Pushing PvP

Topping the charts in PvP is a great way to achieve spiritual satisfaction

Topping the charts in PvP is a great way to achieve spiritual satisfaction

It’s weird. When I first started playing MMOs, I’d never heard of the term PvP nor did I have much interest in it. Dark of Camelot was the only one I’d ever encountered that really pushed PvP as a game mechanic and it was an exception to the rule of early 21st century MMORPGs. Even when the “next generation” of MMOs like Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft came along, PvE was the focus and PvP a minor consideration. Somewhere along the line in the last three or four years though everything changed. Why?

I mean, I can understand why people want PvP. Although I wouldn’t classify myself as a hardcore PvPer it’s definitely something I enjoy. I do the battlegrounds in WoW very frequently and I was the first to jump onto the PvP servers when they were introduced in Everquest 2. It’s adds a level of exhilaration and competitiveness that you just can’t get in normal PvE and it’s definitely an appealing facet of gameplay.

There must be a demand for PvP too otherwise companies like Blizzard and SoE wouldn’t put so much effort into it. WoW is starting to focus more and more on the PvP aspect than ever before and it seems as if the developers are pushing it as a primary form of gameplay now. They’re reorganising talents, introducing new abilities and are even going to introduce cross-region battlegrounds with the release of Cataclysm. Blizzard definitely wouldn’t be doing that unless they recognised a demand for PvP in their game and the market place as a whole.

My question though is when and why did this pushing of PvP start? How did it turn from a niche interest on lonely, specialist servers to mass-appeal gameplay? Over the last few years almost every major MMO that’s come out has had a strong focus on PvP (or at least include considerable mechanics for it). Warhammer Online, Aion, Global Agenda, Darkfall, Star Trek Online, Age of Conan (albeit promised but not delivered very well) to name some specifically. Even Lord of the Rings Online released with Monster Play.

I don’t know why this craze suddenly started. When did PvP go from being a sideline to a major selling factor? When did it become so popular? I can’t make up my mind if I think it’s the players demanding the gameplay or developers thinking we want it and pushing it down our throats. It’s almost as if every MMO released now is expected to offer polished PvE and deep and meaningful PvP but we all know that it’s a tough combination to achieve.

As I said before, Blizzard in particular must have good data to back up their push towards PvP. No doubt they see WoW as being the definitive MMO game that can appeal to the broadest sense of gamer, everyone from soloing single player RPG fans to fast and furious, competitive FPS gamers. No doubt they have the budget, staff and years of foundation required to pull it off but do new games? Shouldn’t they just concentrate on one thing or the other?

It’s an interesting topic for me because I do enjoy my PvP but it’s not going to make or break my decision to play a MMO. All I want to see are *good* games and I guess I’m slightly worried that this focus on PvP, or rather the attempt to appeal to every market of gamer, is watering down the quality of the products. Let’s be honest, it’s not like any of the MMOs that have attempted this fine balance over the last 2 – 3 years have been smashing successes.

-Gordon

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23 Comments

  1. Rosehip says:

    Just look at that healing parse!

  2. Rosehip says:

    Awesome healing parse!

  3. Klepsacovic says:

    PvP is a tricky thing in a RPG. Give greater rewards to better players and they’ll fly ahead. Eventually the worse players are so far behind as to be useless. Don’t reward better players and many will be offended that noobs get the same rewards. It goes against the “I’m the awesome hero” mentality. But PvP has to have losers and losers have difficulty feeling like heroes.

    • Gordon says:

      Indeed. And you’re very wise in your point about rewards, Mr Klepsacovic… the more the good players get rewarded with good gear, the bigger the itemisation gap and the harder it is for new players to compete!

      • Klepsacovic says:

        WoW has used a system of the previous tier being no-rating (or lower) and using easier costs (lower or an easier currency), while also tuning it so top-rated players will point-cap before the season is up while lower players can still work up. This helps to make the gap smaller than it would be otherwise, imperfect, but maybe that’s impossible. Maybe gearless PvP is the answer, but then some alternative reward structure would be needed, unless the devs can accept players making a choice of activity based only on the innate enjoyment of the activity.

  4. Longasc says:

    The thing with PvP in MMOs nowadays is… problematic.

    If you check my STO screenshots, I do a lot of PvP. But… it is all arena-based smaller or larger instance stuff. This does not only apply to STO, but to GW as well. PvP is often so completely disconnected from the (PvE) world. Same for the battlegrounds in WoW.

    I so liked killing people in Wintergrasp between battles for the right to mine the ore. :>

    • Gordon says:

      Separating PvP into BGs works well for the developers because it’s an easy solution to how to make the product mass market. Incorporate PvP into the game itself and they run the risk of alienating non-PvPers but by putting it as a ’sidegame’ they can achieve the best of both worlds. I’ve got mixed feelings on which I prefer.

      • Longasc says:

        Yes, I don’t see more open pvp coming for any major MMO that wants to appeal to a broad audience.

