Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

20 February, 2007

PvP lessons from multiple games
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 5:34 AM

Scott has an article on PvP over on his site where he talks about PvP in terms of “gang warfare”. An interesting topic where he pulls examples from multiple games.

Yeah, it’s a PvP article, so I have to respond. Don’t I?

The inspiration for Scott’s post was a PvP topic over on the lovably gothy f13 boards. The main thrust seems to be the fact that PvP either involves one group going after another, or one person going after another. Scott seems to interpret that people want something more, so he goes digging through previous games to evaluate how they do PvP and seeing what worked and what didn’t.

It’s interesting to note that most people in the original thread don’t seem to be too optimistic. Most people seem to take it for granted that gang warfare is the default mode for PvP. As the poster “lamaros” wrote, “What else can PvP be? This topic is silly.”

It’s interesting that Scott doesn’t mention what more it could be directly. In the past people talked about having an epic PvP encounter, something that would feel like a real war instead of a petty gang battle. Hundreds of people lined up across a battlefield, ready to charge at an instant’s notice. Watching the big battle from Braveheart gives you a good idea of what people had talked about in the past.

Of course, the problems here are twofold. The first problem is technology: a huge battle involving a few hundred people tends to make all the software involved cry in pain. Servers grind to a halt trying to manage all the calculations between the players while clients grind to a slideshow trying to show all the units and the pretty sparkly effects. The second problem is, as the name of Scott’s blog reminds us, people are broken.

And, the people are the core of the problem. Even if you had the hundreds of people lining up for a grand battle, the stealthers would sneak into enemy camps to one-shot sitting enemy casters then sneak away after re-stealthing. Hackers would teleport into the middle of the enemy camp and lay waste, probably remaining unscathed due to a speedhack cheat that makes them unbeatable. And the healers would sit around feeling useless since fights either don’t last long enough or drain mana so fast they become easy prey. And, of course, the global chat would be filled with people trying to figure out who has the “gayest mom” (thank you, Barrens chat, for that lovely phrase).

Scott points out that the more recent, successful PvP games have taken a step to remove this. DAoC removed communication between opposing realms, just as WoW has done. This eliminated the trash talking that become a routine part of the open PvP experience. Unfortunately, I think this also hinders the real possibility of PvP becoming anything more than gangs beating on each other. After all, what really separates a large war from a small-time gang fight? Politics. And without meaningful communication, politics falls flat.

(This isn’t to say that people didn’t communicate in these games. Scott points out that people communicate just fine after the fact on bulletin boards. And, while I was playing, there was a protocol for two sides getting together to farm realm points by engaging in a series of emotes. Fun times, fun times.)

Further, not every play experience is the same. For example, back when I played DAoC back in the olden days, we never went after relics. Most of our RvR activity was lining up near Emain Macha and standing just outside the FIREY DEATH RANGE of the NPC guards near the enemy strongholds. We’d taunt each other, trying to lure people just close enough to get a kill before the NPCs obliterated us. I’ve heard that a greater focus on relic raids later really helped change the nature of the game, but in the early days you really didn’t see much that was amazingly different than what you found in other games. It only required different tactics to avoid the safety measures intended to keep things from becoming a one-sided gankfest.

Perhaps it’ll be interesting to take a look at Meridian 59, a game that Scott doesn’t mention. Most people that enjoyed M59′s PvP assert it is one of the best systems (of course, this is not a unique claim among PvP fans, they tend to like a certain game enthusiastically). In the beginning, the game was open, unrestrained PvP. The developers learned quickly this was not a good idea, so they introduced protections for newbies and status to try to separate out the gankers from the decent folk. There was also a scenario that allowed people to focus their efforts into supporting specific political factions (organized nation states, if you will). Of course, the grudge kill was still the most popular activity.

Later we added more features to enhance the consensual nature of PvP: mutual guild wars, faction shield (a type of PvP switch with rewards), even a streamlining of the political faction rules. But, these systems proved not to be terribly popular with the players. They complained at the perceived increased punishment for murderers (those that have killed other innocents), indicating the popularity of the grudge fights. People avoided the consensual PvP scenarios because it was too dangerous to be a fair target, it was better to kill your target when the opportunity presented itself rather than face a “fair fight”.

And, I think this is another one of the main obstacles for having PvP that doesn’t feel like gang warfare. In our achiever-focused games, the goal is to gain every advantage possible before you engage an enemy. Gameplay aspects like having a higher level, jumping a weakened enemy, or using the latest BS power (scheduled to be nerfed in an upcoming patch once everyone starts using it) are routine. So, you won’t get Braveheart, you get the alternate scenario I outlined above.

Another interesting consequence of the M59 PvP system is that it heavily encouraged betrayal. I think this is one of the most disastrous effects of the game, because betrayal hits hard. Some people really hate betrayal (it’s one of the few things I’ll hold a grudge about in the offline world), and it still stings even if it is entirely in an online world. Some people accepted as part of the game, but other people stopped trusting new players, disrupting the social fabric which welcomed new players into the game. For some people, every new face was just another person that could betray them and their friends, so they were shunned. I saw a number of people quit the game due to the unfortunate choosing of a name that was too much like a rival’s name.

A friend of mine also mentioned the issue of the sting of death and how that affects PvP. Early games such as UO and M59 had pretty harsh penalties: losing your inventory and usually losing some statistics. The trend more recently has been to reduce death penalties as much as possible. The harsh death penalties of earlier games made the battles meaningful: winning or losing had grave consequences for your ability to play the game in many cases. Of course, this has a darker side, where it was easy for a character to get ruined after a string of bad luck or good enemies. It’s easier to manage PvP in a game like WoW, but the battles quickly become meaningless. Resurrecting and jumping back into the fray around Tarren Mill was mindless fun, but it dried up as soon as there were more structured PvP events with real rewards to earn.

