Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

31 October, 2006

Non-Combat PvP
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:24 PM

PvP tends to be a touchy subject. People with bad flashbacks of UO shiver at the mere mention of PvP. However, not all PvP must be in the form of combat between players or groups. Many games, even games that heavily restrict PvP combat, have competitions between players that fall in the realm of PvP.

I’ll talk about two obvious ones: Rankings and Economics.


One of the most basic was for people to compete is in rankings. EverQuest 2, for example, tracks various statistics for each player: how many monsters killed, how many times they have died, ratio of kills to deaths, number of quests finished, etc. Players can compete against each other in these rankings on their own server and even game-wide. Games should be tracking most of this information for internal use, anyway, so it should be easy to put in tables to recognize people for their behavior.

Of course, in many cases the players who have played the longest have a significant advantage over newbie players; gaining a meaningful position can be difficult if not impossible for new players. In some cases, measuring ranking over a limited amount of time can be more useful: most monsters killed in a certain week, most quests completed in one level, etc.

Note that whatever is measured will be explicitly encouraged by the game. This means that if the game measures and announces the number of kills, then people will do whatever they can to get the maximum number of kills to get a better ranking. The design of a game must carefully consider what is rewarded and if that is a behavior that should be strongly encouraged.


Almost every game has players competing against each other through the economy. Players who try to sell in-game goods or services to other players compete with each other. Knowing how to operate a business means dealing with competitors. The most direct competition is on price, but players can compete on other merits as well.

With the introduction of auction house in games, economic PvP has become more commonplace in games. Although players do not complain about this as much, it can have a significant impact on the game. A player with more business savvy can accumulate more resources than another player, which can cause some hurt feelings.

There are many other forms of PvP in games besides these. Not everything has to come down to combat, even in a combat-focused game.

What examples of non-combat PvP can you think of?


  1. The obvious one is politics.

    The non-obvious one is magical duelling, which can either be combative or non-combative. More important is that you’re not “slinging spells”; complexifying the process of duelling is a strong first step towards implementing it without feeling like it’s combat.

    Comment by Michael Chui — 1 November, 2006 @ 1:18 AM

  2. Sorry, but as a gamer, I have to ask, WTF?

    PvP via economics, via a stat of who harvested the most ore?

    Hell, I logged in more hours in the game then the other, where are my bragging rights?

    No, as a gamer, PvP is player versus player, then and there, at a single point in time. I am at heart a PvP player, sure I’m vindictive or an arrogant arse who relished killing someone who wields a bazooka with a knife.

    PvP as it stands in the games I’ve seen, it’s about that rush then and there. That bout of insipration that made my druid who was losing go cat form and drop off a cliff as my persuer follows and suddenly finds the landing damage gave me the advantage.

    PvP is the thrill that here, right now in the moment that I am playing, I win. Sure I lose in PvP, but I play to win, and that for me is what PvP is.

    What I get from what you wrote is that PvP is about stat whoring. Sure I’ll log in eagerly week on week to see how I’m doing, but that is a momentary one off stat whore high, which is more often then not achieved threw hard and very un-fun work.

    No, PvP is about the here, about the now. I just got backstabbed. For the next few minutes I HAVE TO WIN, and screw what it means to my stats.

    That being said, in the perfect game for me, players actions over time are directly responsible for the outcome of PvP.

    Established guilds often setup dedicated crafters initially that everyone supports. The people that support them rinse and repeat ad nausea task to get the materials. In the short run, said guild goes into PvP with this armor few have.

    But you know what?

    When I win I don’t think about the grind, or my armor, I think damn I’m glad I backfired his spell or what not.

    Another that being said. In my ideal game PvP would be a somewhat rare event, due to consequences of engaging in PvP. In that case the emphasis becomes the arms race.

    If I can engage in PvP every day with little penalty I don’t give a shit about the crafting or grind that was entailed to equip me.

    But, if I go into PvP where there are rules such as D&D HCR or whatnot, where what I am currently wearing will save me a from a severe penalty (not a release respawn) and if it took a long hard arms race slog to get there. Then, and only then will I say PvP was in crafting, economy or stats.

    I’m the sort of weird guy who relishes in PvP, but I believe the best PvP is the one that rarely happens.

    Yeah, its not a viable design concept maybe. But a PvP that I constantly am ready and prepare for, a PvP that rearly happens because the consequences are severe, that’s a PvP where I’ll thank crafter and grind and boring raids.

    And I made absolutely no sense. I’m currently engaged in PvP with a few six packs. I’m winning on the looting!

    You just said stat whoring was PvP. No. Whilst a PvP clans seeks to be the best over time, PvP takes place in the moment. Don’t equate people grinding a PvE raid to get something as competing as PvP. It’s just, well, insulting.

    PvP, it happens here, it happens now, and it’s over fast.

