Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Many Faces of PvP

Too often, PvP is used as some all encompassing term. In practice, PvP has many faces and describing what PvP is like in a game isn’t as simple as just saying it has PvP. I would argue that there are two opposing forces in PvP (Competition & Impact) and one complimentary consideration (Objectives). The type of PvP can best be described by talking about the level or quantity of each in a game.

In its most simple terms, competition is a contest between two or more players. At it’s core, it’s a burning desire to prove yourself better than the other guy. It’s not just about winning, it’s about being the best.

As a spectator or competitor, we frown upon unfair advantages. The competition should be pure, a test of skills, unmarred by outside interference. We hate cheaters and consider any achievement or victory arrived at by cheat, exploit, or other inequalities to be tainted. They didn’t really win. As such, the people most concerned about balance in an MMO are usually the most competitive. They want to see an equal playing field so that they can be judged on their skill or attributes rather than on their class.

They compete for an identity. For curiosity. For the spirit. For the challenge. And even when they lose, they respect the ability of those that beat them.

Impact is ultimately about giving meaning to your actions in an MMO. This is commonly interpreted as a negative consequence or the loss of something valuable. Of course, the corollary is also true and gaining something valuable can be equally meaningful.

This concept isn’t exclusive to PvP. An XP Penalty for Death is a very impactful loss even if it’s just an NPC which kills you. Likewise, gaining the uber Sword of a Thousand Souls for defeating an NPC boss is very rewarding. In truth, the key consideration with impact games is the degree or depth of those consequences.

But why in the world would anyone WANT severe consequences? Simple. Like high stakes gambling, players can have a physical reaction to the stress and actually feel a euphoria related to an endorphin release in the brain.

Wait. What? Is that an actual scientific factual reason to have Impact PvP? Yes, it was. Because, like gambling, the stress created taps into our adrenaline and endorphins to provide a natural euphoric reaction.

Betting $10,000 on the Superbowl is more nerve wracking than betting $10. The larger bet makes you more concerned about the possibility of losing – and conversely, more excited about the payout for winning. In short, the highs are higher and the lows are lower.

The potential consequences (good or bad) increase your emotional investment in the outcome. Bigger stakes results in a bigger emotional investment. The stress of that investment creates the euphoric high. And just like many people wouldn’t bet even $10 on the Superbowl, some people absolutely crave the euphoria provided by that bigger emotional investment.

Competition vs. Impact
These two concepts are somewhat at odds against each other. A truly competitive player doesn’t want whatever unfair advantage the impact would provide them. They are interested in testing their skill against your skill. Likewise, an Impact player really doesn’t care about things staying competitive. In fact, they don’t want a fair fight – they want the emotional rush of winning. They may appreciate a tougher opponent, but they would never sanction giving up a position of power in order to make things more fair.

Now most people don’t think in terms that are quite that black and white. Players leaning towards the impact side may still want to see some semblance of fairness and recognize certain things are game breaking.

Similarly, competitive players often want to see some type of reward for their actions. Nothing too overpowering, but some reward nonetheless.

Most disagreements within the PvP community are conflicts about these two perspectives. Either things aren’t fair, or there is too little reward or consequence. It’s a balancing act and one that is subjective to each individual.

What is fair? What is meaningful? Those two questions can only be answered by YOU. And yet, people with different opinions will argue about the fairness and consequences as long as there are people playing the game.

This is the biggest problem with using blanket terms like PvP or even Impact PvP. If I want Impact in my PvP, but my definition isn’t as severe as yours, does that make the opinion less valid? And yet, the term Impact PvP has become synonymous with “I’m going to pwn you and take all your crap, nub.” And so people all sit back in fear and cry about how ‘scary’ and ‘unforgiving’ Impact PvP is for most players.

Strategic Objectives
Typically we think about competition simply from the perspective of one player beating another. However, in a massive multiplayer game, it makes far more sense to think about ‘group wins’ over other ‘groups’ of players. I’m talking about Group vs. Group, rather than Player vs. Player.

In Group vs. Group, it’s very possible to sacrifice an individual player, object or territory as part of a larger strategy. For me, I’ve always found the strategic and tactical implications of our group PvP actions to be the most interesting and meaningful. And yet, it’s usually not the guy who saves the day by repairing the gate that gets hailed as the savior but the guy who racked up the most kills.

Is the player who stands back and defends the flag less valuable than the one who captures it? What about the sacrificial lamb who comes through a stargate in order to setup a bigger counter-attack? These types of tactical GROUP considerations are what I enjoy most about PvP.

Too often, players focus on THEMSELVES and only THEMSELVES. These are group games, so I find situations where groups compete to be much more interesting than the solo encounter. Any game which creates or supports lots of group tactical combat is a game that I want to play.

My e-peen is bigger than yours
Reputation or stature is an important social dynamic in any MMO. Other players aren’t mere tokens, but real people who are sizing you up. It exists in all MMOs and even in situations we consider wholly the domain of PvE. For example, players who perform poorly in a PvE Raid have a much lower social status than the player who performs the best.

In PvP, this seemingly little distinction multiplies the stakes for everyone because your opponent is a real player – not a mere token. Lose, and you lost to THAT guy. Win, and you took something from THAT guy. At risk, isn’t just your time investment, but your stature or reputation within the MMO.

Risking this stature is part of what amplifies the competition and impact in an MMO. It’s also what muddles the purity of competition or provokes people into attacking each other. From a competitive standpoint, we may be willing to cheat to win for greater e-peen. And likewise, we might be more willing to attack unprovoked to prove our superiority.

Griefing is NOT PvP
Before talking about Griefing specifically, I think it’s worth a mention that Ganking is not Griefing.

Griefing, by definition, is to hassle or harass with the intent to cause sorrow or discomfort. Setting aside the issue of context (what is discomfort for me, may not be discomfort for you) is the central idea that Griefing is always about harassment.

And harassment in a game is not exclusive to PvP-based MMOs. In fact, the WORST griefers I have ever experienced have always been members of MY team or MY faction.

The asshats who sit on a mailbox, NPC or other item and make it un-clickable or blocked. The greedy, lazy bastard who decides to AFK in a Battleground or Scenario to get the reward without any effort. The prick who runs around shooting friendly players or otherwise purposefully screwing up the objective. The jerk who spams the public channels with stupid repetitive messages.

Ironically, your enemies really have the least opportunity to cause you Grief. First, as your enemy, they can be attacked and killed. Unlike same faction Griefers, this makes the solution to countering them very simple. Gather up a posse of like-minded pissed off people and kick the crap out of them. Or if that simply isn’t possible – avoid the enemy. They are, after all, the enemy. That’s very markedly different than getting stuck with some random prick in your capital city being a jackass.

Similarly, the most common concern about Impact PvP are Griefers. Again, ironically, this is less of an issue when Griefers have to risk more in order to cause Grief. Or in other words, if there are consequences to Griefing that are very tangible, it naturally makes someone think twice about causing that Grief. Choices in that setting are more calculated risks and accepted as part of the game.


Thallian said...

well said

heartlessgamer said...

I'm just annoyed that ganking and griefing are underlined in red by spellcheckers :(