Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Serial Ganker on PvP

Serial Ganker sid67 wrote an interesting blog post on the many faces of PvP. I do agree that there is not *one* PvP, but that for example battlegrounds, arenas, and castle sieges are very different from each other, not only in gameplay, but also in purpose and to what kind of player they appeal.

I don't agree that "griefing" is not an important motivational factor in PvP. While sid67 is right that you can grief players of your own faction by blocking the mailbox or similar stunts, PvP griefing does happen all the time. Even me, playing on a PvE server, just this weekend got griefed by some enemy faction rogue who found it funny to kill all the auctioneers in the city where my bank alt was parked. My limited attempts on PvP servers ended with me being corpse camped by somebody many levels higher than me, until I just gave up.

So why do some people like the ability to grief so much? The answer, curiously enough, lies in the original Everquest, a game which did not have PvP on the overwhelming majority of its servers. But what EQ had was extremely harsh PvE, with extreme "impact", as sid67 calls it, when you lost. As a reaction, people banded together *against the game*, to survive. That is a basic human instinct, going back to the Neanderthals: When things get rough, you better find some friends to help you. The negative consequence of "no impact" PvE in games like World of Warcraft was that it degenerated MMORPGs into massively single-player games. Thus the fans of impact PvP, who hope that introducing impact PvP can replace impact PvE in its function to make people band together.

Unfortunately that simply doesn't work. Everquest worked because at the time there weren't so many alternatives, and the existing alternatives weren't any less harsh. But the so-called "Vision" of bringing back a harsh environment, PvE or PvP, to force people to band together against it, nowadays only results in that harsh game becoming extremely niche, with less than 100k subscribers. The large majority of MMORPG players simply do not accept harsh any more.

PvP in MMORPGs is further hindered, as sid67 alludes to, by the fundamental problem that fairness in PvP is incompatible with the basic game principle of character development in MMORPGs. Take away characters getting stronger through gear and levels, and you don't have a MMORPG any more. Allow character development, and you'll always end up with a huge range of problems of stronger characters "ganking" less strong characters. And, again sid67, the more "impact", that is negative consequences from losing, PvP has, the more likely it is that the loser will find himself in a downward spiral. In the real world a cornered rat might turn into a ferocious guerilla fighter. In a virtual world the rat just logs off and either creates a new character on the winning side, or quits the game. Thus you end up with the somewhat perverse notion of "reverse impact PvP", where the *winning* faction gets penalized in the next round of fights.

The only viable solution for PvP in mass market MMORPGs is positive sum PvP, with basically no impact at all, but with both factions being rewarded for participating. In that option the rewards are totally artificial, handed out by the devs so to say, and thus the developers can reward the kind of PvP which is least likely to drive other customers away. In games which have both that sort of positive sum PvP *and* impact PvP, the majority of players will drift towards the positive sum version, which is one of the reasons why WAR failed. Ultimately game developers need to consider the question of whether the old mantra that "players want PvP" is really true, if you can only get them to participate in PvP by handing out better rewards than for PvE.

[EDIT: As if to prove my point, SOE just announced battlegrounds for EQ2.]
Agreed, depending on what you mean by rewards just for showing up.

A defeat should not be something crippling but it has to have some meaning. It's a sweet spot hard to attain i think.
I recently read some stuff on a famous Orc rogue from Vanilla WoW called Angwe. His main purpose in life seemed to be to gank lowbies in STV. I suggest you have a quick look in google (Id find the link but Im at work) and have a look at some of his antics, one of which is a huge wall of clippings from the game with people moaning, sending him threats etc.

I found it amusing but others may be shocked to see the level in which he did it at (including having a seperate account and a level 1 alliance toon called angwespy).

Oh and world PvP is the best out of everything, its more of a challenge and doesnt feel as forced.
I think PvP servers would work better if there were penalties for ganking. I played on a PvP server for a year and can count on one hand how many fair fights I was in. Most of the time a high level character would hang out in a low level area and pick off people who had no chance.

If people would lose honor for killing toons a few levels lower than them they might reconsider. How about if you could place a bounty on a player and have it appear on a wanted signs in all the towns that are in contested territories? Another solution would be to have a patrol dispatched once someone "ganks" x amount of other players to hunt down and kill the offender. That patrol could be a group of five level 80 elites.

The PvP server seemed like a good idea in theory but since there's no penalty for killing people much lower than you it just becomes ridiculous.
You can't keep pretending EVE does not exist, not when it's now bigger than many of the 'mainstream' PvE MMOs. Everything in that game revolves around it's negative sum PvP (even those that never leave empire or even a station are effected), and considering it's the ONLY major MMO that is still growing after five years, with no signs of slowing down, that's hard to ignore.

