An MMO cannot exist on PvP alone

We’ve all heard the terms of “wolves” and “sheep” before.  Its the core of PvP.  No one wants to be the sheep, but sometimes you are.  In PvP games, you can learn from defeat and become a better player, but you cannot learn from being crushed.  In the FPS world, if you hop on a TF2 server and spend most of the game dead, you are less likely to return unless the game chat was just so awesome.  However, you can go to another server very easily, for no charge and no need to grind back up any levels.  For an MMO example, if you are in a battleground in WoW and your level 80 shadow priest meets a level 80 frost wizard on the battle field and you go toe to toe and lose, you can learn from that.  Pick different spells if it happens again, approach them from another tack.  But if you are out in the world on a PvP server and a level 80 warrior swings by and ganks your level 12 warrior, you aren’t going to learn anything from that beyond the fact that some people are power tripping assholes.  So, to keep sheep around, you need something for them to do, something for them to succeed at so that their faceplants in PvP don’t sting so badly.  And the wolves need the sheep, because if the “true sheep” start quitting, the “weaker wolves” are the “new sheep”.

Lots of PvP advocates love to trot out EVE Online as their example of how PvP totally owns and can be successful.  They conveniently forget that as a pure PvP game, EVE failed, and that over the years of its existence and continued development much of that has been spent making tutorials and NPC missions and trade skills.  The PvP of EVE has succeeded in the long term because the people at CCP worked on finding ways for the sheep to stick around.  Yeah, you might have attacked and destroyed my hauler and taken my load of goods.  You might have just set me back several days.  But I made twenty-seven successful heart-pounding runs through zero space before you got me.  And my rep as a guy who gets goods where they need to be is growing.  You are playing a PvP game, but to me you are just a new form of AI that I need to avoid in my PvE smuggler game.

The road to success is littered with the carcasses of failed PvP MMOs, and most of them end up failing for the same reason: they built a game for wolves and forgot to create a place for the sheep.

One comment

  1. There are plenty of ways to mitigate the “wolves” and “sheep” PvP problem in MMO’s, but the games have been damn terrible at doing what needs done- in fact, they’re resistant to doing it.

    Players need to be able to choose who they will and will not PvP with. I’m not talking just /duel commands. They need to be able to self-sort themselves to find competition that’s meaningful and to isolate the killer-pvp’er that’s only interested in spreading misery (and is the most damaging to the long-term life of your game).

    To do this, drop default PvP factions. Add player-generated factions… not guilds… these are more transparent and intentionally fluid- people should be able to maintain their social connections as they leave these….

    I’ll call them leagues. Now to keep things tied to a game world’s faction, this league might choose to align itself with a game faction (all “points” won, go to the Good City of Qeynos, for example) or change this (operating as a mercenary). The league can choose its own internal rules for internal competition (join a “free for all league” and be open to attack everyone) and can also define “rivalries” with other leagues.

    Ideally, these rivalries can have leader-defined rules (options for flagging-out, faction overlap (I’m in both factions, I might be flagged for attack by both or able to select my side) “fair” level ranges, or even auto-balancing options that reduce the impact of extreme level disparities). You could even identify winning goals and “Wagers” (We put up the stormhold keep, you put up 500 plat. The one with the best winning score by X date wins. Scoring is based on…..).

    (ideally, this would be a single-server system, as you’d need a critical mass of players to make all this work)

    Why would this work better?

    1) If you find yourself in over your head in the league you choose- you can leave or start your own, finding others to team with or fight that also feel too much like “sheep” in the “major leagues.”
    2) From this self-sorting will emerge organizations much like the “major/minor” leagues in sports.

    3) More than just a “skill” sorting though, this lets people sort out their PvP tolerances as well.
    -Those that enjoy sporting play will make rivalries with others that do. They’ll avoid rivalries that allow for ganking extremes.
    – Those that like ‘free for all, loot everything’ PvP will have a faction for that, and only affect others that consent to ‘free for all’ play.
    -The roleplayers that just like PvP availability to enrich the RP-experience will have factions that work as they want without opening themselves up to griefers.

    4) If a rival faction has a rather “unruly” player that’s making things generally unfun, the opposing factions can decide to break the rivalry…. or more likely, the host faction may decide that they like the rivalry more than the unruly player and just oust him.

    Now, managing a multi-relationship network of factions where players can be in other factions won’t be an easy initial setup, but it’ll let players make the PvP rules work the way THEY want them, let them experiment with new rules as they grow and evolve their play, and let them get more time in PvP without being driven away or feeling like sheep for the wolves.

    Stop treating PvP’ers as homogeneous and realize that they come with different interests, different skills, and different time investments…. maybe then, PvP won’t be such a failure.

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