Tobold's Blog
Monday, August 04, 2008
A chess PvP story

Imagine you learned chess solely by playing against a chess computer. The computer plays quite well, but you learn by playing him often, and get bored of playing such a predictable opponent. So you decide to go to some place where other people play chess, so as to be able to play against more intelligent opponents and to have more fun.

Eager with your new plan, you turn up at the place so early, that there is no other human around. So to pass the time you start playing against your portable chess computer again. You're half through the match when the first other player arrives, wipes the computer's pieces of the board, and puts up 16 pieces of his own. Only you're down to 7 pieces already, and with 16 against 7 pieces your opponent wins easily.

You come back for a second game against the same opponent, this time 16 vs. 16 pieces and thus more fair. Only your opponent is using a magnetic chess board which he holds in his hands and starts running and jumping around with it. As it is Blitz chess and you only have a certain time to make your move, sometimes you simply don't manage to run and jump after him fast enough, so he makes far more moves than you do, and wins again.

You see some other players arriving, and with your first opponent being so obnoxious, you decide to play against them. Only they are three and play one move each before you can make one move. Three against one, you lose again. You retreat into a corner where you see a single lone player, and offer to play him. Only it turns out the guy is grandmaster Garry Kasparov, who not only beats you easily, but then proceeds to spit on you and call you a n00b.

You flee the scene, but on the way out get ambushed by a rogue chess player in hiding, who manages to make his first 10 moves before you can even make your first, then stuns you and makes another 8 moves, setting you check mate before you even moved your first piece. You finally make it out the door and decide to never play chess against real humans again, playing against a computer is obviously much better.

This, in a nutshell, is PvP in most MMORPGs. You get all sorts of ganking, stealth attacks, stun locks, or opponents running and jumping around in a way which would be totally ineffective in PvE. And unless there are special rules, like in arenas and battlegrounds, you will only ever be attacked by people who are of a higher level, or more numerous than your group. You play PvP to play against an intelligent opponent, but the first thing his intelligence tells you is not to fight you unless he is 100% absolute certain to win.

The reason why my chess story is so silly is that chess in reality has very strict rules. You're not allowed to jump around with the board, play three against one, or make more moves than your opponent. Chess is fair and fun PvP, because it has heavy restrictions. And we are far from getting those kind of restrictions in a MMORPG. The most balanced PvP you can have for the moment in any MMORPG is playing on a PvE server in World of Warcraft, where little or no overland PvP happens, and the action is limited to the better (but still not perfectly) balanced battlegrounds and arenas. Warhammer Online takes that situation and moves one step forward, two steps back. The step forward is as far as we know not having a raid endgame where you can improve you character further with epics, so that at the level cap all players are more or less equally well equipped. The steps backward are deliberate changes to make unbalanced open world RvR count for more victory points than balanced scenario (battleground) PvP.

PvP in MMORPGs *could* be fun. But for that it would have to be more like chess: With strict rules making sure every single game that counts is balanced. With leagues, ladders, ELO scores, sorting players by ability, and making them fight other players of similar abilities instead of ganking lower levels. And I don't think this is possible in open world PvP or RvR.
Not everyone thinks chess is fun.

(ooo, got to continue my tone from previous post)

But more exactly, players don't necessarily want the level of control and rigid structure of chess. If they did, they would play chess.

Hyperbole is often abused when comparing game designs to the point that it eliminates the middle gray. Particularly on this blog. ;)

Yes, world PVP kind of sucks. But to many people, arena sucks as well. What kind of MMO has leagues, ELO systems and that sort of thing? When the game is reduced to talking to a goblin and dueling in an instance that's 200 yards wide, it doesn't matter how "pure" it is. It's not fun.

So maybe there's something in between that more people like. But even if there isn't, providing both ends of that hyperbolic argument seems to satisfy a whole lot of people.
More I wanna say:

Most people in MMORPG PVP are there for the "HA, i stunned you and the owned you" rather than the "through my careful observation and calculation, i managed to save enough mana for my Fire Bolt which killed the flag runner."

It's sad isn;t it. well that's america.

Also, most MMORPG players are for the "hey, i look cool in this game" rather than "this sword with +5 critical rating or +3 resilience + 3 str".

sry for triple post.
The comparison to chess is quite valid, but the reasoning can be shortened even more. Chess has one class to play, that's why it's perfect. The moment you introduce more than one ruleset (class) and start to tinker with balance, both of your classes will suffer. I mean up till now not a single multi-character/class PvP game can compete with single-class ones.

