Comment that caught my attention over at Massively, from Jef’s excellent Soapbox piece about RP and FFA PvP:
“It isn’t PVP because it is never fair and balanced.”
A lot of layers to that one line.
For starters, what defines ‘fair and balanced’? Most would make that judgment during or directly after the actual encounter, but I think that’s selling the whole thing short. If you get ganked in a 10v1, it’s hard to argue the fight was fair or balanced, but I’d ask why it was a 10v1 to begin with. If you lost a 1v1 because someone had a major character/gear advantage, I doubt you would call that an even fight, but I’d again ask ‘why’ the other guy had such an advantage. I’d also ask how important player-skill was in the fight as well.
That, to me, is one of the core differences between an MMORPG and a FPS; characters matter, and ‘balance’ is player-driven rather than hard-coded.
In a FPS, you can’t ‘zerg’ the other side on a 16v16 server, and you can’t bring out and risk the big toys to out-gear them either. It’s just you and 15 others, all with the same HP total, the same available weapons, and on a map that starts neutral, against 16 other guys. Before the first shot is fired, everything is ‘fair and balanced’ in terms of characters/gear, and it’s a pure player-skill driven game. The better players should always win unless luck plays a major role. Which is great if that’s what you are looking to play, but 99% of the time, it’s not what I’m after.
What I am looking for is a game where character progress matters. Where who you know and who you can call upon matters. Where what you bring out, and more importantly, risk, matters. Where yesterday impacts today, and sets up tomorrow.
There is always a ‘why’ behind someone getting zerged. “Make more friends” is a legitimate argument in a MMORPG with FFA PvP. There are reasons why zergs fall apart, and why when they don’t, people remember the name.
A very memorable line from a DF dev related to all of this: “TheMercs are very good at PvE”, when we were discussing early Darkfall and the very dominant PvP clan TheMercs. It’s a simple line, but it holds a lot of weight. Perhaps the players behind the characters in TheMercs were also great PvPers, perhaps not. But it’s undeniable that in the early days, they PvE’ed (shadily) better than anyone else, and used that advantage to dominate ‘unfairly’. It also might explain why, when the rest caught up, they declared victory and left.
Many would see the above as a game flaw, but to me, that’s what an MMORPG is all about (shady PvE aside). You put in the ‘work’, you reap the rewards. And that work can be PvE grinding, playing politics, infiltrating clans, etc. Point is, you can tip the scales of balance in your favor before the fight even starts, but that in itself takes skill and determination. A FPS is just a raw display of twitch skills, while MMORPG success is a complex web of inputs that, more often than not, leaves someone on the short end of the stick.
If you are looking for a ‘fair and balanced’ fight, an MMO is not the right place to look, and that’s by design.