PvP Defined

Thursday, August 7, 2014 | 39

There may be no more polarizing topic about arm-chair MMORPG design than Player versus Player (PvP) combat. PvP system designs range from non-stop to null, and everyone feels like they have a legitimate handle on what system is best suited to their needs.

They're all wrong.

There are really only two PvP systems I believe can be functional, but the best way to show what works is by first explaining why the alternatives don't. Take notes because you will be tested.

The main issue with splitting up the entire population of a MMORPG into opposing groups is... you are splitting your entire population into... opposing groups. This cuts all potential for meaningful conflict by the number of players you're forced to team-up with and opens up loopholes for pointless non-combat griefing. Faction PvP can be broken up even further into two separate categories; both of which are broken.

Examples: (WoW, SWTOR, Darkfall, Planetside 2)

Softcore Faction PvP, or the "WoW model", can be defined as any multi-sided pvp where the combatants incur no risk or reward outside of hurting the other players' feelings. This is the type of system that created the modern MMO psychopath. The problem here is that players who enjoy griefing are the ones with the greatest reward for victory, while all other players are conditioned to launch pre-emptive strikes in order to actually enjoy (or even play) the game. This system sucks.

Examples: (WoW, SWTOR, Planetside 2, Rift)

Hardcore Faction PvP is a more reasonable alternative where players fight for a purpose. The goal here is to pillage and conquer. Once victory is achieved the goal is to get home before someone reacquires your spoils of war. Factions, however, tend to create zergs. Large groups of roving PK's tend to be less inhibited by the risk of losing because losing is so rare. I'm including games like Darkfall Online in this list because, despite allowing for relatively open PvP, the cost of building a home and conquest systems promote super-clans, which are basically factions. Lone-wolf and new player archetypes suffer the most in a system like this because one-on-one combat is incredibly rare. This system sucks.

Examples: (Darkfall, Sort of Shadowbane)

Although Open PvP could also be theoretically split into hardcore and softcore, the drawbacks would be similar, so let's focus on traditional "UO-Model" PvP. In this model, players can construct their own ethics systems on combat with other players. If someone wrongs you, or has things you find appealing, you make a choice to whether the reward outweighs the risks. Because this isn't a faction model, additional risk is incurred because any passers-by can make a judgement call on whether your actions are justified and leap into the fray. Rampant PvP is typically curbed by a karma system of some type, and lawful people far outnumber the unlawful. Player-run guilds and factions could exist, but it's left in the hands of the players to govern themselves.

Ideal open-world games would also avoid features that are completely inaccessable to individual players because providing incentives for zerging can tip an "Open PvP" game into the evil faction realm, which immediately destroys the mass-appeal. The focus of this design should be to facilitate players, not to limit them.

This is my favorite type of PvP system because it appeals to a broad audience, and not just sociopaths. While this system may not provide as much PvP, it will always be more meaningful and entertaining than its faction counterparts due to its expanded and variable nature. Naturally, some people who don't believe in competition will prefer the last style of PvP combat.

Examples: (Classic UO, Mortal Online, EvE Online is borderline)

Like it or not, this is the only reasonable alternative to Open PvP. Games with no world pvp are much friendlier to 10 year olds who just want to play whack-an-orc with their friends. Battlegrounds were created in order to provide some token competition for these types of games, but they're largely unnecessary as PvP in these games is merely a series of repeatable actions with paper-rock-scissors balance.

Examples: (Hello Kitty Online, Any game with PvE servers)

It takes all types...

There are other distinctions that could be drawn, such as safe-zone PvP, Conquest PvP, etc, but these games mostly apply to these categories in some way. Open PvP gets an extremely bad wrap from people who only think about it in passing, but this ignorance only further perpetuates that gamers need to be separated into groups. That doesn't work in the real world, and it CERTAINLY doesn't work in gaming... After all:

Keep in mind that PvP is only one feature of a MMORPG, so games can still be terrible even with solid PvP models. Complain below:


  1. Second Life has pretty good pvp.

  2. Open PVP and possibly some Faction Hardcore games are all that interest me. Really it boils down to "does this pvp have meaning". You would think games like Planetside 2 offer a ton of meaningful pvp but it ends up just feeling like a glorified lobby shooter. You might also think that Eve Null Sec or Shadowbane offer non meaningful pvp since you just change territory over and over in an endless cycle but they never feel way since you are defending your home or trying to acquire more assets.

    A great example of terribly awesome pvp is Elder Scrolls Online. The combat is fun, mechanics good, and siege/pvp zone is badass. But WTF is it all for. So why give a shit about any of it. I can tolerate this style of pvp in a game when they tie it to the game world in a way that matters to me. Fallen Earth and resource harvesting or perhaps how resource thumping gets tied to Firefall's open world area.

    Open pvp gets the bad wrap because people dont like to lose shit. They also don't like to get griefed. You actually get griefed way more on a WoW pvp server then you ever do in Eve's low sec.

