PvP Discussion Follow-up


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.

What’s So Bad About Open World PvP?

archeage pirate ship

I think it’s pretty fair to say that PvP is PvE’s far less popular cousin in the overwhelming majority of (themepark) MMOs. Sure, most games offer some sort of instanced PvP, but it’s usually a sideshow to the ‘real’ game, and too much dev time being devoted to it is likely to cause consternation from the wider player base. And, what PvP is there is unlikely to be massively significant in terms of the rest of the game. Open world PvP is pretty uncommon these days, but the release of Archeage has brought it back into discussion with players who don’t normally opt for a playstyle often considered ‘hardcore’.

My own history with PvP is a little chequered. My first MMO was Guild Wars, but the first MMO I played with PvP was World of Warcraft. I rolled on a PvP server, and in fact open world PvP was the only kind that ever interested me. It felt organic, real, and far less contrived than battelgrounds. It was also much more welcoming to a complete PvP newcomer than the more hyper-competitive battlegrounds, where mistakes are not tolerated peacefully, noob or not. Sure, getting ganked is an inconvenience, but considering it’s almost entirely consequence free, it never bothered me to any great degree. I engaged in a little instanced PvP in Star Wars the Old Republic, but something about PvP for it’s own sake doesn’t really appeal to me. Also, there is only so much huttball you can play before you never want to hit that queue button again.

It wasn’t until I began my journey with Eve Online that I fully began to appreciate the beauty of open world PvP which takes place in an environment that provides palpable consequences for victory or defeat. More than anything though, it broke down that barrier that PvP is a hostile world full of nasty, evil people hoping to ruin your fun. Sure, someone may blow you up as you float through low sec, but speaking to them quickly dispels any notions of them being bad people, they are just playing the game their way. The thrill of your first few PvP encounters in Eve is a truly memorable thing. The shaking hands and heightened pulse, the sweaty palms and fumbled mouse clicks. It all feels so palpably ‘real’.


Shortly before Archeage release there was a lot of discussion, triggered in part by Syp over at Bio Break, about whether the game should run a PvE only server, in contrast to it’s current open world PvP setup. I must confess to being one of those firmly in the camp that believes that there are already a lot of games that offer PvE gameplay, and something different is what this genre really needs. But one thing this debate made me wonder is, what is so bad about open world PvP? I mean from what I can gather with a quick Google search, getting killed in a PvP encounter in Archeage offers no consequences for the loser unless they are on a trade run, in which case you lose your trade pack and the resources involved in obtaining that, and losing a boat to pirates whilst sailing effectively amounts to a repair bill.  This is in stark contrast to a game like Eve where every defeat means a lost ship and flying home in your pod. So, what exactly are people worried about with regard to Archeage? Having to walk from the respawn point?

I sometimes feel that what’s partly at play here is a sense that the people who kill you are doing so to spite you in some way. That you are the butt of someone else’s joke. A figure of fun for them. I may be totally off the mark here, but I sense that some seem to think that PvPers who gank people are not nice people, that they are people who are looking to ruin your evening. I genuinely believe that’s very rarely the case. Most times in a sandbox oriented game like Archeage, people are simply looking to achieve the goals that further enhance their own playstyle. I can understand why people may not want to partake in PvP if they simply aren’t interested in doing so, but if Archeage is a game that you’d like to play but the PvP aspect puts you off, does the possibility of getting ganked every now and again really completely outweigh any possible fun you might have the rest of the time you’re playing?

I’d really urge people who are on the fence about playing a game with open world PvP to give it a go. You might enjoy the thrill of real danger more than you expect. If that game is sandbox oriented like Eve or Archeage, maybe you’ll find yourself forming alliances and friendships to help protect you, or teach you to avoid danger. Maybe you’ll form groups of righteous vengeance to hunt down those who pray on the innocent. Maybe you’ll hire mercenaries or bounty hunters to bring a reckoning to those who’ve done you harm. Or maybe you’ll just end up liking PvP more than you thought. If not, that’s cool, but surely it’s worth a try?

LOTRO Academy

Tonight I am making a brief and temporary return to the fabulous LOTRO Academy. This Lord of the Rings Online podcast has been providing players with info, guides, and discussion points since 2010. I had the pleasure of being a co-host on the show for about 35 episodes, and had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun whilst doing so. In the end, I began to drift away from LOTRO and university took up more and more of my time, meaning it was time to say goodbye to the show.

