Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Collusion in PvP

Last night I participated in an Onyxia raid with my Horde priest again, which ended too early to go to bed, but too late to join the Zul'Gurub raid planned afterwards. So I looked for something short to do, and noticed 3 healthy dragon scales from Scholomance in my inventory, which I had picked up earlier. Didn't those used to be unique? Anyway, I flew to Light Hope's Chapel and handed them in, at 50 Argent Dawn reputation apiece. I also handed in the Scourgestones I had gotten from the same Scholomance expedition, got Argent Dawn tokens, and paid 10 tokens for the right to buy resistance enchantments for shoulders. Great, another +5 to fire resistance. But still too early to go to bed. But hey, there is somebody giving a quest standing close to the Horde LHC flight path.

So I picked up the PvP quest to conquer the 4 towers in Eastern Plaguelands. That is very easy, no combat involved. You just type /pvp to turn PvP mode on and stand in the tower. Then you watch a little marker on a bar move slowly from the Alliance side via neutral to the Horde side, and when it hits the Horde side, you get your quest updated. At that time all 4 towers were in Alliance hands, so I went to the first one, found it empty, and "conquered" it. At the next tower I picked up two more Horde players for a mini-group for tower conquering.

So we stand there waiting for the tower to turn to our side, when another mini-group of three Alliance players turns up. No PvP flag on, they walk into the tower, and /bow and /wave, and just stand around. Tower turns Horde, we get our quest updated, and leave. The Alliance guys turn their PvP flag on after we leave, and take the tower back. Well, we already had that tower ticked off in our quest log, and had no desire whatsoever to kill the Alliance guys to take it again. So we move to the next tower and take it, and when we leave from there, the Alliance group moves in and takes it back. And so on, until I had my quest finished. Got my quest reward and PvP honor rewards without any PvP.

I'm on a PvE server, and like on all PvE server there are significantly more Alliance players than Horde players. Thus the overland quest objectives introduced in the last patch are always won by Alliance, out of sheer numerical superiority. But that puts Alliance players in a bind. You can't get the tower conquering quest done when all the towers are already in the hands of the Alliance. You only get your quest updated if the tower is in the hands of the Horde and you switch it back to Alliance. So a Horde player turning the tower over to Horde is an extremely valuable commodity for the Alliance. They would be stupid to attack him and keep him from conquering the towers, because then they couldn't conquer it back. The best way for everybody to get their quest rewards and some free honor points is collusion, not attacking each other. Makes you wonder if that is really what Blizzard wanted when they introduced overland PvP objectives. And how is that going to be with the new overland PvP objectives in Burning Crusade?
That sounds like a textbook application of game theory Tobie. I am just surprised that people are disciplined enough to pull it off. I assume it would only take one trigger happy toon to swing a sword before the whole thing disintegrates into a melee.
This is something that many people predicted pre-implementation. Blizzard responses were always along the lines of "we're not responsible for player behaviour".

That's where they're patently wrong. The majority of behaviour is design driven, not the unpredictable whimsy of the playerbase. Blizzard should realise that Adam Smith's "invisible hand" is in this case entirely controlled by them...

IMO, the best that could be said about the recent World PvP additions are that they were a waste of valuable developer time. And I'm normally something of a Blizzard apologist..
Well tobold predicted lots of gloom and doom for world PvP (just go and look back in his archives) and I said to look at the lesson from other games - it won't make any significant difference. This behaviour isn't remarkable, it's exactly what happens in other World PvP systems, because there is inevitably a reward for changing state and no reward or markedly less reward for keeping things as they are. So players run around changing the state, capturing castles, stealing flags, killing bosses. In fact, anyone who has done the various hostile visit quests knows that a certain amount of blind eyes were always turned, there is an uneasy peace between Alliance and Horde after all.

I've seen small groups spring into existence to defend the towers for 20-30 minutes at peak times, resulting in lots of PvP action as players from both sides join in. But yes, I've also seen people capture all four towers just by flagging and sitting inside the tower, AFK for a few minutes. So there's some fun to be had here, it's just not the earth-shattering change to game play that some people wrongly predicted it would be.

