Tobold's Blog
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Is WoW PvP the best possible PvP for a MMORPG?

I'm on holiday in one of these places where the geographical location doesn't really matter, as long as there is endless sun, blue sky, a beach, a pool, and an all-you-can eat buffet. But I'm interrupting this holiday for an hour to update this blog. Before I left, I spent an afternoon in World of Warcraft doing mostly PvP. Somebody was forming a "premade" PvP group in the trade chat channel and I joined this "trademade" group to do a couple of Eye of the Storm and Arathi Basin battlegrounds. A nice improvement over just joining random battlegrounds alone, especially the few times where we were originally paired against another premade group, which then promptly deserted the battleground when facing us. All in all a lot of fun, and I'm half-way in honor to the one-handed sword I want.

So I was wondering, if World of Warcraft PvP manages to entertain me, who certainly isn't a PvP fan, might WoW PvP already be the best form of MMORPG PvP possible?

My reasoning is that there is an inherent incompatibility between MMORPG and PvP. A MMORPG works on the basis of continual character improvement: systems where you can actually lose xp or levels have died out, and we are now always winning, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, but never really losing anything. PvP on the other hand, by definition has a winner and a loser. And PvP is best if the two sides are equally strong, which doesn't mix well with a system in which players can be more or less advanced, depending on how much they already played before.

World of Warcraft pretty much solves this incompatibility. You don't really lose in a battleground, you just win less. Being killed is nearly without consequence and happens so often you stop noticing. And the bigger the battleground is, the less important become differences in gear, because a few very well or very badly equipped people don't make a big impact in a 40 vs. 40 battle.

Now it is perfectly possible that some future MMORPGs will succeed with similar formulas: PvP in which character development isn't overly important, and in which there are no losers. You can call it carebear PvP, but by the simple fact that it doesn't frustrate people so much, it is bound to be the most popular PvP. If other people are clamoring for PvP which has a more lasting effect, "impact PvP", or "meaningful" PvP, I'm sceptical. In WoW you win PvP in an instanced battleground, and there is no lasting result, because when you log off the next person playing must be able to win *his* battleground without a lasting influence of what you did. As soon as you move PvP to the overland map, and have people conquer lands and castles, and set it up in a way that the castle you conquered is still around when you log on next time, your PvP success comes at the cost of a negative experience of somebody else. For a win to stay around, the loss has to stay too. Impact PvP is creating real losers for a longer time, and those people won't be happy. Even if the permanent losers are those who are objectively the worst PvP players, any system which continually frustrates one group of players is bound to fail in the long run. The worst and most frustrated players quit, and then it's the second-worst group of players getting hammered until they give up. That can only lead to a shrinking user-base, which is the last thing a MMORPG needs to be a success.

Other games where players fight other players, but that don't have the baggage of persistent worlds and MMORPG character development fare better here. Ladder systems in which people mostly play against people of similar skill level work better outside persistent worlds. For MMORPGs the carebear PvP of WoW might be the best possible solution.
hell no, is just pvp patched over a pve game, cause is cheaper to do pvp content and cause less server load, so the cost is lower
You describe the simplification of PVP where no one loose (or where even the looser gain something). Ok it avoid the angry loosers but there is no goal to PVP except another grinding point for a currency (honor here).

No goal to have and nothing to loose means no feeling in doing PVP.

I just grind PVP for the sets to improve my toon. I'll never PVP in wow for the fun. It seems that PVP is just another time sink for us to not leave WoW too soon....

A real PVP battle for a control point which gives you a real bonus (even if it's only pride) would be a lot more fun. Reminds me of some DAOC stressing but living fight.
I moved from PvE to PvP a while back because I simply rarely have a 3 hour chunk of time that I am willing to dedicate to some instance. I am frequently called away from my computer which isn't as super critical in BG's. So overall, I am very happy with the PvP system wow has in place. It provides me a way to make improvements to my character in bite-size chunks which I appreciate.

Having that said, there are some aspects of wow PvP that are frustrating. Class inbalance is always a king complaint. I certainly appreciate the difficulty fighting certain classes--makes 2v2 arenas nigh impossible. But I take it as a challenge. It means beating them will take every ounce of skill I have.

The main complaint I have against wow PvP is a by-product of what I like about it: the "easy", assured upgrades that are now available attract tons of people who simply do not care about PvP. I fight because I enjoy it, not because I want uber gear. To group with these types is annoying--much like PUGing an instance with a warrior tank who doesn't own a shield.