I will be recording a small part with Branick this evening for their 100th episode! A remarkable feat for any podcast. Congratulations to Pineleaf, Mysteri, Draculetta and everybody else who has been involved with the show over it’s lifespan so far. Once again I’m impressed by the dedication and staying power of the LOTRO community even this deep into the games lifespan. I can only thank Branick for giving me my first role in a podcast, and without that I’d almost certainly never have become involved with the Contains Moderate Peril podcast, where I’m having a wonderful time.

So keep an eye out for the upcoming episode 100, it should be a good one!

A Moment of Weakness


I’ve been looking with some interest for a while now at The Repopulation’s development. Recently, they made a change to the level of backing required to access the games alpha from $150 to $100, as well as turning the alpha servers on full time and not just for occasional tester weekends. So, for the last couple of days I’ve been dipping in and out of the alpha, but of course, I can’t tell you anything about it at all because of the NDA which is in place. However what I can talk about is that odd feeling that comes over me sometimes when I suddenly become all consumed by the notion that I must have the thing I want, and RIGHT NOW damn it.

In truth I imagine this is partly why so many game offer up some form of paid alpha/beta, apart from the fact that people are demonstrably willing to pay for it, it is clear such offers do appeal to a certain kind of gamer who must have all the things, and I can be one of those sorts at times. I almost paid into the alpha a week ago, and the feeling that comes over me at such times is a little hard to describe, but I get almost sweaty palmed with the anticipation of having something I’ve wanted for so long. I’ve never spent this much on alpha access before, and it felt like a lot of money to speculatively throw at a game that I may not end up liking as much in practice as I did on paper, but in some sense I’m happy enough to support these kind of titles monetarily even if I don’t fall in love with the end product. I’m just pleased to see these kinds of games being made.

But, this overwhelming desire to buy games is a huge weakness of mine. It’s why my Steam library is populated with games I’ve barely touched since purchase. I often say that in some senses I’ve become more obsessed with buying games than actually playing them at this point. Sometimes it’s the more straight forward desire to get a good deal, the notion that I simply must buy this game now because it’s so cheap! It might never be this cheap again! This is patently nonsense, it will usually be cheaper at some point, but the pull of a good deal is a strong one. Other times it’s more like a feeling of desire that comes over me, and I feel as though I can barely resist a purchase. Luckily, I’ve actually reached the point where there are very few titles I know about and am hugely interested in that I don’t already own.

I know I’m not alone in this, and a basic glance at most people’s Steam libraries will tell you that folks tend to buy a lot more games than they play, but I think there’s a curious quirk of psychology at play here, and I’d be interested in whether any of you guys have a similarly overwhelming desire to buy games at times.

Did WoW Ruin MMOs?


A couple a days ago Sig over at Crucible Gaming put forward an interesting proposition; that he believes that World of Warcraft ruined MMOs by fostering solo play as the primary means of playing them. I have to confess, I started playing MMOs shortly after WoW launched, and I cut my teeth on Guild Wars before eventually trying WoW. So, as such I can’t claim the same level of first hand historical understanding of the early MMO market that so many in the blogging community can. But I do think WoW ruined MMO gaming, just not in quite the same way that Sig is putting forward, although I’m certainly sympathetic to his message.

To my mind, one of the greatest problems that WoW has created is a potential miscalculation in the level of interest there actually is in the MMO genre. No game has ever come close to matching WoW’s subscriber numbers which are currently around the 8 million mark, down from its height of around 12 million . Even games with huge launch hype and unbelievable budgets like SWTOR crow about selling a million boxes at launch. One million boxes. And that’s just boxes, not actual long-term subscribers. As this pattern repeats itself over and over again I think the question we have to ask is, do people want to play MMOs or do they want to play World of Warcraft.? Over the years I’ve begun to lean more and more towards the latter.

