Hi there, Pappy.
I'm Corinn, and I'm the player behind the various Duskwinds: Aeriyn, Meiri and Senna, on the Entity-NA server. I'm not really a presence on the forums--in my experience, spending too much time on an MMO's official forums is a quick route to frustration and despair. The vast majority of these message boards are awash in negativity. However, while I avoid habitually posting on the forums, the idea of this DevConnect thing has me itching to make a response, especially considering the topic at hand and how I feel about it.
My advice? Drop it.
No, don't drop it. Throw it. Very, very, hard. Very, very far away.
Like it's a plutonium sphere that just went critical.
Race-locked factions are very, very old and very tired game design. This was cutting edge stuff in 2003, 2004 with World of Warcraft and its freakish anomaly of a gigantic player base; it could support hard-segregated factions. Wildstar has nowhere even remotely close to the population required to sustain two exclusive factions. Yes, I get the whole lore argument, but writers write stories, and writers can change the course of their plots. I know because I am a writer myself, and I have radically altered stories in the past, changing the entire fundamental nature of the tale, because I realized my original plan just wasn't going to work.
Factions are not working for Wildstar.
The population imbalance would be hilariously absurd if it wasn't so troubling for the quality of life of the players themselves. Exiles outnumber Dominion by a massive margin. This is always the "endgame" for faction-based MMOs; one faction ends up dominating over the other by leaps and bounds. There aren't many ways to stop this from happening, especially with a niche title like WS.
Other posters have outlined why the hard "good guy, bad guy" faction split isn't a good idea. There are many considerations here. One that's already been brought up is the fact that most players aren't going to want to play the bad guys. They're going to see what the Dominion did/does in lore and they're not going to want to play that. Most people don't want to be the villains! The villains LOSE! The heroes are the ones who win, and I don't care how much your promotional material tries to make the two factions out to be morally ambiguous, it's blatantly obvious in-game that the Dominion is absolutely stone-cold evil.
Yes, the Exiles pull off some shady maneuvers, especially anything related to the Black Hoods. There are also a few instances where the player is tasked with murdering helpless Dominion citizens and/or troops, but all of it feels forced and not very natural, like you just threw it in to give the Exiles some token moral-ambiguity points. Plus, as an alleged roleplayer, even when you consider one of my character's Dominion-loathing backstory, I still can't see Aeriyn just murdering helpless Cassians in cold blood. It just feels like a lazy way to add grayness to the scruffy-but-heroic Han Solo archetypes that the Exiles are made up of.
Not every player cares about lore as much as I do (and I'm not even a real RPer, but just like coming up with backstories for my characters). That leaves a lot of people for whom aesthetics are a major concern. I know this'll produce a lot of groans, but like it or not, Dominion players, any faction that has a "cute" (and I mean cute in the sex-appeal sense rather than the neutral "Disney cute" sense) race is going to overwhelmingly out-populate the faction full of "ugly" races. This is completely indisputable and will always happen and has always happened in mainstream MMOs.
I don't care how much you might hate aurins, a huge part of why the faction imbalance exists in the first place is because the Dominion doesn't have their own version of aurins. When Blizzard added blood elves to World of Warcraft, the Horde saw an enormous influx of new players (and not just because they could be paladins, either). I'm not going to lie, I didn't want anything to do with the Horde until TBC added blood elves. I admit freely and without reservation that I will not play a game (or a faction within a game) that does not allow me to play as a cute female character. Period. End of story. There are literally millions of gamers, girls and boys and everything else under the gender sun, who feel exactly the same way. Why else would the most popular races in every single MMO ever be the ones with the prettiest/cutest/sexiest/handsomest player models?
Outside of aesthetic and story considerations, there are many logistical reasons to avoid segregating your playerbase. With a smaller population, it's going to be a lot easier for content to be consumed when all of the players can freely group up together and tackle the challenges as a team. There's absolutely no reason why the game should prevent players from completing quests and instanced content together purely based on the aesthetic or story path they find the most appealing. There's no reason whatsoever that raids should be faction-segregated. None.
Now some of you might be thinking, "What about PvP?"
I'll get to that in a minute.