So, focusing on the challenge Scott issues at the bottom, how can we change from ganking to something more sophisticated?

The simple answer is: something has to change. Unfortunately, not all changes are equally good.

I think one of the best changes would be to have people that aren’t completely self-absorbed and willing to do just about anything to win. The afternoon game of hoop is more fun than the game that decides your career in athletics. Of course, expecting your audience to change is just asking for crying.

I think that more structured PvP elements are more successful than unstructured elements. The different battlegrounds in WoW had significant popularity, at least when they were first released. I think that channeling the urge to destroy your opponents and rewarding the scenario is probably the best we can hope for. But, for most of the hard-core PvP fans, this isn’t enough. Unfortunately for the hard-core fans, their preferred style of gameplay tends to be less profitable.

I also think that, as designers, we need to take a look at what is rewarded in PvP scenarios. Sometimes people just want to win because they want the prize dangled before them. But, if we don’t reward the behavior, then you will not get as much beneficial participation. You’ll get griefers out there killing people just to hear the virtual screams. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do to discourage this behavior beyond putting layers upon layers of restrictions; and, in the end, this just makes the system more complicated and easier for someone to exploit. Blue healers, anyone?

What is your thoughts on PvP? Is it doomed to be gang warfare, or can we design more sophisticated systems?







27 Comments »

  1. I think to be successful a PvP game needs to have several things:

    1. Organizational structures
    One of the main reasons EVE has done so well has been that people could form guilds and guilds could form alliances, and these were clearly noted in game so you knew who your friends were and who your enemies were.

    2. Territorial control
    Whether it’s for a player nation/alliance/guild or for NPC factions, there has to be a way to put a stake in the ground and say “this is ours. Try and take it”

    3. A player-crafted economy
    The reason economy is so important to letting PvP pass beyond gang warfare, as Scott puts it, is that it gives you a reason to take and hold territory. To enable nation-play, you want wars to be fought over mining rights and trade routes. This lays the foundation for politics later.

    4. Protection for newbies
    You’ve got to give people time to get into the game before you let everyone else loose on them. Games that don’t do this end up running prospective players off due to grief play.

    5. Limited communication
    Hardcore players will love to talk trash, but for the vast majority of players, it really detracts from the overall experience.

    6. Noncombat jobs that go beyond providing simple equipment
    Players should be engaged in noncombat activities to support their side of a conflict. Building bases and fortifications, clearing the nearby gold mines of monsters and patrolling for bandits, running supply caravans from the capital out to the fortress, and so on.

    7. A diplomacy system
    Whether it’s NPC factions or player nations, there should be a way to formally declare war or peace, set up an alliance, create trade treaties, demand or pay tribute, and so on. This combined with all of the above will give players the impetus to start nation-building. Sure, in the beginning your game world will look pretty barbaric; nations will go to war at the drop of a hat to force other nations into treaties, or to take what they want. But as things progress and nations get more establishied, you’ll see a shift in strategy over time.

    8. As much actual “warfare” as you can get
    The technology part is hard, but if you can incorporate siege weapons, fleets, large numbers of troops, or something into the game, it really will help take battles beyond simple gankfests. Especially if you can provide enough tactical benefit to get players to fall into traditional roles like cavalry, infantry, artillery, and so on.

    Comment by David (Tal) — 20 February, 2007 @ 6:00 AM

  2. I agree completely with Tal.

    Incidentally, i don’t know where Scott got his “Player skill should not be a factor” bit from – it seemed to have absolutely zero bearing on anything else he posted and was also wrong ;)

    The really important thing is the time. It really shouldn’t be possible for a player to be an economic powerhouse AND a full-time warrior through time constraints and practicality. I suppose games naturally try to codify this in “classes” but that just leads to altaholism. Practical inability to sustain that effort is the only real way, along with loss of credibly both as a warrior and a crafter if one attempts to be both.

    Comment by Cael — 20 February, 2007 @ 6:48 AM

  3. Proof of Life

    [...] So. PVP post (link). PVP post tomorrow (link). PVP post tomorrow which dovetails nicely with my previous posts on perma-death in the MOG space (link). Go do your homework and come back tomorrow, ready to argue. [...]

    Pingback by Man Bytes Blog — 20 February, 2007 @ 7:58 AM

  4. “Incidentally, i don’t know where Scott got his “Player skill should not be a factor” bit from – it seemed to have absolutely zero bearing on anything else he posted and was also wrong ;)”

    I think he was right. Just so we’re on the same page….

    “Lesson learned from Counterstrike: skill-based PvP has it’s place. That place is not an MMO. The tyranny of a skill-based elite is only compounded by the permanence of the MMO. As seen with the popularity and success of the Camelot zergs, people can be successful as part of a massive team, but that success wears down if that team can be wiped off the map by 5 really super guys.”

    What % of players are skilled? Lets set it at 20%…20% of the players get 80% of the kills as the saying goes. Unless you want a really niche game you need to have someway of countering the small number of very skilled players. You need a rock/paper/scissors setup of some kind. That’s one of the things I like about Planetside…there’s no one uber-build that always trumps.

