The eternal PVP debate

One of the main reasons I love chatting with players, and trying to be open and available on services like Twitter, or indeed here at the blog, is that it can often spawn some great discussion. Knowing what people's opinions are on things, and coming to understand perspectives is an important part of your knowledge base as a designer.

The folks over at Massively picked up on a twitter conversation that I was having with one of our long time PVP fans from Age of Conan, and turned it into a full blown discussion on the merits of progression and balance in PVP. The original tweet was in answer to a question asking why we don't make PVP encounters in Age of Conan completely equal (i.e. drop any stats from gear or progression, and have it entirely skill based) and I answered: "Not everyone wants a new player and a two-year veteran to be on equal footing. Many want that to count, aside from knowledge." ... which made for a slightly more contentious than it was intended jumping off point for the debate. 

To be fair, I did also say in the following tweet that '... that's the challenge of PvP design, lots of different preferences, at a top level both have merit' ... that's the one problem with the Twitter format, someone can take one message and doesn't have to place it in context of the others around it when quoting you, but it certainly worked to kick of an interesting debate. You can read through the lengthy comments thread for some of my replies and the arguments back and forth amongst the community over there. The point though is that on this subject, there isn't really a 'right' or 'wrong' as both approaches have merit.   

Because personally I genuinely believe that both positions have merit, I have written at length about this subject on the blog before, here and here, and it is still a very, very interesting topic. It might be more barnstorming to have a polarizing opinion here, but I think in this area, the 'correct' solution will be different for different games, and there is a space in the market for both.

I don't think anyone denies that in theoretical terms that equality, in its purest form, is something that would be a good basis on which to build competition. However finding a good way to marry that with a progression based RPG system is far from an easy job, and one very few have gotten close to so far. 

Personally, for the record, after a lot of back and forth, I would have to say that my personal preference would probably be towards a form of hybrid. Something like you see in a game like EVE Online, where you can be useful in combat relatively quickly, but take time to build up options and flexibility. That is to say where experience and progression present you with more options and a more diverse arsenal, which allows you to keep the combat balance itself fairly flat if done correctly. 

Pure skill with zero progression is possibly best left to the shooters, but pure skill with some form of alternative, non-power based progression might work. Therefore the challenge for future titles that want to appeal to that audience, will be in finding ways to allow for forms of progression that do not translate into specific 'power' on the battlefield, but still provide good incentive for participation and progression. For me that is where the potential of more systems centric, sandbox titles lie, but you could equally argue for a simple separation of PVE and PVP, where only in the arena does skill take over from standard RPG progression. I am pretty sure that you will see developers tackling this issue in one way or another over the next generation of titles.

One thing is for sure though, I am fairly sure this debate will continue for some time, so where do you stand? Opinions welcome!


Anonymous said…
PvP is allways a hassle in a mmorpg with a progression that is oposite to a real life progression.
In a traditional mmo a player becomes stronger exponetially with every level difference while in real life its the oposite.
In real life a kid (Level 1 Player) with a gun can kill an adult (Level 30, 40 or 50) who is unaware - in a mmo a kid can shot 1 million times at an adult and will note even have a single hit, or do some damage, even if the target is unaware.

And then it allways fucks up the balance of the overall game.
Real PvPers go for the fotm, so offer battlefields, where different classes have the underdog role, or have moon phases, so every month anotehr class is fotm.
Stop to listen to the pvpers fould cry for equality (balance) when they only mean they dont win easy and often enough!

My PvP-Hope is Mechwarrior Online which will be a simulation/action combat game with a soft skill increase in a semi persistant starmap-universe where actions can influence the lore to some degree.

