By Any Other Name

September 25, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Posted in mmorpg | 20 Comments
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Names can be fairly integral to who we are but particularly in gaming. We imagine our alternate selves as perfect versions of us, and names are what give us our uniqueness and identity.

In online games if we’re aiming to be some perfect version of ourselves, why are we so rarely given the chance to have the perfect name as well?

Obviously the answer to that question is not particularly complex. Players need to have unique IDs for communication purposes, administration purposes, and rule enforcement. How else would we find and communicate with specific individuals if they didn’t have the only version of their name?

Still it seems like game studios don’t even attempt to solve this problem. Every game I can think of apathetically thrusts upon its users the same old naming system. If two people want to be known as Legolas, one of them will have to be LegolasX.

Strangely for me, not only am I annoyed when the name I want to be known as is taken, I’m annoyed by other peoples attempts to rectify that situation. XxLegolasxX is a very annoying name to read.

There are ways around this I suppose. Guild Wars tried to solve this problem by making each player have two names. Some games allow you to pay for a name change if you think of something better, and many games have more than one server where you can attempt to create a character with the exact name you wish to have.

Unfortunately, nobody really tries to solve the problem of several hundred people who want the name Legolas.

In real life many of us have names that others share. Even the combination of our first and last names is no guarantee that our names will be unique. We are issued social security numbers, IDs that note our birth dates, middle names, appearance, and of course birth certificates.

How would we solve this problem in an online game?

I think in general, you’d give the player a unique ID, but you’d also give them the ability to display whatever name they want. A display name that would be visible in chat, visible above my avatars head, and visible in the party window. To private message someone you’d need to click on their name in chat, the party window, guild roster, or the player themselves. This would bring up a short information display menu showing their unique ID. You could then proceed to message them, ignore them, report them, trade with them or invite them.

Of course all of this brings up problems. How do you tell people apart in chat? How do you message someone the next day if you don’t know their unique name? Just how lengthy is the list of ways trolls and thieves could exploit this?

There are a couple of fixes. You could have an option to only display unique ID names if it becomes a problem for you. Also a list of most recent party members, private message senders or receivers, or trade partners. It’s a social game so we’ll most likely have some of these options anyway.

Is this really that difficult to implement? I know some people would ask, perhaps even myself, how hard is it really to come up with an original name? Yet we all go into a game wanting to use the alias we identify ourselves with. Many of us spend large amounts of time customizing our avatar so that it is just so, why should names be any different?

I am of the opinion that getting the name we seek should trump the other problems associated.

It is one of MMOs most common problems but rarely do studios pay any heed to it.



  1. Wow, never thought of duplicate names in MMORPGs before. Now that you talk about it, it makes complete sense to me. There is no reason the player names need to be unique. I wish games started allowing us to pick a name that we want and identify us uniquely using some other kind of identifier.

    • It’s the one thing everybody wants and are regularly denied in online games.

  2. […] Is It Possible To Support Duplicate Names in MMORPGs? | Hunter’s Insight Share […]

  3. Blizzard solved this in the new… starcraft 2 name handles have a hidden id that distinguishes ppl with the same name.

    • True, and I’m sure there are other companies and studios who provide something, but I wish they all did it.

  4. I have never for the life of me understood why there can’t be a thousand guys named John in an MMO. As long as you give them some sort of ID system where you know which John you’re talking about (last names “John Smith” or origin “John of Generic Town” or even birthday “John Smith of Generic town born Launch Day”).

    I especially hate when my name is taken by someone who made a new character played it once and never logged in again. Most of my WAR dudes have been renamed several times due to forced server transfers where the original name is taken by a level 4 who hasn’t played since 2008 or something.

    • It can be pretty frustrating in a few ways but for me its when i go for a name, and its taken, so I go for another I like, and its taken, and I think up a third and it’s taken.

      A unique id and a display name would be great.