    “3. A player-crafted economy
    The reason economy is so important to letting PvP pass beyond gang warfare, as Scott puts it, is that it gives you a reason to take and hold territory. To enable nation-play, you want wars to be fought over mining rights and trade routes. This lays the foundation for politics later.”

    There has to be a reason to take and hold territory but it doesn’t have to be an economy. I’ve become more of a fan of PvP/PvE segregation not by server but by game.

    Comment by JuJutsu — 20 February, 2007 @ 8:22 AM

  5. Jujutsu said:

    “There has to be a reason to take and hold territory but it doesn’t have to be an economy. I’ve become more of a fan of PvP/PvE segregation not by server but by game.”

    What sort of incentivies would work to enable nationplay though? It would need to be something that gives the players ownership. An economy does that. Something simple like “If your side controls this territory tanks are cheaper” doesn’t have as much draw as “If your side controls this territory, your engineers can use the iron there to make stronger tanks”.

    Comment by David (Tal) — 20 February, 2007 @ 8:38 AM

  6. I really liked the attempt by games like Savage and the Battlefield series to turn a bunch of disorganised soloers into small squads with objectives. A lot of people ignored it, possibly because you don’t get really rewarded for joining in. But every time you got two veteran commanders and several squads of teamplayers together, the battles became legendary.

    I want that in an MMO. I hoped that Alterac Valley in Warcraft would of provided something similiar. With all the talk about how people could help the main cause by getting supplies, different graveyards and objectives to capture. Unfortunately it just ended up being a tug-of-war, with zerglings. Likewise with Arathi Basin. I think the key missing component was purpose. The only purpose to capturing things was to take the battle forward. No reward for defending, No reward for teamplay.

    Another idea on the war-front. At the moment a common battlefield is one instance, running on a server with a given number of people. I always wondered what would happen if you linked them. e.g. gave a common goal that several servers are supporting, but in different scenarios.

    So the goal is, ‘siege the castle.’ We have three scenarios going: 1) Supply Lines, 2)Storming the gates and 3) Arming the Troops.

    Each of those is a seperate, but connected instance. Each has it’s own goals. The unique element is that you can move from instance to instance. And that events in one instance affect events in the other. So successfully competing in the Supply Lines Scenario provides those in the Storming scenario with useful supplies like medicine. I’m sure there are tons of different shared bonuses in both directions. Players are informed of these events by suitable announcements and rewarded for successes.

    People are then part of a more sophisticated war, without actually changing a huge amount in server architectures.

    Comment by Jpoku — 20 February, 2007 @ 9:07 AM

  7. “What sort of incentivies would work to enable nationplay though? It would need to be something that gives the players ownership. An economy does that. Something simple like “If your side controls this territory tanks are cheaper” doesn’t have as much draw as “If your side controls this territory, your engineers can use the iron there to make stronger tanks”.”

    A simple [i.e. could be improved] version exists in Planetside – if you control x you have access to weapon y. I’m more of a PvE player than a PvP player so I may be wrong here but it seems that the PvP enthusiasts don’t want to buy stronger tanks from engineers with access to iron from territory x. They just want the tanks [or stronger tanks].

    I know it’s anecdotal but my worst experiences with PvP [directly and indirectly] were in games that tried to to cover both PvP and PvE. My best experiences with PvP was in Planetside. No crafting, no economy; designed for PvP and nothing else. In games with separate servers there were still problems with inconsistencies between rulesets, a fix on one causes a problem on the other.

    Comment by JuJutsu — 20 February, 2007 @ 12:59 PM

  8. I dunno, I think that PvP players are going to have a more meaningful experience if they have something to fight for; civilians to protect, that sort of thing. I know in EVE if it weren’t for the insanely robust and deep economy, PvP would simply be roving gangs of pirates fighting each other and ganking passerby, ala Ultima Online.

    Comment by David (Tal) — 20 February, 2007 @ 2:44 PM

  9. A few comments. I’m going to quote David here, but just because he was the first fool to speak up. ;)

    David (Tal) wrote:
    1. Organizational structures

    On the other hand, this can be problematic. As they’re discussing over on the comments to Scott’s blog, Shadowbane had great organizational structures, and that actually worked against them; the mega-guilds organized and took over. Some inefficiencies for large scale help keep things from degenerating into “one huge group dominates all” that really kills good PvP.

    2. Territorial control

    I think this can be generalized into “give incentives and goals.” Territory doesn’t always make sense.

    3. A player-crafted economy

    Again, you want incentives. This is just more incentive for taking and controlling territory.

    4. Protection for newbies

    It’s more than just protection, though. It’s a well-known fact that players who don’t get involved in the social fabric tend to leave the game easier. If your new player talks to a friendly player, they are much more likely to stick around. So, you have to have incentives for players to welcome newbies, even if they pose the possibility of betrayal as I mention in the post above.

    5. Limited communication

    I have to disagree here. As I said, the reason DAoC and WoW will never evolve past the “gang warfare” mentality is because of the limit communication. Some of the most interesting times in M59 was trying to negotiate a peace or alliance with other guilds. You had additional incentive to try to gain allies because your allies would usually at least get out of the way. In a game with strict sides and no way to communicate (and no direct way to enact diplomacy), you lose a lot of what makes PvP more than just a gankfest.

    On the other hand, limiting communication (and, by extension, enforcing specific teams) does help the game. It gets rid of some of the worse aspects of people insulting each other’s mother, and it provides ready-made allies. As someone mentioned in the comments to Scott’s blog, it is kind of neat to have a reason to jump in and help some “allies” even if you don’t know the individuals that you are helping out at the time.