And Elder Scrolls Online is can go very wrong or very right...time will tell.
johnofusion said…
even the way aoc is now after 1.04, it can still be a skillful game for pvp. but its far too gear dependent. the dmg and survivability of a pvp 7+ toon or tier 3+ toon against someone with no gear or lower tier gear is pretty much a lost cause. this is why all the hardcore gamers left and why aoc is just gonna keep on rotting.

you need to stop shoving pve in the game and bring pvp back to aoc. viewing someones kdr, why was this removed. dont worry we all know why, but just to throw that out in the open. why is stam still a prob. stam was never meant to be part of balancing the game, it was there to speed up the passe of aoc. which means everyone's stam should be the same and drain VERY slowly. why cant a group of ppl be on the same side in a mini when they que up together, again we all know why but just throwing that out there. by doing this actually promotes solo gameplay and ppl dont need to finds guilds or friends.

there is so many other things wrong with aoc, but the main problem is all the pve and player progression add. adding pve to a pvp built game. and adding player progression when there already was, kdr and reputation.
Dillengerz said…
I think the problem with AoC is that it was sold as a PVP game before launch, when clearly the developers were making what was mostly a PVE game with some last minute PVP additions. I mean, what PVP systems were late coming in, and pre-launch features like PVP levels only came in after launch, and sieges were always a broken addition that clearly wasn't tested. So to me AoC has never actually been a PVP game, it seems to me it was always intended to be a PVE game with some PVP on the side. The problem is the Funcom / Eidos marketing folks sold it as a PVP bloodbath, which it never was.

They have tried valiantly to add some PVP, but I think if Craig made a mistake it was in trying to do open world PVP, they should have just stuck to mini-games, which is what they do best. Sieges / Bori just didn't work well.

They also have the Stamina changes incoming, and the new queue is better than the previous situation with all those cursed premades.

So they kinda had the opposite problem, they had a PVE game but a demand for PVP content and struggled to provide it.
johnofusion said…
a pvp designed game doesnt need pvp content, just look at a cs 1.6. same game over and over, and yet its the best game out there?.

aoc epicness b4 1.05 was an accident. but why it was so successful and fulfilling for the hardcore pvpers is becuz the original game developers added skillful elements to the game. just look at Super Smash Bros. Melee. possibly the best game out there. there is no skill cap, only what your hands are capable of. but the game was an accident. it was that good becuz the developers added so many options to all the characters and rewarded the player for doing something faster or doing something that not many other ppl knew or could master. bak to aoc, combo cancelling and circle strafing, these were added to the game. it was only sillirion that said combo canceling is not intended just to make the pvers and ppl bad at pvp happy but it really was part of the game. circle strafing and a few other things all intended.

you dont need pvp content to have a good pvp game. you just need a good skillful thought out combat system with lots of skillful elements and reward the player for doing something hard to master. but this is never going to happen again. all the games from 10-14 years ago were the best, noways its all about money so game developers and companies have to caster to the pvers and casual gamers, they are the majority. all the hardcore gamers must suffer cuz of this.
johnofusion said…
6v6 minis world pvp in kesh no gaurds 12v12 minis, this is all you need for a game like aoc. being able to sign up with 2 or 3 ppl in a none premade mini, this needs to come bak. these are things thatll keep the game alive and interesting.
Anonymous said…
Skeloss here...

First I would like to say nice blog and very good topic.
( Offtopic: Why twitter allows us only so short messages damn :) )

Now my opinions:

I think PVE and PVP aspects of the game should be separated I know it must be very hard to develop some system which will let you separate PVE and PVP but nowadays its quite needed because common mmorpg player enjoys both sides of the game.

In PVE you have to have some gear progression for sure PVE players like it and I think its quite good system of rewards for beating raid bosses etc.

For PVP however my opinion is different. Veteran players have big advatage over the new ones, They know game mechanics, They know abilities of other classes, They know terrain of maps (its also important for some classes if not all) simply they have skill advantage. If you give them better gear they will become even more powerful and by the time they will almost become "gods" vs new players. Thats not fair in my opinion. If new players gets better he should be able to kill veteran because maybe his skills are better than veteran ones. But not being able to kill veterans just because they have simply better armors is not they way of fair pvp. Ofc you have to reward veteran players but there are many ways how to do it for example some ranking system, some titles, some vanity gear, some symbols around their names, some cool looking weapons (but with the same stats), some exlusive mounts etc...
Anonymous said…
The problem with PVP now a days is, developers lost the soul essence of what PVP is truly about. Every single mass corporation is about budget and catering to the mainstream market.