And you're right, that's why those games are not so popular cause you can only win by sharing the same rules as your enemy, not by gaining an unfair advantage and exploiting it. There are dozens of games, that are decades old and that are considered to be balanced quite perfect. Yet those games are only played by a small minority, you know those players that are actually looking for competition. Those players aren't your average MMO audience, that's why it is an illusion to call for fair and balanced PvP in an MMO. People would hate and abandon it.

Look at the highend arena game. The top teams stay on top not by improving their game, but by adapting to gain the most advantages from the rules. When a patch changes a class and gives one class the advantage over the other, those top teams have to drop weak setups for strong ones. Even within a multi-class system, every single class has to have a serious chance to beat every other class. Now think if this rule is represented in highend arena... yeah right. Even under closed settings, PvP in current MMOs is just flawed.
Well.. there's two schools of thought here: PvP as sport and PvP as war. If you expected PvP as sport and got PvP as war, then you're going to be frustrated. If you expected PvP as war and got PvP as sport, you'll going to get bored. Sport is all about having a level playing ground and giving equal chance. Good sportsmanship is regarded as a virtue. War is all about skewing the odds in your favor and denying your opponent even the slightest chance of defeating you. Mercy is not given or expected.

As it stands now, we have both in WoW. World PvP is definitely more warlike and tournament servers are more sport-like. Battlegrounds and normal Arenas are somewhere in between.
In general I agree with your article, but I think you missed one big PvP player group - the one who likes to fight uneven fights like one vs two or in open world PvP something like 5 vs 10.

This is the think I loved about open world PvP in WoW, the "hardcore" PvP players never ran away from hard fights, instead they were looking for them.

Winning a fight 2vs1 is boring and easy, outsmarting 2 guys on your own in PvP really feels good tho :)

And this is what I am hoping for with WAR, some real nice open world PvP again, and I don't mind being outnumbered etc.
Is part of mass PvP mastering the logistics of putting a bigger, better equiped team in the field?

PvP as war says yes.

Its not just twitch combat skill and mastering a single spec, but organising a whole group to a purpose.

Back in the old days STV was a hectic place to level on a PvP server. However the better quest chains and xp rate made it a risk/reward situation. My guild ran an STV saturday where everyone in the level band grouped up to power through everything in the zone, a couple of high levels spent their time keeping Alliance out of the zone for us.

Leveling in a hostile environment is more satisfying (and frustrating).
war used to be very strict in rules as well, where you actually could have some tea at certain hours.
the great war ended all the aristocratic way of fighting, because of the stupidity of war itself (trenches anyone)

open world pvp can be very strict and balanced as well, as long as the cannonfodder will listen to their leaders. In mmo's we have no leaders, we have no discipline, we have total anarchy in that respect, because we are all equal in any mmo, yet we are living by different rules, morale and values.

we don't sign a 5year contract where we basically eat mud, fight and listen to our drill instructors. no we actually PAY to enjoy getting killed, hence it's our "right" to fight as we think it's fun.

in that respect, mmo's are more like "das experiment" than chess
Syncaine made a great post a while back where he argues that this form of unbalanced pvp only makes sense when there is real item loss. When people have to risk 1000 Gold to gank your noob character it acts as a form of santiy check.

Having played a bit of EVE recently I find myself agreeing with Syncaine. Eve's pvp environment is harsh and combat is never fair. Nevertheless you are far more likely to be ganked for the value of the goods in your hold than for the lulz. Knowing this and balancing risk against reward allows a sensible carebear to prosper in the game.

Oh and by the way - surely Guild Wars is the best example of fair and balanced PVP in an mmo type game today.
sry for triple post.

I reduced that to a double post, because your comments on bestiality porn really don't belong here. I recommend reading my terms of service and toning down the language.

And while I'm not a big fan of the current president of the US, I don't think you can blame him for bad PvP. So keep your posts relevant and your language polite.
Joost makes a good point: War can be organized, and mbp's post explains why: Consequences. If you disobey a battleground leader in WoW, there's nothing at all he can do. An EvE fleet commander can order you to be shot, which would costs you hundreds of millions of isk and your reputation. That creates a very powerful incentive to follow orders and keep things organized.
I think Chrismue has summed things up pretty well. People don't want balanced, they want to win.

