Understanding what makes PvP tick.

Watching people react to all the new info about AoC’s PvP model has been rather entertaining, while also frustrating and somewhat surprising. PvP seems to be an idea that most people ‘think’ they love in an MMO, but when you provided them with the details, it turns out they don’t want to play along.

One common issue seems to be gear, and how the ‘casual’ crowd favors games without an over-emphasis on gear. (funny considering the casual king, WoW, is 100% gear based) The problem however is that in order to limit the influence of gear, one of two systems must be in place. Either you are at risk of losing your gear, or your gear wears down and eventually must be replaced. Only by forcing the replacement of gear can you encourage players not to play with their top gear at all times, and only in that type of system can gear truly be balanced. Even the sword of instadeath has to be used with caution, since if you used it on every lowbie you see, it would eventually break. The other solution is to simply give everyone equal gear (hi WoW), but that just destroys a major facet of general MMO gameplay, power progression and character growth. The two MMOs with good PvP and generally no item issues, UO and EVE, both used the above method, although in drastically different ways, with good results.

Item risk also plays into another important factor of PvP, loss. The ‘everyone wins’ system works versus NPCs because NPCs don’t mind getting their heads kicked in daily; they will happily respawn and ask for more. In order to have PvP with any kind of resolution or winner, one side has to lose, and since we are talking PvP, that means a character controlled by a player, not an NPC. The key to the equation is that the smaller the loss, the smaller the victory. In WoW, you get basically nothing for killing a player in a BG, since at most you cost them 30 seconds of being a ghost before coming back in at 100%. In the arena, the cost of death goes up slightly, as a death might cost your team a win, setting you back a bit in rank. Even then, the cost is rather small, and as such, a win is not very memorable. No one really recalls the epic battles they waged versus memorable opponents in the battlegrounds, do they? Lets contrast that to a well set ambush in UO (pre UOR), or a Titan kill in EVE, events that players fondly remember and still talk about. The major thrill of being part of a titan kill comes from the fact that you are killing something of major value, something that your enemy worked hard to produce. With that kill, you make major progress in your war, boosting your Corps moral while killing your opponents. The kill would be near-meaningless if that Titan respawned after a short trip to a virtual graveyard, not to mention you would see Titans being flown around without a care.

Another common pre-launch idea in a PvP MMO is mercenaries. Since ‘casual’ players don’t want to join a huge guild and commit to something they can’t keep up with, they instead plan to play with a smaller group of friends with the idea of being hired out by the big guilds as mercenaries. The idea is that as a mercenary, you will still get to experience all the big time PvP stuff like siege warfare without having to deal with big guild politics. In how many MMOs has the concept of mercenaries worked? Has anyone ever hired a guild in WoW to go and corpse camp an enemy? Of course not, and the reason why is fairly clear. First off, the mercenaries can’t actually hard the enemy in any real meaningful way, as corpse camping is a minor annoyance at best, and easily countered. Second, there is no tangible loss, so what exactly do you pay for if you hire the mercs? And finally, what evidence would you have that the mercs completed their job? The idea of mercs only works in games where players stand to lose something, and in games where that loss can be quantified. Mercs are very common in EVE for exactly the reasons above. If you are in an industrial Corp, odds are you have a good amount of cash, but very low combat ability. Mercs provide the perfect tool as protection from rival Corps, enabling industrial Corps to remain viable in such a PvP focused environment. You are not likely to see a guild of crafters hire another guild to taking down the top arena team in WoW, now are you?

My overall point is that in order for PvP to actually work on the MMO scale (as opposed to how it works in Counter Strike or any other game with a quick in/out setup) you must have reason to fight, and more importantly, you must have reason to win. You don’t win anything if at the end of the day the winner and loser are left standing in the same spot. The greater the distance between winner and loser, the more ‘impact’ your PvP has. When your guild is cornered and facing extinction (hi BoB), that is when you truly see epic displays of resolve, when guild pride really kicks in. Those situations create the type of memories and stories PvP fans rave about, and outsiders read and get encouraged by. Just remember that for every epic victory, someone was on the other end, suffering a crushing defeat, because without that defeat, there would be no victory.

PS: My personally definition of casual is anyone who plays less than I do, and hardcore means anyone who plays more. No further debate about that definition today, please.