World of Warcraft, single handed dominated the entire mmo market as we know it. Since WoW is making so much money, every other company assumes that copying WoW is going to give them that same glory or at least obtain some portions of it, which is partially true. But here is the kicker... If I wanted to play World of Warcraft, I would play World of Warcraft. Not Age of Conan, not Dungeons and Dragons, or Aion or Rift, etc.

Making a PVPMMO doesn't involve an entire lore mixed with a crazy back story. It involves PVP mechanics and great systems in order to make players fight one another. Now Craig, you were saying raw skill should be left to the Shooter Genre, which is not true. That is what I call a limited belief. When developers get the idea in their heads that there is only one or very few ways to build a game, then were left with a clone army of games that all play out exactly the same, but with different skins. Creativity gets thrown out the window a long with the company taking risks, because the man upstairs says, he has a budget and he wants solid results, so this comes back to, zero risk, zero creativity, cloning the game to mimic other successful games traits and presto, you got yourself a game that will make some money, rather than no money.

The industry right now is a joke, to say otherwise is just a lie. We have all the money, power, technology and software to create the most mesmerizing games the world has ever seen, but instead, we get copy and paste games so the large corporations can keep becoming richer and richer and richer. Age of Conan's soul was sucked out of it from the inside out, simply because it took on the WoW concept and completely deprived the players from what they truly wanted, a pvp game.

I could write an article here on what is wrong with Age of Conan when it comes to PVP, but it's just a waste of my time and everybody elses. The game had so much potential, hell it still has so much potential, but it will never go in the direction of what myself and many other players have been literally "crying" for over the last 3 years. It's a PVE bottomless boring pit of the same garbage we have all played time and time again. I played Age of Conan for it's combat system. Fast Paced, Adrenaline, Skillful, Mature and unique flavor, that has all been washed away by the typical mainstream structure all big companies seem to love so much.

As I stated above, I could list off all the things wrong with AoC and I could also list off 20 other things that could make the game a success, but it doesn't matter, talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words and in order to get a real competitive PVP based MMO, you need a Game Director, Programmers that all think a like and understand what exactly a PVP player wants out of the game. They have to live it and breathe it like a musician plays his guitar, or an artist paints his canvas. You can't teach people to make great things if they're not interested in them.
Allica said…
Wouldn't it depend on a company believing there is an audience? Isn't the problem more that the companies don't believe there is an audience for a pure PVP MMO as much as there is another mainstream game. If they have to spend 100million dollars plus to make these games, then they better be aiming wide, because it takes a LOT to recoup that investment. It will be interesting to see where Zenimax goes with ESO and if it is true three faction PVP and how that will fit with the previous Elder Scrolls games.

MMOs are also about progression no matter how you cut it, so developers simply have to find a way to work it into PVP somehow. I agree with what Craig said in the thread on Massively, EVE has the best model for an MMO, still some skill and knowledge required (not reflex skill, but knowledge skill) without totally being progression power based.

Reflex skill should stay in shooters, but I am fine with MMOFPS games, those could end up being really cool games.

I am not sure enough people would want to play a purely skill based third person MMO style game. RPG system means there must be progression, it sounds like what you want is an arcade combat system in a third person view, with no RPG system?
Soulrift said…
I am strongly opposed to mathematical bonuses (such as from gear) that result from progression in PvP.

Typically, you need to participate in PvP to get the points to get the PvP gear. It's a grind, except instead of a big waste of your time, it's a big waste of EVERYONE'S time. You go into that PvP battleground or scenario or what-have-you and go AFK. You cannot make a meaningful contribution because the math is so totally against you. You're basically a spectator taking up a slot on the team. You lose the match. You collect your points. You repeat however many hundred times the game expects for you to reach "veterancy" status. Then you can finally buy your gear and participate. And when you do, your teammates are AFK waiting to get their gear, or your opponents are, and all that fun PvP combat you were hoping to engage in is ruined by everyone else who is still in the same boat you were just in.

