Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mixing PvE and PvP

Tobold has asked recently why developers should bother mixing PvE and PvP into the same MMO, because he feels that the design of each conflicts with the other too much, leading to a reduced experience for both.

The simplest answer to this question is because people like to do both.

The next simplest is because making a whole new game would cost much more money. A game that includes PvE with no PvP is a massive waste of resources for a developer. Contrary to the opinions offered by some people, the vast majority of players enjoy PvP in some way - simply not PvP in an MMO. The negative connotations related to PvP in an MMO can be attributed to experiences of being "ganked", i.e. steam-rolled in a fight that you had no chance of winning or may not have even wanted at the time, because

a) the other player(s) was a higher level than you; and/or
b) you were outnumbered; and/or
c) the other player was able to attack you where/when you did not wish to be attacked.

For a), the solution in an MMO is obvious - make the achievement of maximum power something that is within the reach of all players, i.e., make any time investment required moderate (say, the same amount of time it would take in a single player RPG). This has the pleasant by-product of also fixing the retarded soul-sucking grind progression system that is PvE in many modern MMO's.

For an example of how to do this, as in many things, the answer is to look to Guild Wars. In Guild Wars it takes an easily achievable amount of time to reach maximum level. Most of the game happens at maximum level. Instead of arbitrarily increasing your power so that you end up fighting level 40 rats in between every town, you instead unlock new builds to try. Instead of forcing you to grind mobs/quests to obtain powerful enough gear to proceed through the game, you can easily achieve the most powerful gear and it's the good *looking* gear that you can grind for if you choose to. There is still all the e-peen stroking you can shake a stick at as a result, and all the other standard MMO stuff such as exploration, socializing, achievements (titles/emotes), super challenging areas with enhanced rewards (i.e. raids), etc.

Problem b) is another raised by Tobold. This applies to the 'open world' type of PvP, which often is and absolutely should be full of n00bs running around in big groups zerging each other. It is absolutely ok for the war as a whole to be asymmetric, dependent on who has put in the most time, etc, as this is the way that real wars are and let's face it, it's impossible to balance open world PvP any other way.

Two concessions must be made however. The first is that there must be more than 2 sides, as WAR's bleh PvP has shown.

The second is that there should always be tactical options available to players to counteract the movements of the other side. Games are no fun when no action that you could possibly take will effect the outcome. If your side has fewer players, it should be possible to accomplish various tasks to recruit more NPC's into the army (there should also be solid social networking tools, to organise the actual players that you do have more easily). If the other side chooses to zerg, tactics should be possible so that the enemy is forced to either

i) divide; or
ii) deal with the tactic somehow to avoid having to divide; or
iii) lose the battle/war

WAR has none of these factors and so can not possibly be a satisfying PvP experience (other than the thrill of running around with a large group, sieging a castle, etc, which I admit is quite fun the first few times). But these factors really don't get in the way at all of a solid PvE experience, so the good news is that future MMO's can easily adopt them.

Finally, problem c) above. There are many ways around this. The RvR 'lakes' in WAR were actually a good way to do this, and I hope future games adopt a similar solution.

Bear in mind that none of these problems are present in the more 'arena-based', e-sports style of PvP such as is found in Guild Wars. However for a long time, there were still balance issues where a skill that needed to be nerfed in PvP ruined popular use of PvE skills, or vice versa, making both camps generally unhappy whenever nerfs rolled around. This is another potential area of conflict between PvE and PvP game design.

However, again, Guild Wars eventually got around this - there are now simply skills that have an altered function when engaging in PvP. There are also skills that can only be used in PvE. This allows for fun gameplay in both areas, and for balance changes for one not to affect the other. Of course this has the down side of making the game more complex than necessary (and preventing people from smoothly transitioning to try out their less-preferred game type), but has the up-side of keeping a lot of people happy.

So in summary - PvE and PvP can and should be mixed into the same game, to provide a better experience for players and an efficient way to ensure game longevity and broader appeal. A little bit of common sense drawing from what's worked and what hasn't in previous titles is all that is necessary.


