Moving Towards a PvP World

On Shut Up We’re Talking #8 I said that Player versus Player should be the richest and most fulfilling experience in an MMO.  It should also not sacrifice or be completely separated from the PvE experience.  I firmly believe this.  

PvP in MMOs should be awesome. 

It is not. 

At least not right now, not for the vast majority of MMO players.

The Inspiration

But first, why am I insisting on this all?  Why do I believe that PvP should be so damn good?  What is wrong with PvE?  And aren’t I a card carrying CareBear?

Yes, I am primarily a PvE player and I enjoy the PvE experience.  I have been known, on occasion, to run screaming from the room at the mention of PvP… or at least what PvP amounts to in some games.

But after 21 years of online gaming I do not have to think very long to pick out an example of a PvP environment that was exemplary.

In 1988 there was a multiplayer online game on the GEnie online service called Air Warrior. It was a real time, multi-player combat flight simulator.  It was primitive.  It was low resolution. (I played it on a Mac SE!)  It could get as laggy as Qeynos Harbor. 

But it was a persistent online world where you flew against live players and it was more fun than any flight simulator I have ever played since. 

And the key was a large population of players of different skill levels.  Flight sims have become much more sophisticated, but nothing computer controlled has beat the excitement of live players.  You couldn’t see who was flying a plane, just that there was a P-51 8,000 feet above you.  It might have been some noob, or in might have been Tango Circus (3799) looking for the next in a long line of kills that night.

Stellar Emperor and MegaWars III were very addictive (if costly) PvP games back in the day.  There were much better looking space empire games available to play on your computer at the time, but live opponents made for an more engaging game.

Or, getting closer to this century and a bit further from when some of you were born, think of any given first person shooter.  I find the online environment much more challenging and exciting than a scripted game.  Half-Life 2 is cool looking, but it is Counter Strike that has a huge fanbase that plays every night.

PvP is what drives the popular (6+ million subscribers) XBox Live and even the Wii is finally getting into the PvP act with Mario Strikers Charged.

Heck, I even prefer online backgammon to any version against the computer.  Now if I could just punish people who quit the game when they are losing.

But to get PvP to take its place in the world of MMOs, a world financed primarily by the PvE audience, two things will have to happen.

PvP needs to evolve 

The problem is that when it comes to MMOs, PvP is still evolving. 

I think we are seeing some experimentation right now with things like the PvP servers for EverQuest II.  And we will see a lot more of change and experimentation going forward.  As mentioned on the show, Warhammer Online, Age of Conan, and Pirates of the Burning Sea are all going to have some flavor of PvP that will hopefully advance the cause of PvP becoming a much more integral part of MMOs. 

We are past the age when free for all PvP can be considered a good idea, a concept covered well over on Nerfbat a month back.  PvP cannot be a noob ganking bloodbath an expect to drive a successful game.  Nor can PvP be an arena or a battle ground over in left field and expect people to take it seriously.  Some games, like EVE, have been exploring a new ground, but they are not there yet because there is another side to this coin, a side that they ignore.

PvE needs to evolve 

One of the problems with PvP is that PvE is not at all on the same page in most games.  How often does something beyond the basic skills you learn in PvE apply to a PvP match up?  In current MMOs, the PvE game really does nothing to get you ready for any sort of PvP content.  You have to start playing the game all over again… a different game.

If PvP is going to be an integrated part of the game, the PvE content needs to help with that integration.

EVE Online, which I said was blazing a trail for PvP ideas is falling down in this regard.  What you learn about fighting by running missions and killing rats won’t do you much good against a live player.  You need only go check out the forums to see recommendations for fitting out ships.  They are usually quite clearly defined as “for missions” or “for pvp” and don’t mix one up with the other.

Evolving PvE means that you have to make mobs that are more complex.  You cannot have mobs that just stand and fight to the death, mobs that just sit there minding their own business while you finish of their neighbor, or mobs that are “harder” merely by virtue of dealing more damage and having more hit points. (Hey, we had some of that in EverQuest.  What happened?)

This is not easy, of course, and it means changes to the accepted system of PvE encounters.  If you have gnolls that don’t just stand there and take it but who run away looking for back up, you cannot have a huge number of gnolls standing around in close proximity the way you do in Antonica in EverQuest II.  The gnolls would feast upon the noobs and you wouldn’t need a noob ganking PvP system to drive them away, your NPCs would take care of that.

If you cannot have masses of mobs hanging out waiting to be slain piecemeal, then you have to get away from the “kill a bunch of mob X” sort of quests that so many people hold up as the bane of the PvE experience in high fantasy MMOs in the first place.

Then suddenly you are recreating the whole PvE experience to align it with the PvP experience and make a single game that has both elements.

If done right, you won’t sacrifice the PvE experience in favor of PvP.  You will make PvE better and make it applicable to the PvP experience.

And that is a lot to ask.  But if you don’t go there, then PvP and PvE will remain divided gaming experiences.

Pipe Dreams?

I will end this up where I started by saying that I think that PvP should be the richest, fullest, most satisfying part of the MMO gaming experience.  I won’t commit for all MMOs, but for most out there today I am willing to stake that this isn’t the case right.  What comes to your mind when I write “PvP” almost assuredly is not, there being already so much baggage attached to the term. 

And PvP won’t fulfill that high role for some time to come.  But I think that the players and, more importantly, the developers know that these games need to get to this point some day if they are going to be the rich and immersive games that we want them to be.  

But some day, when it is done right, chances are you won’t even think of it as a PvP or PvE experience.

You will just think that it is a really good game.