I never, ever participate in PvP in a game with bonuses from gear obtainable only by participating in PvP.

However, I do agree that there is some merit to the sense of getting something for having been playing longer, and to that extent I have to point to Planetside as a shining example of getting it right. In Planetside (back when I played it anyhow), you start with 3 or 4 certification points, which you can spend to unlock options, such as better guns, armor, vehicles, etc. As you level up, you get more points, letting you unlock more options. However, whether you're level 1 or level 20, the gun still does the same damage, the armor still absorbs the same amount, the vehicles are still identical. The advantage to leveling up is having more options, more tools in your toolkit.
Burmese said…
A suggestion for 'balanced' PvP in AoC:

Players should be able, at some early point (perhaps lvl 20 or 30) to have access to a 'Dream' version of themselves. This imaginary projection is how they see themselves in their dreams at lvl 80. Exact same body, scars etc but with all AA etc fully maxed. The Dream char could be switched to by going to 'sleep' and the char appears in a 'dressing room' where they also have access to all armor and social gear, up thru the best available ingame. From the dressing room they can do two important things:

(1) check out social gear before switching back to their grimy 'real' char and buying it from the shop

(2) set perk lines and equip combat gear for use in a set of 'Dreamworld' PvP zones.

Players will be able to use this feature to help select social armor that they would then buy on their 'real world' char. No more buying something only to find it looks like crap on your char and then being gunshy about buying more stuff from the item shop. The 'dressing room' should be big enough to allow different light, mirrors, backdrops etc to allow the players to fully evaluate clothing and armor before buying.

From the PvP standpoint, all chars are essentialy 'equal' aside from their choices of perklines and gear. Since all are given access to a wardrobe covering -everything- a level 80 could wear, they are all on 'equal footing'. From the wardroom they will have perhaps 3 doors to step thru, each offering a different PvP experience. One could be a fast mini-PvP
scenario, completable in 15-30 minutes. The second door could be a more involved playfield and requiring more time to achieve the designated goals. The third door could be for massive factional combat - once you have figured out how to structure factions in AoC. Here they could have perhaps a combat field matching the 'real' world of Hyboria, where territories are fought over and controlled long term.

As for PvP rewards - I would suggest for all playfields some nice social armor gained thru accumulated kills and/or PvP zone objectives completed over time. This social gear would be the only thing available back in the 'real' world to the char 'dreaming' these battles. For the 3rd zone, the 'world-sized' one, I would suggest that control of cities and territory by
factions also be reflected back in the real world as additional 'factional side XP', ala what you get from tower wars in AO. It all makes sense in the context of AoC - players dream great dreams of conquoring land, and this reflects in a healthier mindset while fighting in the 'real' world - increasing slightly the rate at which they gain XP.

This 'Dressingroom/PvP dream playfields' allows the Devs to throw down the 'everyone is equal' to those claiming that is the only kind of PvP that counts and at the same time allows PvE-centric players the opportunity to both see how their chars might become if they continue to progress in the game, as well as allow them to sample PvP without changing up their 'real'
setups. All of this should be technically feasible - creating a 'clone' char boosted to max level and perks/AA and allowing access to all the top armor is already available to Devs/GM's and only needs to be set up in a user friendly 'dressing room' firewalled from the 'real' world chars. With multi-server interaction down the line, the PvP zones could easily involve
players from many servers at once.

Anonymous said…
You know what makes me laugh, that these companies believe it takes more than 1 million to make a good MMO, that's what's sad. Any good indie company could do it for 1 million and be successful, it just takes a solid team that knows what they're doing in order to do it. Rather than throwing money around and having an army of rejects that all work on trying to "figure out" what makes a good game.