Sure, there are tons of MMOs out there now, but I don’t think that if you added the player bases of all of them together it would equal WoW’s peak subscriber numbers. But, big budget MMOs continue to launch and continue to fail to garner enough players to rival WoW or even come close. But of course, that hasn’t stopped many studios from trying to. That leads me to conclude one of two things: either that WoW is the greatest MMO ever made and nothing else can rival it, or there simply aren’t enough players willing to play other games, or at least not put down roots there so to speak. Based on my experience I simply have to agree with the latter.

Now of course it’s also entirely possible that the problem is that we simply haven’t had enough variety in the genre for people to feel the need to diverge from WoW. It’s certainly true that creativity has stagnated somewhat, and we’re still, ten years on, in the midst of the “like WoW but different because x” formula of MMO development. I’m entirely willing to accept that I may be completely wrong about this, but I simply believe that WoW achieved the status of cultural monolith and nothing will ever come close to that again. But because of it’s success and the budgets and expectations of MMO studios, we’ve ended up with a “play it safely, give them what they seem to want” sort of marketplace. That is what I believe has ruined MMOs.


Take  look at AAA gaming and you’ll see a lot of lowest common denominator let’s do what’s already popular sort of titles. This is in large part because the size of the investments required to make some of these game just do not allow for any risk taking. Another parallel can perhaps be drawn with the summer blockbuster movie market, which also offers extremely safe and rote output most of the times. Again, because the risk of failure is too great.

That is the position I believe the MMO market is in today, and that can only be improved by the proliferation of smaller independent titles as has happened in the wider games market in recent years, particularly on PC. I know I’ve argued this before, but that is what I believe the long term legacy of WoW has been; a stagnation of innovation in a genre that really needs some. I’m just not sure there will ever be enough players to create a WoW-like player base ever again, and maybe the people who continue to play WoW simply aren’t interested in playing any others, so let’s forget about them and move on.

TSW: Leaving Kingsmouth


I’ve finally done it. For the first time in my 3 attempts to play The Secret World, I’ve actually finished Kingsmouth! I’ve never quite gelled with the game enough to get through this first zone before, but this time I’ve found myself quite immersed in the experience. I have been taking it very slowly, with only a few play sessions a week, which I guess is demonstrated by the face it’s taken me about six weeks to get this far.

The unusually dense manner in which content is dispersed has also contributed. There’s a surprising amount to do in the first area, and it really isn’t all that big in landmass terms either. You can traverse the whole zone in a few minutes, but you will be spending a lot of time running back and forth through the same areas, which I have to say makes it somewhat inexplicable that enemies continue to aggro even when you’re considerably more powerful than them. It leaves me with the impression that it’s a design decision to slow players down a bit and throttle their progression through the storyline. But some missions like the investigation ones, and even a few from the main storyline, have an indeterminate completion time, simply because they rely on smarts not numbers to progress. The time taken to decipher a biblical quotation may vary! Some investigation missions have taken me hours to finish, but I never find them a slog and I usually don’t look up any walkthroughs unless I’m totally stumped and even then I just try and find a clue. So, some people may blast through Kingsmouth, but for me and the way I approach the game, it’s taken a while!


When I started playing The Secret World again my plan was to think of it as a single player game. This has helped my ability to not feel bad about only jumping in every now and again, and to feel like I can enjoy the game at a slow pace, hearing every line of dialogue, trying to complete every mission, and see every sight. I think this has been a big part of why I’ve had such a lot of fun with the game, but I can’t help but feel the draw of group content. I’m becoming more and more inclined towards finding a group of players I can join, but I don’t feel like I want to commit a lot of free time to scheduled grouping times. I’m keen to see the dungeon content though, just because I don’t want to miss out on any of the games storylines, so maybe I’ll just try some PUGs in the lower ‘level’ dungeons for now.

I’m really excited to really start digging into The Savage Coast, the games next zone. It looks very dark and moody, even more so than Kingsmouth, and the variety of enemies is a nice change after killing all the zombies all the time! The few characters I’ve met so far seem interesting, and it already looks as though the density of content in Kingsmouth is going to be mirrored in all of the other zones too. I’m also just starting to reach a point where I have more skills unlocked to start making better builds. I’m currently working on an affliction/penetration blood magic and blade build. It’s early days as I don’t have a lot of the skills I’ll need yet, but I’m pretty close to some build defining ones.