PPS: Keep in mind that just because you suffer a huge defeat, does not mean it ruins your day. It’s all too common to see a defeated Corp in EVE state they had a great time in whatever war they were involved in. It is a game at the end of the day, and we play to have fun. As long as the combat was exciting and interesting, everyone wins. If you simply plow over your opponent because of gear and not skill, even the winner is left feeling cheated in that system.

12 Responses to Understanding what makes PvP tick.

  1. Tim says:

    Even better than hiring mercenaries is having your carebear industrial corp camp and gank an enemy on his way out of Jita in a newly-fitted Lachesis, or single-handedly scrambling a much more powerful ship who refuses to take you seriously until backup jumps in and hands him his ass.

    In both cases (which I’ve recently been on the carebear side of :) it’s the highly-improbable outcome and significant risk of taking action that makes the victory sweeter. I think EVE does just about everything right.

  2. sid67 says:

    The key to the equation is that the smaller the loss, the smaller the victory. In WoW, you get basically nothing for killing a player in a BG, since at most you cost them 30 seconds of being a ghost before coming back in at 100%.

    Two things. First, I think you are looking at the micro PvP view here and not the macro PvP view. Battlegrounds are objective based PvP. A win or loss at that scale is not defined by your personal kill ratio, but by your contribution to the team. Your success as a team is determined by whether you win or lose those objectives. So while killing an individual player is all well and great, the stakes are not about individual kills. The best example of that is killing a player in the middle of a road far away from an objective. Great for you, but your misplacement might have just lost an objective. The 30 second mechanic is important in that it allow few players to defend an objective.

    Secondly, I don’t agree that a player must lose something in order for the winner to feel good about their victory. However, I’ll agree that if both people “win” that it takes away from what the winner earns. The key is to provide the winner with something of value and provide the loser with nothing. The perceived loss of not receiving the thing of value is penalty enough. Let’s say that you and I are entered into a race from New York to Miami. The winner gets $100,000 and the loser gets nothing. If you win then I would bet that you are feeling pretty good about it. Needless to say I am going to be pretty bummed that I went through all that effort and received nothing. Now, if I received $50,000 as a consolation prize does that devalue your $100,000? The incremental reward is only $50,000 over what I won, but it’s still $100,000 more than you had before you started. In an MMO, I would say that it DOES take away from your win because the competition doesn’t end when we reach Miami. After all, we are also in a competition to see who can earn the most money in their lives.

  3. sid67 says:

    The major thrill of being part of a titan kill comes from the fact that you are killing something of major value, something that your enemy worked hard to produce.

    No. That’s the thrill that comes with griefing. I don’t take issue with griefing, but that’s only part of it and it’s not what makes PvP fun for everyone. I think if you like Impact PvP, then that part is more important to you. But that’s not the fundamental thing that makes PvP fun. For example, I get a bigger thrill out of simply knowing that I’m the better player. Beating a mindless NPC isn’t as enjoyable as out-thinking a living breathing opponent.

    I have a funny story along those lines that illustrates the point. When I first starting playing Unreal Tournament, I kept logging into a server that was ALWAYS busy. At first, I could easily handle half of the players, hold my own against a third , and then there were like two guys who seemed unkillable. I played on that server for about a week and then tried a different server and got completely annihilated. There was also all kinds of trash talk (which was new). It turned out that the first server was a BOT server and if it wasn’t full it would insert computer players as opponents. The moment I learned that was the case, I no longer enjoyed or wanted to play on that server. When I was ignorant, I really enjoyed it. But after I ate the forbidden apple, I had absolutely zero interest in it. From a gameplay perspective, the BOT server was better balanced for me – but held no enjoyment after learning the truth.

  4. syncaine says:

    So macro PvP in WoW is what? Winning a BG? Farming enough honor/rank for the next epic? And macro to what, the rest of the server that will eventually wear the same exact ‘epic’ gear using the same exact build?

    There is no macro in WoW, because the only actual factor in WoW is time. With enough time everyone achieves the same rewards (outside 1-2 arena rank rewards, and even then you can find ways around that)

    Thats the problem when you have no penalty, you can’t actually win against others. And since we are talking PvP, and not ‘farm honor for epics’, you need a way to actually WIN against your enemy.

    And your second comment, so a Titan kill is griefing? I don’t think anyone, including the pilot of the Titan, would ever call losing a Titan being griefed. A major component of any big victory, be it Titan kill, relic grab, city siege, whatever, is planning the event and executing it. If you achieve the objective, it means you outsmarted the enemy, both in execution AND in planning.

