The phrase “Play to Crush” from ShadowBane has an ironic history behind it. Before SB’s release, it was a rallying cry for the PvP ‘hardcore’, a declaration that all of those ‘soft’ features from other MMOs need not apply here. During SB’s lifetime, “Play to Crush” was a style of play, where one side would literally crush the other until nothing was left. Once SB finally shut down (after being on F2P life support for a bit), “Play to Crush” stands as an example of why catering ONLY to the PvP ‘hardcore’ is not sound business strategy. Or to put it another way, the ‘best’ players of SB were so good, they literally crushed the game itself. Congrats on your overwhelming victory.
Yesterday I asked EVE players why they believe alliances last so long, and how in a brutal environment like 0.0, EVE is able to both retain and attract enough players to continue growing well into its sixth year. The overwhelming answer was Empire space, that lovely section in the middle of the universe that’s safer (but not 100% safe) than any other. So what exactly makes Empire space in EVE tick, and how could that concept be applied to DarkFall?
Empire space is certainly not Trammel, the no-PvP side of Ultima Online that is the bane of all PvP-minded players. The differences are many, but the two key points are that Empire is not 100% safe, and that areas outside of Empire space provide significant advantages to those who venture out and lay claim to them. As many noted, what Empire does, among other things, is provide a place for defeated alliances and corporations to regain their footing, to resupply, refocus, and most importantly, to prevent being crushed out of the game entirely. In DarkFall’s early history we certainly saw plenty of “Play to Crush” examples, and not a single one of them is a positive for the game.
But beyond aiding PvPers, Empire is also a breeding ground for future PvP players. EVE statistics show that a large group of EVE players only play in Empire space, never heading out into 0.0 to actively engage in combat PvP (econ PvP is a totally different topic). What those statistics don’t show is how many current PvP players started out as Empire-only pilots only to later be lured to 0.0 for one reason or another. Without Empire, they might never have gotten their feet under them, or never got themselves invested enough into EVE to finally make that jump. And even if a pilot never heads out to 0.0 during his entire career, he is still paying a monthly subscription to fund future development, so even in that roundabout way he too is ‘contributing’ to the progression and improvement of EVE PvP. Point being, the more players you have, whether they PvP or not, the better off the PvP will be in the long run (assuming the devs don’t give up on their original focus and shift direction, which is a different and legitimate fear PvP players have).
So what can Aventurine do to ‘Empire-up’ Agon? For one, living under a certain level of protection (NPC zap tower functionality) should be more viable. Currently once you leave the immediate surrounds of a starter town, you are playing under the same FFA PvP rules as the most die-hard PvPers. That might sound ‘hardcore’, but it’s not going to impress, and more importantly, retain, a newer player just trying to get started. Nor does it really lead to any worthwhile PvP anyway, as anyone going to a starter area to gank goblin-hunting noobs is really not there to find true PvP. The recently added newbie protection was a good first step, but it does not do nearly enough as it only covers truly new players and only for a limited amount of time.
My suggestion would be to slightly revamp the areas right around the starter towns to include only lower-yield mob spawns and resource nodes, but offer up zap tower protection to not just the towns themselves, but the whole local area. Image each races starter region under single zap tower protection (the lore explanation could be that the zap comes from that races patron god protecting his kind), with the border identified by an easily crossed but highly visible wall (each race could have its own unique ‘skull and crossbones’ style warning barrier). The same rules for zap towers still apply, so clans at war can still fight it out and breaking the law under zap tower protection still does not mean instant death. If you see a rich-looking player target, you can still try to kill him before the zap tower kills you and have your buddy loot him (aka Empire suicide ganking). Obviously no player cities/hamlets could be within this area, nor would you want it to include any real ‘worthwhile’ mobs. Plus the resource nodes should have a higher rate of gathering failure and a lower overall capacity. Again think EVE empire mining vs 0.0 mining.
The intent is to give both new and newly defeated players somewhere to go to stock up and get ready to return to the FFA PvP lands. Perhaps with further changes and additions, these areas could also serve a Jita-like role as centralized areas for economic activity. One major difference, and if done right, benefit DarkFall has over EVE is the tight ability to control access to a region. In EVE a corp/alliance can gatecamp and keep everyone out, while this is much more difficult in DF. The benefit to this is that PvE-minded players would have an easier time venturing out of Agon-empire to gather resources or hunt tougher and more profitable mobs. This would give them short, controlled bursts of life on the ‘hardcore’ side, with the hope that eventually they would learn how to deal with the tough breaks and enjoy what that style of MMO gaming brings.
A silly carebear today might turn into a deadly PvPer tomorrow, but if you crush him out of the game before he has time to establish himself, in the end the only one crushed is the ‘winner’, left to go play yet another WoW clone.