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?