extremes of acting out bounty hunting in-character. I’m not expecting anyone to go around spouting lovingly crafted dialogue before a fight. You could do that of course—and really, what else are you gonna do on an RP-PvP server?—but it’s not necessary. I’m simply saying you’ll have to organize a bit to make a part of the in-game setting come alive. It will take cooperation, effort, and some suspension of disbelief, but it can be done.
Player-Made Player Bounties
It would take a few things to get this type of system off the ground. It would take a group of cross-guild—and preferably cross-faction—organizers working together, it would take a cash-pool of in-game credits to gather incentives for participation, it would take established parameters for how/when to post a bounty, and it would take established parameters for how to decide that a bounty is completed. Also, those victory parameters might vary for those who actively participate in the player bounty program and those who don’t, as well as by players of opposing faction and those of the same faction, who might have to resolve bounties by use of the /duel command, which wouldn’t be too far outside of what we saw in the movies.
The easiest way to get this type of program going is to recruit the major guilds on the server to join whole-cloth, with the guild leaders sponsoring the program. With BioWare’s fancy new guild-portal allowing you to designate other guilds as allies or rivals—during their “alignment” phase—getting like-minded guilds on the same server like this is more feasible. Of course, the organizational needs will go far beyond simply agreeing to participate. Designated players will need to be available in shifts around peak hours to accept bounties and pay out rewards. Somebody will have to advertise active bounties on the forums and in-game. Also, if there’s any sort of “membership fee” for bounty hunters, this will need to be managed and collected as well, maintaining a list of freeloaders who haven’t paid and maybe putting a fat bounty on them if they don’t cough it up. Setting up and running this type of program would be a daunting task and would require a group of dedicated players cooperating cross-faction.
One might be tempted to think that the bounty itself is enough incentive. That somebody could post on the forums “I’ll pay 500 credits to anyone who kills ‘Jamar Darkman’ and takes a screenshot,” and the incentive is the 500 credits and that’s all that is needed. Well, that might work for a bounty or two, but there’s no guarantee that the credits will actually get paid out or that Jamar’s buddy won’t simply get him to pose for a screenshot. Remember that you’re trying to set up a server-wide program with some amount of respectability. There are a number of ways you might need to add incentives to get people to participate in the ways you want. You want to convince players it’s worth:
—handing credits over to a neutral 3rd party for safekeeping until the bounty is complete.
—trusting said neutral 3rd party to judge when a bounty has been completed successfully.
—dedicating time to chasing bounties, which can be very difficult with no in-game mechanism for locating players with bounties on their heads.
—fighting bounty hunters fairly, not avoiding them, zerging them, or refusing to fight them if you’re not flagged for PvP.
These are major barriers to a successful player-run bounty system. The small change a lowbie is able to put toward a bounty isn’t going to be worth the efforts of most bounty hunters, but if closing one more bounty brings them closer to a sweet in-game prize handed out by the program, then suddenly there’s a reason for chasing any and all bounties. You might never see the point in /dueling a bounty hunter who walks up to and demands satisfaction, but if you know there’s a chance to gain points in the program for successfully defeating a bounty hunter, suddenly there’s a reason to participate even if you’re the one getting chased. Rewards could be forwarded by sponsoring guilds, bought from the auction house with program member fees, or bought from a tax skimmed off of the amount of each bounty.
And of course, once the program gets rolling and there’s some buzz around it, bragging rights become a meaningful incentive as well. If done right, players will be wanting to post bounties on themselves as a challenge to other hunters and to compete for program incentives.
Posting a Bounty
The forum-based example is one way to handle things, but it would suffer from time-lag concerns where you wouldn’t know when somebody is logged in, logged off, or where somebody is there to turn the money over to a neutral party for the bounty. A better way would be to have a particular group of individuals who are on enough during peak hours who can meet up with you to collect a bounty fee, and then post that bounty on an official, central thread or by blasting it out on an official in-game channel. This lets the organizer to hear your story why the bounty is being placed to make sure you’re not just trying to grief someone or game the system. He can then monitor the bounty’s progress—possibly in communication with counterparts on the other faction if cross-faction communication is restricted—while it’s ongoing, making updates on it until the bounty is concluded.