    On a completely unrelated note, my .rss feed from your site stopped working in my bloglines for about a month.

    Comment by unbeliever — 1 November, 2006 @ 1:49 AM

  3. At the risk of being an old fuddy-duddy, I’ll resurrect an old argument and say that you’re talking about Player Killing (PK), whereas I’m referring to Player vs. Player (PvP). PK is all about the adrenaline high and the zen of the moment. PvP is about a conflict between players. It could be stat whoring, or a brilliant strategic move, or simply being a better player. Note that PK is definitely a subset of PvP, but PvP isn’t just PK. This article is to explore some of those other forms of PvP that might be in games. For some of us that don’t need the adrenaline high to remind us that we’re alive, we enjoy these other forms of conflict just as much. ;)

    Some further thoughts,

    Comment by Psychochild — 1 November, 2006 @ 4:33 AM

  4. High-school bitchfests. Ultimate PvP challenge, no rules.

    Comment by Cael — 1 November, 2006 @ 5:01 AM

  5. unbeliever, no, “I gathered x” is not really PvP.

    But…take Eve. A complex economy with pricing subtlety, off market deals, industrial esionage, warbuying (buying up all the materials of a certain sort in an area, and placing them back on for a higher price the day before a war), etc.

    Logistics and business are just as important as PKing to the big Eve alliances for success in warfare.

    Of course, Eve’s dropped the ball in a lot of other ways (been marginally playable due to server issues for months, PvP balance is going out the window entirely with the next patch, etc.). But it’s still interesting..

    Comment by Andrew Crystall — 1 November, 2006 @ 6:06 AM

  6. If you haven’t had an adrenaline rush from economic PvP it’s because you’ve never played the game.

    Comment by Brask Mumei — 1 November, 2006 @ 7:21 AM

  7. For the sake of debate, let’s just ignore unbeliever’s distraction and accept Brian’s vision of PvP as anything that allows players to compete against each other. If you want a very good example of what Brian’s talking about, check out ToonTown’s ‘Top Toons’ Page (only works in IE) which is filled with such data. ToonTown isn’t the sort of game that one thinks of when Player vs. Player game elements are discussed — but it’s definitely part of the game, and people definitely work hard to get their name in the rankings… Plus it also serves as a good example of many different ways PvP can be waged.

    I’m actually more interested in a game where PvP on multiple levels is fully explored. The more competition with other players I can have, the more dynamic the experience will be. Look at those big scams in EVE. That’s awesome! Economic subterfuge, very deep gameplay, lots of roleplay (without the fake accents), and all kinds of intrigue. EVE is almost an ARG with a computer only interface…

    What else can be done? I think the question is too broad to really answer. The answer is ‘anyting’ and ‘everything’ to be honest. Speed leveling charts (fastest to Level X) can be a way that even newbies could stand a chance of showing up against old fogies. Horse races in a fantasy game, car races in another. Heck, to encourage kind play in a game create a chart that shows who did the most healing, cast the most buffs, etc. This is a great way to yield double results from one item. It adds a competetive measure to the game, and encourages a better community. That’s a good thing eh?

    Comment by Grimwell — 1 November, 2006 @ 8:02 AM

  8. Playable subgames in game would be cool, didn’t UO have cribbage and chess sets laying around in the taverns? It would be especially nice if there were tools to generate rankings. Server wide tournements would probably be an event that would be relatively easy to pull off. Naturally you’d want titles and maybe special items as rewards for the participants. I supose you could even create unique games like a collectable card game type thingy where the players could buy booster packs from merchants with in game gold, or recieve them as loot. The danger of doing something like that would be that the thing could go from engaging sub game to broken resource hog in an astonishingly short time. But it would be a nice way for a level one newb to take on and defeat a level 60 max equipped veteran.

    Comment by Agmon — 1 November, 2006 @ 8:22 AM

  9. I used to act as a bookie in duelling tournaments. People would ask who won afterwards, and i’d have to lie and tell them who was still standing. Because i won, every time. The House always wins.

    Comment by Cael — 1 November, 2006 @ 9:04 AM

  10. “I gathered x” is not really PvP”

    If I wanted to gather x and can’t because you did then it’s PvP.
    Heck, if I want to kill mob x and can’t because you’re camping
    the static spawn it becomes PvP. If you don’t believe me try it in
    a game some time and watch the chat…

    Comment by JuJutsu — 1 November, 2006 @ 12:32 PM

  11. The real estate/resource gathering battles of SWG were great PvP.

    I’d track resources, names, quality, shift times, locations, etc.
    Who could predict the shift best and who could find the newest best resource and where the highest concentration was.
    Was the resource unobstructed, did you choose to go for the smaller harvester to fit into that one small patch of free ground, or find a lower % spot and drop the heavies. The despair at showing up at a high quality 70% plus location to see a field of heavies already sitting there.