The solution is quite obviously to find what are called premades. Winning isn't a requirement for me, but I sure like to play with savy players. Of course, needing the group brings me back to why I left PvE in the first place.

My hope is that over time, even the nubs will learn to BG and in the meantime I just try to encourage and explain how things should work.
Tobold, you say that your reason to do PvP is to get some gear.
This may be the case for a number of people I guess. WoW PvP then is just another type activity for people who like to grind or do stuff to get better items.

This does not necessarily cater for people with other motivations for playing.
I personally like the PVP experience in WoW, outside of the Arenas. I consider PVP to be a fun, relatively mindless way to still make incremental improvements to my character when time, or attentiveness, is an issue. As Nathan said, sometimes I just don't have the time to sink into an Instance or Raid, which, at the level cap, is about the only way to really gear up.

I wonder if the players who are really dissatisfied with PVP, who find they would rather play for the experience than for the gear, are more used to FPS games where character class and gear has little influence. A more level playing field would put a lot more emphasis on skill, but at the cost of diversity.

Balancing the game for PVP is what I have a problem with, especially if the rest of the game functions under far different rules than those in a BG or the Arena.
If you are looking for genuine carebear pvp where nobody really loses and everybody enjoys themselves the best example I have come across is Guilds Wars Winter festival Snowball fights.

Everyone who plays gets bumped up to max level, gets their skill bar replaced with various snowball skills and gets thrown into a random team.

The level playing field makes it a game of skill more than chance but the festival doesn't go on long for anyone to develop "Leet Skillz" so it is fun for all involved.

I wonder if something like that could be done on a more permanent basis by changing the rules/skills every week or so to keep the novelty.
You wrote that to piss me off, right Tobold? Haha. I love reading your stuff though, as much as I disagree with it. At least you bring an educated voice to the casual PvE crowd.

WoW PvP is indeed perfect if:
A) You don't care about challenge or competition
B) You don't like PvP and just want another casual way to upgrade your gear
C) You don't want to be encouraged to learn and improve your skills in terms of knowing your character and their abilities.
D) You dislike working toward any goal greater than your own if it means delaying personal gain.

Now, if you actually want to PvP for the fun of a good challenge and the ability to improve through practice (and not just another mindless everyone wins grind), then WoW is near the bottom for PvP.

In games where the players actually care about PvP for the sake of PvP (DAoC, AC DT, EVE) you will find a very different approach to PvP, where the greater goal is always more important than the individual one. While getting RR was nice in DAoC, generally a relic or keep was considered more important. EVE goes even further, in that individually PvP can only be a negative, but for a Corp or Alliance, PvP can bring the greatest rewards, benefiting all those associated.

The one thing I think we really differ on is that you believe an MMO is about player growth, while I believe an MMO is about living and contributing to a virtual world, one that is greater than the player himself. The classic separation between UO/EQ ideology, or perhaps the difference between a true virtual world and a 'single player online' mentality.
I disagree somewhat with the "MMORPG is primarily about character advancement", which seems to be as much a limit in how developers have used the general game idea (MMORPG's could also be about the social experience, playing a character in large groups, seeing cool graphics, land, creatures, etc.), and also that character progression automatically means better gear and levels to the point where PvP gets unbalanced. (There's "fluff" progression, fame, money, "sideways" skill increases, etc., if character progressions is cnsidered the big important part)

Guild wars actually makes a pretty good counterexample of some of the issues mentioned in the blog, actually. The Kurzick/luxon part of factions does have some issues with how it is done, but it does provide an example of where PvP does mean something, but does not heavily limit what players can do.
Tobold, what I like about WoW PvP is that it caters to all kinds of users. What you describe -- casual grinding for better gear, with no lasting effects -- is provided by BG's. For those serious players, such as syncaine, you have arena. Now clearly many players treat arena casually like BG's, logging on once a week to play 10 games and staying below 1500 rating. But those players accumulate points very slowly, not enough to stay competitive gear-wise with the serious arena players.

And finally Blizzard is making some trial forays into world-PvP with the Hellfire, Terrokar, and Halaa objectives. Admittedly those could use improvement, but I appreciate that they are tinkering with and trying new things. Note that their current "improve your toon" philosophy seems to encourage dabbling in all types of content: the best helm/shoulders/chest/legs/hands/weapons come from Arena, while neck/boots/bracers/belt/rings come from BG's. So I'm hoping they will diversify and require a few best-in-class items to come from new improved world-PvP objectives. I'm looking forward to the siege engine stuff in WotLK.
syncaine makes some really good points. I think the game design choice of personal growth vs virtual world growth is a good distinction to make.