    6. Noncombat jobs that go beyond providing simple equipment

    The problem is that these are seen as the boring jobs. Everyone wants to be seen as the sword-swinging (or gun-firing) hero, not peon #2362 clearing away scrublands to expand the central HQ. In M59, you needed fresh supplies of equipment and spell reagents to keep fighting. One of the design goals was to allow one enemy to win by attrition, and to make acquiring supplies a factor in winning a protracted battle. But, in the end, people just complained about how much “farming” they were forced to do in order to get to the “fun part” of PvPing. I think you’d run into the same problem here: if the non-combat jobs are required to participate in the game, then you’re going to have people complaining about being “forced” to do those jobs. If they’re not required, then people will ignore them and the gankfest will ensue.

    7. A diplomacy system

    This is in direct conflict with #5 above. You must have some forms of open communication in order to have real diplomacy.

    You could do a minor compromise where one set of skills a player could acquire is “diplomacy”, which would allow them to “learn the language” of the opponents. So, if you meet an enemy party in the middle of the woods, someone with the diplomacy skillset could engage in a parley. Of course, this opens it up to abuse where someone takes some basic skills just to shout, “no ur mom is gayer!”

    8. As much actual “warfare” as you can get

    One reason I didn’t mention above is that actual, formal warfare is pretty boring. It’s mostly milling around, organizing, and waiting for the orders to come down the line, with a few minutes of sheer terror on occasion. Organizing a group of 20 people is tough, organizing a group of 40 people pushes the limits of capability. 100 people? 200 people? We’re in the realm of fairy tales here, I fear. Most people just want to get in there and fight, which means that the gang warfare model is better.

    Some thoughts.

    Comment by Psychochild — 20 February, 2007 @ 3:17 PM

  10. Eliminate the power that a ‘level’ or special equipment gives. Reduce all characters to the same ability level and let skill decide. Yes, this means I disagree with Scott and invoke those who will remind me that this means I want to turn a PVP MMO into a mindless shooter because there is no advancement.

    Thing is, there can be, just not in the name of your character. Let it be for something larger. Let players form organizations and advance their order (Like EQ2 status grinding for guild levels). Let the organization gain power and ability due to the actions of the players, but don’t reward the players with more hit points and power than other players.

    By doing that, you create a motivation to play that can last longer than one session (the flaw with FPS, it’s ephemeral at best). Then be sure to pit those organizations against each other (limit a resource) so you can have conflict. Now you’ve got people who want to advance their order in conflict with others who have the same goal for a different order.

    Some may say that Shadowbane did this, but the ability for one order to dominate fully shows that there was a weak spot in their chain. I’ll be damned if I know the solution, but I do think they had the best basic approach to it (level meant squat, and it was the group work that mattered).

    Skill isn’t all that much of a problem if you take twitch out of the game. You can’t really compensate for the difference between two players when one of them is just tactically smarter (knows the game better, and basic strategy, etc.), thus it becomes a non-concern provided that the superior tactic isn’t a horrid abuse of your design.

    Comment by Grimwell — 21 February, 2007 @ 12:10 AM

  11. Some comments on your thoughts:

    6. Noncombat jobs that go beyond providing simple equipment

    The problem is that these are seen as the boring jobs.

    They are seen as boring typically because they have nothing to do with PvP. And you get nothing for them. I think it should be reworded as, “Alternative Combat Jobs.”

    So make jobs where PvP combat still happens. If people need to get resources, they need to fight to hold a resource control point. The role needs to have significant combat and as you say, significant rewards, in order to be interesting.

    I’ll go back to Alterac Valley in WoW – there’s a resource collection quest. Collect 15 items from NPCs in a mine, and return them to get a bunch of NPC’s that help the frontline. What’s wrong with that scenario? Why don’t people do it?

    1) Player’s are fighting NPC’s, not other players.
    2) The reward gained is insignificant to the individual player.
    3) You have to repeatedly return to the same location to keep up the reward.
    4) It’s silly to have nonPvP jobs in a PvP environment.

    They should of made the mine a control point that you hold and get NPC’s every 60 ticks or so. On top of that, by being at the control point you should get a reward. Possibly a supply badge that you can turn in.

    8. As much actual “warfare” as you can get

    One reason I didn’t mention above is that actual, formal warfare is pretty boring. It’s mostly milling around, organizing, and waiting for the orders to come down the line, with a few minutes of sheer terror on occasion. Organizing a group of 20 people is tough, organizing a group of 40 people pushes the limits of capability. 100 people? 200 people? We’re in the realm of fairy tales here, I fear.

    I have to disagree on that one. It should be possible using a hierarchy determined either by volunteering or auto-determined from playstyle, I think you could work up to organising a 100 people. Mostly by abstraction. The field commander sees all the blocks of troops rather than individuals, and lays out some strategies. The squadron commander can see several troops of individuals. The group commander see’s their troops as individuals but other squads as blocks. It doesn’t have to be formal warfare because unlike formal warfare, when you die you respawn. You can quite happily have several PvP objectives happening at the same time.

    It wouldn’t work easily though – The real difficulty I would imagine is getting people to *want* to play in a team. This is the same problem that arises in PvE. Why play in a team when you can solo. The other difficulty is balance. How do you make sure that every objective is important enough for people to want to do it?

