Player vs. Player in MMOs

PvP is kind of a touchy subject in MMORPGs. Most MMOs have it in some format or another, but more often than not, it is left behind in the wayside. This is largely due to the mistakes that were made in early Ultima Online history where it was more profitable to kill other players than it was to kill creatures. This made it a prohibitive game to join if you were a newer player on your own. You would likely find yourself dead quite often and then just give up and go to a different game that didn’t have PvP.
And thus, the cycle of no pvp in MMOs began. There have been a few attempts to bring pvp back. Perhaps the most succesful method has been RvR play which was first introduced by Mythic in Dark Age of Camelot and then reused again in World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online to a lesser extent. Neither of which really had the system down and neither of which gave you a ton to fight for except for status.

The problem with this is that if you don’t have anything for players to fight for, then there isn’t much incentive to actually fight except for bloodlust sake. Another way of saying this is that if you aren’t inclined to PvP all the time, then you aren’t going to do it if there is no reason to.

The big question I am sure many are asking is why would you care if a player PvPs or not? This is a really good question, and the simple answer to this question is emergent gameply, or player-created content. No matter how much we put time into programming NPC fights, they will be figured out and killed swiftly. Brad McQuaid once made a theory that inevitably what is impossible to kill today by groups will be soloable in a few weeks. This was an exaggeration, but the point is real. Any encounter that could take developers months to program won’t begin to equal a decent PvP system which might take the developers the same amount of time to code. Not only that, it would be a lasting feature which could potentially keep players occupied for years.

The other big ways that modern MMORPGs allow for Player vs Player is to have PK servers, PK switches, or arenas in towns. I don’t feel any of these really work. PK servers can work to get some of the more bloodthirsty players together, but it really only works for a larger game. For instance, I think it works in WoW but never felt it worked in Asheron’s Call. Switches, again only moderately works but is a poor excuse for PvP. I think arenas have the best chance of working if you try to both have tournaments and if you allow others to watch these events, most of the time neither of these you can do (watching in particular everyone is worried about cheating <sigh>).

All in all, none of these work because they only really help a small segment of the population who so avidly want PvP that they generally go out of their way to get it. You still have to put the same amount of effort towards game development to give content to those who don’t want PvP in their life at all or just don’t care. 1

Personally, I am a non-PvP player for instance. Yet, I have played Ultima Online, Shadowbane, Dark Age of Camelot and the RvR server on Asheron’s Call 2. I don’t mind a fight, in fact I think I am fairly good in a fight, but I don’t actively seek it. In non-PvP games like Everquest 2, even though there were switches and PK servers and arenas, I never bothered.

It is odd too the perception of PvP. I remember my days back in Shadowbane which was another all out PvP game. I don’t recall being killed too much without cause. In fact, I only remember it happening a few times. I feel that part of this was because player’s created their causes in the name of nations and cities. Players would group together. You wouldn’t kill someone of your own nation, even if they could, which gave a sense of belonging and safety in an unsafe world. I think it is funny because this is precisely what Ultima Online didn’t do. It makes me wonder if they allowed for killing your own side in DAoC if people would if the forts, towns, and arties were important and built by your nation. I really get the sense that these factors alone are reasons that make a player feel worth to a particular side.

>The secondary thing that I feel that there needs to be consequences to killing someone. UO tried to program a reputation system in on the fly, and it had varying degrees of success. The main problem I feel that they had was that it was kind of put together hastily and didn’t work well together with other systems and thus brought around ways to exploit the system where the killer wasn’t the one who got negative reputation, the victim did which made it worse.

I’ve thought of several ideas which could work, many of which I’m not entirely willing to put out there. But one possible thing that I thought of that may be really easy to program is bounties. Say you got killed by someone, or otherwise griefed. You could make a post in the town square offering up X gold for a kill on that player, state why you want that player killed, and even allow for multiple kills. It’d be even better if you could maybe say you will pay for the item that this killer got off you, thereby making it so that the killer by default might be facing multiple deaths until the return of the item was gotten (if you limit how many items drop).

This post would allow players to start tracking the target which would make it easier for bounty hunters to find him. I think this sort of system in conjunction with a normal reputation system could do wonders to help allow players to police their own population. Because this is essentially what we want. We want the conflict, because conflict makes drama and drama is entertaining (as long as it doesn’t go overboard). But you also need to give the tools to the player to both give them something to fight for other than bloodlust, and to give them the tools to police themselves for the murderous psychopaths that are likely to pop up in such a system.Good PvP is one of the holy grails of the MMO worlds and I don’t think ignoring it is one of the keys to fixing it.

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  1. I need to make the point that just because you have PvP doesn’t mean you wouldn’t develop content normally, but the more content that is player-driven the less the burden is on you the developer to maintain player interest.