Sunday, April 17, 2011

PvP in Sandbox MMORPGs ?

There have already been three recent posts on this topic. So check out (1), (2) and (3), if you're interested in a bit of context.

Gordon from WeFlySpitfires comments on his blog
Nils pontificates the place of PvP in sandbox MMOs, something I have often pondered myself. One day I’ll come up with the perfect concept for mixing PvP and PvE in sandbox games, I’m sure. !

And he's right. In fact, he got it very right. Reading this I suddenly understood something that you might have understood from the beginning, but for me it was kind of a revelation: The problem with PvP in sandbox MMORPGs is not so much to allow it and then deter players from doing it. This is trivial. Simply punish players who score a killing blow against another player with experience/skill loss. Alternatively, if you like a less gamey solution: Put a reputation penalty on the player killer that prevents him from interacting with shop keepers for 1 week. Any player he trades with inherits this penalty. Problem solved.
Most systems have a bit of trouble distinguishing the bad guy from the good guy, but if the behavior is disincentivised enough, this isn't much of a problem.

The real problem is much more difficult to solve: The designer (and the community) need to make up their minds according to how much PvP they actually want! Roq has pointed it out before: Being surprise-attacked by your neighbor while mowing the lawn is not fun - nor is getting attacked while you do (most) PvE content in a MMORPG.

The point is that we (at least me) want players to be able to attack each other for simulation-purposes. It just doesn't make sense if you cannot. Also, I think that open-PvP can enrich the game world. The transport of supplies to a castle under siege can be a hell of a lot of fun.

As Gordon says, the problem is the right mix. We need incentives that are freely scalable and make sense in every situation. Every extra rule detracts from the goal to make it as little gamey as possible.

That having said, I think that a PvE Sandbox would be a great success. The Mankind vs. Nature theme can very powerful and creates strong bonds in the player base; which is exactly where the market gap is nowadays. The one elegant gamey decision to disable all PvP might be worth all this. So, if it were my decision I'd probably run for a PvE Sandbox. Open-PvP and the balancing it requires (!) just isn't worth the trouble. If you want revenue and profit, go for the PvE Sandbox!

But if you are a die-hard open-PvP fan, like Max, I'd suggest to write down all those situations in which open-PvP occurs. Then make up your mind: in which situation is it desired and in which is it undesired? Then use the tools discussed in the last few posts to design incentives accordingly.


  1. I think there's one basic thing you need to decide with world PvP in an MMO which is whether you want people who like PvP to be able to attack people who don't. Or in other words, is it opt-in, or do you want to only attract players who like PvP?

  2. PKing someone requires little effort and organization. Logging in with some buddies to kick someones teeth in is easy, always being prepared and in a position to succesfully defend oneself not so much.

  3. "The transport of supplies to a castle under siege can be a hell of a lot of fun."

    But you don't need PKing in order to enable that kind of gameplay. In fact, I understand that this is exactly the kind of thing that GW2 is planning for their open world PvP, which will be between servers or "worlds" as they call them - GW2 will match up three worlds against each other, much as DAOC did with factions.

    What I also like about their PvP design is that players in the open world PvP area will all be "side kicked" up to the same base level, which restricts the totally silly level disparities in WoW open world PvP, although there will still be some gear and build disparity (traits, for instance) in open world PvP (but not competitive PvP).

    I take your point that you can reward people, adequately, in such a way that gear provides very small increases in power. I think that again Guild Wars (1 in this case) has shown that that really works, in that the PvE rewards there (weapon mods, slight HP boosts etc) actually had almost negligible effect (after level 20), but were still highly desirable. People would actually work for ages in the game, just to get something purely cosmetic such as a cool weapon skin or armor set. I very much hope that ANet won't go the way of WoW in this respect and make a huge gear differential, although it's bound to be a bit greater in Gw2 than in GW1 I think.

    Just to cap it off - you won't need to make the hard decision in GW2 to either play or avoid open world PvP, all you need to do is transport yourself to another place in the game: "in the mists" when you want to PvP.

    So bit of a fanboi response really, but it does sound interesting...

  4. P.S. Hope I'm not flooding your blog with too much nonsense :). Just getting a bit bored with Rift ATM and playing something like that always makes me think about improvements (Done WoW and clones want something different). Hence looking at your interesting blog ideas. Would be interested in what you liked and didn't in Rift?

  5. Here's an awful idea to discourage solo PvP and encourage group PvP:

    Make PvP damage scale based on nearby allies. Lone fighters will have a hard time breaking through defenses and health pools, but groups will still be capable of real combat. Will this encourage players to group up for easy ganking? Yes. Just the usual more people = more damage encourages that, so not much changes on that end.

    This could tie in with your past defense-offense-not much health system by having nearby players cause offense gains. Or flanking attacks. Maybe that second one is a simpler way to implement this than trying some sort of scaling.

  6. I think you solved a major aspect of the pvp incentive problem when mentioning that there is a difference between death and defeat.

    A player would have to be attacked after being defeated, while he's down and not able to fight back, in order for a kill to be made. This makes killing malicious, excessive, and something that is frowned upon. Defeat on the other hand lets PvP be less of a nuisance, when defeated you don't respawn somewhere, you are dazed for a bit and then you get up and slowly get your health back. I don't think that gamkers would get the same satisfaction if the other player didn't die and have to respawn. Also there if there is an influential justice/bounty system, attacking without a reason wouldn't really be worth it.

    The gameplay is an important factor too, depending on if the players vastly out level eachother and whether or not that leveling could be replaced with skill.

  7. Great post , I was going to post on the other ones, but you nailed it here yourself :- question is determining how your gameplay would be structured . Including pvp

    I was going to go into long winded diatribe about how systems you propose are aimed more at punishing the pvp.