    The UT example falls a bit short b.c UT is strictly twitch-skill based. You don’t pre-plan anything, its all exaction. Even in top-tier tourney play (I have a buddy who plays CS semi-pro on a traveling team), while a team might go in with a plan, it still comes down to who executes better. In EVE, you could be facing the best in-combat pilots in the game, but if you brought a better selection of ships (based on scouting or spy work), you will mop the floor with them, regardless of their skill, when in an even fight, you would walk away defeated.

    When you run the risk of actually losing something, it makes you think twice about actually doing it. No one things twice about wearing the absolute best gear in WoW, or about anything they do in a BG. Hell people pre-plan PvE raids more than they pre-plan PvP. At least in raids, poor play will cost you expensive pots to replace, while poor play in PvP costs you nothing.

  5. sid67 says:

    So macro PvP in WoW is what? Winning a BG?

    In the context of the example I was giving: Yes. Winning an objective based match is the macro view while killing an individual is the micro view. I’m not saying that the reward (and gear) system in WoW is not extremely broken. I’m only making the point that a match type that has lots of “deaths” is not less enjoyable or flawed PvP. That’s just a mechanic. The real win/loss reward is associated with winning or losing the match (or should be anyway). That’s the nature of objective based PvP. The guy who suicides repeatedly can be an extremely disruptive force and help to win a match. At the micro level, he suffered repeated losses. However, at the more macro level, he achieved his real goal of helping his team win a match.

    And your second comment, so a Titan kill is griefing? I don’t think anyone, including the pilot of the Titan, would ever call losing a Titan being griefed.

    My definition of griefing is to willfully inflict harm upon another player for the sake of your own enjoyment. It becomes a little fuzzier when people like to grief and then get griefed in return. It’s takes someone who is a bit of a sadist and a masochist to enjoy that style of play. I’m not selling that style short. I like it very much myself within degrees. However, it is also not the only style that I enjoy playing.

    The point here is that what you are describing is a stylistic preference. You get the most enjoyment when you perceive there is something a bit more at stake than simply winning or losing. For others, the reward is in the winning and knowing you are better than your opponent.

    “Griefing” might not be the best way to describe it, but in my experience the same little “thrill” you get for causing someone to lose something meaningful is same “thrill” that I feel whenever I have griefed someone.

  6. syncaine says:

    But you assume a single death loss has no impact on the macro, which is incorrect. When you weaken a member of an enemy guild, you in turn weaken that guild. The issue with no penalty is the micro has no effect on the macro in the case of a BG, hence you find people going afk for running around solo without a plan. That type of behavior is just not an issue in games with consequences, and you don’t need silly ‘afk reporting’.

    And what you describe is not the nature of objective based PvP, but rather short term, no impact instanced PvP, which is exactly what a FPS is. It works in FPS land, it does not work in MMO land long term.

    Here is where you are confused on the titan example, the pilot of the titan does not look at the loss of the titan as harm inflicted on him. He looks at it as part of EVE, and a part of flying a high priority target. It’s a Corp war, not a personal attack. Griefing is when you do something that you know will frustrate or annoy someone with little to no gain other than that annoyance. Corpse camping has no benefit other than the frustration of the other player. No one gets really annoyed when they die in EVE, because they accept it as part of the game, and a very important part. And no one goes around killing other pilots to annoy them, they do it for personal gain. Being a true pirate in EVE takes far more ‘skill’ than being a fleet drone, due to how low the reward is compared to the risk, yet there are those who still do it, partly for the challenge.

    The thrill is not from their loss, but rather from my guilds success verses theirs. The problem in BGs is that the victory is little different than the defeat, so either way no one really cares. Win or lose you just queue up again and continue grinding honor till you get whatever epic you are after. That’s not a PvP mentality, thats a grind mentality. Any system where you can just grind and eventual hit your goal, which describes almost any system without loss, is more grind than anything else. At best those with skill will complete the grind a bit quicker, and then hit the forums and ask for more ‘content’. Odd that content was never an issue in UO, nor is it in EVE…

  7. sid67 says:

    All candy is chocolate. You can’t say you like candy if you don’t like chocolate. Your candy sucks because it doesn’t have chocolate. So if you just added chocolate, then it would fix your candy problem.