The only legitimate logistical argument for maintaining the hard-segregated faction barrier is Player versus Player content. Which, as I might point out, is effectively dead as a doornail in this game. There is no PvP. Not really. There are a few diehards, maybe a few hundred total, who try to keep the dream alive, but as far as the majority of the population is concerned, Wildstar has no PvP. I desperately wish it wasn't so, because I love WS PvP. It's so much fun when a good game gets happening, but right now there are so few people interested that either you end up being steamrolled by a premade or on a premade steamrolling everyone else. The rare evenly-matched games are sadly few and far between.
Oh, sure, people will queue for Battlegrounds after hitting the level cap, because it makes some plat and it's an easy/quick way to get AMP and ability unlocks (at least it's much faster than grinding reputation, anyway). Once they get their unlocks, though, they'll never queue again unless they get too broke runing out some new gear they picked up in Genetic Archives. Queues are long. It's always Halls of the Bloodsworn or Walatiki Temple. Daggerstone Pass never happens. Warplots, one of the coolest PvP ideas in recent memory, are a faint shadow of their intended majesty kept on life support by the thinnest of threads by that very same group of diehard PvPers.
"But Aeri, without factions how could we ever revive Wildstar PvP?!"
I have a thought on that, coming up next.
The faction barrier has one functional purpose: delineating "teams" for player versus player combat. Forcing players into a wholly separate, isolated faction by virtue of their aesthetic choice of avatar is old, outmoded, limited and archaic. However, for that single purpose, for competitive gameplay, one must still be a part of opposing teams.
So we make them.
Remove the faction divide between the Dominion and the Exiles as a whole, allowing all players to converse, group, maintain communities (circles and guilds) and complete Player versus Environment content together. In order to both preserve and strengthen PvP in Wildstar, add lore-appropriate OPT-IN FACTIONS that exist solely for the purpose of PvP. These could be created as in-universe factions (in the real-world sense) within an uneasy truce between the Exiles and the Dominion; shadowy ultranationalist groups that wish to turn back the clock and rekindle open war between the two governments. The lore could be handled in such a way that all of this is very secretive, clandestine, and that "on the surface," any member of these factions would be openly supportive of peaceful coexistence between the Exiles and Dominion, while also working behind the scenes to undermine that very same peace.
Wildstar's lore is plenty rich and offers us many opportunities to build opt-in PvP factions. On the Dominion side, one might witness the rise of a sinister group of Crusaders, an arch-conservative sect of the Vigilant Church that views the annihilation of the Exiles as their divine duty. On the Exile side, an extreme splinter group of aurin--those who opposed Queen Myala's decision to abandon Arboria, perhaps--may decide to clandestinely plot to sabotage the cease-fire, accepting the aid of other members of the Exile races opposed to peace, as Avengers seeking retribution for a world destroyed.
This part at least is fairly simple. With an opt-in PvP faction system, it's easy enough to keep the same toggled flag as WS uses currently. Whether you're a Crusader or an Avenger, you just go ahead, flag up and let the killing begin. For those who haven't opted in yet, they wouldn't be able to "flag up" or queue for instanced PvP until they completed the faction quest and became a member of their sides' respective faction.
Offer the quest early on, around the level where the first Battlegrounds become accessible, and offer a reward of a basic set of PvP gear. The Faction Quests could even have their own storyline, like the ongoing World, Regional and Zone Story quest chains. Each quest line could offer rewards such as new PvP gear, costumes, titles, decor and the like as the player completes various PvP objectives, ranging from killing players in the open world to completing a number of successful Battleground, Warplot or Arena matches. PvP Challenges could also be used here to gain achievements, higher scores and greater rewards, just as we already do with WS's PvE content.
Woo, that was a little more long-winded than I expected. As you can see, I have a rather strong opinion about the faction divide and I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about ways to get rid of it without "jumping the shark," so to speak, in regards to either game mechanics or game lore and story. There are many ways to end the state of open warfare between the Exiles and Dominion in-universe; both sides are surrounded by deadly enemies ranging from the Osun, the Dreg, the Ikthians, the Redmoon Marauders and the Strain-infected minions of the Entity... and that's just what we already know about!
In short, yes, the faction wall must come tumbling down if we want to see Wildstar grow as a game. There are few other MMOs with hard-segregated factions on the market today, and even those that do exist have such porous walls between those factions that they might as well not even exist. WS has a lot going for it and in my opinion it's so far ahead of every other game on the market right now it's not even funny. Breaking down this arbitrary barrier in PvE will help WS succeed and careful addition of new systems could do so in such a way that PvP is only strengthened.