I saw the budget of this upcoming mmo, 115$ million was given to them, I couldn't do anything but laugh.
Craig Morrison said…
MMOs are very expensive to make. I doubt anyone could make one for a million dollars, at least not one with the production standards of a AAA game. Even at a basic level, the network infrastructure alone means you have a serious minimum investment, in the millions of dollars.

A lot of the very expensive games do incur that cost with content production, so in theory a sandbox game could be done for much less than say The Old Republic or the upcoming Guild Wars 2 or the Elder Scrolls online, who will all have cost anything between 50 and 100 million dollars.

Even with a systems based sandbox however you'd probably still be talking a minimum of a few million for a very basic game (and that's before you have to market the game, which is often half as much as you spend making it)

These games are not cheap, and it's why you see so few people make them, and get them to market in the west.
Anonymous said…
See, I can tell your surrounded by a production studio all day long. For example, Natural Selection 2 - they went to PAX and were extremely successful. Now the game is no where near an MMO, but the game also has mechanics / graphics / animations that are above and behind most mmo's out there. The cost for them to make that game has been less than half a million dollars with 4 guys working on it over the course of 3 to 4 years.

Yes an MMO is possible at 1 million dollars, the problem is your vision and many other developers like you, always believe it takes money to build create things. All it takes is the right people and a strong concept that doesn't involve making 1 billion quests, voice acting, 1000 fake character pve animation and raid encounters. I don't think your wrong on what you say, because the way you vision it is, top of the line full blown PVE Team working on an MMO like Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, Age of Conan, World of Warcraft.

But that's my point, all developers think a like now a days, the creativity is dead and money is being thrown around on crap that comes out one day and dies the next. Big corporations have eaten the gaming industry from the inside out and forgotten what gaming is all about "gameplay". Guild Wars 2 is garbage, I saw the MMORPG Interview you were on, and the guy representing them was an idiot. Acting like the game is team orientated, AoC had more team orientation than that piece of crap game they made. The problem with AoC was, the game for it's time was too graphic intense on PC's, the game has instances everywhere and there was no structured PVP or PVE systems to allow players to group up efficiently.

AoC set standards in MMO's... Look at world of warcraft - they were influenced by you guys - Wrath of the Lich King came out, they had everything AoC had, AoE Heals that rained down on people, dot heals over time like a Bear Shamans bloodflow. Their armor sets looked like AoC including the mounts of mammoths and so fourth. The fact remains, when it comes to making a good game, it doesn't require a budget of 115 million.... I would say for a creative, clean fun working MMO, you could do it for 5 million and expand outwards from there.
Craig Morrison said…
I can virtually assure you that an MMO, as we know them today, is virtually impossible for just a million dollars.

That's not a 'I am blinded by the studio system' reply, it's a pragmatic reality given the cost of technology these days. There is a reason so few developers make these games, and so few of them make it to market and compete. The financial overhead is a big factor there.

That doesn't mean we aren't actively thinking about other types of MMOs that we could make ... because what you say at the end, in your last paragraph ... that's a different proposition entirely. Yes, for five to ten million I think you can make a pretty solid systems based MMO (i.e. not content driven with hundreds of hours of quests, but something more akin to EVE online) although that would probably be if you had decent network architecture and support systems already.

If it is any consolation in general, I think you are mistaken, there are many in the industry, in the MMO studios who also want to make smaller games, and different games. Hopefully we start to see more diversity in the MMO experience over the next decade.

I am sure the big, 100 million+ games like TOR, GW2 and the newly announced Elder Scrolls Online will continue to exist, but I genuinely hope that we also start to embrace some more 'virtual world' style affairs, and more systems driven sandboxes, or even player generated content if you want to go down that route. The future isn't just for huge blockbuster attempts to be the next huge MMO, I firmly believe there is a chance that other forms of MMO will evolve and appear .. partly out of necessity (as they are expensive t make, and VERY risky) and partly out of the evolution of developers and the creatives wanting to explore new avenues and possibilities.
Anonymous said…
I understand your involved in the business day in and day out when it comes to the technological factor of gaming development. When you say technology and it's cost, could you please go in to more elaboration on the topic for me, so I understand what exactly is costing you close to 1 million dollars. Also, what size audience are we looking at here? MMO doesn't have to cater to hundreds of millions, especially when you first launch, which is why I referenced to the "Indie Development" companies.