What frustrates me about WoW PvP right now is that even on a "personal growth" level it fails pretty miserably. Presently, your character's development is seen through the gear you're wearing, but when that gets reset and replaced every expansion, what's the point? Where's the continuity? Other games have addressed this issue by having titles, deeds, and records that highlight your PvP experience. WoW offers you a pvp tab that only shows your lifetime HKs. No cool stats and only one title that's available to be earned via the Arena. I talking about something that stays with your character regardless of what gear you have: kill 1000 mages, earn a title "Mage Slayer" or something. I'm sure the more creative types can think of better ideas...

Personally, I think the "virtual world growth" model of pvp is a lot more compelling, but I can see how avatar growth is attractive, too. I think Blizzard is at a crucial point in the development of their game. The Arena is a good idea, but it's painfully obvious it was an afterthought: the core game is mostly incompatible with Arena/E-Sport gameplay. Just take a look at the recent numbers released on class distribution in the Arena, it's crazy how imbalanced it is right now.
No, just . . . no.

Even if you want to argue that the 'no real losers' thing is a positive (and I'm not going to bother arguing that now) WoW pvp as a whole is unimaginative, repetitive, redundant, and boring.

It's fun for a little while, but that's the thrill of pvp, rather than any merit to WoW's pvp system. But as something to do every day, over and over and over, WoW pvp very quickly becomes nothing more than a boring honor grind.
"So I was wondering, if World of Warcraft PvP manages to entertain me, who certainly isn't a PvP fan, might WoW PvP already be the best form of MMORPG PvP possible?"

I don't agree with all of Syncaine's points (defining "challenge" is especially problematic) but he has this right: Wow may be the best possible PvP for those who *don't like PvP*. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

I *really* dislike liver. REALLY dislike it. If a chef were to find a way to cook liver so that it's even remotely palatable, I would proclaim him the greatest chef alive. Making me want to eat liver even occasionally would be a monumental achievement.

However, a true liver affictionado might taste this uber liver dish, and proclaim it dull and (dare I say) devoid of any actual "liverness". Which, of course, would be exactly why I can eat it.

Now imagine that "impact" PvP is liver. WoW gives me PvP with *no impact whatsoever*. Yumm. On top of that, this "PvP-less PvP" gears me well enough to avoid Now we're talking the One True Grail - for non PvPers like me. At the same time, each one of those things that I love about it, is a nail in the coffin as far as a "real" PvP-er is concerned.

WoW's PvP is probably the best possible one for it's audience. But it's not the best possible for for any given audience, due to conflicts in how different audiences feel about PvP.
You could make a case that wow will turn out to have the most commercially successful model for pvp, but it does that by appealing to people who don't really like pvp. That doesn't make it the best any more than Harry Potter topping the book sales chart would make that the best book (it's actually 12 according to wikipedia, but you know what I mean). I guess you have to go into one of those discussion as to what 'best' means. The critics (all the people who actually like and care about pvp) don't usually go with the most popular offerings.

I can't help but wonder if you chose deliberately provocative phrasing so as to generate some controversy to tide the blog over whilst you're away (sorry if I'm being overly cynical).
Hell no! PvP in WoW, while mildly entertaining at times, gets old incredibly fast. I mean, seriously, 4 BG's and an Arena system is hardly what you could call a plethora of content and not enough to keep it fresh.

As someone that worked up to rank 11 (Commander) in WoW while the rank system still existed, I assure you that PvP in WoW is a MUCH more boring grind than doing levels in PvE. Again, that goes back to cycling through the same three battlegrounds (Eye of the Storm was not available at the time) over and over again doing the same exact strategies repeatedly.

All the current WoW PvP system has done is create an environment where even the least skilled and most noobish player can eventually get any gear they want. That's about the same as saying if you raid a PvE instance enough and keep wiping constantly, eventually you'll be awarded the gear you needed simply for "giving it a shot" enough times.

Is WoW the best possible PvP? ...... LOL!!!
This comment has been removed by the author.
It's impossible to crate the 'perfect' PvP system, even more so than the perfect PvE system.

In PvE everyone wnats to win, and generally winning is possible if the game designer isn't a sadist. The issues come with 'how' you win... does one class dominate another, do you have to do things you find unfun, etc... tweaks basically, but you could conceivably make a PvE game where everyone is happy, if not ecstatic.

PvP, though, is completely different.

