Tobold's Blog
Thursday, May 21, 2009
The fundamental flaw of RvR

Keen and Green Armadillo are discussing how the new Land of the Dead content of Warhammer Online is increasing the problems with faction balance. I'd say the problem is a fundamental one, which limits the RvR approach.

Fact is that people prefer winning to losing. Another fact is that in any massively multiplayer RvR conflict, numbers play a big role: In any reasonably balanced game, the more numerous side has an obvious advantage. Now what happens is that people randomly distribute over a number of servers, and by simple statistical chance some servers have more players from one side, while on another server the other side is more numerous. On both servers the less numerous side does less well than the more numerous side. So some players switch sides on the same server, while others switch server remaining on the same side, but always leaving the losing team and joining a winning team. Or people on the losing side simply quit, while those on the winning side keep playing. Over time you get more and more servers on which one side dominates the other side.

Sooner or later the winning side on each server has the other side "on farm". In Warhammer that means one side locks out the other side from their capital city frequently. And with the new Land of the Dead content it means that one side has access to the new content all the time, while the other side finds itself frequently locked out of that too. Suddenly even people who don't mind losing all that much find that being on the losing side means not having access to much game content, and either quit or join the winning side.

This is not a sustainable system. Of course Mythic can apply some band aids, like merging servers with different sides dominating. But that just delays the inevitable. A stable situation would require equal numbers of people being satisfied with winning as with losing, and that just isn't going to happen. Unlike players of chess or football, where half of the players always lose but keep playing, video game players are bad losers, because single-player games taught us the false lesson that you can always win. Unless you introduce rather strict limitations, like servers not allowing more players of one side to log on than players of the other side, RvR will never work.
And yet in WoW, servers with 2:1 Alliance/Horde ratios routinely flip Wintergrasp on a regular basis, thanks to the Tenacity buff. And people seem pretty content with winning 50% of the time.

It's not the only solution, but it shows that some sort of scalability is necessary to compensate for population differences. Not some shift from a presumed cultural belief in always winning.
There is one big design feature of chess and football that doesn't often occur in most PvP games: the draw. Anyone who's seen their little local side defend tenaciously and hold out against one of the big guns knows the sense of satisfaction that can bring, even though you haven't actually won. Perhaps something similar is needed in PvP games, where if the defenders hold out for long enough, their opponents are denied the win and the benefits that brings.

Another big difference with chess and football is that you aren't always playing against the same team: tournaments are generally arranged so that you are playing against a variety of opponents. In RvR games, there are generally 2-3 factions, so its the same boot on your face every day. Competitions such as the Scottish Premier League, where basically only one or two teams will ever win (Celtic or Rangers) are often claimed to be boring compared to more open ones.
Chess and football are arranged so that both teams always start on equal footing. And the result of one match doesn't affect the next one.

If they were strongly persistent (eg, every time you lose at chess, one of your pawns gets taken away), I suspect they'd be less popular.

It does make me think more about CCGs as a model though.
Eventually, the winners grow tired of winning and their efforts wither. At that point the losers rally and score a huge victory that reinvigorates their ranks, and the tables turn. BUT...this happens over a long, long time -- 6 months or more -- during which time most people present during the Loser Cycle have moved on as you described. This is exactly what I saw happen over and over in DAOC.
The problem is NOT with video gamers. After all people sign up for WoW battlegrounds and arena while one of the sides lose. Granted, you can farm BG-s while losing, but in Arena, you also lose points.

The problem is losing and being unable to do anything about it. If the server is unbalanced, you cannot win, period.

The solution could be allowing equal number of players log in. Maybe there could be a "sheep debuff", where player can bypass the waiting line if they accept to be sheeps, unable to attack other players (so you can log in to do your daily stuff)
WAR does have a system which caps the number of players who can log into a side. When it first came out there were huge queues for Destro (on the Euro servers anyway) and almost none for Order.

Bottom line is that while understandable, it was highly frustrating! There must be another way to buff and balance properly.
I would have thought that the only solution is to allow only equal numbers in on each side - after all in football you don't allow 15 players from one side and 526 from the other (extreme example, perhaps!).

