Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Blame the Game, not the Players

This post was in response to one of the seeded topics from the Newbie Blogger Initiative Talkback 2014:   Do PvP and PvE Mix?

Discussing the advantages of  PvE and PvP is an activity as old as PvP itself.    PvE is boring; PvP is distracting, this controversy rages unchecked. We're not here to compare their relative merits, but to find out if these two activities can mix and still maintain their individual appeal.

Just so we're clear about these acronyms, PvP refers to combat between players (Player vs Player) and can refer to open world combat, or fights contained within arenas and battlegrounds.  PvE refers to the player attacking opponents generated by the game (Player vs Environment) and includes quests, dungeons, and raids. 

My basic answer is that PvP, like fire, changes everything it touches.  Whether it improves your experience or degrades it depends largely on whether or not you like PvP.

Let’s start with a tale about Star Wars: The Old Republic.  A little over a year ago, SWTOR needed a quick boost of content to get their new free players playing again.  Their idea was to revitalize their PvP planet of Ilum and create a daily hub there for both factions.  The kicker was that part of the daily questing area would mandatorily flag all players free for all.  Not only could the opposing faction attack you, but your fellow faction members could as well.  By placing the hubs in this zone, the game tried to provide both PvP and PvE objectives in the same time-limited event.

Almost immediately, unexpected player behavior began to emerge.  First, groups from opposing factions began to queue for the quest objectives in the PvP zone.  Empire characters would patiently wait in line for the Republic to complete the quest, before taking their own turn.  This was the equivalent of win swapping in Tol Barad.  The basic result was that most players completely ignored the PvP component.

The quest was later changed so that trading quest completions was no longer possible, and the response was to largely ignore that quest and get along with the remaining ones. At the same time, a few players were there for the legitimate PvP opportunities that BioWare had advertised.   

Because the zone flagged free-for-all, it was clear that the Devs intended for same-faction groups to fight each other for the objectives.  But when PvP-ers began attacking members of their own faction, pursuing a perfectly reasonable goal, they came in for a huge amount of grief in the world channel and even ostracism from raid groups, for doing what they considered normal play.

The Return of the Gree was a fairly successful event but it highlighted a few characteristics of the interaction between PvP and PvE.

1.  PvE players generally don’t like to mix any PvP with their objectives. 
The majority of players were there for the lore and activities of the event, and had absolutely no interest in participating in PvP. They ignored PvP when they could, and retreated when they could not.  Win-swapping or avoiding the flagged area emerged organically, and almost instantly from the onset of the event.  

2.  Players interested in PvP generally had little interest in completing a bunch of daily quests.
They manifestly were not there for the event, but only for the PvP opportunities it provided.  For example, they didn’t engage in PvP in order to gain access to the turn-in, but instead displayed a great deal of enjoyment in denying other players the chance to complete their quest. (Note that I’m not saying this was wrong of them.  Just that they didn’t use PvP to further their progress in the event.  PvP was an end unto itself.)

3.  When PvP and PvE interact, PvP always wins. 
When PvP antagonists appear, they have the ability to absorb all of the PvE player’s attention for as long as they are present, even if only by continually needing to be killed.  Where PvP is an option, the player must be willing to put aside all other plans in favor of PvP, particularly if they enjoy playing solo, because one determined PvP antagonist can successfully re-direct an entire play session.

The result is that PvP and PvE don’t mix well.  Players generally don't want them to mix. This is usually handled very simply at the server level.  Roll on one of your preferred play style and enjoy.

The moments where this becomes a real problem, though, is when the developers try to force PvP on unwilling players.  This is often a result of trying to shoehorn a PvP component into what would otherwise be a PvE holiday or achievement (Long strange trip, for example), or quest series ( Rocket Robot in Icecrown), or (as in this case) a time-limited special event. 

Developers see PvP as a way to generate free content.  They set up the basketball court and let the players bring their own ball.  Because players are always content starved, this holds attractive possibilities for the Devs, and they are continually looking for ways to promote it in the hopes that more players will come to like PvP.  The result is that devs regularly inject PvP requirements into what are essentially lore and story activities because hope springs eternal.  Maybe this time they will see the light, and we won’t have to do so much work in developing content.

As long as PvP remains consensual, voluntary, and doesn't gate the achievements and story that PvE players seek, there is no reason that the two cannot exist in harmony.


  1. I don't see how PvP can be consensual in an open world setting and I recently wrote my thoughts on this. If consent is important for defining fairplay, then we would have to assume that players consent to PvP every time they login -- which isn't true in a game with PvE components (like questing). I think it's possible for them to co-exist, but I have yet to see a game which pulls this off. I think EVE online has come the closest, but it's still not quite it.

    I think it's interesting that games like League of Legends don't have this problem (it has PvE and PvP perfectly intertwined).