  3. This is exactly my point. Pussymode games have a LOT more griefing, so the assumption is that if you can lose something; you will. This just isn't correct when it comes down to the fact that a griefer is risking everything (versus nothing) to harass you. We used to hunt down people in UO just because we knew they were assholes. That's a good system.

  4. There was actually a pretty unique PvP system in long forgotten Korean MMOcRPG Silkroad Online. The game was killed by bots, Korean-level grind, Turkish Mexicans, lacked updates and admins. BUT...

    There were 3 factions that you could join and leave anytime you wanted, but switch would take a day or two. Traders, Hunters and Thieves. Traders set up caravans - buy some goods, put them on camel and go to other city to sell it for much higher price. Thieves obviously try to kill these caravans and take the goods. But you can't simply run away with goods as as a thief. You need to set up caravan of your own and try to get to the Thief Undercity. This takes time. In that time you as trader can track down this caravan and get your goods back. Hunters are guns for hire. They take percentage of profit from each successfully protected caravan and rewards for each successfully killed thief.

    Now there were fortresses near each city. Fortresses can be captured by guild or union (guild of guilds). Capturing occurred every week during fortress battle event. Once guild controlled fortress, it controlled taxes for connected city. Taxes applied to ALL transactions in that city. Obviously high taxes would scare off people, so guilds had to be really competitive. Also there was dynamic pricing system based on number of imported items into specified area.

    On top of that, each time you killed a player, one random item from his inventory dropped. It could be pack of arrows, or it could be his awesome Bow that he was forging for last 6 months. Also there was open PvP in place so that if there was an allied player that you did not liked, you could also kill him (oh these glorious bot hunting runs).

    Maybe strict, but this system balanced itself out very well. You could play solo and put 3/4 of your total (virtual) savings on yer trusty camel, carefully plan and clear the routes, each time for different city. You would buy some time from bloodlust hunters if all else failed or group up in massive caravan and create 3hr battle spanning across continents as giant bulls and elephants loaded with half server's cash slowly walked to their uncertain destiny. It was Korean, but it was epic.

  5. I don't enjoy the 'luck' component to PvP loot. It also increases the likelihood that you'll be killed repeatedly until you yield something decent.

  6. I like SWG faction system. Empire and Rebel, but you could go overt to join the war effort, or covert to be a crafter. You could even switch sides, or be neutral and fight for which one you wanted.

  7. No, you'd have to kill someone repeatedly. If there were too many hunters, you could take off your thief's mask and run around with different nick. This system was built on top of regular monster hunter RPG.

  8. SWG factions were butt. SWG was good in many other ways that minimized the need for the PvP system to be perfect.

  9. A good system is also one that allows you to play the PvP jester. Fucking around with people in important situations can be fun (polymorph, poisoning, stealing, teleport, tinkering etc). In a world with the right population and map size it works well, which brings me to another point..

    PvP (the actual term) sounds too "gamey" these days, it automatically reminds me of crappy youtube vids. My personal term would just be freedom (as in "does this game have freedom?"). Freedom should be a thing like PVP is a thing. Freedom would encompass things such as stealing, not being able to carry tons of loot, no easy recall to bring in tons of regs/weapons etc. It balances itself pretty much as you just said with chasing down assholes..

    And even though the map is huge, there will still be some grief spots, but your not going to risk carrying too much shit into the deepest dungeons. And it's there you will encounter the jester, when you least expect it... muhaha. Those who carry heavy ingots and boards into dungeons for hideous deathtrap construction will be rewarded..

  10. Ha, I guess in a lot of ways yes, though it's a complex banner. Current MMO trends do seem related to current political trends I'd say.. and also in that way a lot of work needs to be done to get people on the right path. :) That's putting it really nicely of course..and holding baacck...

    Though I can't believe a system that replicates the freedom of real life to a decent degree is not even a standard for virtual worlds yet, especially after what UO showed us like 20 years ago now.

  11. Yeah, it's amazing that so many people just don't know anything about the game that defined the entire genre.

  12. Libertarians here too? They're everywhere! It's a plague! Noooooo...
    Well, I kind of saw that coming.

  13. Maybe I am insane (or my monitor is rose-tinted), but I really, really, really enjoyed Ultima Online's Faction system once they finally implemented, though I was never hardcore at it. I think a system that provides some in game anchors, i.e. factions to hitch your guild's post to, but doesn't force you to pick one, stick to it forever, and never speak to another faction's players ever again is a good way to go.

    I am fine with Open PvP, broadly-speaking, but I would prefer a game with systems focused on facilitating cooperating rather than aiding in ways to fuck other's over. Getting looted or robbed blind, especially when I was newer to the game, thickened my skin but still annoyed the fuck out of me.

