Coppertopper previously asked my opinion on FFA PvP versus set faction PvP, and today seems like a good day to throw out my opinions on the topic and also see what everyone else thinks. Examples of FFA PvP include Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call – Darktide, Shadowbane, EVE Online, and DarkFall, among others. Examples of set faction PvP include Dark Age of Camelot, World of Warcraft, Aion, and Warhammer Online, among others.
Let’s start with the strengths of each setup. In a set faction system, you are assigned to a side and hence immediately start the game with pre-defined enemies and friends. This means you can get right into the PvP action without having to solo or find a guild. WAR is the best example of this strength, as right at level one you can queue up for a scenario and play as part of a team. Balance is also generally easier to achieve in a set faction system since the developers know exactly which races/classes are going to be facing each other. Lore is easier to design as you have clearly defined enemies and allies, and the story can progress as the devs see fit.
A FFA PvP system on the other hand gives much of the control over to the players, from determining enemies and allies to how guilds choose to define themselves (mercs, RP, specific race/class/focus). Politics become a huge factor, as your enemies one day might be your allies the next, or vice versa. In games like EVE or DF territory control is important due to its relationship to valuable resources, and this opens up economic PvP. Finally the ‘bad apples’ can be placed on Kill on Sight (KoS) lists, giving the player community some additional control/tools.
I stated to Coppertopper that I prefer the FFA PvP setup, but really it comes down to how you design your game. For instance, I don’t think DAoC would have been a better game had it been FFA PvP from the ground up, while at the same time I think a game like WAR is hurt by its strict two-sided conflict. I also really enjoy the political aspect of a FFA system, but again this comes down to how involved you are with an MMO. I would say most casual players don’t keep up with politics, and so that entire side is a non-factor for them. If anything, a simplified “who do we fight” system is better/easier for them to jump in and get to some fighting. Fighting also tends to be more frequent in a set faction system, at least when comparing games like DF/EVE to DAoC/WAR, although the style of PvP is certainly not the only factor to consider when asking why.
MMO history has also shown the set faction games generally fare better than FFA PvP games in terms of popularity. I think a large part of that has to due with the more streamlined approach a set faction system allows, and also because a FFA system is more difficult to predict. A quick look at Shadowbane’s history will show that the FFA setup largely contributed to the games failure, as the winning side would be so dominant as to literally kill a server. On the other hand EVE and its one server has yet to see complete domination, despite the efforts of many, and while DF started with a few large alliances dominating, today on the NA server the world is split into many smaller alliances, each with its own political connections and history, and many ‘little guy’ clans are able to claim property and carve our a space for themselves.