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.