Let me say a couple things up front. First of all, PvP, in any of its forms, isn’t really my thing. I don’t usually do any, and, when I do, I usually enjoy it less than an equivalent PvE experience. Second, I’m going to use the broad term “PvP” throughout, but what I really mean is instanced PvP like battlegrounds and arenas. I understand the draw of open world PvP, even though I personally find it more frustrating than exciting. My intention in this piece is not, in any way, to tell PvPers that they shouldn’t enjoy playing in their preferred style, or to say that they aren’t “real MMO players” (whatever that even means). It is honestly just me putting my musings into words.
Lately I’ve been pondering why exactly PvP needs to exist within an MMORPG. Take Guild Wars 2’s Structured PvP (sPvP) for example. At any time, I can hit a button and be teleported to the sPvP lobby. Once there, I am temporarily leveled to 80 if I am not already, I can choose from a set of PvP-only gear, and my build switches to one that only activates in PvP. This begs the question, if my PvP levels, gear, and build are separate from those of the main game, and the rule set is different from that of the main game, in what way am I not playing a wholly different character in a wholly different game? Some MMOs, like Lord of the Rings Online and the original Guild Wars, go so far as to have whole separate classes and characters designed exclusively for PvP. Many others, like Star Wars The Old Republic and WildStar, have gear with stats that only affect your effectiveness against players. I get that there are a lot of rewards given to characters for use in the PvE side of the game as rewards for playing PvP, not the least of which is an alternative source of XP, but again, why bother having levels at all if you have to adjust players’ levels to let them be competitive?
I suppose the same arguments can be made about raiding; you have to be a certain level to even start, and you have to get good gear from dungeons or crafting to even get started. But at least raids play by the same rules as the rest of the leveling experience; same attacks, same stats, same characters, slightly different tactics, and more advanced strategies.
Despite all of this, I literally can’t think of a major MMO that doesn’t have instanced PvP in some fashion. I feel like there has to be a reason that I’m missing beyond “people would complain if they didn’t have PvP.” Don’t worry, MMO players will find something to complain about. Maybe it’s just something that has been a part of the MMO experience for so long that it feels wrong to not have it, but in this post-WoW genre where it seems like every other convention of what make an MMO is being challenged, I’m always surprised that no one has come out and said “We’re making an MMO, but we don’t think our target audience wants PvP, so we’re going to use our resources elsewhere.” After all, lots of games are coming out these days with forced open world PvP, and if you’re not interested in that style of gameplay then you can go play a different game. Why not a game without any form of PvP? It seems better than having the sorely neglected and unbalanced PvP game that I hear about so often in many PvE-centric games.
I see the explosive popularity of MOBAs as the natural answer to questions like this. League of Legends isn’t really that different from a WoW battleground in isometric view instead of shouldercam. Yes, I understand, there are many key differences and I’m talking beyond the realm of my experience here, but really, when you get down to it, it’s not that different from PvP divorced from the MMO. I think this can account for a lot of why the MMO genre is declining but still managing to stay relatively healthy despite dire predictions from the industry; the people who played MMOs just for PvP are moving away to other games–they can get their fix elsewhere with less of the stuff they don’t like as much–whereas players who prefer PvE are sticking with MMOs because there really isn’t anything else quite like them.
So what do you think? Am I completely crazy here, do PvP and PvE really belong in the same game? Is it necessary to have instanced PvP to be a feature-complete MMORPG? Has the presence or absence of PvP ever affected the likelyhood of you playing a given game?
I don’t think you’re missing a thing, here. For a long time now, PvP and PvE have been entirely different games shoehorned into the same package. And inevitably they rub into each other in awkward ways. I really think it is an artifact of the WoW era, where the driving factor was to have the most concurrent subscriptions possible. This meant that the game had to be all things to all people, offering as many reasons as they could think of for someone to want to subscribe. At that time, if you weren’t vying to be the biggest game, you were in danger of being branded a failure (SWTOR) and threatened with being shut down (Wildstar).
I’m not sure if things have really changed, but I remember Sapience, a community manager from LOTRO, stating publicly that their pvp community was in the low single digits, percentage wise, and they weren’t going to spend a lot of effort on it for a while. The new thinking seems to be more focused on doing a few things well, rather than many things poorly.
I think your observation about the ‘decline’ of MMOs is very insightful. Players are being sorted into finer niches, instead of a few big bins. If what you want is LoL style pvp, why not just go play that game instead of trying to find it in a big MMO and constantly chafe against its restrictions? I think this is a maturation process that will ultimately be good for the genre and good for players.
Colin Johanson of ArenaNet let slip a very interesting piece of information about GW2’s sPvP offer recently. His full response to a thread on Reddit is very interesting, especially this part:
“From a marketing standpoint, [the Pvp Pro League] (and the ESL weekly cups and WTS tournaments before it) has been extremely successful so far, among the most successful projects our marketing team has ever launched to grow our title in the history of the Guild Wars franchise in return for the cost.”
He points out that the prize money, which amounted to some $400k just for the last tournament alone, comes entirely out of the marketing budget. Effectively, the eSport scene is being used a shop-window for the whole game and to access that scene, obviously, there needs to be a competitive format. I think there have been attempts in the past to do something similar with competitive PvE formats in various MMOs but there doesn’t seem to be much interest in the market for that.