    Comment by Jpoku — 21 February, 2007 @ 4:40 AM

  12. Baking Muffins to Crush?…

    In a recent post on Scott Jennings’ blog, Lum and his many avid readers have done a bang-up job of hitting upon most of the factors necessary to including successful and fun PvP into your (probably hypothetical) MMOG. In a thinly-veiled attempt …

    Trackback by pkurflax.org — 21 February, 2007 @ 5:22 AM

  13. There is a place that PvP works beautifully, and is part of the core of the design. I personally no longer play, mainly because I do not have the time investment available. WoW, I can jump into for half an hour, turn in three quests, grind a few mobs and then leave. Half an hour in this game isn’t really enough time to get a good session started.

    http://www.puzzlepirates.com

    The name is the same as the address, Puzzle Pirates. You are a pirate. You sail around with other pirates, intercepting and boarding bot-driven ships to take their loot. If you’re feeling up to it, you can also do the same to players- but if you attempt to engage someone too far below your skill level (and I did say skill level, the game doesn’t even incorporate levels!) then you run the risk of an unbeatable bot showing up, beating you to a pulp, and leaving with most of your gold and consumables. If the other player truly does not want to risk engaging in PvP, most intelligent ship captains can stay out of range for the required 10 rounds of battle to disengage and continue on their way.

    For a beginner, the game is only slightly more complex than Bejeweled or one of dozens of fun, mindless little java-based web games. In order to accomplish a task that keeps the pirate ship afloat, moving and fighting, the player must continually maintain a certain level of proficiency in their assigned minigame. Bored players can switch out with others on the same ship. When the captain of the ship boards another ship, all players stop and engage in a Tetris-like combat game.

    Intermediate players learn the quick-paced, more difficult and critical puzzles required to first keep the guns loaded (always a good thing in a sea battle!) and later to navigate a ship from one island to another.

    Advanced players, or at least those who consider themselves advanced, can buy and captain their own ship, ranging from the tiny and swift 4-gun sloops crewable by as few as one or two pirates, to grand frigates with well over a hundred players, dozens of guns, and an aura much like that of a Star Destroyer the first time you see one in action.

    Players who have managed to scrape up enough of the game’s currency to buy a ship must maintain a successful enough record in their engagements with bots and/or other players to keep up their consumables and pay off the players who have crewed the ship through all of those fights. The process is somewhat Darwinian- if you lose five battles in a row, most of your crew is likely to jump ship and you’ll find yourself adrift at sea, low on cannonballs and without any help. Unskilled players can swiftly find themselves back on someone else’s ship, trying to scrape up the funds to restock their consumables and get their own ship sailing again.

    That’s a very, very basic overview of the combat part of the game. However, Puzzle Pirates takes PvP to that elusive, massively cooperative level in their high-end game. Like WoW guilds, players can form Crews. Crews can combine to form Flags. Flags can maintain alliances with each other, and that’s where the real fun starts.

    A Flag can control one or more islands by winning a blockade battle for each island. Blockades are announced 24 hours in advance and require paying up front a sizable ‘war chest’ fee to prevent frivolous blockades.

    Every last item in the game is made from player-controlled shops, using periodically spawned items that are either slowly and haphazardly brought in via bot-controlled traders, or delivered to well-paying shops in the cargo holds of player ships. Shops are taxed by the island, and the biggest of shops, capable of producing the most powerful ships and greatest output of items, are only buildable by the owner of an island on a limited basis.

    Controlling an island can thus be a profitable venture for several reasons. Even beside that, land is not unlimited and this is YOUR island, a fact proudly displayed to all who visit.

    Small islands, especially soon after a server opens, might be won by as few as 50 well-coordinated players. To win a large island on an established server takes a fleet of 20 or more capital ships, a minimum of 500 players both from your Flag and its allies, and temporarily contracted, at least a half-dozen of the best ship captains you can beg, borrow or buy (mercenary Flags do exist), and frequently encompasses planning worthy of a battalion-level military operation.

    If the island is particularly valuable for some reason, double all of the above! High-end PvP is expensive, risks losing more currency than most players see in years of gaming even in a victory, and is totally worth it if you believe you can win. Of course, winning only means that you have to be prepared to defend your new territory during next weekend’s blockade period!

    I think the following are factors in the success of their model:
    * PvP offers concrete rewards greater than PvE, with equivalently greater risks.
    * PvE is sufficiently difficult to prevent green players from even being available for ganking by highly skilled players.
    * Measures exist to prevent extreme power imbalances in battle. While rewards do not change, the risk factor goes up incredibly when you try to gank a group of newbies.
    * Even unskilled or semiskilled players can contribute to a victory, whether PvE or PvP. Only those at the top of the game actually control the ships, but everyone is rewarded for their cooperative efforts.
    * Endgame PvP is both risky and highly rewarding. Cooperation is not only encouraged, it is mandatory. The side that plans and cooperates better, wins.
    * Finally, the lack of levels is a strong feature in the balancing act of the game. Players can buy better gear, but it has little effect unless the player understands how to play the minigames in the first place. A skilled group can almost always beat an unskilled one, but there is no magic “I’m level 60, you’re level 1, I win!” factor.

    Comment by Rich — 21 February, 2007 @ 7:53 AM

  14. Replies to replies! :) Not going to quote due to length but hopefully it will still make sense….

    1. Organizational Structures

    Definitely there needs to be some measure of logistics or inefficiency introduced. I am a BIG fan of metaguild (alliance) support in games, because it opens the door for all kinds of neat gameplay, especially when it comes to large-scale PvP, but there needs to be a tradeoff that makes them more difficult to manage.

