One of my gripes about the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter campaign was about PvP.
PvP was a stretch goal, but I was annoyed that it was on the list in any form at all. The promise of Pantheon seemed, to me at least, to be getting back to a difficult and dangerous PvE world that required grouping to take on. The early days of EverQuest were invoked in this regard. For a game being made by a small team that declared it was not trying to be “all things to all people,” the mention of PvP seemed like a step in that very direction.
And you should not get me wrong on this. I am not saying there shouldn’t be PvP. I play EVE Online, right? But does every PvE focused game need to spend time developing a PvP mechanism as well?
Going back to the dawn of the first massive successes on the MMO front, Ultima Online was PvP from day one. But EverQuest was derived from TorilMUD which had no PvP at all. In fact, the dev staff at TorilMUD split over the idea of PvP, which the PvP faction moving off to follow their dreams with Duris MUD. But SOE eventually felt that EverQuest needed PvP and so the Rallos Zek server was born.
This moved was widely viewed as a way to concentrate all the griefers into a single thunderdome where they would leave the rest of the player base alone. It was successful, in that the investment was low (as far as I can tell SOE did very little explicitly for PvP and was pretty hands off when it came to running the server) and it scratch that PvP itch for those who had to have it in a Norrathian context. (Roll stock footage of Fansy the Famous Bard.) And this lives on today as the Zek server with its own PvP rule set.
Asheron’s Call also had a PvP flagging system and a PvP dedicated server as part of its mix. So the big generation clearly bought into PvP, as did the next round of games. Dark Age of Camelot was explicitly PvP and Star Wars Galaxies had a sandbox PvP aspect to it.
Then came World of Warcraft, which had PvP and PvP servers from day one. Granted, day one was pretty ad hoc when it came to PvP, but Blizzard has a long history with RTS games, so players fighting other players must have seemed a natural to them. And whether or not you like the various stages WoW PvP has progressed through, it has been pretty successful. It would be hard to imagine WoW without it.
Of course, WoW also ran into one of the problems with PvP in a heavily PvE game, that of gear and ability balance between the two. It is really cool that the rogue in your dungeon group or raid can crowd control an off-mob with a stun lock, but I don’t know anybody who likes having that done to them by a rogue in a battleground. And Dark Age of Camelot ran into similar issued from the other direction, by introducing powerful PvE acquired gear into a primarily PvP game.
So mixing PvE and PvP is rarely a matter of a flagging system or a separate server. The eternal balance of equipment and abilities… which is already nettlesome in just the PvE environment… takes on an even bigger role when PvP is part of the mix. It doesn’t come for free, it requires design and development time… unless you take the approach SOE did with EverQuest and just try to ignore the whole PvP aspect of the balance thing, or you take the Guild Wars approach and just keep the two as separate as possible.
And after WoW, things just got went down hill. The success of the game meant other companies trying to copy WoW features in order to capture WoW numbers. EverQuest II is probably the most tragi-comic example of this. So much development and design time has been spent on PvP ideas in that game that it just about breaks your heart. They have had PvP servers, PvP arenas where you fight with a special sub-avatar of your character, arenas where you fight with your actual character, and, more recently, WoW-like battlegrounds. And the trend has always been that either the PvP is so bad that nobody uses it or that it is so affected by PvE stats and abilities that a whole array of special rules and exceptions have to be put in place to try to maintain at least some illusion of balance. The last time I checked in, SOE had gotten to the point where every piece of equipment and every ability essentially had two sets of stats, one for PvE and one for PvP, leading to some of the largest tool tip windows known to man.
Then there was Lord of the Rings Online, which couldn’t bring itself to allow the elf-on-elf combat we all secretly desire (we need more kinslayings) but which felt it had to have PvP, so they gave us Monster Play, a feature convoluted enough that I couldn’t even tell you how it works because I have never once used it. And I have tried the various PvP options on every MMO I have played. I know somebody loves Monster Play out there… you can find somebody who loves and will defend any MMO feature ever… but was LOTRO as a whole made better by it? Could the time spent on that have been better invested?
Warhammer Online at least never had the PvE vs. PvP balancing problem, because I don’t think most of us stuck around long enough for it to be a problem. Instead, it was bit by the WoW battleground bug, which became the most efficient way to level up, so everybody did those while the open world content languished for want of the numbers needed to make it viable.
And so it goes. Even today we are looking at The Elder Scrolls Online coming out in a little over a month. This is an MMO based on an exclusively single player RPG franchise… PvE to its deepest roots… and they are busying pushing the Alliance War, the PvP aspect of the game. Meanwhile, Star Wars: The Old Republic, an MMO made in the BioWare mold… fourth pillar and all that… has its Galactic Starfighter battleground out and available to everybody now.
Which brings me around to the title of this post. Is PvP a requirement for all MMOs? Can you even launch a PvE MMORPG without an announced PvP plan?