PvP Discussion Follow-up

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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?

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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’.

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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?