PvP theorycraft, and the lessons MMOs need to learn.

Playing as much DoTA as I have lately, it’s got me thinking about the general idea of PvP, and why most MMOs can’t seem to get it right. We have seen what happens when you make it too extreme in games like Ultima Online, with full corpse looting and setting the loser back hours if not days. We also know what the opposite of that looks like in WoW, where everyone wins, and hence many people play either half-assed, or totally afk, ruining any chance at getting a decent match going.

The first point is rather obvious; in DoTA you play a hero for about an hour, while in an MMO you play your character for months. If you have a horrible game in DoTA, you will likely be gimped for that game, but the next game everyone starts at level 1 all over again. This is just not the case in an MMO, where character growth is one of the key features that keeps players playing. An MMO simply can’t be as gear-dominated as WoW is and expect to have balanced PvP. However that topic is entirely game depended, so for now lets assuming we have good power balance, and that most players have a fighting chance against others.

The key balance issues that make DoTA work is it’s death penalty, and how it relates to the item/level balance. The death penalty is not as harsh as UO in that you don’t lose items but you do lose gold and time, which ultimately means each death delays you in getting more powerful items. In WoW, you do lose time when you die in a BG, but since that time is not as valuable (since you don’t level or collect gold for items), death has little meaning.

So the balance seems to lie someplace between UO (too extreme) and WoW (too light), but can’t be exactly what it is in DoTA, since it must be applied to an MMO. The factors of the penalty in DoTA can however be broken down and applied.

First the winner of a fight needs to be rewarded. The reward must be significant enough to make combat attractive, and also significant enough to offset the risk of defeat. If we are talking about team PvP, winning must have both a personal and team impact. In DoTA, the personal impact is the fact that you yourself get a gold bonus. The team impact is that whoever you killed is now a bit weaker, making your teammates stronger in comparison. This is an important factor, as you need to both motivate the individual to play, but also need to encourage and reward team play.

Next is the penalty for defeat. It must be severe enough that players actively avoid it, but not so harsh that it overwhelms the chance of a reward from victory. It also must impact your team in a negative way, but not in such a way that a few unlucky deaths ruin the entire experience.

Applied to WoW, it would work something like this. First off, the rate of death in a BG would need to decrease dramatically, as currently players die and rez at a silly rate, due mostly to the fact that death in a BG has zero meaning. This can be accomplished in two ways; first increase the spirit healers rez timer, both in total length and in its mechanic. The current method is a 30sec timing that runs continuously, meaning if you die at the right time, you might actually rez in 1-2 seconds. An easy fix would be to make everyone rez on an individual timer, and then to increase that timer to 1 minute (or whatever would work best for balance). Graveyards would need to be moved, or protected, to prevent camping, but again that would be a simple fix, perhaps raising the GY to a one way drop platform. This increase in rez timing would not only mean a player must wait longer to return to the action, but also mean that a player killed is not going to spring right back up and return to the fight seconds later. Picking off a character at midfield would now be a useful tactic, rather than a waste of time.

The second fix needed would be a change to how honor points (I’m assuming you keep the overall honor point system) are earned in a BG. Currently you get honor from each kill you are near, along with a bonus at the end. Neither the individual honor nor the bonus is impacted much by your performance. Someone going 20-0 and someone going 0-20 won’t see a major difference in honor gain, especially in relation to the bonus. To fix this, players should gain an increased amount of honor as they do battle in a BG per kill, but each death should cost them honor points. Kills must be worth more than deaths, but only by a slight margin. Each kill should also be split between individual honor and team honor. The players who contributed most to the kill would see a noticeable honor increase, but all other players would also get some amount of honor added to their total. Players reported afk would not only stop gaining honor, but also lose a certain amount of honor from their total.

The important factor in any good PvP game is player accountability. Players in DoTA don’t run around dying randomly because they know that not only will they gimp themselves, they are also likely throwing the game for their team. In WoW, players often run around at random, and while they might cost their team the game, they currently don’t see any noticeable impact on their personal honor gain. By combining both personal and team impact, you create a system and culture which encourages winning while not crushing the loser, which is exactly what a good PvP should do.

11 Responses to PvP theorycraft, and the lessons MMOs need to learn.

  1. sid67 says:

    I come from a different perspective in that I primarily played FPS for years. The spastic nature of quick kills and quick spawns is pretty common in that genre and the games are still very fun. That’s not the problem, it’s the playstyle.

    As I see it, the biggest problem with MMO PvP is that your “upgrades” that come in the way of your gear are persistent and last from match to match. The design is such that more experienced players are rewarded with better and better gear. The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer. While in DoTA, you reset after every match and everyone starts at Level 1. Any advantage you gain is gained during that match and only the skill and experience you gained persist through to the next match.

    In WoW, gear is greater than skill and those that have the gear can dominate those that don’t. It’s really no wonder that people without gear AFK to get the gear rather than just getting manhandled by better geared players. Of course, one of the defining traits of an MMO is that you get to acquire loot and gear and items to equip your character. If you take that away, then the game loses much of the flavor that makes the genre appealing.

    One solution is to put make all gear “breakable” and something that will eventually wear out. This provides a pretty significant death penalty that also acts to “reset” gear. You wouldn’t always PvP in your Sunday best either. You would bank it for rated matches or other important events. With this type of mechanic in place, you could still offer gear rewards and things to players for matches. Imagine that instead of it costing 21000 honor and 30 marks for a piece of gear that it only costs 300 and 3 marks. The difference however, is that it breaks and becomes unusable after 10-15 matches.

