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I’ll have the MMORPG, hold the BGs!

Guild Leader Ferrel EQ2Lately there has been a great deal of discussion regarding how PvP affects PvE in MMOs. Anyone who has read Epic Slant for a while knows I’m pretty passionate about the subject. I’ve been quiet on the subject for a while but these great blog posts and the fact that my beloved SOE is trying to cram battlegrounds into my equally beloved EverQuest II has me a little hot. I’m not sure who wanted battlegrounds in EQ2 but regardless of who wanted them we most certainly didn’t need them. Nobody does in fact.

Battlegrounds are basically the lowest form of PvP in an MMO. They’re brought out and touted as a valuable feature but in reality they do far more harm than good in most products. In a game like Warhammer Online they work because they offer players an opportunity to escape the open world zerg-fest but still advance the core of the game. In a PvE game, however, they’re very detrimental.

When it comes to a PvE focused product like World of Warcraft or Everquest II battlegrounds really aren’t all that useful. They’re set up in these two games as an entirely separate product. Characters are pulled out of the world, breaking immersion, and thrown into a can with other unfortunate souls and forced to battle over what is essentially nothing. The outcome has no effect on the world. These battles are meaningless. You fight and die in repetitive competitions for tokens.

Tokens purchase gear that has been designed specifically for PvP (which I’m glad for but it still is necessary to note for my point). This gear is usually less effective in PvE content than gear you’d receive from doing that content. This does more to create a very clear separation between the PvE and PvP version of the MMO you’re playing. No real value is added to the opposite side of the game. Players simply have one more thing to do.

I’ve said in the past that having one more thing to do does not necessarily add value to an MMO. This is especially true when that activity is far from the core of the product. Battlegrounds are largely an excuse for the lack of content because a developer can suggest that they offer a different experience every time. Anyone who has done the same battleground for the 20th time can attest that there are subtle differences but each experience is largely a slight variation of the prior outings. Even when fighting a “smarter opponent” you are still limited by the random engine, spell lists, and gear. Fighting one ranger will be similar to fighting another.

For PvP to be successful and not a tack on feature it needs to be integrated throughout the world from the onset like it has been in successful titles in the past. Games like UO and DAoC both had a very strong PvE experience coupled with supplementary PvP. Characters could move seamlessly from one form of play to the other without losing immersion or being taken away from the primary game. These implementations were very successful but are frequently not replicated, which is interesting.

In my eyes it comes down to one simple fact. If you have to build a huge wall between your PvE and PvP so that characters are literally transported from one game to the other and back, you don’t need both experiences. The money spent on those systems would be better spent focusing on the primary aspect of the MMO. If we’re going to keep the vE and vP separate lets do it by MMO. Do we really convert a lot of accounts from the minority feature set players to warrant supporting them? As a PvE focused player I know I got out of Warhammer Online pretty quick once I figured out “something for everyone” actually meant, “we’re going to put an afterthought of PvE in and that should be enough for you. Go RvR!” Oh I RvR’d right into another product and I’m not the only one.

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13 Responses to I’ll have the MMORPG, hold the BGs!

  1. Tesh says:

    I think that a significant reason we get this sort of thing is that it’s not cheap to produce an MMO, so devs try to cast a wide net. I’d prefer designing for one audience or the other, just as I’d prefer to play a game that doesn’t try to do both, but that’s not always a luxury.

    • Ferrel says:

      Right, and I understand that, but I’m starting to question the business logic. Does casting that wider net get you tuna or do you end up with a lot of dolphins, jelly fish, and boots in the net?

  2. vexx says:

    this is just another example of, the people who hand out the checks get what they want.. regardless of how clueless they are on the what they actually need. If any creative person who understands their customer at SOE, thinks that adding BG’s to EQ2 was a good idea, I’d be first amazed, and secondly ready to retire my pc forever. If I had to guess there was a boardroom conversation were some arrogant schmoe who’s money makes him feel important, decided that BG’s would be “awesome,” and the rest of the room caved in like a bad west virginia mining company out of either a desire to keep their jobs in order to pay their overpriced San Diego mortgages or some sad culture of group think that has developed. Regardless, someone needs a wake up call.