MMOs are selling satisfaction, basically selling ego. One of the reasons WoW is a fantastically successful MMO is it's so good at this. And the reason is that different players find different satisfactions in different aspects of the game.

Say some Holy Priest gets brutally ganked on the way to his raid. He doesn't care, it's a trivial annoyance, he's killing the Big Fat Boss and getting a purple - he's satisfied.

But the guy who ganked him and a dozen like him is the king of the hill, the terror outside the instance, the stalker at the stone. He's having a great time and he's satisfied too.

Meanwhile someone else is a serious arena player. He considers himself one of the elite minority of the game and his ability to iinflict casual violence and win when he's out and about confirms his opinion. He's satisfied.

Now you've got another player - the pvp scrub. He losses 10 matches for arena gear each week which excites him because he knows he's building up gear that's above the level his ability deserves. He also can easily dominate in the apathetic battlegrounds. Battlegrounds are so trivial these days that almost everyone can top the Killing Blows or defend the Blacksmith successfully all game simply because no one else is trying. And when they do they're confirmed as excellent players in their own minds and leave satisfied.

The only way Chess could compete with WoW is if someone figured out a way to leave both players believing they'd won
It's not just war or sport, there's a third model of pvp: crime.

What some people want is _Grand Theft Kodo_.

Of course, not so many people want to pay to be crime victims, and a criminal needs at least a victim a day to have their fun, so it's hard to see that model being made to work.
I think there's a lot of legitimacy to these people's arguments, but I cant help siding with Tobold here, having played out most of my wow days on a pvp server and snuck up on a lot of people, being the ganker and the gankee almost an equal number of times. Casual players by and large do not enjoy "unfair" pvp unless its in their own favor. Hardcore players enjoy it regardless as long as it isn't continually against them. Some days tho, it IS continually against you. (See lvl 20 in Ashenvale) Anyways I think there are a lot of advantages to Lord of the Rings's pvp in the Moors and no where else strategy. Ylu can focus your activities more. When I want to quest unharrassed I quest. When I want to be around the enemy taking their fortresses I go to the Moors. If I want to play the enemy I go to the Moors. Will WAR be fun for the average casual person? Was Dark Age of Camelot? Will WAR fix the things Camelot did wrong? All legitimate questions.
What's missing here is the fact that world PvP isn't a single event, nor is it a contest. Nor is an organized match ever actually fair.

Organized matches remove, level bonuses and numerical advantages, and in some cases gear as well, leaving only skill. Skill is the most difficult of those things to acquire - and for those experiencing difficulty acquiring it, it's the most time-consuming.

The reason world PVP sucks on PVE servers is that people can toggle their flags off and avoid the consequences of their actions, plus you're surround by people who are deeply neurotic about fighting an opponent who can think, and even moreso about fairness. Try playing on a PVP server sometime, and all of that dissolves.

Why? Because world PVP isn't a single event and it isn't a contest. The goal of world PVP is not victory but survival. To continue leveling without getting ganked again, to continue ganking without getting caught, to drive the gankers out.

The way this works on a PVP realm is you motor around enemy territory causing problems, and then the real enemy shows up, and you have a nice brawl. No one knows what's going to happen during that brawl because you're not having the same contest over and over again, and because almost no one cares about winning. People are there for the chaos and spectactle, to show off, and for the joy of driving the enemy out of town and hearing the cheers of the villagers.

Unlike PVP matches, these fights tend to balance themselves, because everyone involved *wants* a fair fight, at least for a while. Why do you attack Sun Rock Retreat in the middle of the night? It's sure as hell not to grief people. It's for the thrill of seeing the enemy fly in from the east and not yet knowing who it is. And at their best this stuff can become long, clever fights between evenly matched - or not so evenly match - guild teams from which come real enmities and bragging rights.

What happens in world PVP actually affects things other than the leaderboard and your buying power at the scrub shop, and so people actually care what happens. I can understand that some people prefer organized matches because no one is scared, inconvenienced, victimized, liberated, thankful, or meaningfully poked in the eye, but those are the reasons some of us hate organized matches.
The rhetoric from both sides of the world pvp/arena pvp divide is just amazing to me, frankly.