    2. Territorial Control

    I disagree here. I think territorial control is absolutely important if we’re talking about enabling nationplay and PvP with a purpose. Sure, you can make a fun PvP experience based around individual and squad-level combat, but there needs to be a point to doing it or people eventually get bored and move on. A good territorial control system helps provide that point, by giving all sides involved an incentive to take and hold territory that directly helps future war efforts. It also introduces a strategic metagame as well. Do you strip your garrisons to support an attack, and then leave your flank open by doing so?

    3. A player-crafted economy, and
    6. Noncombat jobs

    I’m coming at this from a virtual world perspective where there would be both PvE and PvP activities and integrating the two, but the main thing here is that these systems provide ownership, and ownership provides immersion, and immersion helps everyone – so by including things like crafting, mining, citybuilding, and so on, you give players a bigger stake in ownership of the game world. It’s no longer about just fighting the other guys, it’s about fighting the other guys because they have access to resources you need, or land you want. It’s about fighting the other guys to force them into a trade treaty where you can get some of what they have. And so on. It lends a sense of greater purpose to the PvP and incites players to organize to protect and promote their interests.

    4. Agreed – newbies need to get involved and socialize as well.

    5. Limited Communication, and
    7. A diplomacy system

    Actually I think you hit at what I was trying to get at and wasn’t really saying clearly. Limit casual communication to limit the trash-talk and verbal abuse (which helps alleviate the stigma associated with PvP by most casual or non-PvPers), but provide formal communication channels (letters, diplomatic skills, etc) to allow for alliances, treaties, and so on. Not sure on how the best way to do that would be, and it would probably depend on the game’s setting more than anything, but it should be a goal.

    8. Real warfare

    A few years ago I regularly participated in LARP events involving up to 500 players at a time. We had siege engines, archers, infantry, and so on. We didn’t have cavalry because it was too dangerous, but if there had been a way to do that we would have :)

    I’ll point again to EVE Online. Alliances there regularly field specialized fleets to increase their effectiveness. You get your ships of the line, your specialized artillery ships, your stealth ships, your carriers, and so on. In a large-scale battle, having the right fleet assets at your disposal can decimate an enemy formation and allow you to win without taking heavy losses. Conversely, good tactics and the right assets can completely turn the tide of a tough battle. If you make warfare about more than just a couple of loosely organized mobs hacking at each other, players will use every advantage they can, both strategic and tactical, and they will enjoy it.

    Again, this applies to large-scale PvP and Nationplay.

    So players DO like this kind of thing.

    Comment by David (Tal) — 21 February, 2007 @ 10:11 AM

  15. “Organizing a group of 20 people is tough, organizing a group of 40 people pushes the limits of capability. 100 people? 200 people? We’re in the realm of fairy tales here, I fear. Most people just want to get in there and fight, which means that the gang warfare model is better.”

    40 people organized into a battle? Happens regularly in WWIIOL. 200? depends on what you mean by organized, but yeah I think as organized as any 200 people can be in a real war or a virtual one.

    We’ve learned a whole different set of lessons over the years about PvP and players organizing on a large scale and the politics and implications involved.

    I can’t say I agree with some I see here and elsewhere.

    Comment by Killer — 21 February, 2007 @ 10:37 AM

  16. Multiple people seem to take umbrage at my assertion that large-scale combat is difficult if not impossible to control. I’ll point out two issues:

    1) In the “real world”, social organization takes a long time to implement. It takes a lot of very specific training to organize a bunch of recruits into a military fighting force. Unfortunately, there’s not much incentive for the typical online game player to be quite so disciplined. In a game system where the personal penalties for losing a combat is light, there’s less incentive to listen to a squad leader who gets his or her orders from someone up the command chain. Goofing around, going cowboy, or any other sorts of behaviors that are negative to large-scale organization do not affect the individual as much in a typical online game.

    2) In response to Killer’s assertion:
    40 people organized into a battle? Happens regularly in WWIIOL.

    It happens all the time in WoW, too. 40 character raids were the bread and butter of the high level game in WoW. But, this doesn’t mean it’s easy to organize these things. In fact, it can lead to lots of swearing. Even with “only” 40 people, the best strategies were to reduce each character down to a simple ability and expect everyone to do their job single-mindedly. This was something that I found singularly boring.

    Further, I suspect that WW2 Online’s audience is a bit different than the audience of WoW; it tends to attract a more mature crowd. (Of course, that also means it attracts a smaller crowd, sadly.) I also suspect it attracts a crowd much more willing to get into the military mindset and follow orders.

    Anyway, I think it’s also telling that in the latest expansion to WoW, the stated goal was to focus on more 25-person raids instead of the large 40-person raids. Why would the game with the most subscribers focus on smaller raids? It certainly isn’t because it’s hard to find people. I think it’s probably because organizing that many people is a pain in the ass, as I said before.

    More of my thoughts.

    Comment by Psychochild — 22 February, 2007 @ 2:12 AM

  17. EverQuest regularly had 72-person raids in the Planes of Power era. In later expansions they’ve toned it down some.

    The reason wasn’t really because it was a pain in the ass to organize, I don’t think, but more because it drove a wedge between players. You either had a raid-capable guild that could field 50 players, or you didn’t and you were stuck looking for pickups or trying to get into a guild.

    The catch was that it was all or nothing. Any game with meta-content that involves large numbers of players needs to have content that scales from small groups of 2-3 players all the way up. You can’t spend 2/3 of the game adventuring with 4 of your friendss and then one day be told “now you need 40 friends to do the rest”.

    Comment by David (Tal) — 22 February, 2007 @ 6:19 AM

  18. Psychochild, one of the critical factors in a 100+ or even 1000+ organized group for gaming in PP seemed to be their structure. I’ve witnessed such things on a regular basis. I even had the opportunity to help plan one of them.