    In my mind open pvp should not be prevented from happening - instead it should be made fun (and not punishing newbies). I want the robberies ,murders, ambushes, conflicts and wars to happen. So I approach it with this in mind

    If you making a PvE sandbox game then it might not be best thing (for example Left 4 dead works fine without pvp)

    One of the key reasons I want pvp in my game is though that player made conflict is endless content. Sure you can design mobs and events and all that stuff to make player bond vs mobs. And I think its great to have in game (l4dead is fun after all)

    But primarily I want player play versus other players , form cities, kingdoms,nations. Fight for power ,resources ,domination. Politics , military power, rogue vagabonds and robber barons, the state of constant flux in ever changing borders and conflict. Picture the medieval city-states with a flair of fantasy and that would be what I want

  8. Roq, don't worry about commenting too much ;)
    I also look forward to GW2. As much as I dislike their 'personal story' and as much as I don't trust their dynamic events .. They try something new. Respect - I'll 100% buy it.

    Klepsacovic, I don't really like this idea and I agree that things like flanking can be used to do the same thing without feeling that gamey.

    Gilded, while I do think that the defeat/death distinction solves some problems, it doesn't solve all. There's still the chance that somebody just defeats and then camps you. In a game with a relatively serious death penalthy this can be worse than the classic WoW-open pvP solution.

    Max, what do you think about indirect-PvP? That is, players paying NPCs to attack other players? You can have all the endless content this way as well.

  9. what do you think about indirect-PvP? That is, players paying NPCs to attack other players? You can have all the endless content this way as well.

    Well then its more resource management meta game . And resource management are wars of attrition - who can stand the grind and boredom the longest
    (many think of Shadowbane as "PvP" game for example, but one of the major reasons for its downfall was that large part of it was actually a gold farming game - which was exactly as boring as you think)

    I don't find that as exciting as direct warfare and conflict. For same reason that I consider PvE ladders quite silly (yeah so you beat the boss first. YAY! - good boy gets a cookie) .

    And you think people are annoyed at how stupid pets are in pve? -you havent seen how much rage it would cause if in pvp all you could rely was pets :)

  10. "As much as I dislike their 'personal story'"

    I think when they decided to discard quests for events they had to put something in to replace the story telling quest lines (such as the WoW sequence leading the king to give you a ring). Otherwise people might have no sense of direction through the game, since events are not things that happen to individuals.

    So I see the personal story line as a way to replace the only really valuable thing that quests do, which is to progress the story for each individual player. And, by removing the connection between story progression and particular content they can more easily facilitate story lines that branch on player decisions.

    I think that the personal story has come across in the publicity as being disconnected from the game, whereas in fact it's designed so that players can experience the game at their own pace. For instance, in GW1 at the end of a mission *everyone* has to sit through the cut scenes at the end of a mission if one person chooses not to press the skip button. In GW2 though all those story progression moments will only be appropriate to the stage each individual player has reached.

    OTOH I'm a little suspicious of the "you are the hero" approach that seemed prevalent in the demo - being more used to starting out as a low life with a T shirt, a pair of Y fronts and and a crude piece of firewood with a nail in one end for skewering rats...

  11. Roq, about being a hero: I sometimes feel like I am already a hero in real life. In games I want to struggle to survive. Maybe I am just strange. But I agree: I hate being the virtual hero.

  12. I haven't been here for a while so I just read all the PvP posts at once, and I think a very important point has been missed regarding why people do and don't kill each other in games and why they do and don't kill each other in real life.

    In real life, everyone is living a life. If you think that you are playing a game instead of living a life then you have a mental illness. The primary reason we choose not to kill each other is not the punishment we'd get (stronger and weaker punishments don't affect murder rates), and the fact that nearly everyone agrees that killing is wrong cross culturally suggests that it isn't really just a cultural thing. We see other people as being like us, and we know that no one wants to die.

    In a game there are two equally valid points of view on the matter of killing other people: 1) we are playing in a virtual world and so we treat our character as having a life for the purposes of the game; and 2) this is just a game.

    When you create a persistent virtual world you want to encourage the former way of thinking. Allowing PvP seems to do this because it makes the world more like life. However, nearly everyone who actually wants to run around ganking random people is playing the game purely as a game. They probably are just as appalled and terrified by the idea of murder as you are in real life. But this is game, not life, and for many of them the fact that someone on the other end of the internet is upset by being killed just makes it more fun: after all, that person is overly emotionally invested in something that is "just a game."

    You can't put in restrictions to prevent these people. If they kill someone they risk punishment from the community? Who cares, it's just a game. Anyone who has played Grand Theft Auto for long enough has at some point gone on a murder spree to get the army after them so they can try to steal a tank. The penalties imposed on these people by the community are not going to be any different. It may scare away some people who aren't that great at games, but a lot of these people will probably just relish in the challenge.

    Part of your solution is to make it not that bad to get ganked by making cheap starting equipment serviceable for most purposes. That just means that it isn't that bad for the ganker to get killed back, since they can readily run out and kill people in cheap starting equipment. The difference, again, is the gankee suffers both in game and emotional loss when they die. The ganker suffers only in game damage since it is emotionally equivalent to falling into a whole in Super Mario Bros.

    The reason to disallow open world PvP in a virtual world is because this kind of PvP attracts the sorts of players who would rather play a game than a virtual world. The greatest possible threat to a virtual world is to have a player base full of people who don't want a virtual world but would rather just have a game to play. If you attract these people to your game, no system of punishments and balances will fix the problem. Just tell the would-be gankers to go play counterstrike.

  13. This is a very well written post, Sthenno. I don't dare to call it a comment.

    I also absolutely agree. It is about what I have called 'lunatic-PvP' before. Players that treat an virtual world like 'just a game'.