Wolves and Sheep

With the release of Darkfall, the terms ‘wolves’ and ‘sheep’ have been thrown around frequently on forums and blogs. I figured this might be a good time to dig a bit deeper and try to find out just who really fits into each term, or whether we even have a solid idea of the two play styles.

The most basic definition of a wolf is someone who enjoys fighting other players. A sheep does not enjoy PvP combat. The basic idea is that the wolf hunts the sheep, and the sheep tries to avoid the wolf. The theory exists that once the sheep move on, the wolves would turn on each other, but soon move on as well in search of other sheep (presumably in other games). This is why, supposedly, PvP in an MMO does not work, as eventually everyone moves on and you shut down (or become a Station Pass member).

The above makes a boatload of assumptions. First, why would a sheep join a PvP game in the first place? Are they all just that dumb to not know better? Second, why do we assume wolves want nothing but to hunt defenseless sheep. Why is it a given that wolves only play for the kill, rather than the hunt? Third, why do we assume all sheep are defenseless fools who don’t know any better and instantly ragequit at the first sign of trouble? Four, why do we assume wolves are wolves 100% of the time, and sheep are always sheep? Why do we assume that in a PvP MMO, unlike all ‘other’ MMOs, you only get wolves and sheep, strictly defined and constant?

The easy image of a wolf is that basement dwelling teen, still entertained by swear words and someone who gets off on causing others harm. They presumably have unlimited time (or at least more than you), and play only to ruin your MMO experience. Somehow, either that particular player ALWAYS finds you, or that’s 90% of the PvP population, because apparently those type of players were rampant in previous PvP MMOs. Plus you saw the forums, so you know exactly the type of community said PvP game is going to have. Remember, the forums never lie!

The easy image of a sheep is that clueless MMO player who just wants to log on and explore/craft/socialize. The ultimate carebear, the sheep can’t actually play the game beyond the most basic level, and has the emotional stability of a tween at a Miley Cyrus concert. At the first sign of someone else effecting their game, be it bad language, stealing their mob, or heaven forbid killing them, they instantly ragequit, take their guild with them, and make a long drawn out forum post about how everyone playing this game is a sociopath and should get a life. The forum response is generally “tldr fag, go back to WoW”.

Assuming the two above, it’s not hard to see why people would avoid a PvP MMO. But last I checked, the above does not accurately describe the majority of MMO players, PvP or otherwise (except for anyone playing a druid, you all are indeed super emo, sorry)

First let’s talk about why a ‘sheep’ type of player might sign up for a game like Darkfall. As a sheep, we are assuming they don’t WANT to fight all the time, but this does not mean they can’t defend themselves, or at times organize and go looking for a fight as a change of pace. The assumption is that fighting is not their primary activity, so what exactly is the draw to a game like DF over WoW?

If you like playing a crafter, do you prefer your gameplay to consist of competing with gold farmers over static resource spawn points and running an auction house mod following very defined market ‘strategies’? Or perhaps you prefer to head out into possibly dangerous territory, sometimes gathering successfully, other times getting ganked or having to run away. Do you want a wide range of items available to craft that actually have a chance to make you a profit, and having to manage your own shop in a world without one global auction house? Do you enjoy playing a character that a guild turns to for items consistently, rather than crafting 1-2 epic items and calling it a day? Just because you are a crafter, does that instantly mean you want to avoid any and all possible risk? In a competitive market environment, where money does equal power, some of the most ruthless players are actually crafters and not gankers. The idea of a mercenary guild in a game like WoW or WAR is laughable because the sides are pre-defined, and gold is all but worthless. Yet in a game like EVE, mercenaries often play a pivotal role in any conflict, and it’s the crafter/financer that controls the mercs.