The Silithus world PvP needs a tweak to avoid becoming "the faction with most level 60s online gets a free buff", and I expect Blizzard will eventually do that, perhaps by increasing the requirement each time you win (so on my server Alliance might win 200/200 vs 109/200, and again at 300/300 vs 170/200, then lose 350/400 vs 200/200) but on the whole this is all working as expected for those of us who've seen dozens of game designers trying to implement world PvP.

As to the game theory stuff, Blizzard neatly prevented a boring game theoretic optimum in EPL, if both sides play share-alike, always accepting the loss of one tower for the gain of another so that everyone can pass the PvP quest then they get only +2 against undead each, but if they fight over it they may be able to get +5 undead for half the time, a better value.
The value of fighting has to be high enough that it's worth much more than cooperating, not merely a little more. But in this case the value of cooperating is pretty high due to the fact that there's a quest that rewards you with gold.

I'd be interested to see if the behavior of players who have completed the quest already is different, especially the behavior of Alliance players, since they have a lower cost to losing due to superior numbers (they can quickly take towers back, they often have people around to defend, etc).

You see the same behavior in the BGs now, when a pug goes against a pre made. Often the pug just sits around, or fights a little for fun, but doesn't try to capture flags, (I have tried and gotten zero help in these cases) because if you know you're going to lose the most reward you get is to lose as fast as possible, so you can get in another game where you can either lose quickly again or fight a another pug.

I've only studied a little game theory but find it quite fascinating. It often breaks down in games since there are few consequences in WoW to dying or having a bad reputation (even less now with server transfers). But in some cases, as the above, it is quite evident. Can the deveopers predict this? I don't think so, in hindsight it is perfectly clear. I mean look at all the crazy laws and policies governments implement thinking people will just go along, but then people do what's best for themselves, and policymakers act all shocked.
I'm of the opinion that the purpose of the quest is to provide enough incentive to get players to go through the "tutorial" of how EPL World PvP works, so it might be a positive thing that the rewards are strong enough to encourage cooperation during the learning phase.

I'm also of the opinion that the pre-expansion World PvP is more of an experiment to lead up to Burning Crusade World PvP -- both in terms of Blizzard testing technical mechanics (are there bugs in the "objective counter" code?) and testing the ever-squirrelly player behavior.
I love WoW and I have a lot of respect for you Tobold but you have got to stop referring to this stuff as PvP or I am going to stab myself in the eye. What WoW features at its most darlingly hardcore is the tamest form of Capture the Flag available in any video not marketed exclusively to children. If you use PvP to describe anything in WoW you're pretty much stuck using the term for every conceivable parlor game, field sport, and courting ritual.

The story you're telling here however goes beyond Blizzard's obvious fear of (maybe even contempt for) freedom, unpredictability, & consequences, or my personal disdain for that outlook. They are condoning and encouraging what anywhere else would be defined and punished as cheating. No warnings, no clause in the TOS; just obvious so the GM would roll his eyes and ask did you really think this was acceptable behavior?
Too bad for your eye, einexile, but I'm afraid that I can only refer to this activity by the same name as Blizzard does, and that is PvP. I do agree though that it is pretty harmless, with very mild consequences if you lose, even on the so-called PvP servers.
I've had my share of collusion with the horde. Just recently i had a lvl 60 Undead worlock help me out in Andorhol with the tower marking quest there. He or I would pull the elite guard and we both wailed on it till it was dead. We prolly both picked up some scourge stones and after the last tower he waved and rolled out. Funny thing is he wasn't even doing the marking quest. He was just there helping me. Do horde do Argent Dawn Rep? I have yet to play a horde so I don't know.
I prefer to start my own PvP. As a Horde warrior, I usually begin "negotiations" at Tarren Mill, and proceed to venture toward the Alliance town full of "ambassadors" in Southshore. Unfortunately, it always seems like talks break down and degrades into fighting! It usually gets a laugh out of people when I use som made-up official UN-type language. Best way to PvP is to start your own, in my book!
It took me several days to get the Argent Dawn "pvp" quest done. We simply just don't have enough horde interested or horde period on our realm.

I think the idea in EPL was a complete flop. I don't spend much time in Silithus - other than riding through to get to AQ20/40, but it is probably the same.
Silithus PvP quest is much better. You don't need the other side to participate to do it. And the quest for doing it once is giving a nice high-level potion reward besides the gold.
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