  2. Graktar says:

    I agree with most of what you say, except that the honor gains/losses for kills/deaths you propose is counterproductive to balanced pvp. It would result in the strong getting stronger while the weak stay weak, or get even weaker! Imagine 2 pugs under your rules. Pug 1 is full of geared and experienced pvp players. Pug 2 is full of random noobs. Pug 1 mops the floor with Pug 2 and earns huge piles of honor that they turn around and use to make themselves even stronger. Pug 2 actually LOSES honor because all they do is die. The battleground resets and through some mischance the same two groups end up fighting each other again. Pug 2 afks out because pvp has become a negative sum game for them. Pug 1 gets no honor, Pug 2 gets no honor, and no pvp gaming occured.

    I agree with more personal responsibility in pvp. You should only earn rewards for participation. Why people standing afk in the cave of AV are even ELIGIBLE for rewards in the first place is beyond me. But participation needs to be measured by some metric other than the kill/death ratio. Lots of kills means you did lots of damage, but it doesn’t mean you helped win the game. Lots of deaths means you took lots of damage, but doesn’t mean you weren’t the one that won the game. Someone who only runs the flag in WSG might have a lot of deaths and 0 kills, yet be the main reason the team won. Why should they be punished rather than rewarded?

  3. Tholal says:

    Graktar sums it up pretty well. I think the main problem is that WoW just isnt built for that sort of PvP. Battlegrounds in WoW are more like bumper cars; you drive around, dish it out as well as receive it, sometimes one more than the other, but you can drive around as much as you want until time runs out. At the end, everyone is fine, though maybe a little worn out, but you can jump right back in and do the exact same thing over again with slight variations based on different drivers.

    If Blizzard really wanted to deal with the AFKers, they would have a couple of GMs do nothing except monitor the battlegrounds and hand out the ban stick liberally, escalating the punishment with each subsequent violation. But, that will never happen.

    But it doesnt really matter because PvP in WoW is just a different version of a faction grind. There’s no lasting impact other than everyone gets to upgrade their gear. I’m hoping that AoC and/or WAR actually deliver on their promises of meaningful PvP.

  4. thallian says:

    Graktar, y r u so smart? :P I agree with you and syncaine in most points. I think the solution to graveyard camping is to either put guards or make it so you have to fight your way out of the graveyard, similar to neverwinter nights, hordes of the underdark, where you go to an unpleasant place and have to fight spirits/demons until you get out and back into the world of the living. That way you can earn rewards and not be bored but still not affect pvp so you suffer the penalty of missing out on pvp fun for dying. Guards around a graveyard works well in the ettenmoors in Lotro.. They kill you on sight and if your close and attacked you can usually get them to kill your enemies if you can limp back to them, so hanging around the graveyard = not a good idea for the other side.

  5. syncaine says:

    Right WoW is not a good example of a base for PvP, but since its the most common game, it makes for the most often used example.

    I think the issue above though could apply to both AoC and WAR if the penalty/reward ratio is off. Look at PoTBS, one of the major reasons people hate PvP in that game is how unbalanced the risk/reward equation is. Reason PvP works in EVE also relates, although a bit differently, to the same equation.

  6. custodian says:

    I think Guild Wars nailed PvP pretty well. What you gain from PvP is not raw power but flexibility. The points from PvP unlock skills or equipment. Skills are rebalanced every month or so to combat Flavor of the Month trends and fix underutilized or broken skills. The equipment unlocked can only be used in PvP, and it’s all max-stats, differentiated with minor tradeoffs. Equipment choice only provides a slight edge, and only if you’re facing a certain type of enemy.

    Once a match is over, the most you may have gained is a new skill. Since you can only put 8 skills on your bar, this gives you flexibility instead of Ultimate Power.

  7. frank says:

    Graktar and syncaine,

    you both have great ideas and it really makes me wonder what kind of fun pvp gameplay i am missing out on since i only play wow (my first and only MMO so far). I’ll keep my fingers crossed that AOC or WAR come up with something better, yet not so harsh as to run off the casual players such as myself.

  8. heartless_ says:

    I visit here every once and a while to see what you’re talking about, and once again I’m dumbfounded by your approach to how games need to change. This post is a perfect example, once again, as you contradict yourself.

    You start by stating that punishing players suck and that characters that lose and still “win a prize” suck too, so in turn those that lose should be punished.

    Go buy yourself a clue man.

    I have no clue about DoTA, but from just reading your comments about it, it is clear why people don’t go around dieing. Its a pain in the fucking ass to die and to be avoided at all cost. I’d rather play a game where players have no fear of death and charge into a fight. Fuck games where people just run away or only fight when they KNOW they will win (aka gank).

  9. syncaine says:

    So you prefer WoW BG PvP, which is fine. But for actual fans of real PvP, the WoW model is generally considered trash, basically because of the ‘everyone wins’ model.

    And unfortunately, anyone with a clue about combat will only initiate when they have an advantage, only a fool rushes into a battle they are more likely to lose than win. And you yourself recently wrote that PvP is never fair, so why make the distinction and call getting into a winning fight a gank?

  10. sid67 says:

    But for actual fans of real PvP, the WoW model is generally considered trash, basically because of the ‘everyone wins’ model.

    PvP is simply player versus player. The WoW version is trash because it’s perceived as Player + Class + Gear + Spec versus Player + Class + Gear + Spec. The “everyone wins” part has nothing to do with it. I would argue most people disgusted with WoW PvP are disgusted because actual skill and experience are trivialized in favor of class, gear and even talent spec. Fans of IMPACT PvP are the ones that have fault with the “everyone wins” model. It’s very possible to have an appreciation and love of PvP and not be a fan of IMPACT PvP.

  11. [...] there has been on-and-off discussion about Player vs Player (PvP) in MMO’s, such as this blog post at Hardcore Casual recently. Rarely have these discussions delved deeply into the topic of the [...]

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