    Comment by BugHunter — 1 November, 2006 @ 1:13 PM

  12. To quote a gaming bitch.

    Humans are designed to be competitive by nature. We are wired to achieve the best in all things we attempt, but it doesn’t mean that we deliberately go up against someone else and destroy them, it just means that we push ourselves twice as hard to achive that coveted first place, job, or wedding dress.

    PvP cannot and should not be applied to any and every competition.

    Is my guilds ability to carry out a raid vs a hard dungeon (say MC in WoW) PvP?

    Psycho says it is.

    Is my competition within a guild to DKP and get armor PvP?

    Psycho says it is.

    Is posting ad nausea on forums to get a better rank and post count PvP?

    Psycho says it is.

    Competition is not PvP, the want to be the best is not PvP,

    If what psycho says is right, I’m looking to see a game that’s all round PvE selling itself as PvP.

    I posted three times in this topic, as such, in terms of posting, I beat you all in PvP because my ideas, arrogance, stupidity was bigger then yours.

    Comment by unbeliever — 1 November, 2006 @ 10:41 PM

  13. Is my guilds ability to carry out a raid vs a hard dungeon (say MC in WoW) PvP?

    It is, but in a very weak way for your example in WoW. Being known as one of the top guilds to master a raid dungeon is a PvP activity, because you are competing with other players for a position. This is more pronounced in EverQuest and the contested spawns in EverQuest 2 because you are competing directly with another group else to get in there and do the content; I can’t see how you can argue that this isn’t PvP.

    Is my competition within a guild to DKP and get armor PvP?

    Yes, but this isn’t usually determined by the game. This is a PvP scenario that your guild has developed in parallel with the game. As a game designer, I have little control over this system, therefore I am not particularly interested in this form of PvP.

    Is posting ad nausea on forums to get a better rank and post count PvP?

    Yes, although this is, once again, not within the context of the main game. At least in my opinion, Raph would disagree. But, anyway, you are still competing with another user.

    Honestly, PvP doesn’t have to involve combat. You’re going to be really confused when games come down the pipe which don’t focus primarily on combat, hmm? I think this is also why a lot of people confuse the “Killer” in Bartle’s primitive types. One of the people I used to play with on text MUDs was a Killer, but she never entered into combat with other players. Instead, she was the domineering mother type that had to know what you were doing and wanted to try to fix things in your personal life. She wanted control over other people, just like a Killer does.

    You can disagree, but that doesn’t change the fact. ;)

    Comment by Psychochild — 2 November, 2006 @ 12:16 AM

  14. I want to point out two systems that are PvP.

    1) Diablo 2 hardcore. Having a high level character made a statement about skill AND time investment. A pimped out high level was a thing to be proud of.

    2) Puzzle pirates. It’s true, competitive tetris or bust-a-move IS PvP. Players directly compete from 1v1 to huge guild battles.

    There are still a lot of ‘alternative forms of combat’ which have not yet been fully explored. For instance, the latest Tetris game for the nintendo DS has online rankings… that’s PvP boys and girls.

    Comment by Rusty — 6 November, 2006 @ 2:54 AM

  15. Progression competitions.

    As it stands, using WoW as my example, I’m in one of the two highest Horde guilds on the server, who are both in the top 8 guilds in Naxxramas progression (according to

    There’s a constant unspoken (although sometimes spoken) urge to strive to do better then the other guild, to have better progression, and so on. Small, subtle jabs to one another are done all the time.

    I’d say that’s a form of PvP, albiet an indirect one.

    I still prefer axe-to-skull PvP, myself.

    Comment by Nonentity — 9 November, 2006 @ 9:23 AM

  16. I don’t mean to advertise, but just present an example of non-combat PvP of which Psychochild describes:
    The above hyperlinks to an article which describes the rankings of various activities within a game world. This game world only has one persistant instance, and has no NPCs (yet). The only way to get current standings is via newspaper found in game. Achievement badges can be won by reaching certain levels within each activity. The top two levels of badges grant XP, and thus promote activity outside of a PvP aspect. Not all activities monitored have badges (pill consumed being the only one excluded). And there is a trend where not having any value in a particular stat is valued. For example there are competitions to see how long one can stay alive without having a single death recorded. Others (healers) value not having any damage or kills recorded. And thus players compare and compete with each other on these activities.

    I’m not really an economy major (nor a minor either), so I can’t really comment on the econ scene. But I can say that they is a small level of econ PvP happening. The game is still in its early stages, so some behaviours have yet to emerge and fully develop.

    -Nathan J.

    Comment by Nathan Johnston — 10 November, 2006 @ 9:51 PM

  17. Weekend Design Challenge: Economics

    [...] I’ve touched briefly on this topic before in previous post: Fun (via Economics) and Non-Combat PvP where I discuss economic competition is one form of competition between [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild’s Blog — 24 June, 2007 @ 2:49 AM

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