First of all, in PvP, only one side gets to win. Since everyone wants to win, half the people are unhappy before you even start looking at the rest of the issues.

Now, on top of the fact that half the people are losing, you have issues of why did you lose... was it gear, was it time played, was it team construction, was it choice of class, was it choice of race, was it a bad matchup, was it a bad environment for you, was it bad timing, were you having a bad day, did the other player exploit the game mechanics, did the other player exploit a bug, did you get hit with lag, did you get hit with latency... this is just the tip of the iceberg.

So half the people are upset because they lost, and even if you win, you're probably not happy with some of the above.

Then you have the reasons people PvP. Some people PvP solely to improve their character. These people are only happy if PvP progresses them at a rate that is at least comparable to PvE. If you made rewards too hard to get compared to PvE, or worse, allowed PvP to damage your progress, it kills the 'fun' for these people.

Some people PvP for the challenge. They are only happy if the battle is a good one. They want everyone playing to their utmost. If you allow people to benefit from PvP without trying, they get upset because either their team isn't trying, or worse, the other team isn't trying, making a mockery of the competition as everyone coasts on their way to rewards.

Some people PvP for dominance. They want to win at all costs. they min max their characters, roll FotM, gear up, twink, whatever. These people are only happy if they are the best, and ideally everyone knows it. These people thrive on rankings, titles, win/loss records. however, change their pet team/build/class so it's no longer a sure win, and they get upset.

Some people PvP to grief others. They are happy when other people are upset. Ideally, they will cause people to become so upset that they make a fool of themselves crying about it, so everyone can see that the griefer has actually caused grief. Making a game where it's impossible to punish someone for deigning to play the same game you are and they get unhappy... removing honor for killing a character 50 levels under you isn't a deterrent, because they aren't corpse camping to gain honor, they're corpse camping so the other person logs out.

If you look at those very general stereotypes, you'll see that they become incompatible with each other pretty quickly... and this is just a very general look. When you make PvP 'better' for one group, you are almost always simultaneously making it worse for 1 or more groups.

So, what's the best PvP system? It depends on the player. For every person who quits a PvP game because they got ganked and lost a piece of gear, there's someone who quits a PvP system because they aren't allowed to gank someone and take their gear.

You can't win. So, you look at your player base, design a PvP system that fits the majority of your players, maybe make some side areas that focus on one aspect, and call it a day. I think WoW has the right idea, but the details and the execution need some work.
One issue that sometimes enters PvP discussions is a comparison to PvE. The problem with such comparisons is manifold:

-- As noted by other posters, in a PvP situation you have a group of winners and a group they defeated, the losers. But in PvE the mobs don't really 'care' if they win or lose, they are just AI and won't quit in disgust.

-- In PvP, players are prone to unpredictability; capable of a range from brilliance to stupidity, capability to ineptitude - but are not directly controlled by the game's AI. In PvE the AI is typically quite predictable (thus mods that track timers, threat, etc.), and can be buffed or nerfed directly by programmers.

-- It is common in such discussions to see the charge made that in PvP, failure is rewarded. But the fallacy of that is to forget that (in WoW at least) PvE mobs were designed to be defeated! If they're not being defeated then they're nerfed so that they can be defeated, and barriers like attunements are removed to allow progress to the 'defeated'.

Tobold's PvP question, IMO, is kind of like comparing the movie box office numbers with the Oscar nominations. Quite often the movies that are popular to the public are held in disdain by the purists. The same is probably true in MMOs; the popularity of PvP in WoW (the 'big dog' in the MMO market) is a pretty good case for 'best PvP' in terms of popular appeal.
I might say "perfect for you" and leave it at that. Syncaine you always make me smile. :)
The traffic on my morning commute frustrates me; I think I'll quit going to work.

Trigonometry class frustrates me; I think I'll not participate in that either.

I think I'll just avoid all activities that frustrate me and live my life in gosh-oh-golly-gee land where everything is peaches and cream...

I'll just quote Frank Sinatra, "That's Life".
@hexx: excellent points! I think you've really hit on the underlying tension in PvP gaming.

While PvE certainly suffers from the "incompatible audiences" effect to some degree, it seems to be limited to broad strokes (like raiders vs casuals).
I don't think "world of warcraft has the most popular PvP", really means anything, even in terms of whether most people would like it the best even if not hard core PvPers. World of warcraft is the most popular MORPG by far, and PvP makes a good source of items and is something to do in the game, so lots of people will do it for those reasons thanks to getting invested in the game, or not knowing of other options. A lot of people have probably gone to PvP after getting the game for other reasons, just by looking for things to do in it.