Overall, I’m still really enjoying the game, and a casual approach has helped greatly I feel. I may get around to giving some of the group content a try soon, but it depends if I get the opportunity. I’m still glad I’ve subscribed as the knowledge that I’m building up store currency to buy more content whenever I’m ready for it is nice, and the benefits are ok as well. An hour long XP booster you can use every sixteen hours, a 10% store discount, and a some free items and bonus points to spend on limited store items.

Feel free to add me, my character name is “Lucks” and I play on Arcadia, Templar side. And I still have so many zones and all the DLC to go!



Difficulty in games is something that has always interested me as a subject. Different people have differing approaches and attitudes towards difficulty, both with difficulty settings, and difficult games to learn or master. Some always play on  hard, some on easy, and I imagine most, playing on normal. Personally, I always try and play games on normal unless I get so frustrated butting my head against a wall that I have to revert to the easier settings. I don’t do this out of any misplaced sense of snobbery about playing on easy mode, but rather because I believe that normal difficulty usually represents the challenge and experience that the designers intended to create, and in good games challenge and experience are linked.

Of course some games change completely with different difficulty levels, sometimes introducing new mechanics, and perhaps simplifying or expanding existing ones. Take Dragon Age: Origins for example. In that game, whilst playing on normal, spell effects are capable of inflicting friendly fire damage onto party members. This encourages a degree of caution before you use large area of effect spells, whilst the easy setting removes this mechanic, thus vastly simplifying the magic system. Other games such as The Witcher 2 offer a more straight forward approach by simply giving enemies less health and inferior AI, to the point where you can hack and slash your way through them on autopilot, which differs greatly from the fast, movement orientated combat of the normal setting.

So, sometimes I think that by choosing to play on easy mode, you perhaps rob yourself of the games original vision, and in some cases, the complexities of the mechanics too. That’s not to denigrate those who choose to play this way. A few years ago I was living with a colleague when The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion was new, and between us we must have racked up hundreds of hours in that wonderful game. We would take it in turns to play, whilst the other manned the laptop and searched the wiki for secrets, ways around the all to frequent bugs, and in the end, to hunt down the remaining quests we had yet to complete. I have a lot of fond memories of us playing this game together. However one thing always irked me – my friends insistence on playing with the difficulty slider all the way down to the easiest setting. In Oblivion this meant that a single enemy was actually unable to kill you whilst you used the basic restoration spells. This was a great way to level up a couple of skills at once, but playing the whole game like this seemed an anathema to me. Surely to rob yourself of all challenge was to rob yourself of one of the thing games are meant to be about.


Then one day it dawned on me. We were both getting different things out of the game despite the apparently shared experience. Whereas she enjoyed the world, the setting and the questing aspects of the game, I enjoyed all those but only with the added threat of death and a failure state. I think this is usually the case for me, but I’ve begun to encounter games where perhaps narrative was a stronger draw for me than any challenge represented by the mechanics. I wrote recently on my inability to complete Mass Effect, due to a general feeling that minute to minute gameplay doesn’t come close to representing the quality of the storyline and the world presented. This is a good candidate for me to blaze through on easy mode, because I fundamentally don’t find the combat fun to begin with. In essence I’m seeking narrative from the experience, not challenge. Or not the kind of challenge combat represents anyway.

I’m at risk of sounding a little like the only kind of games are ones with combat, but the fact is most games lean heavily on the old ultraviolence as a means to control progression, and is usually one of the core things that difficulty levels affect that palpably alters the flow and progression of a game. Obviously I’d love there to be more games that were able to offer a more creative means of challenging the player than combat, but there are plenty of genres that do that, and I think we’re starting to see more and more of them as times goes on and the medium matures a little.

Some games of course have unusually hard difficulty, or are at least perceived as being difficult to learn or master. Dark Souls springs to mind immediately. It certainly is a tough game, but not only is that difficulty quite surmountable with a bit of practice or until the combat ‘clicks’, it actually represents an important part of the lore, story and mechanics of that game. This is one of the things that makes Dark Souls so unique, it melds these three elements perfectly, and the story is in large part told through the very nature of the mechanics. You play a cursed undead, unable to die, but each death draws the character closer to becoming ‘hollowed’; a mindless undead who has lost all humanity. This in a sense represents the players own struggles. Death has a draining effect on the character as written in the lore, and a draining effect on the player in reality. The souls you find lying amongst the corpses that are dotted throughout the world bear different names depending on how far into the game you have progressed, and thus the amount of souls awarded to the player for discovering them. At the very start of the game souls begin with titles such as “Soul of a Lost Undead” or “Soul of a Nameless Soldier”, whilst later ones read “Soul of a Proud Knight”, “Soul of a Brave Warrior” or “Soul of a Great Hero”. These items, and the corpses they are found on, can be said to represent players too, those who have gotten this far, and then given up. Frustrated by their journey they simply stopped playing, and thus their journey ended here.