If I was to build an MMO, I would start off small and expand outwards within the million dollar budget. I think you and I both know, when it comes to 20+ million dollar budgets, companies are given way more than they need, because they want to hire the best art/actors/programmers that can do the job efficiently and quickly as possible. This doesn't however, mean the game is going to be any good... the industry speaks for itself.

GW2(crap), World of Warcraft(solid but overplayed), Age of Conan(Had potential), Aion(crap), Rift(Almost Crap) - Now I understand, my opinion is my opinion, but the problem I see is that people don't have much to choose from when it comes to the MMO industry, so games appear to look better than they actually can be, leaving zero contrast to a user to see.

But as I stated above, I would love to hear some numbers and what is involved when it comes to the technology aspect of building an MMO and why it costs so much. I am not trying to be "bitter" or "negative" and claim I know all, but I am a huge believer in, if a person wants to build something, it is possible at any cost.

Darkfall Online - Do you truly believe this company had 1 million dollars to spare when they built it? Because to me, it looks like a game built by gamers for gamers and they did whatever it took to create it, because they knew they didn't have much money if not any to create it.
Craig Morrison said…
I can't speak for the folk at Aventurine, but I'd be fairly sure they spent more than a few million dollars over the years before they released. While I can't go into details (not allowed to divulge budgetary stuff) but I can say that even for a small game, say 10,000 players, your bandwidth and hosting costs could probably still run you say ten thousand dollars a month, and that's a pretty small population for an MOO. It scales up from there, and that's just your hosting and bandwidth costs. Then take even a small team, say ten people, and presume they all earn between $30,000 and $70,000 a year, you are already looking at half a million a year before social costs, space rent and hardware. Make that for three plus years which it would take to even start an MMO from scratch and you can quickly see that it is very unlikely you would be able to finish anything to a professional standard from scratch for under a million dollars.

That's before you consider software licensing, customer service, billing support and advertising.

Now companies with existing infrastructure that can benefit from some economies of scale, and an existing engine, can make savings on many of these areas, but they have already invested heavily to be in that situation. So for example any future MMO we start at Funcom will have benefited from close to a decade of engine development.

I know the amounts can seem high from the outside, but trust me, we are always trying to be as efficient as possible, because these games are simply very expensive to make, whichever way you try and wrap it.
Anonymous said…
Sounds like it's possible for that scale of an MMO for a 2 million dollar budget, to scrape by. Not to mention, once the game launches, doing basic math here on what you said.

$49.99 for digital download sales, hosted on your own network, cutting out the middle man @ 10,000 users multiplied by a subscription fee of say $12/month. Box Sales plus selling to 10,000 users at launch say in the first month - that's close to 500,000$ in return right there. Now multiply the 10,000 users @ $12/month = 120, 000$ - The First month alone the game has almost paid off the $2 million dollar budget, as the game grows, expand outwards to scale with your population.

But this is small scale stuff, which is why I said - big corporations such as Funcom dream big and aim for higher goals, rather than somebody like myself, who would stay small and expand slowly outwards. That's how it is, when people WANT something and they're not apart of something, they will do whatever it takes to get there. Somebody in your position, your already there, you already have a dream job(yes it comes with headaches) but the fact is, your there, so your desire to want to get there isn't existent anymore.

You and I both know it is possible to make an MMO for a cheap price, but at corporation level, your right, it isn't possible.

I truly appreciate your feedback and outlook on the matter though, it helps myself and many others who are reading these posts on a journey to getting in to the gaming industry. Not many developers are as helpful and involving as yourself, so once again Thank You :)