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!

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