For the most part, massively multiplayer online role-playing games follow a fairly safe pattern, blending a mix of solo-friendly content with cooperative dungeon crawling and boss fights.
Even genuinely inventive examples like The Secret World fall back on this structure after a while, so it's always worth paying attention when a game of this type comes along and does something genuinely different.
Enter Ever, Jane, an MMO based on the literary works of 18th-19th century English novelist Jane Austen, author of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma.
Ever, Jane is a free-to-play MMO with an optional hierarchical subscription model in which you play the role of a socialite in Regency England. "Instead of raids, we will have grand balls," reads the official blurb, "[and] instead of dungeons, we will have dinner parties."
A prototype version of the game has been up and running for a while, but developer Judy Tyrer launched a Kickstarter campaign a while back in order to fund a more fully realized version of her vision for the game. Two days ago, the campaign ended with $109,563 pledged from 1,600 backers, putting it comfortably above the $100,000 goal but unfortunately shy of Tyrer's stretch goals for the project.
The game will, however, continue to be funded through its subscription model; players who pay more will have higher "social status" in the game world, though after some criticism of this system being somewhat classist -- albeit intentionally and thematically appropriately so in this instance -- Tyrer and her team have rebalanced the game so that free-to-play players will be able to work their way up to the higher tiers purely through playing, though it will be a slow process.
Ever, Jane is an interesting project not just for its subject matter, but for its strong focus on role-playing. Many popular MMOs have flourishing role-playing communities, but these groups of players, who prefer to speak in character and improvise their own storylines alongside those provided by the game, are often placed at odds with gamers who simply want to enjoy the game as an online experience to be shared with friends as "themselves."
"It is our hope that as you immerse yourself in roleplay, sharing gossip with other players, attending any number of social events, participating in the quests etc., that you will begin to feel that you are actually in Tyrhampton during the early 19th century," writes the team in the game's official role-playing guidelines. "That is, until someone walks up to you and says, 'OMG, did u hear what happened? IDK what's up with that. Oh well, c u l8tr.' Neither Jane Austen nor her contemporaries knew the language of texting, and if she had learned of it, she probably would have fainted. Even if you are not well-versed in the manner of speaking of Austen's day, you can simply speak using proper English grammar and standard spelling."
The team encourages players to use popularly accepted conventions for online role-playing in the game, namely always assuming everyone to be speaking in character unless they enclose their words in double-parentheses, at which point they are assumed to be speaking out of character. She also encourages good role-playing etiquette such as avoiding "god-moding" -- describing what someone else is doing as part of your own emotes -- and being respectful of others when speaking out of character, regardless of whether your character is a bounder, a cad or both.
Ever, Jane is a genuinely interesting experiment in online gaming and it will be intriguing to see if it enjoys any success. It will live or die based on how much its community engages with the more freeform role-playing aspect as well as the more structured content -- but given its success on Kickstarter, there's seemingly a market for this sort of experience, however small and specialist it might be.
Find out more about Ever, Jane on the official website.