As for instanced pvp stemming from WoW, like most aspects of the genre Blizzard borrowed it from existing games rather than created it themselves. My first memory of instanced PvP was in Dark Age of Camelot, where it was added to what was primarily an open-world PvP game (realm vs Realm, technically) to give players guaranteed fights on demand. By the time WoW arrived that innovation had already become fairly standard I think.
I also think it’s probably inaccurate to assume different people play PvE and PvP in the same game. Like crafting and trading and collecting and so on its just one more option among many. The trend is definitely, as you say, towards much more specifically targeted content for particular audiences, whereas in the past it was more “something for everyone”. I am in two minds whether more specialization is a good thing or not. It’s rather like asking whether you want to go to six shops to get everything you need or six departments in the same shop. There’s no obvious answer.
This is a really interesting discussion. I don’t have too much experience with PvP, as it’s never really appealed to me. But even so, I think it would be strange to play a game that didn’t have both types of gameplay. This is probably for the reason you stated–it’s been that way for so long that it just seems normal. And when I played Aion for a while, the open world PvP in the Abyss made a lot of sense because it went with the lore of the two warring factions. Even playing GW2’s WvW feels like it really belongs–it doesn’t feel separate from the game like what you were describing with sPvP.
bhagpuss’ discussion of the Pro League is an interesting point. To me, the main point of GW2 isn’t the PvP (I acknowledge that I have some bias, but overall I feel the game has a greater focus on the story than anything else, based on how it’s always been presented in game trailers), and so it seems strange that they would use PvP as their marketing approach to draw people to the game. It feels like people are going to come to the game expecting something completely different than what the reality is. In that way, it feels like the PvP is a completely different game from the PvE aspect of GW2.
In that way, I would be inclined to agree with you. I’m not so sure we need to have such discrete PvP in a game for it to be complete. I think sometimes it can feel out of place and divide the players–perhaps to the extent that game devs aren’t able to please both sides of the playerbase because their wants are so diverse? I think some aspect of PvP (like WvW) is nice to add diversity, but I’m not so sure the game would necessarily suffer if it didn’t balance both gameplay types evenly.
I found the ArenaNet quote very interesting. Two things stood out for me:
“…among the most successful projects our marketing team has ever launched to grow our title in the history of the Guild Wars franchise in return for the cost.”
PvP is all about growth; having the most players possible. I especially like the tag at the end: “in return for the cost.” It brings in more players at a relatively inexpensive cost, so why not?
“When folks come here and rip on stuff like PvP…”
So this tells me that a lot of PvE players are complaining about PvP; so much so that ArenaNet-guy Colin feels the need to go on the forums and defend it. This entire quote is in response to PvE players giving feedback about resources being diverted to PvP to the detriment of PvE, and Colin is reassuring them that this is not the case.
Basically, this quote is a classic example demonstrating the major point of the blog post. PvP and PvE in many major MMORPGs are strange bedfellows that often don’t fit well together and cause the kind of friction this quote references.
I think it’s true that PvP players often enjoy PvE as well, but in my experience – as this quote demonstrates – there is a huge volume of PvE players who want nothing to do with PvP in any of its forms.
My experience with sPVP is this:
1. All the “best” players will tell you that it’s more exciting to play vs a player since you never quite know what they’ll do and thus the fact that they defeat other players means that they are superior players with superior skills.
2. All the “best” players will have 1 or 2 builds that are “best” for pvp.
3. All the “best” players will use the same rotations and counters in all the same situations and thus are every bit as static and scripted as and PVE encounter.
4. Point this out to any of these “best” pvp players, and they’ll start back at #1 there…….
Going forward from this, what happens is that in a game that doesn’t have every class “balanced” too enable pvp counters and survivability will always have an “overpowered” class that everyone and their dog uses in PVP — the FOTM. And anyone who wants to be “competitive” in PVP absolutely will be playing that class with best-in-slot gear and the same build as everyone else. Until a new balance pass gets made by the devs and the new FOTM is found and everyone gravitates to that instead. This hurts PVE group play since there’s always a glut of whatever the FOTM classes are, so assembling groups can be difficult.
On the bright side, in those games when playing PVE you tend to have specific group roles and thus it’s interesting to play and figure out how to overcome shortcomings that your “unbalanced” class may have.
In the games that are “well balanced” for PVP there will still always be a perception of a FOTM, though perhaps not quite so strongly, but then in PVE it’s just boring. The results of every fight are the same — every class has the same time to kill on a mob, takes the same amount of damage per encounter, and snooooorrrrrrreeeee. All that’s different is the various graphical effects, but nothing else is. On the PVE group play side, it’s usually a little easier to find the various roles needed to fill out a group since there’s less FOTM chasing, but like in solo play… everything’s the same, even the “squishies” can take hits pretty well since they have to be able to survive in PVP, so it overall feels far less challenging and like there’s less need for teamwork.
So yeah… overall…. I find that putting pvp into a pve game reduces my enjoyment of the pve in the same game since pve has to be watered down to cater to the pvp players who behave just like the scripted mobs anyway.