And maybe still a bit harder…

More thoughts on PvP, bear with me.

Gear is important in an MMO, as it not only allows our characters to grow in power, but also gives us something to work towards and look forward to. This applies whether you have a PvE focused game or a PvP one. The degree of importance can vary, but it is always a factor; whether it’s something as simple as picking up a weapon in a FPS game or something as complex as an epic quest item in EQ; both are examples of items improving your character.

Now let’s say we have a PvP focused game, and each time you kill a character they drop an item. This method is one of the major ways to gain gear and is a prime focus of the player base. You have two choices with regards to the defeated player, they either lose an item or they don’t. In the game with player loss, the item you get off the corpse is that exact item the defeated player losses. In the other game, it’s a randomly generated item by the game based on level. How exactly would these two systems play out?

In game one, players would avoid death at all costs, since each death would cost them something of value. Clearly in this game item loss and gain would be fairly rapid, as you would be constantly losing and gaining new items based on your PvP performance. A good day would result in a positive gain, with you storing away excess items for later use. A bad day would mean you have to dip into your item bank, or worst case go farm new items to get back into PvP. Over time the better PvP players would build up a sizable collection of items, and could afford to use, and lose, top quality stuff. Factors like how skills your guild mates are would be of utmost importance, and crafters that could provide gear that would give you an edge would be highly valued.

In game two, death would mean you don’t gain an item, and so would be somewhat unfavorable as it would delay the process of getting more powerful. Any time you find an item less powerful than the one you own would be useless, as you would always use your best gear at all times. It would be entirely possible for weak players to gain access to the most powerful gear due to the randomness of the item on a corpse, and once acquired they would remain powerful until the game introduces new gear. Powerful guilds would only serve to speed up the process of gearing up, and once ‘maxed out’ players would have little reason beyond social to stay in any one guild. Crafting would only be valued if the item crafted was easier to acquire and more powerful than that which can be gained in PvP, anything less would be considered a waste of time.

Clearly the above is over-simplified, but I think it drives the point home as to why PvP can’t be positive sum. Players need more motivation to compete beyond the simple ‘its fun to win’. If you look at PvP as a risk vs reward formula, where the two must balance each other out, clearly the higher you make the risk the greater you make the reward. And perhaps more importantly, the lower you set the risk, the lower you can make the reward. Remove risk, and you basically remove reward. That’s the current state of BG’s in WoW, zero risk. Regardless if I watch TV and make my character twitch for 30 minutes, or if I go all out and play to the full extent of my abilities, at the end both methods will eventually get me enough points to purchase every single item I could want. Even worse is the fact that method two might only speed this process up by a marginal amount, depending on random factors I have no control over. With that as your reward system, it’s no wonder why so many WoW players could care less about BG performance, and why so many play a team based activity in a purely singular fashion. Even players that put the time and effort into building a twink generally don’t care about winning a BG as much as they care about scoring huge critical hits on lower level players, ignoring anything that might be going on around them.

If you need further proof, gather 15 people together, level yourself to say level 25, queue up as a group to AB, and see what happens. Unless you run into a pre-built team of twinks, you will likely dominate AB even against full teams of level 29 players. Half the opposition will likely run around at random, running into 3v1 situations and getting themselves murdered. You will easily be able to control the 3-4 players that actually seem to be trying to win. Level that same team to 29, get half decent gear, and you can 5 cap AB all day long, to the point that AB won’t even be fun for you anymore, simply because nothing you face is a challenge.

It’s a very sad state, and hopefully future games are learning this valuable lesson from WoW. Learning that perhaps giving everyone something may be a short term way of keeping people happy, but long term it destroys the system, and converts it into a mindless points grind.