  2. The key, Chris, if to define the parameters of the conflict correctly. There's a world of difference between free-for-all PvP in the likes of EVE or Darkfall (the "hardcore sandbox" games and both former homes of my own) and the lesser, faction/RvR type of approaches such as found in the Horde v. Alliance open-world PvP in WoW.

    I've come across this recently in DCUO, where I'm leveling in the PvP shard. In the case of that game you have faction-based free PvP in the world, so heroes and villains can wail on each other but not their faction-mates. There's no corpse looting, nor is the death penalty especially severe at all.

    And what that gives you is a world with a little more danger. A little more of a dynamic experience. I can go and punch mobs in the face all day, but the more exciting parts for me are the narrow escapes from a higher level enemy player or like the other day when a guy close to my level kept coming back to pick a fight over and over again (just for me to kill him over and over).

    The idea of "consenting" to PvP is a little ridiculous. PvP had reached this reputation where players are downright afraid, and probably with little reason. We've come to a point where we only see it in extremes. It's either sociopathic free-for-all PvP with corpse looting and nastiness or it's a sterile, non-existent aspect of the game as is the case in FFXIV.

    Some of my favorite memories of Vanilla/TBC WoW were the world PvP raids on enemy towns where Flight Masters would go down and you'd be distracted well for an hour or more by the flow of the battle. I miss that sense of danger in too many games. There's already so much hand-holding (not a bad thing) that I often find myself desiring a little more of a "rugged" experience.

    1. You may have a point about extremes, but you didn't explain why consent is ridiculous. You just called it "ridiculous" and moved on. Care to explain why it's ridiculous? Specifically, if fair play is important to each player, isn't consent implicit?

  3. Doone, I've read your post and I appreciate the points you've made. (It can be found here: http://xpchronicles.com/2014/05/11/the-rare-and-awesome-pvp/ )

    I see two types of games: PvE games where player antagonism is not possible, and PvP where the possibility of player antagonism is ever present. I don't mean that player antagonism itself is always present, but that the possibility of it always exists. It is the change in environment that is the key difference - the sense of heightened awareness, the pulse of adrenaline that is always mentioned when PvPers speak glowingly of their choice.

    When you log into a PvP server, that is what you are buying into. When you join a battleground, that is the environment you are expecting. Even when players are completing PvE objectives, they are doing so within the PvP environment. Players have that single choice to make, from which all others logically follow. If you really have no interest in PvP interactions, that one choice should be available to you.

    My problem is when players make that choice emphatically and the game designers try to renege on the deal through backdoor PvP requirements, unexpected flagging areas, or mechanisms that trick a player into flagging unintentionally, through AoE, for example.

    Thanks for reading the post

  4. Crow, I like the way you've pointed out the differing levels of intensity within the broad category of PvP. Every style of PvP encounter is certainly not the same. These fine gradations are discernible to players who've already made the decision to go for PvP in the first place.

    But for the PvE player who doesn't like PvP, there is a huge gulf fixed between none at all and even the mildest form. There is no level of acceptable PvP. Even the presence of some joker who runs up to try to gather a node before you is intolerable, and is reviled and called a ninja who is ruining their game.

    And calls for them to "harden up" are missing the point. It isn't that PvP is so extreme, its that it provides no endorphin rush. "I don't want to kill you, and you don't want to be dead," as Murtaugh once said.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    1. That guy you described in the middle paragraph is me (though I don't mind node ninjas). Good write up Arcadius, most or what I wrote agrees with you. :)


    2. I like how you state things so plainly in that piece. There seems to be a lingering stigma with simply declaring that PvP isn't something that interests you.

  5. To Crow's point, I think its important to note the language we use to talk about other players and the games themselves in this discussion. The vocabulary tells us alot about how players are framing the debate.

    @Crow: I agree there's a vast difference depending on the game. I wrote this myself in my response piece (if you read it, do direct your discussion here instead of my blog). But I also wouldn't write off the issues of mixing PvE and PvP as a case of simple extremes. I don't think the question of the role of consent insignificant. I think its at the heart of the conflict between these modes of play.

    EVE is definitely for sociopaths. I don't say that as an indictment, but as a subscriber who loves what the game offers. Yet players literally get joy from affecting people in REAL LIFE (not just ruining someone financially in a game, but who want to know that their victims are suffering at their desk). This is NOT normal. Yet developers design these environments to work for those groups. Remember: griefers work on the assumption that consent is one of 2 things: 1) not necessary) or 2) given upon login. And why should they care? Because even the most hardcore sociopaths couch their arguments about PvP in terms of fairness (again I cite this in my won piece).

    I think @arcadius also sums up a lose end of this argument very precisely with point #3: PvP trumps all gameplay. One cannot PvE when there is a PvPer in the vicinity. All activity must be directed torward that. So now players dont have a choice. And now we're back to the question of whether consent is given upon login and if so, what's it mean to have a fair game?

    But a good discussion so far :)