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.

The End of the World

Tobold’s had an interesting post up last week about the concept of a game that resets everyone back to zero as part of a cycle. It really is a nifty idea that I think more games should consider in whole or in part. But the question becomes, how often do you reset?

The first comment on Tobold’s post mentions resetting EQ1 every 90 days. Three months seems a little fast to me, especially given the huge amount of content the game has (not to mention the ridiculous keying and flagging for some zones). Of course, on a reset model, perhaps they could remove some unneeded content (like Luclin), maybe revamp the entire game to focus on one huge storyline. If they’d thought of it sooner, the Planes of Power expansion would have been perfect for this, seeing as how in the Plane of Time the defeat of Quarm results in story text saying your characters are being sent back in time or their memories wiped or something and the defeat of Quarm is being undone since he can’t be allowed to be killed. Three months might be perfect for a game that was only the original world, Kunark, Velious and Plane of Power. In fact, I think that game would rock. Maybe you could still throw in some of those mini expansions like Lost Dungeons and Ykesha, and every three months when they reset the world they’d revamp some zones, maybe add new features, change up the lesser stories. It would definitely solve my “empty world” scenario that happens when everyone is level capped and no one plays the low or mid level game anymore.

But for the casual player, is 90 days too short? If I was the kind of person who only got to play less than 5 hours a week, in three months I’d get in at most 60 hours of play, then I’d lose my character and have to restart. I wouldn’t want to play that game if I were that guy. Wherever you set your reset at, you’ll always be eliminating a set of players below a threshold. Another blog on the subject suggested two months… that short a period would need a very shallow and/or fast playing game.

Perhaps you could just reset the people involved in the final event, or people above a certain level… or maybe allow people to flag themselves as part of the “reset content” which opens up new areas, new raids, but means that when someone wins the final event, all the flagged characters get reset. But most of these limitations come in with level gated content. What if your game had no levels? What if the only progression in the game was in obtaining items and moving through the story?

It is a lot to think about.

Death Penalties

One thing every game has to deal with somewhere in its design is the penalty for losing. Some games have opted to have none, but in my opinion this leads to the “lemming effect” where player has absolutely no fear of losing and will repeatedly slam into a brick wall until the wall gives in. Other games have chosen to allow methods for the reduction of penalties, like clones, insurance, returning to your body, praying at your death site, etc… the list goes on forever.

Long ago, EverQuest had a very stiff penalty, depending on your level at the time, you would lose experience equal to ten to twenty percent of your level. On some levels, that was hard to earn back. To that end, players avoided death, and dying made them angry. Later, Sony reduced the death penalty enough that the last few groups I was in before I quit didn’t really seem to care about death at all. And of course, experience loss deaths mean very little when you are level capped and have a good buffer.

Other games, like City of Heroes, maintained the exp loss death, but also allowed you to continue forward progress, and you could never lose a level. You earn “debt”, and while you had it fifty percent of your experience went to pay it off and the other fifty percent went toward your next level. Sort of good, but it lead to people not minding defeat, which in a superhero game leads to a little more heroism (but a lot more stupidity). Of course, with CoH having a penalty actually helped because it forced you to level slowed, gain more influence (money), and be able to keep up to date on your power enhancements (store bought).

The one thing all of the games I’ve played have in common, and the thing I would like to see change, is they all have one kind of defeat. Just one. You die, you lose exp. You fall, you get debt. You are killed, you drop an item (Asheron’s Call). You lose, your equipment is damaged (World of Warcraft).

Why no variety?

What I’d love to see in games is multiple layers of defeat. Why must lose of hitpoints always equal death? Why must monsters you fight be relentless until they kill you? When a mugger attacks me in the city, why not have him beat me into unconsciousness, steal some money and then run away? If I enter hostile territory, why can’t they beat me down, then if they defeat the entire party, drag us to the edge of their land and leave us for dead? Why can’t I be disarmed, paralyzed, and laughed at?

I don’t see a reason for having so few options except that the more options you have, the more code it requires. Building a bigger box.