I believe it was Scott Jennings who said the quickest way to get three digit comments was to write an article about PvP. I’m not sure if that will hold true on Epic Slant but I’m going to ignore his solid advice and do just that! Today I want to discuss my issues with “open PvP” and some of the myths that go along with it. Just so we’re all clear about this beforehand, (and I know some folks will ignore this disclaimer), I’m only talking about involuntary PvP. I’m not slandering RvR lakes, battlegrounds, arenas or any place where a player will knowingly go to battle others.
It continues to amaze me that more and more PvP focused games are being released. I recognize that many of these began their development cycle when everyone believed that this play style was the wave of the future but lets be honest, there are a lot of “me too” games out there for this. With the release of Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, Darkfall, and PvP MMO 12 Bravo, it has become clear that the market isn’t as big as imagined. Most of the games are niche titles with the exception of Warhammer Online. War is doing average for an MMO but it certainly isn’t the “million account” RvR powerhouse that everyone anticipated and I’m willing to bet a decent amount of players remain there for the generally well done PvE portion of the game. Why don’t these games gain on WoW then?
The biggest reason, in my eyes, is that there are a lot more of us who like PvP as a side dish than as the main course despite what online polls and forums say. In EQ1 we had a name for the PvP crowd: Vocal Minority. PvE players rarely stand up and demand that their play style be supported. Most of us always assumed that it would be there. It also doesn’t help that when we’re on forums doing just that we get shouted down. PvP is also the new “elite” of the MMO world and that can easily put off the casual MMO player. It can be denied but that group is what largely makes up the vast WoW audience. I’m not the sharpest spoon in the drawer but I can recognize trends. If you take the entire player base from ever PvP focused American MMO I’m not sure you’d even pass a million players and you certainly would exceed two million.
Beyond the demographic issue there is one massive flaw in all PvP systems: you need willing players, in equal amounts, at all times. MMOs are running 24 hours a day and if there is nobody to fight they quickly lose their appeal. I truly believe that massive wars will never happen in games due to just this reason. Look at Warhammer Online. Point out to me how many equal force large scale battles occur. In the six or so months I played barely any ever happened. One side usually had overwhelming force during certain hours. During other hours the other side did. The “war” was basically tug of war based on time, not skill. I love the idea behind the system. It just doesn’t work when players can be active at all times. Of course this truth and the lack of numbers are usually shouted down by the “skill” issue.
That is at the heart of what I want to get at and why I truly dislike involuntary PvP: skill. I have been before and will be called so again a carebear. This is what involuntary PvP advocates throw around as an insult. It essentially means I am a less skilled, less hardcore MMO player because I’m not willing to take the risks of an open world. If I had skills I’d be able to defend myself and everything would be good! Right? Wrong! In MMO PvP skills do not have that large of an impact. There are simply too many variables. You have level disparity, gear disparity, class disparity, numbers disparity and about twenty other disparities that I’ve written about in the past. The only true test of skill would be if two players were the exact same class, build, level, and had the same gear. That never happens though and, truly, those people who use the term carebear don’t really want the challenge of even matched PvP battles. They seem more interested in ganking.
I accept that I’ve just made a broad generalization but who hasn’t found it to be accurate? Ganking is exactly why I don’t like PvP. When I played on a PvP WoW server I had fun as long as I was fighting in my level range. Unfortunately, however, 90% of my time PvPing was me being destroyed by multiple max level characters. Many games have tried to have “reputation systems” and “consequences” but thus far nobody has made the negatives of those systems outweigh the enjoyment of gankers. Even in controlled systems you’ll find ganking. When PvP tiers are set up with 10 levels each it is not surprising to see that the people at the very top target the people at the very bottom. It is good strategy of course but call it what it is. Being 10 levels higher than someone else and destroying them isn’t skills.
So what is the bottom line here? Essentially this is just a call to developers. A studio will never succeed in making an open PvP world until you can deal with the issue of the ganker. They are real. Simply pulling a rug over that issue won’t make it go away.
The easiest method by which to mitigate the damage of the ganker is to contain PvP to known areas which, of course, means there isn’t open PvP. This can be done through battlegrounds, arenas, and specific PvP zones. Even a carebear like me can handle being ganked if I know I’m heading onto their turf.
A less popular but very effective method is to limit the level ranges in which players can compete. This is usually a 10 level difference (which I think is too much) but at least you don’t have max level characters running around level 30 zones destroying everyone of the opposing side.
Ensure that everyone has -some- friends. When you have to watch your back from literally everyone I think the game becomes more and more niche. It is good to know that at least your own race/class/faction stab you in the back when you turn around.
Finally, my last advice is more for PvP in general: don’t base your game on it. I know I’ll be shouted down but the last run of MMOs seem to bare out the theory that more people say they want PvP than actually do. PvP can be a big part of a game but if developers count on that as the main feature to keep players subscribed they’re setting themselves up for a smaller market. PvP isn’t “always changing.” It isn’t an excuse for less content. I really like Warhammer Online but saying that doing the same battleground for the 25th time is more dynamic than running the same dungeon the 25th time isn’t fair. Yes, the players change but the classes all pretty much act the same. There were plenty of repeat performances.
PvP is here to stay and I’m all for that. I really do enjoy it as a diversion from my PvE experience. I just think we need to look at ways to improve the systems we have and stop basing games on it. What do you think? I’m ready for the tide of pro PvP comments!