Playing as much DoTA as I have lately, it’s got me thinking about the general idea of PvP, and why most MMOs can’t seem to get it right. We have seen what happens when you make it too extreme in games like Ultima Online, with full corpse looting and setting the loser back hours if not days. We also know what the opposite of that looks like in WoW, where everyone wins, and hence many people play either half-assed, or totally afk, ruining any chance at getting a decent match going.
The first point is rather obvious; in DoTA you play a hero for about an hour, while in an MMO you play your character for months. If you have a horrible game in DoTA, you will likely be gimped for that game, but the next game everyone starts at level 1 all over again. This is just not the case in an MMO, where character growth is one of the key features that keeps players playing. An MMO simply can’t be as gear-dominated as WoW is and expect to have balanced PvP. However that topic is entirely game depended, so for now lets assuming we have good power balance, and that most players have a fighting chance against others.
The key balance issues that make DoTA work is it’s death penalty, and how it relates to the item/level balance. The death penalty is not as harsh as UO in that you don’t lose items but you do lose gold and time, which ultimately means each death delays you in getting more powerful items. In WoW, you do lose time when you die in a BG, but since that time is not as valuable (since you don’t level or collect gold for items), death has little meaning.
So the balance seems to lie someplace between UO (too extreme) and WoW (too light), but can’t be exactly what it is in DoTA, since it must be applied to an MMO. The factors of the penalty in DoTA can however be broken down and applied.
First the winner of a fight needs to be rewarded. The reward must be significant enough to make combat attractive, and also significant enough to offset the risk of defeat. If we are talking about team PvP, winning must have both a personal and team impact. In DoTA, the personal impact is the fact that you yourself get a gold bonus. The team impact is that whoever you killed is now a bit weaker, making your teammates stronger in comparison. This is an important factor, as you need to both motivate the individual to play, but also need to encourage and reward team play.
Next is the penalty for defeat. It must be severe enough that players actively avoid it, but not so harsh that it overwhelms the chance of a reward from victory. It also must impact your team in a negative way, but not in such a way that a few unlucky deaths ruin the entire experience.
Applied to WoW, it would work something like this. First off, the rate of death in a BG would need to decrease dramatically, as currently players die and rez at a silly rate, due mostly to the fact that death in a BG has zero meaning. This can be accomplished in two ways; first increase the spirit healers rez timer, both in total length and in its mechanic. The current method is a 30sec timing that runs continuously, meaning if you die at the right time, you might actually rez in 1-2 seconds. An easy fix would be to make everyone rez on an individual timer, and then to increase that timer to 1 minute (or whatever would work best for balance). Graveyards would need to be moved, or protected, to prevent camping, but again that would be a simple fix, perhaps raising the GY to a one way drop platform. This increase in rez timing would not only mean a player must wait longer to return to the action, but also mean that a player killed is not going to spring right back up and return to the fight seconds later. Picking off a character at midfield would now be a useful tactic, rather than a waste of time.
The second fix needed would be a change to how honor points (I’m assuming you keep the overall honor point system) are earned in a BG. Currently you get honor from each kill you are near, along with a bonus at the end. Neither the individual honor nor the bonus is impacted much by your performance. Someone going 20-0 and someone going 0-20 won’t see a major difference in honor gain, especially in relation to the bonus. To fix this, players should gain an increased amount of honor as they do battle in a BG per kill, but each death should cost them honor points. Kills must be worth more than deaths, but only by a slight margin. Each kill should also be split between individual honor and team honor. The players who contributed most to the kill would see a noticeable honor increase, but all other players would also get some amount of honor added to their total. Players reported afk would not only stop gaining honor, but also lose a certain amount of honor from their total.
The important factor in any good PvP game is player accountability. Players in DoTA don’t run around dying randomly because they know that not only will they gimp themselves, they are also likely throwing the game for their team. In WoW, players often run around at random, and while they might cost their team the game, they currently don’t see any noticeable impact on their personal honor gain. By combining both personal and team impact, you create a system and culture which encourages winning while not crushing the loser, which is exactly what a good PvP should do.