    I’ve written operations orders for company-level maneuvers for a real-life army. They were less complicated and in-depth than the order of battle for even a medium-sized planned battle. For one of the gigantic battles, it would take a team of dedicated planners. But such teams form when that’s what’s required from serious gamers.

    Pirates(players) join Crews. Crews join Flags. Flags form alliances. Battles are fought between alliances and whoever they can pay to fight on their side on the appointed day.

    A crew might have 10-200 people. Common ones are in the 25-100 range.

    Flags typically have 3-10 crews.

    Flags usually ally up with 3-15 other flags depending on a variety of factors.

    A fairly large alliance might easily have several thousand characters, but each individual is only in touch with their own crew.

    A ship usually has 2-100 people, depending on the size. Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s about the top and bottom of what a crew can manage to scrounge up if everyone knows when to show up.

    By creating the tree structure for players, all the individual has to worry about is the small-scale organization. The power gamers take care of the rest and love the opportunity.

    Comment by Rich — 22 February, 2007 @ 9:07 PM

  19. David (Tal) wrote:
    The reason wasn’t really because it was a pain in the ass to organize, I don’t think, but more because it drove a wedge between players. You either had a raid-capable guild that could field 50 players, or you didn’t and you were stuck looking for pickups or trying to get into a guild.

    I find it hard to believe that the most populated online games reduced the number of people required for high end raid content because it was hard to find other people. I still think my hypothesis is more valid: that it is hard to organize such a large group of people.

    I’ve seen the high-end raids in EQ1, and it was mostly about getting people organized and not messing around. Some jobs were more important to do flawlessly (being a cleric in a Complete Heal chain seemed pretty nerve-wracking), but if a few people fucked up it was wipe-city for everyone.

    One of the problems with high-end raid content that requires a lot of people is the investment in training people to do their tasks correctly. So, again, I don’t think the problem was that there was a lack of other people who wanted to raid, rather that it took a lot more organization to do the 12-group raids than to form a group and go kill stuff. Guilds that were able to muster this level of organization didn’t want a random jerkoff to “ruin” it for everyone.

    You can’t spend 2/3 of the game adventuring with 4 of your friendss and then one day be told “now you need 40 friends to do the rest”.

    I agree with this sentiment, and think it applies to the large PvP battles I discussed in the main post as well. Throwing someone in to be a cog in a giant battle isn’t exactly a great way to introduce them to the game. This is a further problem with the large-scale PvP idea: how do you scale the user up from something that’s not overwhelming to something that would be for an inexperienced player?

    Rich wrote:
    Puzzle Pirates stuff

    Now, I don’t mean any offense here — I really respect Three Rings for what they’ve done — but, Puzzle Pirates is different than the other games out there. (This is, of course, one of it’s major selling points.) First of all, the activities are abstracted into puzzles that a player can devote almost their entire attention to. This is unlike a large PvP encounter in a more typical avatar-based fantasy environment. Unless things have changed radically and there’s now a “Complete Bilge Chain” system that I’m unaware of. ;)

    So, the long and short of it is that organizing the thousands of other players in an alliance in PP isn’t comparable to doing the same in a traditional game. The organizatino works out better in PP because of the abstracted puzzle systems. I don’t think the typical Shadowbane fan is going to be happy playing something that abstracted and that isolated from the “action”. So, I’ll grant that there may exist a solution, but it’s not going to be accepted with open arms by the PvP fans we generally talk about in these sorts of discussions.

    I’ve written operations orders for company-level maneuvers for a real-life army.

    So, you’re trying to tell me that that background didn’t help you at all? I suspect this background probably helped the organization run smoother; but, remember, few people have that sort of offline expertise. And, you’re not exactly convincing me that player organization is not a design issue to consider when you assert, as someone with military experience, that organizing an PP war is harder than writing orders for a real army. (I suspect one of the reasons why it’s harder is because you can’t rely on PP players to have extensive training as you [hopefully?] can with soldiers, as I said above.)

    Comment by Psychochild — 23 February, 2007 @ 4:52 AM

  20. PvP Is for Suckers! (Prove Me Wrong, Suckers!)

    [...] I noticed that Lum got an awful lot of traffic when he wrote about PvP philosophy, and Psychochild cashed in as well. This lends some weight to the notion that those who love PvP are a vocal lot who enjoy talking about their favorite style of gameplay. [...]

    Pingback by Moorgard.com — 24 February, 2007 @ 3:48 PM

  21. Psychochild writes, I find it hard to believe that the most populated online games reduced the number of people required for high end raid content because it was hard to find other people. I still think my hypothesis is more valid: that it is hard to organize such a large group of people.

    I think the problem isn’t simply organizing people for battle, but keeping them together as a cohesive unit in the first place (i.e., as a guild). Guilds are dependent upon Dunbar’s Number to see themselves as a single, unified group. It’s an organizational problem, yes, but it’s that of convincing everyone to stay together despite the limit on the amount of social grooming that can occur.

    What needs addressing, therefore, is how to hierarchically group people such that they know how to identify with people they haven’t groomed or been groomed by socially.

    And that, of course, is what nationplay is all about.

    Comment by Michael Chui — 25 February, 2007 @ 3:06 AM

  22. Michael Chui wrote:
    What needs addressing, therefore, is how to hierarchically group people such that they know how to identify with people they haven’t groomed or been groomed by socially.

