Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Does PvP hold a MMO back?

One of the most controversial choices developers have to make when designing a MMO is determining what type of PvP game play to include. If they avoid any type of player vs. player combat a sizable amount of online gamers will avoid the game because they see it as having little challenge. After all artificial intelligence in games is very hit or miss especially in MMO design where it is common for developers to increase difficulty by simply increasing mob stats. Most players enjoy the challenge of fighting against a human opponent but want rules which set up a fair competition. However, if the combat is constant or non-consensual then the game starts to get a bad reputation.

Once the mechanics are laid down for the game's PvP combat there is still the issue of making it a viable source of character advancement. Do the developers wish to give items for achieving PvP goals or simply award empty accolades like character titles. If PvP has no rewards then it will only be used sparingly and most of the hardcore will leave the game quickly. Yet the instant character advancement is made available through player killing you have intensified the balance issues the game will have. This is why so many early MMORPGs like Everquest, Final Fantasy, and Asheron's Call had very little support for PvP.

Balance is something that is usually maintained on the class scale and is done to ensure fairness in the character progression portion of the game. If a class is imbalanced this usually means they can attain experience and items quicker then other player classes. This almost always leads to an increasing spike in the numbers of this class as players try to gain an edge in the game by switching to the more powerful class. Even if players are not directly fighting each other there is still an indirect competition to accumulate items, power and fame which encourages this min/maxing.

Additionally the standard group mechanic in MMORPGs is very sensitive to player distribution. Since the early days of fantasy games the idea of the tank, damage and healer trinity has been used to organize classes into specific roles for group encounters. However, if PvP progression favors a class too much they tend to spend less time in group combat and their spot in the trinity becomes harder to fill. This effects everyone in the game especially if one of the rare trinity roles becomes a favored PvP class.

Its because of this that MMO's which support PvP tend to resolve balance issues by using three methods:

1) Severely limit the number of classes which reduces the amount of balancing they have to do between PvP and PvE.

2) Make PvP rewards which affect character power (stats) very rare or non-existent which decreases the viability of anyone doing PvP full time for character advancement.

3) Avoid the use of experience points or alternative advancement options at the max level to place a ceiling on character power. This prevents huge differences in character power at the max level which would destroy any concept of fair combat.

So how has the developers use of these methods affected World of Warcraft?

1) New classes have been desired greatly but have yet to be introduced into the game because of the time cost of balancing them with the current classes. New classes would have to fulfill one of the three trinity roles and not be a carbon copy of any of the existing classes in the same role. So if a monk dps class was added it would have to play differently from a rogue and have its damage on par with all the other dps classes. Yet it would have to look exciting enough to entice people to play the class.

2) No PvP rewards at first then a ranking system which only allowed a few people each week to gain items that weren't quite as good as the high end PvE raid items. As the new expansion was being prepared the PvE side of the game became stagnant so the developers made it easier to earn rewards on the PvP side. Now that dungeon crawling and raiding are back the PvP rewards are seeing more of a lock down. The arena PvP rewards will be controlled by a rating system which will probably set a much slower accumulation of items then PvE. Still at least now its viable to do both raiding and arenas since only 10 matches are required a week.

3) Options for increasing character stats or abilities through continued experience gain at the max level are going to be forever denied in World of Warcraft. The use of Hero classes also fits into this category since most likely they were going to be a special class choice that opened up at the max level after accomplishing some goal. Blizzard controls the current advancement of max level characters with raid reset timers and the arena rating system. Having a third method of advancement might be too much especially if it was something as complex as extra class abilities. Think of what could happen if a rogue could use 2 handers and you get the idea.

While PvP combat has set boundaries on World of Warcraft it has also intensified the competitive nature of its players by having two factions. Things would definitely be much more boring if combat between the Horde and Alliance was sparse and granted no rewards. Some future MMORPGs are set to capitalize on this excitement and intensified player competition by making PvP combat the main focus of their game play. Both Warhammer Online and Age of Conan will have more PvP combat then any previous fantasy MMORPG and will hearken back to the days of Ultima Online. It will be fun to see what issues these games might have especially in comparison to the mostly PvE centric titles that are currently out.


s4dfish said...

One thing that's worth adding under #2 is that progress in post-BC end-game PvP helps you in PvP, but not necessarily in PvE. PvE gear will also be more beneficial in PvE than in PvP. PvP gear is directed towards surviving PvP combat while PvE gear is directed towards damage/healing/mitigation. The one stat that demonstrates this the best is Resiliance. Not very beneficial for PvE, but wonderful for PvP. It also works at making PvE gear -worse- in PvP by decreasing the importance of crit by a hefty margin.

Relmstein said...

Resiliance is the ugly stepchild of the stat family. Its supposed to be a tanking stat and it mostly shows up on high stamina plate gear. Yet from what I am hearing from most warriors is that it sucks at preventing damage in dungeons.

Its probably as you said s4dfish that its mainly a pvp stat. Still some warriors conjecture that if you could get enough of it that it might be awesome against melee bosses.

Anonymous said...

Being a non raider and not having the time/schedule to raid, pvp gear advancement is the only way I will continue to play WoW.

Don't get me wrong I have a priest in tier 2. I chose not to raid any further because people suck. :)

Relmstein said...

Raiding isn't my favorite pasttime either. In truth I like 5-man instances the best and tracking down rare quests the 2nd best.

I will probably do Arena PvP since it requires very little time investment.

Drinkitt of Cho'gall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Drinkitt of Cho'gall said...

If they avoid any type of player vs. player combat a sizable amount of online gamers will avoid the game because they see it as having little challenge. After all artificial intelligence in games is very hit or miss especially in MMO design where it is common for developers to increase difficulty by simply increasing mob stats.

This sums up the problem of pure PVE games very well. Developers can't seem to program an AI that has any sort of intelligence level, so they just add a bajillion hit points to the mobs.

That isn't challenging, that's like being told to knock down a brick wall with a paintbrush.

I much prefer PvP because the other players often surprise me with interesting combos and items. I only wish PVE could have that same "rush" by being able to fight mobs with stats similar to my own, while still finding it challenging.

Relmstein said...

It can be done its just most current MMO developers are too used to simply increasing hitpoints and stats for making a challenging encounter.

Just look at the small arena fight you have to do in BRD for the 0.5 tier quest. You have to fight 5 random class types at the same time and they often use CC abilities on your healers.