7 thoughts on “Moving Towards a PvP World

  1. Cameron Sorden

    “If you cannot have masses of mobs hanging out waiting to be slain piecemeal, then you have to get away from the “kill a bunch of mob X” sort of quests that so many people hold up as the bane of the PvE experience in high fantasy MMOs in the first place.”

    While agree that it would be much cooler to have mobs that fought you intelligently, the problem comes in as a population issue. Example: I have 12 intelligent mobs in a smallish zone, split into four types. Any of these mobs will attempt to grab their friends (assuming they’re close by) when attacked, and fight you intelligently. Assuming fast respawns, this works fine when there are 10 players in the zone in small groups of 2-3 or soloing.

    But what happens when too many players enter the zone? Smart mobs means less mobs means fiercer competition for mobs and we’re back to camping. Of course, you can fix that with instancing, but that has problems too.

    I think that for mobs to get smarter, we need to see a whole shift in the way these games work. There are so many mechanics and accepted game conventions that are tied to DIKU-style mob behavior that it’s tough to innovate with that as your starting point.

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  2. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    Absolutely. No game out today will likely make that jump, it will have to be something designed and constructed from scratch with the idea of getting beyond the default model of killing some number of creatures with no sense of self-preservation.

    Harvesting masses of mobs likely won’t be a part of this unified experience, and even the idea of trading raw numbers for fast spawn rates falls back into the DIKU mindset.

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  3. ogrebears

    PVP tend to be something that is added after the PVE part is made. And then they try to balance it so that the game feel like PVE still but you can PVP, which i think leads to crappy PVP games.

    For a MMO to have a good PVP system it need to be something that isn’t just tacked on after PVE has been done. But something that is worked on from the begging. MMO’s that are PVP only, where the PVP system is worked on from day one will most likely be good PVP MMO games.

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  4. brackishwater

    Of course we need evolution in the capabilities of the mobs we are attacking, but I’m not sure how this could really prepare a player for a pvp encounter besides getting then more familiar with the controls of the game. Maybe this is what you’re intention is: The more unpredictable the mob a player is fighting, the less chance a player will fall into a mold of playstyle and more successful they then may be in pvp.

    The only thing I can think of to help a player become better and more prepared for a pvp encounter is to give them opponents that can match what they will possibly be up against. Give them NPC encounters that have the same abilities and spells as the players they will eventually face.

    Better yet, start them directly facing off to each other early. I think Warhammer has a little of this as they have the dual channels for advancement and it will be interesting to see how Mythic does with this.

    I can’t say that much of my play time goes to pvp, but when it does, it is much more exhilarating than the pve encounters. However, dont force me into that on a nightly basis as I will burn out fast.

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  5. Curious George

    Couldn’t agree with Whilhelm more. PvE for too long has been a run up, start auto-attack, hit 1234, loot mob, rince and repeat. I want to see encounters that mimic intelligent gameplay. I want a complex challenging AI and I want to get rid of difficulty through numbers/elite encounters. I want to see what mobs do in PvE be exactly what a real live player would do in PvP.

    I think the easy part will be the encounter design but only after AI is improved radically. So far every game I have played that has claimed “Advanced AI” has fallen far short of that mark, including single-player claims and MMOs.

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  6. Van Hemlock

    I quite agree about EVE and would love some kind of PvP-lite to be available to newer players. I think Factional Warfare, coming some patch soon, might be something like this – Agent driven PvP-based missions of a sort.

    At present, new person launches, tries to attack another Ibis, gets beaten to death by the police, and from there, either has to go off low-sec and become a pirate (complete with and eventual exiling Security Status hit for doing so), or do a lot of work on the Social and Corporations front, and get the SP to be useful, to get involved in corp or Alliance wars, which is quite the deep end of it all really, especially for a new-person, and a very steep learning curve.

    Guild Wars could teach the others a few things on AI though. It’s not perfect, but does present challenges. It’s *very* rare to encounter single mobs in there, and they seem more structured into ‘parties’ themselves, with various combinations of the same professions and skills the players use. They pretty much never just stand there and wait to be beaten to death. They kite quite mercilessly, switch targets often, use AoE and sometimes have the sense to run out from under your own AoE, use buffs and debuffs in an, if not ‘intelligent’, then at least ‘logical’ way and do tend to go for the healers a lot.

    More to the point, almost every encounter plays out very much like a mini team-deathmatch, found in the PvP side of the game, albeit with far less meticulous builds and tactics. At the lower end, the monsters are severely handicapped in HP, number of skills they have, that sort of thing, but toward the top end of the PvE content, they seem to be every bit as capable and well set up, as many actual players, if not moreso, making you really have to work for it.

    Does make the thing very hectic a lot of the time though, and this pace may not be what everyone is looking for in an MMO type experience.

    I think there needs to be a certain pace to PvE content that makes the player feel like they *are* a hero of some sort, but I’ve found that the jump from PvE to PvP content in GW isn’t nearly as jarring or counter-intuitive as it tends to be elsewhere.

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  7. Debes

    I have never understood why people insist that it takes 60 million sp to be effective in pvp. I did it month two, and you can do it WEEK two. Belt pirating, anti-belt pirating.. I mean, you start out with 800k sp, I started with like 40k. All you need to tackle is a frigate, a mwd, webber, and warp scram. that’s it. And you can always use more tacklers.

    Also, sec hits are a joke. The lower you go, the easier it is to come back up. (The % loss/gain is based on your sec’s difference between -10/10) You can bounce up from -5 to -2 in several hours of dedicated 0.0 ratting.

    Goonswarm was based on noob in frigates gankswarming battleship fleets. It can be done, and it’s really not that hard. Join Eve-Uni or Agony Unleashed.

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