  5. I’ve witnessed many other gamers having this particular issue (Mrs. ArcherAvatar is absolutely plagued by it at every single character creation… *sigh*) but I have very rarely experienced it first-hand.
    I guess other folks just don’t think of, or want, the names I select for my characters. Curiously, the only instance where I’ve run into this sort of difficulty is with the name “ArcherAvatar.” My character names tend to be much more original and distinctive than the non de plume I use for commenting on blogs and forums.
    You say you’re annoyed by XxLegolasxX…
    How much more annoyed would you be by running into a dozen or more people using the name Legolas in the same global chat, or guild chat, or say just three of them in the same group chat?
    Does adding another onion layer to the nomenclature really solve anything? It won’t reduce the vast numbers of folks who simply can’t be bothered to come up with anything original, and those people will still find a way to present themselves in MMOs in an annoying fashion (with at least half of them it’s intentional.)

    • On a related topic; I hate shards. Especially when you are able to have mutliple characters with the same name as long as they are on different shards. It’s short-sighted, and also unnecessary given the state of current hardware.
      If your’e going to divide your player base into servers or shards, then at least have the foresight of using a universal naming data base shared by all of them.

    • I honestly don’t think I’d be annoyed at all, I don’t get annoyed when I meet people with my name in real life, and I doubt the problem would be so pronounced as to cause massive confusion in game.

      • There’s a difference between real life and the game though, in real life. Bob 1, Bob 2, and Bob 3 all look different and have different voices etc., but Bob, Bob, and Bob in a chatbox are all going to be identical. Even if you can see them, the appearance won’t sort itself out, who’s to say they haven’t rolled another character? Even if you can sort them out in your own guild from voice on vent or personality, there’s too much random chance of running across in the world for me to get behind it without some kind of identifying handle or whatever.

        • Bob, Bob, Bob in a chatbox are all going to be identical in real life chat programs too.

        • XxBobxX, XBOBX, Bob1, Bo8, and Bob are still going to be difficult to tell apart in any MMO, I don’t see why we can’t have the names we want if we’re all going to be confused or annoyed anyway.

  6. Champions Online has solved this quite handily I think. You can name your character anything and when added to a group or friends list you will appear as charactername@accountname But in game you’ll only see charactername.

    • Yeah has this for starcraft 2 as mentioned above, and I don’t doubt there are still further games, I just wish this common sense innovation were more widespread. Not to mention, I wish it were in gw2.

  7. I had a good chuckle in Aion when another player (standing at the same warehouse NPC) complimented me on using a very obscure mythological name for my character that matched not only the character’s class but the visual appearance as well. I took quite a bit of time making him look like a Native American, not to mention being partly descended from that particular group of tribes myself, so I wanted him to look just right. The funny bit being she was also using an equally obscure name, from a different mythology, but also matching the class and looks. So I was able to return the compliment knowing she had put a similar effort into her character.
    I actually wish MMORPGs would put in some decent lore matching random name generators. Free Realms does this (although mainly to prevent rude names from kids, custom names have to be approved by a real person) and it actually works quite well; or at least did until the number of accounts got so high that now people just add numbers to the end names they like and those get approved. Star Trek Online has that and it works well for Klingon sounding names, although like everything Cryptic does, the effort was minimal because you’ll quickly notice how few variations of names there actually are. Still, that type of system is good for refining a name that sounds like it might match the lore, even if you do have to tweak it.

    • I actually hated that in Free Realms, names ended up being so entirely similar. It was just plain bland and grating.

      Lore generated names for RP is fine, but for the rest of us we want our own ideal name.

      • To be fair, custom names are an option in Free Realms (one of my characters even has a custom name), so the name generator is optional. I was just saying I’d like that option in all games, where it makes sense. They can be a good starting point for names in some cases, lore inspired in others, and great for anyone that really gets stumped in naming their character. And I’ve actually grown fond of the names I picked through the Free Realms name pre-made list, which does both random and selection from a large amount of ‘approved’ names, as well a custom name. Options are good.

  8. As has been mentioned, Star Trek Online went the Champions route and has charactername@accounthandle in chat and other places, with only charactername visible above the character in-game. I found this a satisfactory solution. Lots of Starships have the same name, too. This is not too noticeable, given the way the game environment is broken up. It also meant that the game shards are transparent to the players, with the entire playerbase “together.” If you group up with someone across the galaxy, you’ll be in the same place when you meet up, not separated by servers. Granted, this meant a lot of transition load screens, which annoys a lot of people. I never found it irritating.

    • There are drawbacks we probably aren’t thinking of as well, but something like transition screens don’t bother me, not after playing guild wars anyway. Just wish more games took more chances.

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