Any others who want to play would have to wait in line, much like they do in WoW now
Another difference important difference with games like soccer and chess is that you have more than one opponent. Most players and teams will be able to find their own level where they can win some and lose some which gives them a motivation to keep playing. The problem with RVR is that there are so few opposing teams that you are going to get stuck in either a winner or loser rut. Perhaps smaller scale pvp like Guild vs. Guild or Town vs. Town is a more sustainable. model.
This isn't a flaw of RvR. It's a flaw of RvR plus letting people pick their side. In football most professionals would love to play with Manchester United but that doesn't mean they field teams twice as large as the other side, it's still 11 v 11.

Either you close a server to the leading faction or if that's too draconian you incentivise the underdog eg a permanent stat boost to a character rolled on a server with an enemy numerical advantage.
It's a tough one to answer. I think with Wintergrasp it works because the attacker seems to win more often than not, and that means next battle the attacker is playing defender.

The converse of that in WoW may be Alterac Valley, where one side seems to dominate on a given server and the losers tend to not play it as much as a result.

I think Mythic missed the boat a bit in WAR by not having a third side. That tended to help in DAoC. If one of the three realms was dominant, the other two often ganged up on it. I guess Warhammer lore prevented Mythic from including a third side in WAR, though.
Can we amend it to say RvR with only two sides will never work?

DAOC RvR worked much better with three factions.
Mythic kept praising the balance system they called Dogs of War. That died a silent death. I wonder why they don't look into that.

The Dogs of War were supposed to be NPC that ran into scenarios when there was an imbalance. Perhaps extra roaming NPCs could spawn around open pvp hotspots to help the outnumbered side.

Bottom line is, can anything programmatic be done to save imbalanced RVR, or is the whole concept doomed?

Exactly. When I played LOTRO, it had PvP, but the same result. I loved the idea that a low level, maybe level 10? You could do Monster play. But, in all encounters we, the Monster's were the underdog, So usually we ended up being content for the Level 50 players. That was one of the main reasons I quit LOTRO
I think there are ways of fixing this, although some of them are harder to implement.

One: Three+ realms. As explained before, by many more articulate than me, if three realms come into play, then the ideal is that they offer more balance.

Two: Auto-balancing mechanics, to encourage joining the weaker realm. This can range--a small difference in numbers might give a small XP buff to new characters created on that side, making them easier to advance, while a large difference in numbers might actually start giving bonuses to damage/hitpoints/other key aspects of a character. By doing this, the weaker side would have an incentive to keep playing--while there may be more X than Y, the Y have advantages that they earn while they're on the losing side, and preferrably, that makes things more interesting to be a Y.

Those are the ones I see the most potential in--but it's hard to see many bigger MMOs doing the balancing mechanic. (Smaller ones, on the other hand, do it quite frequently.) Still, I'd like to see something like that pop up--where people are rewarded for joining the weaker side (and in the extreme, possibly even penalized for piling onto an extremely dominant side.)
How about content that only the losing side access? Make a section of the Land of the Dead that only the losing side can go to and give great rewards for there too, so that every player will want to access that content too. Which then leads to a lot more switching back and forth.
The poster above on how the attacker in Wintersgrasp usually wins was the same idea I had. RvR can work, but you have to make sure it has negative feedback and not positive feedback (sorry for the engineering lingo).

Tobold was describing positive feedback where winning increases your chances of winning the next round. (better arena gear for example, the consistant losers quitting, etc.) What is needed is the opposite, winning the current round reduces your chances of winning the next. The problem is the winners don't like this idea. It's the only way you're going to have balance though.

One idea of the top of my head would be a carryover "tenacity-style buff": Say alliance won Alterac Valley, the next Alterac Valley on that battlegroup, Horde gets a tenacity buff. If Alliance still wins, the Horde get a bigger tenacity buff for the next one, etc. I'm not sure if a battlegroup-wide score tally and buff or an individual tally & buff would be better.

I can attest to switching sides. I only played DAoC for a few months, but my guild got tired of losing and people were more and more playing there alts on a different server & side where they were winning and eventually all those alts become their mains.

There are probably better ways of implementing negative feedback, but it is absoluetly necessary if you want to avoid one realm dominating and "winning" the game.
Auto-balancing in wide-open areas would be tricky, especially in a game where players can log at any time or disappear because they've joined an instanced scenario.

I'm also not sure it could auto-balance fast enough in most of these games. Sometimes it only takes a few minutes for one side to crush the other if there's a big disparity.