  14. Hehe second life. Shroud of the avatar is looking good, wonder when that will be out?

  15. The faction system was largely unnecessary because chaos/order existed, and red vs blue was already so popular. Rampant PKing was mostly a non issue before they started trying to stop it because, for the most part, people helped each other out when reds rolled in. The full loot incentivised saving a blue far more than being a red, but without the fear of death I wouldn't have enjoyed the late 90s nearly as much.

  16. The prob. with MMORPGs, is most people must think ok it must be Massively Multiplayer in the co=op sense, why else do people cry about "oh X player killed me"? Why is balancing such a big pain, I mean ok there is some thought that has to be put to it. Why is it so hard though, this weapon or spell does +slashing/fire fill the ______ this armor guards against _____ type of damage, the answer is so easy, butalmost no dev. can seem to think of it. Or maybe the reason is they cave to the pansies for more $$. Eve has a alright system, the have factions, but it is really open PvP. If we must cave make it a system more like that high sec/low sec/null. Just add it to something beside MS Office.

  17. To be honest since Aion [2.5], I have never been able to enjoy any PVP environment. I remember the time I was painfully stuck in Guild Wars 2 and asked the global chat,

    Me - "What is the point in this game for killing other players?" (thinking this game had open-world PVP)
    Global Chat - "Killing them where? We only have battlegrounds at the moment".

    Me - "I mean do I get something out of it? Better gear?"

    Global Chat - "You kill people for fun dude".

    And I was like "Fun? Huh?". The fuck was that all about. You see, just like you; the hardcore PVPers I was raised into an environment of extreme circumstances (transfiguring to dead Oceanic server for two months to gear up and returning to my home server again to help my faction) with extreme competitive environment.

    We didn't kill for fun. We pvpved our hearts out for challenge, for pride and for e-peen. There was a meaning. We compromised with PVers cause everyone needed everyone. We were transwhateverthewordis our differences for the good of the faction.

    We had law and order not this "Nah breh, I will go and flow pick". You know. There was a sense of community.

    Then we got flooded with fucking retarded battlegrounds and arenas.

    I am currently playing Blade & Soul in China. Head over here if you feel like trying the game,


  18. All fair points. I'd still like to see open entry/exit factions explored further, especially within the context of an open or at least mostly unrestricted PvP system.

  19. In a sandbox, this can be achieved with a warring guilds system, though I disdain the zerg mentality it creates.

  20. It can, yes, but I think the addition of systems codified within the game proper might function as a better way of balancing accessibility to newer, unguilded players and the underguilded with actually decent PvP systems.

  21. If I'm being completely honest, it was the inaccessibility of pvp and irrational fear in UO that hooked me, though communities aren't as healthy as they used to be...

  22. I'll meet honesty with honesty and say that I mostly stuck to guild wars and PvE in that game. My hook was the really tight knit server I started on (AOL Legends when it was still just AOL subscribers). I sadly missed a lot of the glory days of PvP, though I did still manage to have meaningful and fun PvP experiences.

  23. PvP shouldn't be necessary, but poor last_minute implementations by AAA developers hurt global perceptions of what PvP is. I'm not sure if it's even possible to return to the glory days unless some major publisher green lights a project with an excellent systems designer.

  24. I feel like the whole MMORPG market is dead in the Open PvP with risk world. I just don't what people are so afraid of. It would be alot better if 99.999% of the MMORPG market wasn't owned by carebears.

  25. Battlegrounds and Arenas are lobby multiplayer, and should not be mentioned or included in discussion of MMORPGs.

  26. Agreed. Found out that even Blade & Soul had "Arenas" and from what I have gathered its open world PVP is not lively. Basically to PvP there you need to wear a specific outfit and kill the other faction. I will go and see for myself since I rarely trust people to tell me exactly what I need to know.

  27. People in this post-Warcraft society aren't to be trusted.

  28. Indeed. It is so hard to even get an honest answer on simple questions these days. Everything seems so "it depends on the person" bullshit. You can even ask if leveling is easy or super fast and people will tell you it is not because within one/two weeks they reached max level.

    Don't let me start with the lack of base logic 101; I will end up talking to myself for good.

  29. This website has taught me everything I needed to know about PvP

  30. If you need PvP, you play MOBA of CS:GO. Period. Otherwise you are just a scrub who can't handle real competitive games. MMORPGs are for interacting with people in some kind of social sandbox, mobs provide reasonable context for that. Eve works too, but unfortunately it scares away anyone who is not a four-eyed white nerd in the process.

  31. While that may now be the case, it wasn't always as such. MMORPG's provide the possibility for completely random interactions, and closed games like those you mention are all about pre-arranged and fair encounters. Some people enjoy the monotony of lobby shooters, but I miss the days of Ultima Online where you could stumble across a house full of bandits and fight against all odds to get away.

  32. REVIEW WURM!!!!


  33. The problem with MMORPGs and the PVP system therein, is that this guy represents one of the more intelligent ganker drones, who can actually type without abbreviating three-letter words. Now if we could just figure out what the hell he's trying to say ...

  34. Whispers* Smile and wave. Don't wave anything shiny...


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