11 Responses to And maybe still a bit harder…

  1. LadyPao says:

    Some random thoughts on both of your PvP posts:
    Agreed on the ‘cookies’ for all approach being lame. Yesterday my 15 y.o. niece, when I admired her soccer trophies, ridiculed them as ‘Oh everyone gets those, win or lose.’ So a 15 y.o. knows the difference, so why do game devs think adults will want these ‘losers trophies’? OK, so it’s the lazy way to get stuff, and there will always be lazy people, but the rest of us see them for what they are, and it’s demoralizing.
    At first, I liked the scenario on Game 1 – when you kill an opponent, you get a piece of their gear. Then I realized that anyone that manages to accumulate nice gear, will become a gang ganking target, killed over and over until they are stripped bare. Pretty discouraging. I think scenario two, with a random piece of gear drop geared to your level would be better- and you don’t *always* get anything.
    Problem with the above two scenarios is they reward the individual. And if you are in a team based BG (a la WoW) I believe the team that wins should be rewarded *only*. I think it used to be this way a while back. So, if in AV, you steamroll with a team of ten say, your team gets the rewards (honor rank, badges, whatever)- not the entire Ally/Horde side you are on. I think this would encourage teaming. Now, the BG queueing system would have to be revamped to support this – an interface where you could post your interest, and team leaders could pick you for their team. The interface would also have to support already formed groups who wish to enter.
    If you’ve ever worked on a ‘team’ at work, where only one person gets recognition, or only the team leader does, you know how demoralizing the rest of the ‘team’ becomes, and apathy sets in. When you reward the entire *team*, that’s when things get rolling, and the non-team players get left behind. Survival of the fittest, and after all that’s what PvP is all about.
    Now, having said all that, I’m not so great at PvP – reflexes just aren’t there, but I was part of a guild briefly where I saw the benefit of teamwork and knowing your team, and strategy. It was eye-opening, and then the chats with the Horde side on vent afterward were just a hoot!

  2. syncaine says:

    Well the case with scenario one would mean that if you DO have nice stuff, it’s more than likely because not only do you know what you are doing, you likely have a good team behind you. It’s like top-tier raiding, when something nice drops, it’s given to the player who will make the most use of it, regardless of who’s turn it is or other such casual (for lack of a better term) concepts.
    Also with items dropping, you would only use your best stuff when you go out with a team. If you are going out solo, you would grab stuff you can afford to lose.

  3. LadyPao says:

    Aaah good points, hadn’t thought of those :)

  4. Talyn says:

    I don’t mind the concept of player looting, although — especially in the raid-centric games such as WoW — I don’t know if it’s fair to actually lose a raid item. Perhaps if PvP loot equivalent to the gear you were wearing when you died drops for the victor? However, that solution also has little risk for the loser, and everyone can just wear welfare gear to PvP so that winners never get anything good.

    Maybe there’s a reason player looting isn’t around much anymore (as well as many other mechanics the so-called “hardcore” claim to miss from the older EQ/UO’s): because they sound nice on paper but just don’t work in practice.

    To LadyPao’s first suggestion: exactly what determine’s a “team” vs. your entire auto-raid-grouped “side” in AV? Your own small group? Since you’re randomly inserted into the raid group, it’s rarely practical for each Group to stick together, unless someone is manually moving players into balanced groups by class so every group has some dps, heals, etc. And in AV, if Groups 1 and 2 did stick together and worked very hard defending a point or two, Groups 3 and 4 went offensive and attacked the Boss NPC while Groups 5 and 6 worked equally hard defending their own base… are you implying any one of those groups should be rewarded more than another? Who’s to decide who put in more “work?” Isn’t the point of it all that ALL players involved in the entire battle-group promote teamwork that benefits the entire team not just their own little group?

  5. Tholal says:

    Player looting works when items arent the main focus of the game. When your game is item-centric, then this concept (and many other interesting ideas) are unworkable.

    In UO, when I died and lost my magic sword it was always a bummer. But, I also knew that I could visit any number of shops to find something similar or even have something crafted for me that would be serviceable, though not quite as powerful. And the crafting part of a game really benefits from introducing concepts that can result in item loss. Another great system that becomes an underused sidenote in the WoW-type games.

  6. syncaine says:

    Exactly, you can’t apply negative sum to WoW, it would never work. But remove epics in WoW, make crafting items be the ‘cream of the crop’, and negative sum begins to look reasonable.

  7. Swift Voyager says:

    I recently worked with a hardcore WoW player, and I’m a hardcore Eve player. We talked alot about the two games and constantly compared one to the other, searching for ways that the two games are different (not fighting about which one is best). I knew there were some fundamental things about WoW that were not the same as Eve, but it always surprised me how much a small change in game mechanics can influence player activities.