Also Dark Souls difficulty is mechanically unique, in that enemies are tough not because they do insane damage and have large health bars, because usually they don’t. There are occasions where that is the case, but for the most part the enemies are challenging because they are reasonably intelligent. Even the earliest foes are entirely capable of seizing on your mistimed attack, or an overly aggressive approach, and killing you very quickly indeed.  Yet it cannot be denied that difficulty is one of the biggest turn offs for people who read or hear about Dark Souls, which I feel is a great shame because what’s on offer is a truly unique experience, but unfortunately one that only really hits home around 30 hours in, so it is true that you have to break through the wall to enjoy it.

I must admit that I sometimes approach difficult games with a mentality of simply wanting to master it for the sheer sense of achievement at doing so. Eve is certainly one of them. When I began playing, I sort of made it my ambition to understand it, just because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do so. That may sound silly, but at some level I feel that if you can make it in Eve with regards to complexity, then you can make it in pretty much anything that the MMO genre can throw at you. I played that game for 18 months, and can honestly say I only gained a reasonably proficient knowledge of, at best, 15% of what that game has to offer. But one of the things you do learn after a while, is that learning all of the systems in Eve is most certainly not required. If I’m living in low sec PvPing, I probably don’t need to know too much about T2 manufacturing. If I’m mining in high sec, I probably don’t need to read up on bubble mechanics in null sec. And if I’m living in null sec and engaging in a war, I probably don’t need to know about the rewards for exploration in high sec. So, mastery of all knowledge is unlikely to add much to your experience unless you have an army of alts. Whilst it certainly is a complex game, it’s a lot more manageable once you begin to break it down to the bits that are relevant to your immediate gameplay experience, which when you’re a new player in particular is likely to be quite limited.


But what cannot be denied about both Eve and Dark souls, is that as well as being mechanically difficult and complex, they both certainly obfuscate things more than is necessary. Dark Souls is almost deliberately obtuse at times. The tutorial does little more than teach you the controls, and explains none of the mechanics governing death, levelling up, becoming human, summoning players or being invaded. This is actually a design choice on the part of From Software, they obviously intended players to explore and discover, which is certainly mirrored in other parts of the game too. Also, an experience based on a sort of shared knowledge with both friends and other players online becomes a large part of the fun of unpicking the game.

The same can’t really be said for Eve however. Whilst Eve cannot avoid being complicated, such is the breadth of the game and the range of experiences on offer, but it could certainly be better at explaining how things work. Most of the knowledge players need to understand the game cannot be accessed from inside the actual game, with a lot of information stored on wikis or other websites. This is also what makes joining a corporation as a new player just as vital for learning how the game works through the shared experience of long term players, as well as it being an important anchor in the game and a gateway to much more fun experiences than the average high sec newbie engages in. Yet unlike From Software, I don’t believe this kind of obfuscation of mechanics was actually intended by CCP. It’s not a poetry of mechanics/lore/story and difficulty, it’s just a barrier to enjoying the game for a lot of people. I like overcoming difficulty because I believe it can often be a byword for depth in games, but also because I like figuring it all out. However, I can totally understand why it totally alienates people that you need to understand this, just to be able to truly know how firing your guns at a moving enemy works. And that knowledge has to be sought through means that the game client doesn’t offer. I guess on the spectrum of complexity for the sake of depth, and complexity for complexities sake, Eve is guilty of being a lot closer to the latter than the former.

I’m rambling a bit now, but as you can see, there’s lot’s to think about with regards to difficulty. I guess that I’d conclude that difficulty is a very important part of a games design, and that players approach it in ways that perhaps mirror what they want to gain from the experience over all.