Friday, June 19, 2009
Unbundling MMORPGs - Part 1
At the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 about 6,000 English archers won a surprise victory against over 20,000 French knights. Shortly afterward the forums exploded with unhappy customers: The French were calling the archer class overpowered, and demanded it to be nerfed. They also complained that the English had grinded a lot of experience with their archers, and spent a lot of time getting their longbows. The English on the other hand were furious about server imbalances allowing the French to outnumber them 3 to 1. Knights having much cooler looking armor apparently made lots of new players choose that class, and the English were worried that the French would just zerg them once their n00bs learned2play. :)
When discussing combat systems, I always get a lot of comments from people saying that yes, one player against one PvE mob combat might be boring, but PvP, especially large scale PvP, was a lot more interesting and tactical. That might well be, although my experience in Alterac Valley or WAR keep sieges suggests strategy is often reduced to zerging. But the reason why I think that PvP doesn't work in MMORPGs is a very different one: The motives and requirements for good PvP are incompatible with standard PvE MMO gameplay.
Standard PvE MMO gameplay is about character development, making your character stronger first by gaining levels, then by accumulating gear. Good PvP is all about balance and fairness, so one player being better geared than the other is already counterproductive. A class balance that works well for a PvE raid is unlikely to work well for PvP, because PvP combat doesn't rely on artificial mob stupidity regarding aggro control. A PvE game profits from having a large world in which players can freely move, but if you have that in PvP you end up with both sides attacking the other at some undefended location. For PvE you want graphics that make every character look different, showing off his achievements in form of the epics he is wearing; for a PvP game hundreds of different looking characters and the need to display all their stuff usually causes lag and server crashes. And the list goes on and on.
So I wonder why game companies feel they have to bundle up all those incompatible features. Why not have one PvE game perfectly balanced for PvE, and one PvP game perfectly balanced for PvP? I am sure a much better PvP game could be designed if there was no PvE in it, with bigger, and better balanced battles. And classes in a PvE game could have a lot more variation if they didn't need to be balanced for some PvP part. And why first cram both PvP and PvE into the same game, and then try to make sure that being good in one part doesn't help you too much in the other? Unbundling PvE from PvP appears to be the much better solution to me.