In addition to a stronger crafting/economic game (theoretically remember), a ‘sheep’ might be drawn to the open world, one without instant teleporting and very cookie-cutter areas designed specifically with 1-2 quests in mind. If you come across a named NPC in a theme park game, you can safely assume the NPC is part of some quest. If you have it, great, if not, you will at some point and you will make a trip back. WAR has tome unlocks for exploring the far corners of each zone, but even that feels very shallow for most explorers, as you know you are treading over pre-defined territory specifically made for you to ‘explore’. It just has a very unnatural feel to it, as nothing is ‘just there’, every inch of the world has a pre-determined purpose. In a more open and random world like DF, most of the space is ‘just there’, with no immediate purpose other than to create distance. Travel time becomes a factor, not only in that it actually takes you an hour to cross the world, but that entire time you could run across an enemy and be killed and looted (or loot him). Now travelling brings additional dangers and considerations, and becomes non-trivial. This in turn increases the value of exploring, as not everyone will be willing to head out in a random direction to see what is over the next hill because their journey might be pointless, and worst they might end up back in town without a stitch of gear from a gank. Out-of-the-way camps of mobs now bring added value, as you gain a bit more peace from the rest of the world to farm away, rather than always having to worry about someone stealing your kill or corpse, or jumping you while you are tackling a tough encounter.

All of this does not justify the majority of ‘sheep’ styled players actually enjoying a game like DF, as with all of the possibilities comes the reality that you will be ganked, you will lose what you are carrying, and you will have days where it seems like every PK on the server is hunting only to get you. The world in that regard is indeed harsh, and that’s simply not what most players are looking for during their gaming time. That said, it’s only through those harsh aspects that other factors exist. Without that fear of death, exploring becomes trivial. Without item loss, crafting is reduced to the 1-2 top items, with everything else being a pointless skill-up item or twink gear. With pre-set teams and factions, the concept of mercenaries or betrayal can no exist, and guild loyalty runs only as deep as the next raiding instance. It’s a give and take, and with possible dangers also come new opportunities.

Now let’s talk about wolves, or players who do enjoy combat. Wolves can range from someone only looking for the guaranteed kill, someone who will run and quit at the first sign of an even fight, to players who actually enjoy playing the underdog, who seek situations that more often then not lead to defeat. They do so because for them, that elusive victory is worth more than enough to justify the tough odds. And even for most wolves, they don’t actually want to be hunting and fighting 24/7, which means whatever game they are in, that game also has to contain some decent PvE/crafting/social aspects. Otherwise, you get a game like Fury, and we know how that worked out. Or if you do just want to instantly fight at all times, you go play a FPS or something like DoTA. MMOs and ‘instant PvP’ are just not a good mix, and most people understand that.

The motivation to fight is also important to consider. On one end of the scale, you have something like WoW’s battlegrounds, where the difference between winning and losing is almost non-existent, and everyone gets a similar reward at the end. Since the result of the fight is not a factor, you have to rely on other motivations (gear/rep) to get players going, and this leads to players NOT interested in fighting signing up just to grind out whatever item/rep they need, lowering the overall quality of the fighting. On the other hand, you have extremes like EVE’s 0.0 game, with members being on-call to log in and respond to enemy action. In such an example, the Corp/Guild is more important than the individual, and everyone benefits when the guild as a whole prospers. Players are fighting for goals greater than their character, and are willing to accept greater personal losses knowing that their contribution overall will (or hopefully will) pay off. Players less willing to fight either assume other roles in such a guild (crafter etc), or simply do not participate in that portion of the game. This does not mean they are completely immune to the overall effects of such wars, as gear will be destroyed and territory will change hands, affecting everyone in the world/server to some extent. Completely excluding such events hurts more players than just those directly involved, and this is a key concept in keeping an economy like EVE’s going.

Just like sheep, not all wolves will be willing to play by the rules a sandbox MMO contains. For some, the need to advance a character or find a fight will be too great (the FPS mentality). For others, the heavy reliance on group-based activities will be a deal-breaker, or the seemingly random nature of heavy conflict and heavy downtime. At the end of the day, we are talking about a niche product, one that contains a multitude of unique characteristics all working together that players have to buy into, many of these characteristics which will be complete deal-breakers for players. Chance to loss my gear? I’m out. Long travel time? Goodbye. Guild over self mentality? No thanks. Again, we are talking about serving a niche here, not what is best for the masses.