If players were able to someone move characters between games (Which is purely theoretical, I know, but gets the point across), and knew more about other ones, they may very well find PvP in other games more fun.

Even if not, there are plenty of improvements that could likely be made to WoW PvP to make it more fun.
I can't help but wonder if you chose deliberately provocative phrasing so as to generate some controversy to tide the blog over whilst you're away (sorry if I'm being overly cynical).

Not the phrasing, but certainly the subject. :) Call it Blog 2.0, with user-created content replacing the lack of developer content. :)

But I totally agree that "popular" might have been a better term than "good". Because of course I'm talking about popularity of mass market PvP, not about what the most hardcore niche PvP players would like. But I'd still say that if you want "good" PvP from a PvP players perspective, you shouldn't put it into a game where characters get stronger over time. In "perfect" PvP skill should matter, not character stats based on level and gear. And of course class balance would need to be very different than in WoW now.
Interesting... no one has mentioned (although it's been mentioned in the past) how if one side is truly dominant, how everyone will just flip to that side and roll a new toon for the winning Realm.

It's not going to be much of a game if a Realm gains too much advantage for winning while the losing Realm loses too much while losing.
WoW PvP is certainly the most popular PvP of all time for an MMORPG; a brief review of subscription totals reveal that WoW holds over 60% of the worldwide mmo subscriptions. However, being popular is not necessarily equivalent to being the best. Britney Spears sells a lot of albums, is she the best? No. Stephen King sold a lot of books, is he the best? No. Individual taste and averaged critical evaluation are the closest we can come to determining the best at anything.

In my opinion, the PvP in WoW is shallow, pointless, and boring. Your character has no ability to really affect other players in any meaningful way; the game world is likewise wholly unchangeable by players. Player allegiances and rivalries are preset and immutable, disallowing even communication between enemies. The entire system of obtaining honor points feels abstract and ridiculous (where are these points held?) and saving up for your next 5% upgrade in gear so you can keep up with the Joneses is a blatant, mindless grind.

My sour opinion of WoW PvP is based upon experiences with an older mmorpg, Ultima Online, during the period from 1998-2000. During that period in UO, players developed allegiances and rivalries with other players based upon the good or evil acts of players rather than a preset faction. The world was open, and players could act to help or harm others as they wished in a land with no "instances"; if you went into a dungeon, anyone else could come in along with you. If they chose to take an evil path, there would be penalties such as stat loss upon death and social exile. Players could build their own house in their personally chosen location; items could be found, or crafted, and possibly lost forever if you were murdered by an evil player. Guilds formed to assist each other and partake in activities; people created player towns and communities that existed for extended periods of time. The PvP in Ultima Online had so much depth, freedom, and "meaning" to the community compared to the PvP of WoW. Perhaps a game like Darkfall can recapture some of that spirit for a new generation of gamers.
You do sound like a type I, personally, wouldn't care to pvp neither with no against. When pvp was young and people cared, the fun was there. Introduction of cross-realm BGs wiped out the rivalry that pvp enthusiasts had established with certain groups of opposing faction. Welfare epics killed any sense of fairness by encouraging "I'm just here for a token" attitude and honor leeches.
Alterac Valley changes killed the only trully innovative PVP WoW ever had (the rest are simply borrowed, capture the flag, dominations, look up other fps mods to get an idea). Arena, while saving a semblance of competition, has the dumbest rules for the game mechanics in place. And is *gruelling*.

In a slim chance my arena team joins a BG, the first wave of the opponents gets obliterated and after 3 spawns, they don't bother respawning. We hardly ever play BGs any more (Champion/Conqueror here), and when we do, we just don't care.
The problem is you get tangible rewards just for "being there", while gaining not even community reputation for putting up a fight. As such, you're just another HK, another obstacle, another point in space. There's no "player" in WoW "pvp" any more (with maybe a slight exception for world pvp on pvp realms).
You're just an entity to be farmed and have no impact whatsoever, win or lose.

The end result, I use WoW as a glorified chat and occational raiding, while to get a real pvp experience log off and launch ETQW.
if you never played UO then you have no idea what "real pvp is" old school UO was skill based pvp/pking you didn't go out of town with your best stuff unless you where willing to fight for it.
those who controled the linch room, orc fort, ect they know who they are the best of the best of the pvp era. its over now never again will there be a true pvp/pk/ real world mmo. times have changed now move on.

KB Carnage
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