        Blizzard tried to bring back pvp as a zone to the world – several times, Wintergrasp was the latest attempt. By now it has become more or less a BG.

        The Faction War feature with a moving border on the PvE map determined by the wins and losses in the alliance battlegrounds of Guild Wars: Factions was not working properly for so long that nobody cared when finally the border started moving. It did not really connect well either.

  5. pasmith says:

    I think there are a couple of factors..

    1) MMO’s used to be “worlds” and now they’re “games.” Games have winners and losers, so PvP makes sense.

    2) PvP is cheap for publishers. You make some good PvP instances, add leaderboards and players are happy for months or even years, trying to beat each other. Much cheaper than creating lore and interesting PvE encounters that players get tired of every a few run-throughs.

    Of course the earliest MMOs were PvP. The swing back to PvE was an attempt to get more players into the games. You couldn’t wander the world of Ultima Online alone… you’d get ganked and stripped of everything you owned. You pretty much *had* to be part of a guild. And that puts a big barrier to entry up. You need to both learn the game and find a group of people to play with. PvE was much easier to get started with.

    The “new” PvP is nothing like the old PvP though. There are no consequences for dying and in most games the PvP takes place in carefully balanced arenas. Few role-players play MMOs now; your average PvP MMO is closer to Team Fortress than it is to a MUD.

    • Ferrel says:

      I had something really long written but I think I’ll sum up my thoughts quickly.

      1. What PA said. He is smart!

      2. Demographic shift. When we grew up playing a PVP game together usually meant the board variety or eventually fighters. There was no NES Live. There was no Halo. The current generation of gamers has grown up in an XBox Live world where everything is a competition. Look at achievements!

      I think that is why PvP is more popular with that audience. They’re used to that style of play and like it. These are not worlds. They’re games!

      (I miss the worlds)

    • Longasc says:

      Yup. And as Ferrel pointed out: Demographic shift.

      Did I / we start playing MMOs because of the super cool pvp? For many new players today MMOs are counter strike with a lobby. Or they are raiding.

      The world? Nobody seems to care much for it anymore. Still, I think people do. Beautiful, lush environments give people something, even if they all cry for pvp arenas. The proof is that despite all the pvp cries, 90% are usually carebears, even in the pvp heavy MMOs.

    • Gordon says:

      Definitely agree that the new and old PvP are two very different beasts. The old style reflected the sandbox nature of MMOs whilst the new style is really nothing more than an arcade game.

  6. RanknVile says:

    I have always had issues with PvP in the past. But, as of late, the AI for PvE has become so predictable in my games, that PvP has proven to be more of a “eye opener”.
    I do wish some games had a better system of PvP (I would LOVE the idea of PvP in Age of Conan, but the way it has been implemented leaves a lot to be desired)…and I would play it more. I have come to enjoy PvP lately thanks to WAR, and wish more games offered that system (saw DAoC has even a better system, but I am turned off by the visuals).
    I can’t wait to see what is down the road though.

    Ranking ….out

    • Gordon says:

      I think PvE has definitely become more dull especially as more games focus on soloing. Part of the fun of PvE for me was the group element because it brought an element of randomness and friendship to the game. Without it, we’re just ticking through the numbers.

  7. Just a thought: If Asian MMOs had F2P and PVP almost as a requirement for popularity in Asia, would it be safe to say that the current state of Western MMO gaming is a meshing of the Asian Model of MMOs with the Western model?

  8. Bhagpuss says:

    It’s cheap content is the key reason, I think. Developing new PvE content costs a lot and it gets used up fast. PvE content often only has uitility for the lifecycle of one game expansion, after which it just sits around untouched.

    Conversely, put in a few battlegrounds with a ranking system and some sort of tokens to redeem against gear and players will use them pretty much forever. All you have to do to keep them in line with current content as the level cap raises is change the stats on the reward gear.

    I’m not sure that this is going to work for every MMO company, though. When SoE rushed Battlegrounds into EQ2 recently there was a lot of opposition from the existing playerbase, which still has a relatively high proportion of people who are philosophically opposed to the entire concept of fighting other players. Whether adding PvP to a game that was originally marketed as PvE brings in more subscribers than it loses, and how long those incomers stay, is the question.

    Personally, I began as someone who was philosophically opposed to PvP (I was brought up as a Quaker after all) but over time my morals have declined and I’m as happy as anyone to run around a battleground for a while. I do find it enervating, though. It’s like eating a bag of boiled sweets – tastes great at the beginning but if you go on too long you feel a bit nauseated and hungrier than when you started.

    • Gordon says:

      I think you’re right about the content. PvP, especially BGs, are cheap content and can keep players amused for long, long times especially if you throw in some gear and rankings. The big problem that stems from it though is balance. How do you make sure classes are balanced in both PvE AND PvP? Even more difficult if the game was never designed to incorporate PvP in the first place (like WoW).

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