I’m guessing part of the… aggression towards the masses from a community like Darkfall or EVE comes from the fact that mass appeal MMOs are rampant, while quality products servicing a niche are rare, and can be easily ‘dumbed down’ to try and capture a larger audience. Those players looking for something WoW-like have plenty of options, while players looking for non-space EVE don’t have many quality options, and so defend those options a bit more vehemently.

Well that, and because we are all just way more hardcore than you, dear carebear.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Darkfall Online, DoTA, EVE Online, Mass Media, MMO design, PvP, Ultima Online, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Wolves and Sheep

  1. Bill G says:

    Good post. I’ve got about 6 months of recent history in EVE and that stacks up pretty well with my experience. Ultimately though it felt like I had joined EVE “late” and was so far behind folks that had been playing it since release that the “best stuff” was out of my reach without a huge investment in real (not game) time. Both from an accumulated skills perspective and from a corporation membership perspective. It’s likely that’s an entirely personal feeling on my part, because otherwise I really liked the game.

  2. Ravious says:

    Excellent post!

  3. Jaskip says:

    Great post!

  4. Bonedead says:

    I didn’t read it yet, works over, goin home, BUT I GOT A COPY BITCHES.

    In the words of Old Bald Angus: “Awhellya!”

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  6. Wickidd says:

    I completely agree with your take on WoW’s pvp. I used to love BGs when players fought hard to win, pre x-realms, trying to gain High Warlord/Grand Marshall title. I gained the conquerer title on 2 toons and also gained Duelist title through arena seasons 2 and 3. I lost my motivation to play pvp in WoW after it became more rewarding to lose BGs quickly rather than fight for a win.

    I can describe the feel I get from exloring in Darkfall with one word: immersion. Seriously, I feel that I am part of a living breathing dangerous world.

    My favorite aspect of Darkfall is the fact that there are no levels and no penalties for grouping. I am a married father of 3, and would always fall behind the leveling curve in WAR and WoW thus being forced to level solo /yawn. I play MMOs to game with my friends, otherwise I’d play a single player game.

    I don’t consider myself a wolf or a sheep. I am just a gamer who wants to feel immersion in a game and have some memorable experiences with my buds. Darkfall gives me a different feeling than I have ever had from an mmo before, and I love it.

  7. Jason says:

    Hey, if you want to play “Fight Club,” that’s fine. Have a great time. It’s a niche market, god bless and we’ll all just continue our safe WAR-like lives… Just remember, the first rule of Darkfall is that no one talks about Darkfall.

  8. Herc says:

    That’s why I play First Person Shooters to satisfy my PVP needs, where everyone are “wolves” and no one is a carebear, although there are a bunch of whiners out there. Where skill matters and the gear/guns/perks you get from leveling are just a nice bonus. If you can’t take the heat then get out!

  9. Bonedead says:

    Man, reality is harsh man. The game is scary to play, but I’ve already killed a guy and stole his quest rewards lol. Then I got mowed down by some dude riding a pig after I ran off and found a camp of skeletons I could kill.

    Then I respawned at the evil bindstone, veeerrrrryyy far away from where I started, and just started running back that way. I saw a human and though, TURN BLUE AGAIN! I stalked him from a distance and he led my through some giants and right to a goblin fortress. He met up with a Wessex guy and started fighting goblins. I then began to make a biiiig loop to sneak up behind them, but they were gone before I arrived.

    That was in maybe 2 hours that I got to play yesterday (minus some time for figuring out how the shit to play).

    I completely wasn’t ready for the hardcoreness though, but I’m getting back in my groove and it feels great.

    This has been another episode of Syncaine’s comments turned into Bonedead’s blog because Bonedead hates updating his own blog for some reason.

  10. Einherjer says:

    Bonedead, you sociopath! And I bet you kick little dogs too!

  11. Nat says:

    I think you are a little off the mark in this whole post.

    The ‘sheep’ and ‘wolf’ thing is often used when talking about PvP games but it really is a left over from UO – the last game the two groups were forced to play together (due to MMORPG’s being new and UO being one of the only games available).

    Once the ‘sheep’ were given other options – a new UO server to play on or EQ they left and never came back, thus leaving the ‘wolves’ to turn on each other.