Openedge1 said...

Hmmm...hey, why am I not on your blogroll?

Weird! Did you remove me? Was I not being nice?

Anyways...hehe, this post says a lot.

I am torn at this point, as when I see games focus on one aspect (say PvE) the game seems to not be very good (at least to me...)
Case in point: LOTRO and WAR each PvE or PvP respectively.
I wonder if the single aspect of developing makes the game more boring?

While games that separated but did both (Guild Wars) really won out..GW is probably the perfect example of a game that approached both fields and did them both quite well.

I am still on the fence, and until SWTOR releases (more PvE based than PvP) I do not know if concentrating on one aspect works...

Crimson Starfire said...

Probably the biggest reason that PvP should always be included in MMOs is because it provides a challenge that is random every time. It also gives you a place to easily train your gaming skills to make you a better player. This is beneficial to your PvE experience as well.

People that don't like PvP always make me wonder. Did they have a bad experience at some point that has scarred them? Are they intimidated by other more skillful players? Is it that they don't like losing? or is the challenge just to great for the reward? Perhaps they just don't want to be responsible for causing a loss for the team...

Whatever the reason, I know that they are missing out on a world of fun and that's their problem.

I think you got removed when WoS got taken off your blog roll... o.O

Melf_Himself said...

Lol @ blogroll politics. I'd just like to point out that I am not in charge of updating the blog roll, lol.

You may be pleased to know that you are on my google reader though ^^

Ferrel said...

I have to agree with some of your points. At least in relation to my article, however, I'm just advocating that you can't base a game around open PvP. You need a solid anchor that is always available. I believe you described it as the "boring grind."

I realize people aren't all into that. A lot of us are, however, and get tired of all the issues in PvP/RvR. Nobody has done them quite perfect yet.

I prefer the e-sport system you mentioned. PvP is fun when it doesn't effect what I can or cannot do in an MMO. In Warhammer the RvR basically denies content to players. Hopefully someone will use some of your suggestions amend that in the future.

Melf_Himself said...

I agree with that Ferrel. I've sat around too much waiting for action to happen in WAR, and I've heard a lot of the complaints made against Darkfall where people wait several hours for 15 minutes of fun.

If there's solid PvE to go and pick up in the down-time or when you don't feel like PvP, it helps a lot. The e-sports thing is one angle (my preferred one, actually), but a lot of people aren't into that. I think another interesting way to solve the problem would be to make sure the war is always being fought via NPC's, that way even if you're the only person online you can still log in and find a massive battle happening somewhere to join in on.

Having something to do in the down time actually supports the original point of my article, which was to respond to Tobold and say that MMO developers should include both PvE and PvP elements in their game, so thanks ;)

Anonymous said...

I also very much prefer the e-sport approach to PvP. Having impact/open world PvP is nice in theory, but in most cases it does not seem to work out well.

I guess EVE is perhaps the only case which seems to have worked reasonably well in that regard.

But I think that very much depends on that there is not really a clear separation between PvE and PvP - there is just interaction between players, with or against each other.

Melf_Himself said...

I don't really care for the so-called "impact" PvP at all, because impact is defined as someone taking all your stuff when they kill you.

When I talk about 'open world' PvP, I really mean to say RvR, in pre-defined areas so that people can not be attacked when they don't wish to fight.

Of course this is what WAR did, but they implemented the RvR poorly for a variety of reasons:

- Battlefield objectives not relevant
- Therefore small groups not relevant
- Therefore massive zergs are the best approach
- No tactics possible through the game to counter a zerg, other than to have a similarly sized zerg or a slightly lesser zerg on defense
- There was no motivation to hang around as a lesser zerg and actually defend
- Therefore the whole thing degenerated into a chain of zerging NPC's vs zerging NPC's.
- Also, as mentioned above there were only 2 realms which made things too one-sided.

Learning from these mistakes, I'm sure some future MMO (Aion?) will manage to have compelling RvR.