People PvP in MMOs for different reasons. It's that simple. I personally greatly prefer arena-style PvP for the same reasons I like playing RTS games online. I don't want to win because I had 10 more guys than the other side, and I don't want to lose because they had 10 more than me. I don't care about dealing with the people screwing with my faction, because I don't care about my faction as a player. And this isn't because the games I've played (#1 DAoC, #2 WoW) failed to immerse me, it's because I play MMOs as a game. The world is at best secondary.

But - and this is a big one (big butt lol) - lots of people play MMOs for different reasons than me. World PvP serves another set of players much better than the WoW arenas do. This is fine. MMOs are fun for a broad range of players for a variety of reasons. Why be surprised that this is true within PvP, and why judge those who like a different style of PvP?
Tobold, show me on this doll where the bad rogue touched you?

Bringin a little WoW forums up in hur.
it sounds to me like the person just needs to learn how to play chess better, or go do something more "accessible" to them.
Icewolf wrote This is the thing I loved about open world PvP in WoW, the "hardcore" PvP players never ran away from hard fights, instead they were looking for them.

einexile wrote: No one knows what's going to happen during that brawl because you're not having the same contest over and over again, and because almost no one cares about winning. People are there for the chaos and spectactle, to show off, and for the joy of driving the enemy out of town and hearing the cheers of the villagers.

I’m with Icewold and einexile on this one. The joy of World PvP is in the brawl, not in the contest. Even when you are outnumbered, sometimes it’s just about causing as much damage as possible. I remember leveling herbalism after hitting level 60 in the old endgame and getting unexpectedly trounced by a party that included three mid-40s and two 60s. I knew that after I rezzed I had no shot at taking all 5, so I proceeded to spend the next half hour or so repeatedly taking out the lowbies (and occasionally one of the 60s) in response.
Nerf Player 1, he gets to move first.
And, to complete the "geeks can't discuss chess without mentioning go" I also give you:

Which is somewhat tied into the question of "what is fair" in games.
I think for some people, like myself, the cognitive disconnect of the story is that after loosing to Kasparov you run rather than facing him as often as you can until you actually beat him.

There are many and varied reasons for liking one pvp or another. The real problem is that when your selection of games can be counted on two hands you have a very small chance of finding what is actually right for you.
I think besides class balancing issues, you also have to take into consideration faction design. In WoW (pre-belf) the Alliance outnumbered the Horde by considerable numbers on most servers. This makes open-world RvR difficult when the opposing faction has many more players. So compared to chess it would be like one side had extra pieces.

Warhammer Online may also run into this issue as currently on beta servers the population is 60%-70% Destruction on a daily basis.
einexile wrote: Nor is an organized match ever actually fair. Organized matches remove, level bonuses and numerical advantages, and in some cases gear as well, leaving only skill. Skill is the most difficult of those things to acquire - and for those experiencing difficulty acquiring it, it's the most time-consuming.

Good matchmaking systems eliminate even that. But it sounds like you're arguing for a handicap in uneven matches, to give the less skilled player a chance to win. Handicaps have a long tradition in competitive gaming, and I'm not against them at all. Unfortunately, the way gear works out in WoW, it's actually a reverse handicap, because only the players who already have a high ELO rating get to wear the best gear. That's poor game design.
I've played 20+ MMORPG's since 1996, and the only one I still play to this day is Ultima Online.

The game boils down to two classes with mild variations. Everyone is basically a melee or caster, and everyone can heal (if they take the skills, and they usually do).

Instead of epic weapons and armor to show your leetness, and to overpower someone with better skill, people collected rare items for their houses. This way people still get that "I'm richer and cooler than you" feeling without effecting PvP balance.

Also, the comment on risk vs.. reward is valid here too. In Ultima Online every item on your body was lootable and usually you were dry-looted. This combined with the fact you didn't know the power of your opponent usually caused people to think twice, or at least research, before attacking.

There is also a murder system in place to bring out the good vs.. evil cliché. So, people can attack anyone they want; however, if the person they attack was innocent, then they receive a murder count and suffer a loss of rights.

I like player enforced restrictions, not developer enforced...

I like the fact that if you go outside the law in Ultima Online then you are forced to deal with ALL law-abiding citizens.

Bottom line is there are different preferences when it comes to PvP, and I would not play in a PvP environment like the one Tobold proposes.

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