    Excellent point. We’ve seen a variant of this before with Raph talking about how we can resolve the griefer problem by giving the griefers empathy for their victims. But, despite having this admonition for quite a while, this seems to be a rather hard problem. I don’t think it’s just the nature of games, either: see the obligatory Penny Arcade reference to the “Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory” to show that this is a problem on many places in the internet.

    So, unfortunately, I think you provide the most damning evidence yet that Scott’s challenge is nigh unsolvable. Or, at least, that partial solutions such as forcing alliances as in DAoC may be the only real answer possible. Almost depressing to think about….

    Comment by Psychochild — 25 February, 2007 @ 4:39 AM

  23. SWG, despite its many problems (and eventual implosion), included an interesting way to balance a complex, player-driven economy with pvp/pve powerhouses: doing away with classes through a skill point system. In that system, you could spend your finite amount of points however you wished. Since every profession utilized the same skill point system, you had to sacrifice pvp/pve viability to take up crafting. This balance worked surprisingly well. I will take myself as an example. I was a heavy combat build, being a Master Swordsmith, Master Rifleman, and having a bit of Teras Kasi Artist on the side. I chose this build because it allowed me to solo Nightsisters, Krayt Dragons, and the Acklay, which all dropped extremely valuable items used by crafters to create end-game (if that phrase even applies to old-SWG) items. I then sold my treasure to crafters for quite a bit of money — and yet my profits were absolutely dwarfed by the most excellent of crafters.

    Now, this example doesn’t really address pvp concerns, but I think it shows that a balance between crafting and pvp could be possible. Personally I think the inability of MMO’s to break ties with the class system is something that is holding the genre back.

    Comment by J — 25 February, 2007 @ 2:07 PM

  24. >So, you’re trying to tell me that that background didn’t help you at all? -Pychochild

    It very definitely helped! After staring at the problem, I literally sat down and wrote a 5-paragraph Operations Order. Part of the problem was defining various roles in the first place. Everybody I work with knows who the S-6 is. As you said, part of writing the Puzzle Pirate order was explaining what the Supply Officer was expected to do in general, then planning backwards from the day of the battle to find out every single step that needed to be done.

    In the military, that captain with four or five years experience would probably be told what he needs to accomplish by what time, and not much else. How he makes that happen is his business, using his resources. In PP, you might very well need to walk that Supply Officer through the entire process.

    PP also, through design or happenstance, proves true one of those old sayings about who studies tactics, strategy and logistics. From what I saw, most powergamers loved the strategy/logistics side of things. A few were happy to be the best tacticians around.

    Another reason organizing a medium-sized battle was harder was that the professional vocabulary isn’t there. “Recon this area” has a multitude of subtasks. When you’re talking to a possible 15 year old, you either break down those subtasks or they’re going to be overlooked.

    Finally, even a medium-sized battle is closer to a battalion-sized operation than a company one. With the largest battles reaching the 2000+ player size for total participants, you’re reaching into *brigade* level operations. In real life, they train people for 15 or 20 years to deal with that!

    PP deals with Dunbar’s Number by the naturally hierarchical structure. Mechanics exist to help you form groups of whatever size you are comfortable with (typically ~50 for a successful one). Higher-ranking members within those groups can associate with higher-ranking members of allied groups, and it continues up the chain. Bob the Pirate goes sailing with his buddies every Saturday, and about once a month joins them in a battle. Sue the Senior Officer coordinates with allied senior officers to make sure ships are filled with happy, well-trained pirates. Craig the Captain discusses politics and meta-alliances with the seniormost members of allied groups, while also managing his senior officers.

    PP also deals with the issue of forcing groups in two primary ways. The first is permanency. If you win a battle, until someone takes it away from you through their own expensive, time-intensive effort, you own a major piece of real estate. The second is griefers- any senior member of the group can eject them (no more fun for them), and the GMs will ban a chronic griefer without remorse.

    A game called Gemstone III at one time had a damnably extreme and effective method of dealing with griefers. A long-running MUD, it required players to put in a very considerable time investment to level up. I took part in a bit of vigilante justice that was not uncommon then; someone had scammed a young female out of a relatively low-value but sentimental item. That person ran back into the wilderness and, secure in his quick fade into the background, continued to kill mobs. He was located, and two complete strangers showed up demanding the return of his latest trinket. He flipped them the bird and promptly ate a broadsword. To make a long story short, a group of 10 or 20 characters made it clear they would permanently kill his character unless he returned the item. Through ensuring actions had consequences and player policing, the social contract was maintained.

    Comment by Rich — 26 February, 2007 @ 9:34 AM

  25. Proof of Life

    [...] So. PVP post (link). PVP post tomorrow (link). PVP post tomorrow which dovetails nicely with my previous posts on perma-death in the MOG space (link). Go do your homework and come back tomorrow, ready to argue. [...]

    Pingback by PJ’s Attic: imagine a world — 28 February, 2007 @ 11:04 AM

  26. Thoughts on PvP…

    Mr. Jennings at Broken Toys, and Mr. Green of Psychochild’s blog have both penned recent blog entries reflecting on PvP playstyles, offering some evolving insight on what seems to work, what doesn’t, and go into a bit of brainstorming on w…

    Trackback by Voyages in Eternity — 9 March, 2007 @ 5:05 AM

  27. Hey I love your thoughts on how to make pvp fun and engaging again.
    My only question is can u change an old game like meridian and make it a heart pumping fun game again? Not that it isn’t now. But i would love to see more of a pvp system like you are saying.

    Comment by Terror/Vicious — 13 March, 2007 @ 5:05 PM

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