This make major hunts into a sort of in-game event that advertises the program even as you’re completing a bounty. It also puts some structure on the program that keeps program management in trusted hands. In fact, true program events can also be held where the program designates a “VIP target” or group of targets that bounty hunters have to compete against each other to track down and kill. Sort of organizing their own “great hunt” for a prize of bragging rights, crafted loot, and credits. As mentioned above, this system could also be used as a challenge, where a player or group of players offers a cash prize through the program if anyone is able to take them down. By keeping organizers on-hand for the hunts, they end up being a lot more managed and personal instead of devolving into snippy, meaningless flamewars on the forums. The official SWTOR forums have enough of those.
Completing a Bounty
Faction and PvP-restrictions complicate any sort of bounty completion parameters, but these can be handled relatively easily by a small group of cooperating cross-faction players. For example, if a bounty is paid for by an Imperial Player and collected by a Republic “bounty hunter,” it might not be possible to transfer credits cross-faction. In this case, counterpart organizers on the other faction would have to pay out that bounty amount to the victorious player out of their own coffers and the fee would simply be saved by the Imperial side so they can reciprocate on similar situations in the future. Additionally, incentives for successfully evading—or even being willing to fight and lose to—bounty hunters when you have a bounty on your head can encourage players to be willing to duel bounty hunters when not flagged for PvP. Having to /duel a mark before fighting him might stretch the suspension of disbelief a bit, but the end result can still be achieved as long as the populace is willing to cooperate.
It’s those who want nothing to do with the program where things get difficult. The easiest way to handle players who don’t want to participate or even set out to actively sabotage this type of system is to ignore them. To blacklist them from any Bounty Program events—or even from any events/raids by member guilds—and ban them from receiving any future rewards, at least until they pay into the program and start accepting challenges. However, a more creative way to handle this is to offer a bigger reward on them for non-standard victory parameters.
For example, on a PvP server, the Imperial player “Muscosaurus” has been on a rash of ganking Republic lowbies and talking a lot of trash. A bounty gets placed on his head, but he obviously doesn’t want anything to do with a fair fight so he refuses to get involved by facing down bounty hunters from his own faction. Well, as soon as this is established the bounty program leader decides ol’ Muscosaurus needs to be taught a lesson and puts down new victory parameters with different bounty rewards for each.
Screenshot of a victory in a /duel = Original bounty
Screenshot of kill-by-kiting mobs onto Muscosaurus = Original bounty x3
Shadowing and fingering location of Muscosaurus for cross-faction hunters = Smaller reward
Escorting cross-faction bounty hunters to Muscosaurus = Smaller reward
Cross faction gank = Original bounty with multipliers for location (x6 for in cross-faction capitol)
Successful corpse camp = Original bounty x3
Successful corpse camp resulting in Muscosaurus logging off = Original bounty x6
Screenshot of domination in a Warzone = Original bounty x3
Suddenly the extra cash that the program has laying around can be used to turn a negative player into another event with a bit more challenge. Granted, some of these conditions might be considered griefing by BioWare whereas simply shunning the non-participator would be more acceptable, but my point is that there are options so that at least a player doesn’t feel like they can only post bounties on those who voluntarily participate. In fact, placing bounties on those who aren’t currently participating could be the best recruitment tool you have as they can learn about the program first-hand and possibly earn some incentives.
I don’t see why BioWare wouldn’t be willing to tolerate such a program as long as it wasn’t being used for scamming or griefing. Unless it was being used to harass or outright ostracize players instead of providing a fun in-game activity, I wouldn’t expect the mods to move against it. Of course if BioWare was really serious about player bounties they could implement their own system rather than trusting the populace to run it for them. It wouldn’t be hard for BioWare to make a simple voluntary bounty system that functions similarly to /duel where you basically just bet the other player a sum and remain attackable to each other until somebody is defeated. However, until BioWare implements something, the option is still there if players are motivated enough on a given server. It might be worth attempting. I’d certainly love to see it.
What are your thoughts on the lack of pvp bounties being confirmed by BioWare? Was that a feature you were really hoping for? What do you think about any sort of player-run voluntary bounty program? Is it feasible? Would it be fun? Comment below or discuss here!