    Obviously that’s absurd because not all types of candy have chocolate, but that’s how I interpret your arguments. I’m neither defending BGs or attacking EVE. I’m simply saying that what you describe EVE to be is a stylistic preference that requires the winner and loser to gain or lose something respectively in order for it to be meaningful. I would make the comparison to gambling. For some people, it’s not fun unless the stakes are high. The thrill in the “win” feels intense because you are risking so much. Of course, the lows are that much worse when you lose because of the high stakes. I would characterize PvP that provides lasting effects like this as Impact PvP.

    Objective based PvP is simply PvP where the goal is more strategic in nature than just simply killing your opponent. It doesn’t matter that if it is short-term or long-term, just that the objective is something other than simply eliminating your opponent. It can be World based, or Instanced based.

    EVE simply presents one combination of these elements that you find enjoyable. It provides Impact PvP. It provides World PvP. It provides Objective PvP. Much like a Snickers bar has Carmel, Chocolate, Nuget and Nuts. My point is that some people prefer a PayDay bar that only has Nuget and Nuts. That doesn’t mean they don’t like candy.

    WoW PvP takes Carmel and Nuts and then adds some Cinnamon and a Sweet Tart center. They are all things I like, but put them all together and it tastes like crap. It makes it pretty easy to say that the Snickers “did it the right way” but that doesn’t help people who hate Chocolate and love Carmel.

    hence you find people going afk for running around solo without a plan. That type of behavior is just not an issue in games with consequences, and you don’t need silly ‘afk reporting’.

    Again, I’m not defending BGs. They are incredibly broken. It’s too bad because the concept is a good one, just badly implemented with a reward system that encourages people to PvP that don’t like to PvP. However, implementing your “fix” would be like telling someone to ride a bike to work to save on the amount of money you pay at the gas pump. It solves the problem but most people would still rather drive. It’s a stylistic preference.

  8. Bonedead says:

    Good write budday

  9. syncaine says:

    I’ve been agreeing with you on the style point all along, just never wrote it, haha. Certainly the win/loss formula is ONE PvP concept that works, but it’s not the only method of making PvP gameplay.

    I guess the post was more about people asking for impact PvP, but then wanting the ‘softer’ aspects of something like WoW PvP. You can’t mix the two and expect good results. (fitting well with your candy example).

    But assuming we agree (I think we do?) that the EVE/UO approach is just one method of good PvP in an MMO, what would another be? If WAR does not follow the above (fairly sure it does not), could it have another method that would still provide a non-grind PvP game?

  10. Yeebo says:

    Just out of curiosity: did you ever try out RvR in DAoC?

    It’s probably my favorite example of “positive sum” PvP. At an individual level it was positive sum, in that everyone that participated was bound to earns points towards ranks and abilities. However at the level of realms it was negative sum in that only one realm could have a particular relic, and every realm that lacked a relic was deprived of the bonuses it conveyed. In addition only one realm could hold access to DF, a fairly extenstive dungeon with it’s own set of potential rewards.

    I have the impression that WAR is shooting for this model again. Negative sum at the realm level, so you have a real motivation to strive for victory. However positive sum at an individual level so even the losers get to have some good fun.

    I personally don’t like negative sum PvP at the micro level. I don’t enjoy having hours of work potentially flushed down the pooper due to a single bad call, or network lag. And I don’t really enjoy flushing hours of someone else’s work down the pooper all that much either. I certainly enjoy sending players to the graveyard and having that breif moment of “neener neener neener!” But as far as totally screwing a player just that I can feel like “I really won,” not that attractive to me.

  11. Giddy Wars says:

    How come no one mention Guild Wars? Is that not “THE” most balance and fair PvP game around? Maybe there’s no “Macro” PvP about it (not until Guild Wars 2 comes out anyway) but doesn’t GW has the best system right now? A lot of games can build on their ideas.

  12. Swift Voyager says:

    If you follow the Eve back story and dev blogs, you should already know that they are ramping up for the next big expansion. CCP always kinda go stealth prior to a new expansion, but reading the back story fiction is always a dead give-away that things are brewing. This update looks like it will have their much-touted, and long awaited, Factional Warfare. I am very curious to see what they come up with. CCP are never afraid to go off the beaten path with new game design innovation. I think we may be in store for a good demonstration of how “good PvP” can become even better when the dev’s know what they are doing.

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