DF:UW – Take care of the sheep to keep the wolves

The biggest challenge for any PvP sandbox developer is figuring out how to keep the sheep around. The easiest challenge is figuring out how to keep the wolves. If you look at the history of this MMO sub-genre, it’s not difficult to notice a pattern of developers focusing on the wolves, losing the sheep, and then seeing the wolves lose interest as well, despite making so many of the changes they asked for.

Darkfall 1 can be added to the list above. DF:UW may or may not qualify just yet.

So let’s talk about those sheep, because I think they might be the most misunderstood group around. If you have already taken the first step, and have bought a game like DF or EVE, you are already in a different class of player than the ‘normal’ PvE themepark player (I’d write that makes you better, but then someone would point out I’m an egotistical asshole and my feelings would get all hurt :tear: ).

That said, simply because you have taken the first step does not mean you instantly fall into the wolf category. Far from it actually. What the vast majority of these players are looking for is actually a very PvE-focused, social (no not that kind of ‘social) experience, just with the flavoring of an open world and PvP. They don’t play in spite of the PvP, but they also don’t only play for it. The “PvP Only” crowd, while very vocal, is always a tiny minority. For every Hydra Reloaded, you have dozens of EVE Uni pilots. For every Zealot, you have dozens of Empire players.

The game in question needs to cater to the sheep in order to survive. It must allow them to grow despite the efforts of the wolves, and it must be a better, more interested PvE experience than what they could get in ‘safer’ MMOs. Certainly leveraging the open world PvP aspect here is key, as you can’t compete straight-up on PvE, but there is a fine line between leveraging and simply allowing PvP to be ‘the point’.

As is always the case, EVE gets this right. Ganking in Empire space is still possible and can be very profitable, but it’s also very easy to avoid and really only effects the sheep who more or less should be ready for it (rich players). Null, while being the PvP-focused portion of the game, is also setup in such a way that the average cog player is not some PvP expert, but rather just another player in a giant Corporation/Alliance. The core PvPers are your FCs, CEOs, or the small-scale, elite Corps.

That said, the incentives are also there to get those Empire players out into more dangers space. Wormholes offer far more profitable PvE than known space, and both null and low-sec also hold advantages outside of simply allowing PvP. The balance however lies in the fact that in Empire, most of the game is still possible, if perhaps not optimal.

DF1 failed here because the influence of the core PvPers was far too great, both on the small and large scale. In small scale, a single great player could easily beat multiple weaker players, quickly recover, and continue on. On a larger scale, the smaller elite clans were often the deciding factor in a siege, and under the ‘merc’ tag, basically strangled the game’s political aspect.

DF:UW is better on the small scale, where it’s more difficult for one player to go superman-mode in a fight. Player skill still creates a large gap, but not SO large as to be a major, insurmountable problem. This then translated into large scale combat as well, making ‘zerging’ more effective and giving large, casual clans better odds.

DF:UW current problem however is not PvP-based, its everything else. For the sheep, reach the state of being ‘done’ is fairly quick, and for them PvP’ing for the sake of PvP is not a major draw. There are no long-term goals to shoot for like in EVE, nor is the simple allure of more wealth there. In EVE sitting in a fully-fitted Titan (if we pretend that’s an end-game goal) is very difficult. In DF, reach the equivalent is trivial.

As for those wolves, they will remain so long as the sheep do. Oh, they will cry you rivers of tears when you make things more difficult for them and threaten to leave countless times, but don’t worry, they aren’t going anywhere. In part because their options are limited, but also because deep down, that play style naturally enjoys the challenge. Goons didn’t burn Jita because it was profitable, or because it was easy; they did it because CCP put up road blocks to try and dissuade them.

28 Responses to DF:UW – Take care of the sheep to keep the wolves

  1. Raelyf says:

    As someone who considers myself a full time PvP player, this is a great post. I’ve often had to argue over the years with other ‘wolves’ that giving advantages to the wolf over the sheep is often not in our best interest.