Back before Blizzard added the BGs to WoW, Tarren Mill PvP could be a lot of fun at times. There was never anything at stake -- players just wanted to PvP. And it went back and forth even if the sides were uneven because the outnumbered side could retreat to its guards and have some safety, and sooner or later they'd have enough to start pushing the other side back.

Maybe the answer is removing all rewards and letting players who want to PvP just do it for the fun of it.
This why DAoC worked (for a longer period of time) it was RvRvR each realm have a seperate border zone. So if Realm1 was raiding Realm2's border that generally meant Realm1s border was not defended. So as people got "tired of losing" some would give up on the defense and go on the offense.

In DAoC your side couldn't win, unless you held all of your zones as well as most of the enemies zones at the same time.

The fact that their was always a 3rd realm, that acted as a wildcard stop there from always being clear winners/losers.

You're Realm1 attacking Realm2, they are defending, your almost have them pushed back, and suddenly you see that Realm3 is attacking your keeps. Do you try to finish up Realm2 than rush back to defend, spilt your forces, or just give up on the offensive and go defend?

Even if one realm has 60% of the server pop, due to mobbing that realm still will only rarely be able to organize fights on more than 1 front.

I think going from RvRvR to simply RvR was a mistake. As was noted, people don't like losing. It also cheapens winning.
Yeah, I agree. A third side would have been nice in WAR. I don't know enough about Warhammer lore to know if there is a third side, but Mythic should have twisted Games Workshop's arm and added one.

Planetside had three sides too, and while that's not exactly a blueprint for a successful MMO, the PvP in that game was often great. I think it failed to attract an audience because PvP was all there was to do.
"because single-player games taught us the false lesson that you can always win"

It's not just single player games. What do you think the PvE content is in most MMOs? That's all about making the player feel powerful; otherwise, they don't stick around for long. People typically play games to relax, not to be challenged, educated or punished. (Though some people relax via those routes, they aren't the mainstream.)

Even that real psychological factor aside, though, the bigger problem in my mind is that the "losers" can't access content they paid for because other players are keeping them away. That's a flavor of griefing, enabled by the game design. PvP hardcore nuts might love that sort of thing, but the mainstream will not embrace it, especially when the bulk of the game design is geared along very different lines.
Didn't Mythic already make this mistake with its first DAoC expansion? Where the dungeons were controlled by the side with the relics?

I recall hearing, as I had stopped playing, that on Albion out numbered both Mitgard the other faction, together by 2 to 1.

And at least on Silver Hand (where normal populations run 1.9 alliance to 1 horde) 1) Alliance characters have never won with the tenacity buff--because we never get it 2) Horde can only win on offense by exploiting. There are just too many Alliance around otherwise.
I think I disagree on one part of your point in that, players may learn to overcome their spoiled rottenness and learn to accept losing as part of the game. Not everyone will throw in the towel just because their side loses a lot. Some people prefer to play the underdog, as my brother does. People enjoy chess and soccer, and so on, even if their side loses a lot. People can enjoy RVR too if it is well done, for many of the same reasons.
I thought that the points necessary to secure the land of the dead carried over for the losing side, so they have a head start on the next round? In theory that sounds like it solves some of your concerns.

As for RvR doesn't work... that's because war, in general, doesn't work that way. It ends. It ends because people surrender (give up) or are killed off. Wars don’t go on indefinitely.

That's why war games have historically been controlled and laden with rules. Tournaments and Jousts are one such example.

People haven't been trained by single player games to dislike losing. They have been trained that way over the centuries by experience.

Chivalry dulled that a little bit, when giving credit and honors to a good fight was every bit as important as who actually won that fight. Praising your opponent's valor had an interesting effect, where men who actually did not have many "wins" under the belts were lauded as great knights, for their skill and bravery. Sir Geoffroi de Charny comes to mind.

Without that sort of culture though, where losing only brings shame and disappointment, it will not be possible to get people to submit to that for very long if they have any choice in the matter.
Games should be about fun and not about winning.
Imagine that you are playing street fighter 2 against a professional SF2 player. You will win? Problably not. But you will have fun? Maybe.
Imagine that you are having fun playing against this guy. Well problem fixed.

The same should happen with mmo's.
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool