Interview: Wilco from Roleplay UK

Have you seen videos or streams of ARMA 3 Altis life roleplay before? Then there is a big chance it has been recorded on Roleplay UK’s server. This monster of a community (> 240k unique players &  > 55k forum members) was founded back in February of 2014 with a vision to build a community that players could be very proud to be part of and a one that was serious about Roleplay. I’ve managed to snatch Wilco, the founder of Roleplay UK, for a quick chat regarding their journey. Wilco is a passionate one when it comes to this community. One of the key ingredients to their success if you ask me. According to Wilco, Roleplay Uk is well known for their strict rules but it is that ethos that makes the community what it is! You know what? Let’s just listen to what the man himself has to say!

Wilco, thanks for taking the time to do this interview with your busy schedule. First of, how are things going?

Great! It has been a busy few weeks we have just celebrated our 5th year anniversary and it is great to see the community still going strong after all this time, We hope for many more years to come!

Prior to Roleplay UK (grats on obtaining your domain name! ) you were named Altis Life UK. Can you take us back and explain how you got started?

In February 2014 after purchasing Arma 3 and learning about Altis Life I joined a number of Altis Life servers but I felt that the roleplay which was the most interesting aspect of this game mode was missing from most of them or not treated as important. All the servers seemed to be geared towards the US market with US police cars etc and no one had created a UK roleplaying environment.

I decided to register the domain AltisLife.co.uk which was available and put a small 50 slot server online to see how it went. Within the first day that server filled which gave me all the encouragement i needed to progress the server further and build a community.

In Fact, some of the original members from the first day are still with us now.

We were the first UK themed server and first server to really set down some strict rules that ensured that Roleplay was the most important feature of our server.

Was this name change to Roleplay UK in the pipeworks for a long time?

No, not at all! It all happened after a management discussion about the future: if and when Altis Life quietened down or another game/platform came out that we could add value to and expand our community further.

Continuing to be known as AltisLife.co.uk would have been really restricting, so taking the most important feature of our community and putting it into our name, made sense.

Roleplay.co.uk was available and with some kind funding from our community members we acquired the domain and haven’t looked back!

Fast forward to 2019 and looking at the numbers. What happened?!

The community has been growing strongly for the last 5 years and does not look like stopping, I believe the good roleplay experiences our servers provide along with the regular updates, makes our server very appealing.

Our staff team is extremely active and our rules are very strict, People really like the environment.

“Without Roleplay UK’s members there wouldn’t be a community and they are our biggest achievement”

Looking back at all that success. What was one of the communities biggest achievement?

Our biggest achievement is the people of Roleplay UK from all walks of life from all over the world, not only the people involved in making the place run as smoothly as it does but the members we have picked up who are extremely talented at their roleplay but also extremely eager to get involved and suggest exciting things.

Without Roleplay UK’s members there wouldn’t be a community and they are our biggest achievement.

I love seeing communities still using forums, something that seems to be fading away unfortunately. How important are the forums to your community?

I also love seeing forums and I believe they are extremely important to gaming servers. After our Roleplay servers, they are our most important platform and will always be, It’s a place for our members to discuss, unwind and be apart from the community.

We have branched out to Discord and with the help of our strong community, became official discord partners last year however we have been very restrictive making sure the important conversations happen on our forum and I believe our members like that.

What can a new player expect on their first play session on Roleplay UK?

Roleplay Experiences! There are endless possibilities around every corner and with every person you meet, Your actions and words can lead you down many different paths!

Here is an excellent guide made by one of our staff team members Stoneman

Roleplay servers require much more of its moderators and admins. Can you tell us a bit about the staff team?

Our staff team has gone through numerous changes over the last 5 years as the server has developed – originally it was a rather small team with only ~7 members, and most decisions were made based on a consensus between these people. This worked pretty well until the server started seeing > 80 players, and seeing rather large populations outside of the GMT daytime. Over time we iteratively created a more hierarchical system for our staff team, which allowed the management team to delegate responsibility effectively to ensure that people wouldn’t get burned out – one of our major concerns when running a fully volunteer staff and management team. We’ve since settled on a system where we have a management team consisting of five people, then a group (2-3) of leads for each role: Staff Leads, Development Leads and Community Leads.

The Staff Team of 30+ volunteers is responsible for our day-to-day forum- and teamspeak-moderation, in-game rule enforcement and player-guidance, rules-development and feedback to our developers, and is the largest team by far. They use our custom ingame admin tools (developed by our development team) to watch over both roleplay and combat scenarios ingame to ensure that rules are followed, investigate automated alerts by our anti cheat engine as well as help out new players who may need advice ingame. The people in this role are extremely trusted. It’s safe to say we could not function without them, and we’re extremely grateful to all of them for the efforts they’ve put in over the years.

The Community Team is responsible for giving our players and community members a voice, helping them to put forward their views and ideas, advocating for them, and giving them an opportunity to come up with special events in the game-world. The Community Team enables these special events to get off the ground, and manages them whilst they’re running, using other members of our playing public as helpers, and it’s great to see them tapping into so many people’s community spirit and sense of fun. The Community Team is separate from the Staff Team, so that our players always know they can feel safe to go to them with questions or issues that feel awkward, or risky, to raise with the ‘rule enforcers’. The people in the Community Team are typically very good at diffusing situations, and being good listeners with positive attitudes. They are sort of somewhere between advocates, carers, helpers, best-friends, and party-hosts.

Advertising at its finest. Thanks Wilco!

Are players able to become part of the staff team?

Yes! We wouldn’t look elsewhere for staff – our players are the most qualified people for the staff team since they themselves have been through the stages of being a new player and getting accustomed to the rules and ethos of the server. This is essential since it is likely the staff will be helping others with this progress, so using their own past experiences to enhance others’ experiences is something we look for in staff candidates.

Long time players are also more likely to be able to make good judgements when it comes to decisions about whether a rule has been broken or not, since they likely have hundreds (or even thousands) of hours of playtime. This is extremely important to us, since in most cases situations aren’t black and white, and experience helps a lot with making decisions in these scenarios. Recruiting staff from anywhere else but the playerbase would make it extremely difficult for them to understand these scenarios in a way that has the best outcome for everyone involved (ideally a resolution without punishment).

“We are also excited to see what the future looks like from our friends at Bohemia Interactive with there new engine and hopefully Arma 4 ? We will see!”

In your bio you mentioned hoping to move on your UK themed roleplay to other games and platforms. Has there been any developments/plans regarding this?

We are not looking for a replacement to Altis Life but we have looked at multiple releases over the past few years but so far we have been unable to find that game that is in depth enough that we can host our own server on and can customise.

We will keep looking and when there is a game we can host a Roleplay server on, we will! We are also excited to see what the future looks like from our friends at Bohemia Interactive with there new engine and hopefully Arma 4 ? We will see!

I noticed Roleplay UK has its own Twitch team. Can you tell us a bit about the streamers who are part of the team?

Our Twitch team is made up of community members who Roleplay on our servers, anyone can apply. We will take a look at their stream and if they are roleplaying, interacting with our members in their chat and have a good quality stream, then we will add them!

When they go live there stream then appears on our official partnered twitch team and we have a twitch bar on the forums that informs members that someone is live!

The community really likes this feature and it’s great to support streamers while they show off our server and their experience.

Roleplay UK is fully UK themed, hence the name. I bet this required a lot of work on the development side of things. Can you tell us a bit on the work that has been done to create this experience?

Sure, after deciding to go UK themed (around 2-3 weeks into the server’s life in 2014), we first started with some of the most obvious changes, such as changing the currency used from USD to GBP, ATM to Cash Machine and so forth. Once this was done, we replaced the police skins with UK police car skins (and uniforms) and changed the police lights colour to be double blue, rather than red and blue. These initial changes created a unique roleplay environment that wasn’t available elsewhere at the time, which lead to a lot of people checking it out. Most of these initial changes were map or config related since initially there weren’t people who were knowledgeable about ArmA script development on the team. This changed rather rapidly though after the server gained popularity, with a number of people offering their support through development efforts.

With this stronger development team, we then proceeded to implement more non-lethal takedown methods for the police, such as Rubber Bullets. This was since the original Altis Life was based more around a US police force, which tend towards a more lethal approach.

One of my favourite UK related development changes was done by TinyBigJacko, who made a relatively simple but extremely novel change – giving individual shops humorous names. These changes gave character to both the shops and the server as a whole, and gave people some good laughs.

Anything special the development team is currently working on?

We’ve been recently working on implementing some new cheater detection which has always been a challenge in Arma.

We are also working on some exciting new features, It is safe to say we have not exhausted the Arma engine yet and there is much more to come!

Any tips for the you want to give to (starting) developers?

Yes, if you are of a software development background, or just have experience with programming, then you will learn a lot from reviewing code of open source ArmA missions and mods, such as the public Altis Life repo on GitHub. If you are just getting started with programming, then you may want to learn a more ‘formal’ programming language first, such as Python or JavaScript. The language ArmA 3 uses, SQF, has a few caveats and unexpected behaviour compared to other languages, which makes it a rather unusual environment to code for, so I couldn’t advise anyone to start off programming with SQF as it is not a fully featured language by today’s standards.

In addition to the language, you should always consider security when developing multiplayer missions – cheaters (and cheat tools) are quite well available for ArmA 3, so when writing functions that can be called over the network, keep this in mind. Strict BattlEye filters that are specific to your mission are a must when operating a public server.

To conclude, a lot of good reading material about ArmA development can be found on the BIS Wiki and the BIS Forums and most of the ArmA community is always open to helping new developers on their foray into ArmA development – Joining the official ArmA discord is a great start for getting help.

Probably an obvious one but, do you guys host special events within the game/community?

We do indeed, There is a special events team that takes care of this and in the past we have hosted for example: singing competitions, Marathons across the map and Destruction derbys.

I am happy to announce that the events team in the future will be putting all upcoming events on our forum calendar and events will also appear in the sidebar making it easier for members to find out what’s on.

You mentioned having having some of the most talented Roleplayers in the world on Roleplay UK. This ensures me you have some great memories of events happening on your server. Can you share one with us?

It would not be right for me to pick out just one experience.

Every member have made memories here personal to them that they will look back on when discussing gaming in many years to come.

I say to your readers give the server a try, I know within hours you would of experienced some high quality roleplay.

As always, do you have any tips for (starting) communities out there?

Do it for the right reasons find something that no one else is doing and stand out from the crowd.

For us that was a strict Roleplay Environment, a Unique UK theme and an adult community that is not afraid to remove toxic players.

It really is not easy running a community it requires a lot of time and commitment and some strong characters at the top who are good at standing there ground as well as listing to the needs of the community.

We built something that we would enjoy being a part of and that’s what others have found attractive and are proud to call this there gaming home.

We have seen many communities try and copy what we have done but end up either failing or becoming a toxic environment so make sure you have a strong ruleset and keep building, If you have something unique and have the time and commitment you are on the right tracks.