    What I think I’m coming away with personally is that either one can work, but positive vs negative sum PvP is the kind of difference that requires many other game mechanics to be put in place. Without supporting mechanics it just doesn’t work. For example, you couln’t just take Eve and change it so that PvP doesn’t cost you your ship when you lose. You would need to change half the game in order to keep the balance of sinks/faucets in check for example. The whole economy would collapse because there would no longer be a need for people to buy fleets of ships.

    So, to say something like “WoW would be better with negative sum” you really need to think if terms of how that would change WoW into a completely different game.

  8. syncaine says:

    Good point Swift. I don’t think I was arguing as much to change WoW, but the overall concept of neg sum vs pos sum PvP. I just don’t think pos sum PvP really encourages the type of behavior that makes PvP fun in the first place. But yea, for neg sum to work (like in EVE or UO), you have to have an entirely different set of rules, which is what I hope Warhammer strays closer to.

  9. LadyPao says:

    @Talyn – I hear you on your point that all the groups in an AV PUG should be rewarded equally for equal, but different, work in a BG to win. But what happens in reality, at least in my many hours of AV (to exalted) that the groups fracture, and maybe one or two groups actually work together. (And then there’s the AFKers in the cave) Worse is when one or two people try to direct the others, only to meet with derision, or silence (/ignore). That’s why I said the BG queueing system needs to be reworked, so that teams who know strategy, have a leader, and are obedient to that leader during battle will be rewarded – for working together and winning. Perhaps doing away with the 6 group PUG setup should be tossed completely. Only complete teams of X number can get in. I guess then it kind of becomes more like Arena teams (?) – never did Arena so I am not sure.
    I took a class on group dynamics years ago, and the one useful thing (lol) I took away from it is the concept of when new groups form, they go thru predictable stages – forming, storming (jockeying for position, rank, relationships), norming (settling down to work), performing, and then I think the last is re-forming (as members leave and what not) – and the cycle often repeats itself. I’ve observed this pattern time and time again in groups I have been in since. In the AV PUGs, the group never gets past storming, and sometimes doesn’t even make it to forming. So IMO and experience PUGs don’t work in a group that needs communication, strategy and teamwork to win. Same reason raiding doesn’t work in PUGs.
    As I read through all the posts here, and elsewhere over time, it seems to me more and more that games shouldn’t try to combine PvE and PvP – as Swift says, any changes to one, impact the other just too greatly. Or maybe they just haven’t gotten it right yet – I am now playing Tabula Rasa and PvP seems to mesh with PvE quite well. While I haven’t participated yet, from what I understand you must be in a PvP clan (PvP status being decided by the clan leader) and the PvP is with other clans. What the rewards are other than e-peenage, I don’t know. But the gear you gain in the PvE game, and the skills and crafting you achieve are used in PvP. No special battlegrounds or gear ladders. And if you enjoy the occasional zerg fest, there are ‘control point’ outposts that are periodically taken over by the enemy NPCs, and can be taken back – with XP, loot and a repeatable quest reward.
    Anyway, I’ve rambled on. PvP/PvE balance is a tough nut to crack, especially if you try to make everyone happy – which is another way of saying maximize your ROI – more people happy = more revenue.

  10. Swift Voyager says:

    On further reflection, I was trying to think outside the box and realized that I can’t name any tabletop games that have positive sum PvP outcomes. All the classic games: card games, dice, checkers, chess, monopoly, etc. end up with one person holding all the money or all the cards etc, while the losers are left without. RPG’s like D&D had me thinking positive sum, but then I realized that D&D is mainly a PvE game. If you played PvP D&D then it would certainly be negative sum if you played by the official rules.

    As far as my brain can think of, you have to look at single player games and PvE games to really find a wealth of games that follow the scheme of “if you play long enough and keep trying, you’ll eventually win”. Maybe that explains why the WoW style of play is more appealing to the younger crowd of gamers who grew up with console games, while the negative sum gaming crowd (like Eve) seems to attract older gamers who likely grew up on tabletop games with harsher consequences for losing?

  11. […] came up with a great discussion on Positive-Negative Sum PVP and compelling reasons for games to include Negative Sum in the context of an […]

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