  3. I will disagree. I think Battlegrounds are a good idea for a PvE-focused game in general. It’s a lot better than open world PvP in a level and class-based game.

    The problem is in this case it’s adding a new feature to an established game. By this point, it’s unlikely that people will really be looking at EQ2 as a great PvP experience. I suspect this might be the case where the developer is trying to offer something new for people who might be otherwise getting bored with the game. I suspect that you (and the people you know) are not in this target audience since you’re currently happy with the raiding game.

    My guess.

    • Ferrel says:

      It’s a lot better than open world PvP in a level and class-based game.

      In this you have my total agreement. Consensual PvP is still the way to go, I just feel like it either needs better integration or total exclusion. You’d have a better view at this than me. Does casting that wide net really yield long term customers? I have to imagine any PvP focused individual who picks up a game just for BGs and finds they’re pretty much an “add on” won’t last long.

      • Visceral says:

        Total disagreement – I play pvp servers even though I am a pve player. As one who plays for immersion (something you highlight) I find the pve game within the context of overland pvp my MMO nirvana. When I PVE on Nagafen I must always look on the horizon – line of sight really means something now and the opposite faction really does want to kill me (that is immersion). Like you I am concerned with BG’s ruining my game but for much different reasons, taking resources from pve and diminishing overland pvp. Incidental pvp is my game – gives pve more meaning – not less.

        • Ferrel says:

          I think you’re actually agreeing with me! My point was that integrated PvP increases immersion while disconnected PvP reduces it. BGs take you out of the world so to speak. I’m not a fan of non-consensual PvP but at least if you’re on a PvP labeled server you know it is coming.

  4. Ryan says:

    Battlegrounds were my favorite part about World of Warcraft. I spent countless hours in them, so I’m going to have to agree to disagree. My only comment on the topic, in terms of my opinion on the matter, is that we all have different ways we enjoy playing the same games. If enough people want Battlegrounds to make it worth it to the developers, they should be putting them in the game. It may be a minority of the players playing them, but certainly at least in WoW, not a very small minority — a lot of people at least dabbled in them, and then there were some like me, who were obsessed. .

  5. Gareth says:

    They were great content for me too in WoW, although after several sets of rule changes I found them boring (too high a level of PVP only gear effectively barred people from casually competing in them). They also nerfed down my favourite one which was a mixture of PVE and PVP by cutting it down to a simple zerg and making the PVE part very trivial.

    For me BG’s can only add to a PVE game if done right, I enter into a BG when I want a break from questing, dungeon running, crafting etc. Playing a game in the BG is that break, although I’m not really in character and it doesn’t make sense from a game world perpsective (it would be cool if they put a story why you teleported there even if flimsy).

    Hopefully BG’s will be that casual side game that you can jump into and enjoy, rated ones are fine but I’d prefer to see them sorted out to stop the problem WoW had of the gear disparity being so extreme that new people effectively couldn’t compete (classes are wide enough apart at times already).

  6. Dblade says:

    Champions Online does both, actually. One-on-One duels can be done anywhere in the world. A bomb drops down and you duke it out on the spot. However you can also go to multiplayer battlegrounds, often themed.

    I don’t think people care that much about immersion. I think its something older players care about, but battlegrounds work pretty well.

  7. Ryan says:

    Gareth — I don’t think that’s a bad idea. I’m sure they can filter for gear quality, it would probably be just a little extra effort, even if they only did it for the highest levels.

    I also agree that BGs lead to more PVE play for most, but WoW is essentially a PVE game… yeah, there are some pvp servers, but they don’t service the bulk of players. Most MMOs are primarily PVE games, because that’s how the bulk of players feel most comfortable playing.

  8. Longasc says:

    I advocate having both PvE and PvP in the game OR just focusing on the PvE part and dumping PvP completely.

