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.