    Back in the early days of EVE, the combat probing system (which allows you to find another player’s ships when they’re not at a typical, warp-able celestial) was incredibly difficult. The system was complicated, but you essentially had to get extremely close to where the ship you were looking for was (within 4au), drop your probes and wait out a 2 minute timer.

    Locating the target and narrowing down their position essentially required triangulating it by hand with the direction scanner. On top of that, their location was often so far away from warp able areas that you couldn’t get close enough to scan for them even if you knew exactly where they were.

    Despite this, over the months and years players like myself and some others developed networks of safe spots to get close to such players and the experience and skills to locate them relatively quickly.

    The result was that the ‘sheep’ were relatively safe in space performing their missions, but also very plentiful and somewhat complacent for those of us who had the skills and preparation to hunt them effectively. I made a fortune hunting and ransoming these players, and they often applauded the effort put into catching them.

    When they revamped the combat scanning system this all changed. A good scanner could find anyone, anywhere in 15 seconds. A bad scanner in a minute or two. It seemed like a win for the wolves at first. The result, of course, was that it simply drove risks beyond acceptable levels for the sheep, and they largely if not completely disappeared.

    **Note: The new scanning mechanics are far, far better than the old ones. I’d never suggest a return. I only use this as a clear advantage of how making things easier for the wolves destroyed the whole ecosystem. Thankfully, EVE has built new and interesting ones in it’s place.

  2. Rohirrim says:

    Syncaine, this is off topic but I would like your opinion or maybe to give you an idea for a new article. From What I understand you liked the vanilla wow and maybe TBC too…Also a great article by Nils long ago is this: http://nilsmmoblog.blogspot.gr/2011/06/when-team-b-took-over.html

    So Team A left to Titan and team B got wow and we know what happened then…Now Team A is back to wow as titan got delayed/deleted and we already have these news http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/10715261517

    The lead designer or the leader of Team B is now leaving…so what do you think about it? Do you think anything will change? Is it possible to get a rollback and go into vanilla days again?

    • SynCaine says:

      They certainly have the resources to do it, especially now that Titan is out of the picture. Like I said before, I don’t hate the upcoming expansion, which is telling alone. Does that mean I’ll actually return? That’s still a tough sell, but who knows. If the genre keeps sucking, WoW might become an option.

  3. Kobeathris says:

    I think one issue for sheep isn’t so much PVP itself, it’s the gulf of difference between PVE and PVP. To put it another way, if PVP were more like PVE, then they would be more comfortable with it. Take Eve for example. A battleship fit for PVE in the hands of someone who knows how to PVE can warp into a mission, and deal with 20-30 rats of varying size at one time, with no issue. That same battleship can die easily to a single PVP fit frigate. Furthermore, since absolutely everything is done by players in Eve, if someone wants to get a taste of piracy, they are automatically going against other players, who likely already know what they are doing. If there were more NPCs in the world (and on D-scan) doing things other than just sitting in missions waiting to be slaughtered, not only would there be PVE style routes to learn aspects of PVP, there would be a little bit more cover for sheep, and there would be flat better PVE.

  4. sid6.7 says:

    Mixed reaction from me on this post. The analogy is a good one but I do disagree with the assumption that “the vast majority of these players are looking for [...] a very PvE-focused [...] experience”.

    http://serialganker.blogspot.com/2013/11/dfuw-wolf-in-sheeps-clothing.html

    That said, I do agree that more ‘long-range goals’ for both players and clans should be available. Regardless of whether those are PVE or PVP goals, they are needed.

    • SynCaine says:

      They might not think they are, but they are. Look at the best times in DF1 or DF:UW, release. What was almost everyone but the super-hardcore doing for months? PvE with some PvP mixed in. Were people unhappy or leaving in mass amounts while PvE was happening and people were progressing? No. As the focus goes away from PvE, and more towards PvP-only, that’s when the population drops.

      That’s one of the hardest things to understand for developers or people trying to get a pulse on a community; even players lie to themselves. Far more people want to believe they are PvP-minded than actually are.

