I recently wrote about about open world PvP, and why I felt it could really add something to a games experience, but mainly, I was simply interested in just what it is about PvP that puts so many people off. I was extremely grateful to receive a lot of feedback on this issue, and I thought it might be a good idea to try and synthesise some of these responses, and perhaps offer some of my own thoughts on the matter too. I also discussed this matter at length on the latest Contains Moderate Peril podcast, with guests Murf and Liore alongside Roger and myself, so please check that out too.
One of the things that struck me most from the replies I received from comments, other bloggers and on the podcast, was that exactly why people don’t enjoy PvP differs greatly from person to person. I think Belghast, in his excellent piece on the matter, summed up a fairly common position:
“When I sit down to play any game, be it online or offline I generally have some broad overarching goals in mind, things that I want to accomplish for that night to feel like I actually did something. Granted I allow myself to get side tracked all of the time, but that is generally tracing down various shiny bits that I happen across along the way. These rabbit trails are entirely my choice and I allow myself to indulge them as I move around the world. My key problem with open player versus player combat is the fact that someone is imposing their enjoyment on my playtime. “
In essence Belghast dislikes the notion that another player is able to interrupt his intended plans. I think we have to be a little careful with this argument, as it’s not a million miles away from making a case for removing failure states from games entirely, after all death is inconvenient right? However I suspect Belghast would not agree with that assessment, and that rather it’s the fact that it’s another person that is interrupting his plans that is the problem. And this for me captures something which cropped up in this debate again and again; that it’s the very idea that another player could so rudely impose upon another that seems to be at the core of the issue.
I can’t sympathise too much with this view personally, but I suspect it comes down to an irreconcilable personal difference in what equates to an enjoyable experience. You see what I find appealing about open world PvP is that it lends itself very well to player generated content. It also gives the world an unpredictable flavour. I enjoy the feeling that something out of my control might impact upon my experience, and the fact that impact may be a negative one doesn’t in anyway hamper my enjoyment. I’m willing to take a few knock backs in the name of fun, but the more I talk to others I realise that it’s not the knock backs that put them off, it’s the idea that they have no control over the knockbacks that is unappealing.
Aywren wrote another great piece on the matter, entitled Open World PvP and The Psychology of a Carebear. In it she mentioned up another fairly common stance:
“Sure, I had some fearful PvP experiences with my first real MMO. But what else is there that really makes me reject PvP so violently?
Personality, perhaps? I am a slightly competitive person (deep down… shhh….), but at the same time, I’m a perfectionist. I like to do things that I perform decently well at (PvE). Chances are, I wouldn’t be all that great at PVP. So, if I’m going to suck at it and get stressed over it… I’m just not going to do it. It’s not fun for me. I play MMOs for relaxation and enjoyment, not to feel stressed.”
I think a lot of people feel this way about PvP, and I have some sympathy. There’s no doubt that PvP can be intimidating, especially as we all tend to start out being pretty bloody terrible at it. I’m not sure there’s much that can be done about that except to do PvP and thus improve, but if the very idea is so much of a turn off it’s unlikely to be the case that you’ll practice until feeling confident and proficient. The fact is that a lot of people get stressed out about PvP. Heck I do too sometimes. Again, the fundamental difference is that I like feeling stressed out sometimes. That friction is a good thing for me, not a bad thing, and this again highlights the discrepancy in what we each find enjoyable.
One thing that also became clear during our discussion on the latest CMP podcast, is that sometimes what people find a turn off about PvP is quite psychological in nature. Some people simply don’t like being beaten. Being beaten by the game, by an algorithm, is one thing, but to be beaten by a person carries a whole extra weight of baggage. It carries the knowledge that you have been bettered by another, and this does provide a bit of a dent to the ego. Others simply feel that they are the butt of someone else’s joke, that the laugh is at their expense, and I think this is why people often see PvP as a sort of bullying. I’d argue that it isn’t bullying, anymore than punching someone in a boxing ring is, because after all we have all provided tacit consent to PvP the minute we log in to a game that offers it freely. But, that doesn’t seem to matter to much, as people feel like they are being mocked and picked on, and I can recognise that if you feel that why that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.
I’m really grateful to everyone who’s got involved in the discussion, and I feel I’ve learnt a lot about people attitudes to PvP. I’m absolutely not hostile to those who dislike PvP, and it’s genuinely been really fascinating to reflect upon what we each find compelling in the MMO space. The biggest thing I’ve learnt is that everyone has a different way of approaching this hobby, and sometimes what we’re looking for is very different.