Ironically, I was going to write an article this week wishing BioWare would release ancient, unused names so active players can put them to better use. My prescience paid off when BioWare announced just that in Bruce Maclean’s Holiday Update that our esteemed Editor and Darth-in-Chief summarized for us earlier today.
Do you remember back in the day when the servers were new and plentiful and folks in first got really awesome names that you can’t get anymore these days? Do you remember the outraged cries when players left the game and necessitated the forced merger of various servers and everyone prayed that they wound up being on a destination server because those folks got to keep their names the first time around? Do you remember the second round of forced mergers where BioWare decided to grant naming rights to the person who had spent more time on that name than on someone who had it longer and thus many launch-day subscribers lost names they’d been holding onto (and many actively played) because some other player had logged a few more hours into it? Have you ever friended a name you lost or really liked and got agitated every time you noticed that since a great number of players have left the game, that name’s languishing on a placeholder character that hasn’t been played in over a year?
Don’t you really wish BioWare would do an idle-purge and release those names back into the wild? There’s a long-standing thread in the forums about players’ opinions on the matter, with no BioWare feedback in it yet, but it looks like we’re getting our wish, hurray!
Personally, I lost pretty much all but three of the names I had on the various servers through two rounds of forced server merges, one voluntary shift to a new server due to losing the vote for where TORWars would have a guild, and voluntary character transfers. Ironically, The Shadowlands was a destination server last time around, but because I only had placeholders there, I lost every single name I had saved for such an eventuality. However, I’ve noticed that most of the names I lost now belong to players who have never bothered to reach level cap or are not too far distant from my old placeholders.
For me, as a long-standing roleplayer, names are important to me, to my character’s identity. I know several people who choose to come up with entirely new characters if they cannot name them what the character should be named due to the name already being taken. While some might resort to using foreign language letters to almost create the name, others choose not to in order to avoid a substantial snobbery amongst other players for folks who do this. There are also a number of players who dislike the odd-character variants of names because it makes the game more difficult in terms of chat and whispering and mailing items. It’s sometimes not worth the hassle to create a lookalike name. The mockery from other players about ‘not being original’ is also rather vexing.
While I dislike continually comparing Star Wars: the Old Republic to World of Warcraft, there’s one cool thing that Warcraft does. If you used to have a character-name on your account and lost it due to a server transfer, and the current owner of that name on your new server is idle a certain period of time, you can petition Customer Service to free up the name so you can have it. You have to pay the $10 USD for a name-change, but Blizzard does this somewhat routinely, although they don’t advertise it all that much. I don’t know what their cutoff date is, but I do know they take account activity into consideration. So if the person placeholding my pet name had had an active account, my petition would have been denied because there’s nothing stopping anyone from logging in their alts at any time.
So, how could BioWare conceivably do this to be fair? Here’s my suggested criteria, based on the supposition that BioWare will use the Customer Service ticketing system to handle this, the same way Blizzard does for theirs.
1) We already know subscribers will not lose names due to petitions, even if they’re camping them as a placeholder. Call it a benefit, if you will. If they’re actively paying, they do not lose their character names. It’s no different from buying a domain name from your registrar of choice. You pay your subscription, you get to keep your domain name, regardless of whether or not you put a website on that domain.
2) Preferred and free-to-play accounts could potentially lose a character name or two due to petitions. Bruce mentioned the word ‘inactive’ but we don’t yet know what their definition of that word is. Personally, I’d suggest nine months to a year. While there are some players who have very legitimate reasons to be away for such a lengthy tenure, it’s beyond BioWare to pick and choose whose reason is more legitimate than someone else’s. Just cite the deadline and leave it up to the players to do what they need to do to avoid it, of course assuming none of those choices involve violating the Terms of Service. It could be a way for BioWare to possibly pick up a few subscriptions, but I don’t see that as too likely. Not many players would pay $180 USD annually just to keep some character names.
3) Permanently banned accounts are fair game at any time, since they’re not coming back on that account ever again. I can think of no good reason why someone who has broken the rules enough to get showed the door permanently should be allowed to hog up names that an active rule-abiding player could put to better use. The only half-baked reason I could see is the potential for the petitioning player to get grief due to the reputation of the banned player, but that should be part of the risk of asking for a recycled name.
4) A player may only petition to reclaim a name they lost due to server transfers, not random names they just happened to like that someone else had and weren’t using. This will keep some of the traffic down in terms of tickets to CS asking for names. BioWare will be able to tell if someone’s trying to pull a fast one, because when I’d brought a serious issue on my account to BioWare’s attention and pointed to my characters as an example of the potential bug, the rep who investigated the ticket made comment in passing on some of the lost names.
5) Just like a regular name-change, these petitions would cost 1000 cartel coins per character. Just like I still had to pay Blizzard ten dollars to get my main’s old name back, it’s only fair that a petition for an idle name should cost the same as any other character name-change. Maybe cut a deal for subscribers of 100 coins off or something, but that should also reflect in a non-petition request to change name too.
6) If multiple players petition for the same name at reasonably the same time (i.e. within 24 hours), then you start whittling down those numbers. Start with whose account is youngest since launch. Then set aside the accounts with the longest tenure but who weren’t subscribed the whole time. Then out of the remainder, pick based on who has spent the most time in-game over the time since launch. If petitions happen more than 24 hours apart, then just go by first come, first served and be done with it.
Now I know that a lot of people who are holding onto names get very defensive when someone suggests taking away something they may have had for a long time. In the thread I cited above, a number of folks were tossing out examples of situations where they might be away a year or more and how they’d want to come back and find everything on their account exactly the way they left it. I understand that to some extent. I mean, I had character names taken out from under me on Aion when I was away for more than a year, but I also understand the basic concept of ‘you snooze, you lose’. I didn’t play my account, it’s not NCSoft’s responsibility that I didn’t, so I was fair game under their policy. I don’t want to punish an active player by being selfish, so after a moment’s chagrin that I didn’t do what I needed to do in order to retain my character’s names, I accepted the consequence of my idleness.
We do know that BioWare is going to enforce a strict limit, no character level 30 or over will get to have their name ganked, regardless of account or subscription status. I’m waffling on whether this is fair or not, because there are some folks out there who haven’t played since near launch and may have gotten a character to just past Chapter 1 (level 32ish) but never played again. On the other hand, level 30 does represent some time invested, and if I was idle, I’d be a bit vexed if I came back to find that my cool-named alt suddenly had to find a new name.
So, what do you think, TORWarriors?