      • dynaform says:

        All of the memorable PvP i participated in wow was because of PvE. Blackrock Mountain, positioning for world bosses. Raid on raid was some fun shit. Instant dungeon teleport etc… killed that. Forcing people to actually go to Arathi at play AB was awesome. I remember jumping into that alliance pit of an outpost with 10 other mages and aoe’ing the hell out of them!!!

  5. Something else that EVE does: it allows clever sheep to win over not-so-clever wolves through the PLEX system. That is – if you are successful as a sheep you play for free. If you are unsuccessful as a wolf it will cost you more $$ to continue playing that way.

    • Anti-Stupidity League says:

      So you’re saying that if Darkfall was, in some way, free to play, there could be more sheep, and if it costs more money, sheep easily leave the game?

      Yeah, I agree completely.

        • Anti-Stupidity League says:

          I presume your reply means you disagree, which must mean that in your opinion, if Darkfail costs more money to play there’s bound to be more people playing it and if it would cost less, more people would leave the game.

          That’s all fine and well, I can see only a tiny problem with your opinion right there. It’s bollocks.

        • Rammstein says:

          “I presume your reply means you disagree, which must mean that in your opinion, if Darkfail costs more money to play there’s bound to be more people playing it and if it would cost less, more people would leave the game.”

          Everything you’re saying is wrong on at least four levels. It’s like you’re trying to set an all-time record.

    • Jake says:

      I know more than a few wolves who used plex. They just wanted to PvP and didn’t want to farm.

  6. Halycon says:

    I don’t think Eve gets it “right”. I think a lot of the “Sheep” are playing Eve for the pure difficulty of it. Going out and shooting a rat isn’t that hard, but the moment you start getting into any sort of industry career path the game explodes in complexity.

    Even gathering resources in Eve is hard compaired to every other game. What do you mine? Whatever gives you the best ISK/H. well how do you figure out ISK/H? Well, figure out how much ore you get per cycle on each individual ore, divide that number by how many you need to run a refine job, take the quotient of that and multiply by how many minerals you get per refine job(taking skills into account), check the market for cost per mineral and multiply by product of the last operation to get isk/cycle… for each individual ore. And some ores give multiple mineral types. I mean.. come on!

    And that’s industry at it’s most basic in Eve. Want to craft something? A simple Tech 1 frigate is going to cost you a dozen math calculations to figure out if you can make money on it. Let’s not even get started on Tech2. And all of those numbers are always in flux. Just becuase something made you money yesterday doesn’t mean it will today, or even an hour from now.

    If you want a game that’s hard, that makes you think.. nothing does it like Eve. Actually doing any of those things is not fun. The game fights you every step of the way with constant windows, popups, and random goofs. It’s a nightmare to build anything even after you’ve ran ALL those numbers. But, none of the hardcore PVE crowd are there for that. They are there because nothing else challenges them in the same way.

    • Jake says:

      The one thing EVE does really poorly is creating PvE encounters that leads to fun PvP. Vanilla WOW was chocked full of farming followed by a 30 minute battle with random people that you bumped into. The most enjoyable PvP is often random.

  7. Eve’s sheep will leave to star citizen.

    • Noizy says:

      Sorry, but as someone who usually flies around low sec with nothing more powerful than a festival launcher, I won’t be going to Star Citizen. I don’t have the kind of money it will take to compete in that game. From what I’ve heard Roberts is fostering a nice secondary RMT market for ships, especially ones with lifetime insurance. If you let something like that get established when the game is in development, it will carry over to when the game launches.

      • Billy says:

        I can’t say for sure but I think you are wrong.

        Chris has made it clear over and over again that the price you pay today for the ships doesn’t reflect the value of the ships when the game releases. He has also confirmed everything sold today is available in game for in game currency.

        I believe that the real fireworks are going to go off when the people who have paid thousands and thousands for these ships find out that they are no more difficult to get than ships in Eve. Sure a few will be crazy hard but the vast majority will be a few hours farming.