    Right now we have a foul compromise – people want to pvp, but getting ganked in the world while questing, eventually even a death penalty that is more than a slightly annoying walk back to the corpse? The usual MMO player of today got so mollycoddled that he will feel like someone is mutilating him with a sledgehammer.

    The mentioned foul compromises are Arena and Battleground PvP. The division is so strong that even different gear and totally different builds exist for PvE and PvP. Be it WoW, GW, whatever… Guild Wars had the problem that PvE and PvP shared the same skillset – overpowered PvP skills were useless in PvE, and useful PvE skills had no place in PvP. The problems came when PvP balance issues demanded nerfs to a skill – and suddenly it was crap on the PvE side or vice versa, mostly though it was PvP that dictated the balance.

    They decided to split skills into pvp and pve versions – I so often was tempted to say, that’s nice, so let’s go on and make Guild Wars: Tournament (PvP) and World of Guild Wars (PvE)… hehe.

    PvP then traditionally takes a backseat. Take a look at Age of Conan. Take a look at the separation of PvP and PvE in Guild Wars and WoW. It is diverging more and more, world pvp and unconsensual pvp is not wanted and frowned upon.

    But I never liked the arenas and battlegrounds that much. BGs are better, I quite liked to play GW alliance arenas or WoW battlegrounds, but as Ferrel pointed out, they are disconnected from the world. Even designers feel that – the initial idea behind Wintergrasp was to bring PvP and PvE back together, nothing else.

    Imagine how much better the PvE side of the game could be if no “balance” between pvping classes and their skills has to be taken in account. A naked rogue can probably still kill a PvE geared Warlock, or did they fix that by now? Many classes in many class based games are very hard counters to certain other classes, so I would say the level based class design is per se VERY BAD for open world PvP. But I still prefer this over Arenas or Battlegrounds.

    So let’s take the same flawed system to level tiered battlegrounds and arenas? There are interesting statistics which classes and skill builds can be successfully played in certain 2vs2, 3vs3 etc. arenas in WoW. Min Maxing kicks in, some classes are simply excluded, others favored to no end.

    Devs trying to balance that are trying to balance an inherently heavily unbalanced system. UO had meaningful pvp – and no class, but a skill system. DAOC had classes, but an interesting PvP system. DAOC’s RvR is still praised today.

    My final gripe is people who want to PvP in MMOs, where combat mechanics are often outright primitive. Maybe it is about time to create a fantasy themed beat’em up or shooter for them. Open world PvP won’t probably return to the western MMO world soon.

    Our western MMOs are totally safe carebear worlds. But we want PvP. This does not go together. It is really better to have PvE MMOs and Online Fantasy PvP games in this case. Or games focusing on dungeon/raid content – DDO for example does that.

    But going to lump together PvE, PvP, casual gamers, hardcore gamers in one game too often results in many elements becoming foul compromises. Like making raids easy and accessible for everyone – not everyone wants to raid at all, and dedicated raiders have other wishes than Joe Casual who feels entitled to have his welfare epic.

    PvE worlds with PvP tacked on for the apparent minority who wants to PvP causes friction between two groups with diverging interests, and often leads to foul design compromises.

    I consider myself to be rather a carebear, but I am by no means a pvp hater or not interested in pvping at all. The interaction between PvE and PvP interests in MMOs is really a big problem, pidgeonholing PvP to arenas and battlegrounds is really a poor way of dealing with it. Give people a consensual PvP flag, or a choice between a pvp and a pve world (Trammel/Felucca), and suddenly far over 90% of your players are on the safe pve side of the world. Felucca was so dead on most servers, even on the supposedly most active servers it was dwarfed by the carebear population.

    The separation is in fact so strong that I can only repeat what I said already, either make it open world pvp and integrate it into the world or be bold enough to forget about it.

    But no, they even add PvP Battlegrounds to EverQuest II. The existing playerbase is mostly not enthusiast about it, and if they start balancing around PvP, they will make them even more furious. And I doubt the BGs will attract too many new players.

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