    As a result I don’t think the ‘sheep’ and ‘wolf’ premise works here (or when discussing EVE or Shadowbane or whatever other post UO PVP game you want) and detracts from your post.

    To discuss griefer and non-griefer pvpers would be more relevant as they you would have identified the two main groups who would want to play DF.

  12. Bonedead says:

    Not only do I kick them, but I like it.

  13. syncaine says:

    So by your logic Nat, ONLY combat-oriented players play EVE/AC-DT/SB/DF? Because sorry, that’s just not the case. A PvP game like EVE offers a lot more than just PvP to an MMO player. If you are serious about crafting/economy at the highest levels, do you go play WoW or EVE?

  14. Nat says:

    Let’s not OVER exaggerate shall we.

    Of all the games you list that appeal to non pvp players the only one I will concede on is EVE. But EVE is unique in this case as it is in most cases. EVE is like 3 or more games all being played on the same server separated quite well by the game itself. EVE has a huge section that is ‘safe’ – be that high sec or 0.0 multiple jumps for any hostile through space held by your alliance.

    You seem to have missed the entire point of my post. The old ‘sheep’ and ‘wolf’ analogy does not fit. If you really want to use these terms then you need to do a far better job of explaining and defining them because the way you have done so appears to change the meanings greatly from what they were originally and removes all the context.

    To quote a wise Spaniard “that word you keep using, I don’t think it means what you think it means”.

    By most accounts a ‘wolf’ in the context of UO was not someone who looked for fair fights or wanted to be the underdog, they were people who wanted to kill anyone they could and preyed on those who didn’t want to fight to start with. You seem to be attempting to use ‘wolf’ to mean anyone who likes pvp. I don’t think this term should be used for such players and that is I why I proposed you separate this into griefers and non-griefers or hell use fair fighters and unfair fighters.

    At the end of the day this post (like most of yours) seems to be a poorly veiled attempt to sing the praises of DF and ‘explain’ to any ‘sheep’ that their games are pale pale shadows of the greatness that is DF.

    Funny thing is I’m glad DF is around; hell I wish we had more niche games. On a similar note, I think you are 100% justified in defending DF for its merits (and yes I think it was some) I just think you could do it a little better in a less insulting manner.

    On a side note – if I were EVE I wouldn’t want people hitching DF to my wagon when making comparisons – makes EVE look bad;)

  15. syncaine says:

    Did you play SB after it went free? Tons of players who were playing it then had little to no interest in ganking. AC-DT was also full of PvE players who just liked being part of a world with un-flagged PvP. The dungeons where a prime fighting location, specifically because PvE players flocked to them (and generally put up a hell of a fight inside). We will see if DF is populated purely by gankers, my guess is it won’t be due to the over-stated importance of guilds.

    My overall point is that more players than just the griefers are drawn to sandbox PvP games, probably because they realize sandbox PvP brings more to the MMO table than JUST the ability to gank someone. If you want to replace the word griefer with wolf, that’s fine, but I don’t see it that way. There are plenty of VERY aggressive players in my WAR alliance right now, who back in UO would be viewed as PKs. They can’t grief in WAR, so why are they still around?

    In addition, the other point of the post that you are missing/ignoring, is even players who don’t want PvP at all can still find value in a sandbox PvP environment. The economy of EVE works because of the PvP aspect, and even players who never leave a station benefit from that. Same with the economy in UO pre-tram. My second account was a pure carebear miner/smith, and he was a ton of fun to play because players were always looking to re-gear, and knowing when/how to mine gave me an advantage.

  16. Nat says:

    I understand what you are saying but I think it just boils down to one thing – I think you are misusing ‘sheep’ and ‘wolf’ in terms of definition and context. The idea of ‘sheep’ comes from a day when players who only wanted to pve and be left alone didn’t have another game to go to. The definition of a ‘sheep’ can’t be taken out of its historical context because it needs this context to exist.

    I know, it’s semantics and nit picky but if we are going to talk about these games seriously then I think we need to at least try to develop some type of definitions for words we throw around since we clearly don’t all agree on what they mean.

    We can agree to disagree on it.

