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.