    • Kryss says:

      Let’s just hope that “EVE Killer” does not share the fate of countless “WOW Killers”…

  8. Anonymous says:

    You go on to cry about the political aspects of the game, and then the PvP… Sounds like you should go play WoW it has no politics, and has instanced, dumbed down PvP so you can fight other players whenever you want in skill-less combat.

  9. kalex716 says:

    Producers (sheep), Consumers (wolves), Degraders (game design constraints, like sinks, and economics).

    Each one of these pieces needs to work harmoniously with others in order to make your game fully functioning, and fully self sustaining.

    Like in nature, If any one of them is out of wack, the whole ecosystem falls apart.

    • kalex716 says:

      In spirit of the OP though, its important to consider how best to foster the “sheep” role.

      The biggest misconception, IMO is that this player isn’t interested in “versus other players” aspect of the MMO. I think he very much is, but not in the traditional ways that wolves are for example.

      The sheep needs to feel rewarded, and validated and reinforced by making sure he is always “Faster than the slowest member of his heard”. This means their needs to be creative, and intuitive ways for him to mitigate risks throughout the various aspects of the game he is compelled by. If someone else gets eaten, so that he and the people he cares about can get away, he is usually fine with that.

      Also he also needs to be motivated and validated in “finding greener pastures”. His ingenuity, and sense for planning etc. need to be fostered by fluid and always changing economical opportunities. This makes all the risk avoidance rewarding.

  10. Antivyris says:

    I like to think the inverse is true as well. In EVE, specifically, you have a large amount of PVE players that are actually engaged in very aggressive PVP, they just don’t know it. Market PVP, taking incursion sites/scanned sites faster than others, making more isk than others, heck, even getting all the Azure Plagioclase before the other guy, leaving him with just normal Plagioclase.

    I think a better viewpoint is that PvE players are not usually willing to engage in open, face-to-face PvP with other players, and forcing them usually ends bad. However, if you have enough PvP by proxy, hopefully it keeps the sheep fighting over meals to get fatter, leading to pinata-like kills for sheep.

    I’ve actually always thought of PvE players in EVE being the PvE of PvP. As in, a PvP player finding a blinged out talos doing level 4’s in low-sec can net enough off one kill to pay for months of ships. The PvE’er probably isn’t much of a threat to the well-prepaired PvPer, but the PvPer doesn’t have to do it so often to push the sheep out. It’s a sad fact, but if a group of the super rich in EVE got together and gave every single new-player 1 bil, they’d probably quit in a week or two. Expand and give every average empire player 100 bil, and that would devastate empire with quits. EVE exists because of the PvE grind. Remove that, and it doesn’t really matter anymore, dead empire would spell dead EVE.

  11. Ranamar says:

    Personally, I think I favor Richard Bartle’s “Players Who Suit MUDs” set of classifications. Wolves seem to correspond strongly to Bartle’s “club” killers (who hit people with them). Meanwhile, the sheep that you refer to strike me as being most like his “diamond” achievers. Bartle’s essay goes into a lot more detail about the interplay between these two and exploratory “spades” and social “hearts”.

    EVE actually does a great job satisfying the other types, too:
    Explorers who like a shifting topology can go to W-space, and the ones who are more into picking the game apart generally seem to end up writing the numerous tools to collate interesting information from the game. Meanwhile, because of the importance of corporations, there is a surprisingly large amount of social cohesion in the game. I’m basically only doing jump freight because I’ve been playing other games, but I absolutely keep up with what people are doing. Bartle’s social MUD players are roleplayers, but in EVE you can even build empires, if you can get people to pull in the same direction.

    On the other hand, having laid that out, I wonder if the point you’re really trying to make is one about high-investment and low-investment players. EVE is a relatively high-investment game for most people, but FCs, CEOs, and the like need an enormous devotion to get the game to work, but they also often need a large mass of lower-investment players behind them to actually give their actions weight. Unfortunately, if the required investment to matter is too high, you lose low-investment players, and then the big movers can’t make a mark.

  12. […] glevongoblin on December 13, 2013 I usually don’t read SynCaine, but this post got my attention. “The biggest challenge for any PvP sandbox developer is figuring out how to […]

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