    I didn’t miss your point at all and I never disagreed with it. I just didn’t comment on it because it was not relevant to the specifics of our discussion. Of course non-pvp players could enjoy the sandbox nature of a game, just like pvp players could find enjoyment in the most theme park style game around.

  17. Bonedead says:

    I believe the old school sheep are the ones who initially brought up the ol wolf/sheep dealy in regards to DF. But they’re bigger (aka more important) thus their wolf/sheep crap caught on and now all the cool kids are sayin it.

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  19. Swift Voyager says:

    Nat, you are the one taking the term of “sheep” and “wolves” out of historical context. Historically there’s a third player, the “sheepdog” as well. It’s an old analogy used to describe basic human behaviour, and SURPRISE, when humans interact in an MMO the old tenets of human behaviour become relevant.

    If you will indulge me and do a quick google search on those terms, you’ll see what Syncain really meant. Stop trying to re-write his post to suite you, and just read what he said. The analogy is perfect in this context, and is exactly used in its historical context. Those terms existed long before MMO’s.

    The sheep are the people who either agressively or passively seek order and peace. The wolves are the people who seek to disrupt that, and can be crafters as well as PK’ers. The sheepdogs in this context could be the guilds who benefit by maintaining control over the other two groups. A balanced MMO “world” will facilitate those three groups interacting freely to mutually have fun.

    I see a possible comparison between various MMO’s in that context. If you look at WoW in that context, there’s a lack of wolves and therefors no need for sheepdogs. The sheep just happily run about without much purpose, but they have fun as sheep do. Most people in the world are sheep, so it’s no surprise that an MMO like WoW is so much fun for so many people. It’s giving them what they want. On the other hand, Eve is more like a mirror of real life, since the checks and balances are left to human nature. It turns out that it only takes a handful of sociopaths to really wreck a community, since being a good sheepdog is hard work, and being a sheep without a sheepdog sucks.

    You can see the same kind of dynamic in any real life conflict zone. Take Iraq for example. The dividing line between sheep, wolf, and dog get blurry in real life, just as much as in an MMO, but the roles are still there. People can fill multiple roles and pursue those roles in various ways, both passively and actively. By defining an MMO wolf as simply a griefer, you’re saying that the only wolves in Iraq are the active terrorists. However, in reality, is the weapon supplier in Iran or the funding source in France any less a wolf from the sheep’s point of view? Or, from the point of view of a terrorist, is the US Army a wolf, sheep, or sheepdog? Depends on what day of the week you’re talking about, doesn’t it?

  20. Nat says:


    I understand where you are coming from and do agree that the idea of ‘sheep’ and ‘wolves’ is a very old concept that predates MMORPG’s. Perhaps I was being too narrow in focus (just looking at the terms in the context of MMORPG’s).

    I still don’t think his assertion of what a wolf is, is correct. Wolves hunt in packs and prey on the weak. PvP players who enjoy fair fights and being the underdog are not wolves. If this message got lost in all my ramblings – my fault.

  21. Nat says:

    In a very strange coincidence I am listening to a little Pink Floyd and looked to see what was playing at it was Sheep from Animals – made me giggle.

  22. Swift Voyager says:

    lol, I actually included a quote from “sheep” in my post but decided it was too obscure and deleted that part. :)

  23. Tallon says:

    it’s my opinion that as a solo player, you have to be both a wolf, and instead of a sheep I would use a gazelle as my example.

    you are both predator and prey, you hunt what you can, and hightail it when the odds are against you.

  24. syncaine says:

    @Tallon: It will be interesting to see how your solo attempt goes in DF. I certainly think it’s possible if you play smart and understand the risks. Even be friendly with one guild, and using their town/hamlet as a base of operations would work, or just be a total nomad and travel the world, binding at different spots as you find them. Good luck, interested in seeing how it goes.

  25. I have some “sheep” style players in my family, and the reason they’d rather play a game like UO, EvE, or DF is the simple risk vs. reward. Who really cares about gold and crafting in a game like WoW? One of my brothers is a pure crafter, and he claims he felt more important in UO than he ever has in WoW.

    But seriously, only Siths deal in absolutes; I think there is a little bit of sheep and wolf in all of us.

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