But cloning the EVE model is far more difficult than cloning 'kill ten rats' quests from EQ1, and as we've seen, most developers simply don't have the talent to pull it off.
here is the angwe link I was talking about
I would give a much different response to the question: "So why do some people like the ability to grief so much?" If we define griefing as "killing someone who has no real chance of killing you back," then the answer lies in human psychology, not Everquest. There will always be bullies who like to prey on the helpless. I wish more games would follow WAR's example and impose a "bunny penalty" on these thugs.
Griefing is not PvP. It's harassment and has motivational factors all on it's own. The main one being that they think it's funny.

There are LOTS of ways to grief people, and yes -- one way is through PvP, particularly if it has Impact.

There are equally as many ways to grief people that don't use PvP (like sitting on a mailbox).

I don't think anyone would say that 'stitting on a mailbox' is PvP.
If we define griefing as "killing someone who has no real chance of killing you back"

That's not the definition of griefing. That's the definition of "ganking" someone.

At it's core, griefing is about harassing other players. Can a player perceive ganking as harassment? Of course. But 'griefing' is not exclusive to PvP.

And more importantly, not all "Ganking" is Griefing.

The issue is context. In other words, if the victim accepts Ganking as part of the game, was it really abuse?
Tobold, I sort of agree with your points, and I would agree even more if you made the disclaimer: "this is based on today's population of DIKU MMOs".

That, however, does not mean that the theoretical design concept of MMO PvP is doomed and meant to fail from the start. It merely means that the current iteration of DIKU clones have not spent enough design resources on making PVP an attractive feature.

I would wager that if a game company that knows how to design games, such as Blizzard, would aim to bring to market a PVP focused game then it will achieve great success. WoW is a PVE focused game from the start. Other game companies (Mythic for example) completely fail at game design.

So let's take a look at Impact PvP. There's nothing wrong with the idea that an ingame action should impact your ingame world, heck ideally everything should do that. So the problem is clearly in the implementation.

Your PvP server alt was ganked and corpse camped by someone many levels higher. That is bad PvP design, simply because the very mechanism of level based DIKUs, where levels trump every single other factor. Good PvP design would acknowledge the fact every encounter/fight both sides should have SOME chance of success. You have 0% chance to win against someone who outleves you dramatically, so then if you want to create a successful PVP MMO you have to veer away from the currently accepted level paradigm.

Or take pug vs premade, if your PvP mechanic is by definition in a XvsX format. If you don't take care to differentiate, than premades will roflstomp the pugs to the ground 99% of the time. That lack of equality will simply lead to the losing side not participating at all, and it is bad design.

There can be a lot of fruitful discussion on this topic, I would only like to say that in my opinion, if you want to make a good PvP game, as a designer your most important priority is to minimize, if not totally eliminate griefing opportunities. The linked OP makes a very good distinction between ganking and griefing, I think a good PvP game should have plenty of the former and none of the latter.

Name another PvP genre that allows griefing. Competitive RTS games don't, competitive FPS don't, competitive racing games don't, competitive sport games don't.
I once watched a video of a motivational speaker talking about what motivates people. He said one thing that motivates people is their need to be "relevant". The example he gave was that if I point a gun at you randomly on the street, I've gone from 0 to 100% relevance for you. It's the quickest and dirtiest way to do that.

Imho, that's the best explanation I've ever heard of the basest reason people want PvP and why some like to gank.
@syncaine: It's my understanding that the majority of players in EVE restrict themselves to high security space. Has that changed recently?
Tobold said :

"Take away characters getting stronger through gear and levels, and you don't have a MMORPG any more."

I totally disagree with that statement and I believe that pieces you've written in the past contradict it also.
I agree with Sid, but as with all rules there are exceptions, and sometimes killing someone much lower than you, even just once, could still be considered Griefing.

Here's a few examples.

While on a lowbie toon I was crossing the bridge into Lakeshire, being a contested zone on PvP servers, and was 1-shot ganked by a Rogue. I never saw it coming. Ganked? Absolutely! (Not that there's anything wrong with that) Griefed? Not in my opinion, no. Merely a wake-up call that this was a PvP server and Contested Zones mean watch your back. I rez'd under the bridge, swam to the Inn, and thought no more of it, but from then on I did pay a little more attention to my surroundings while in Contested Zones.

What if I hadn't Rez'd under the bridge but up on top where the Rogue could have Ambushed me again? Griefing? For getting Ganked twice in a row? I say No. What about three times? Four? IMO, it's still not Griefing. It's simply me being an idiot and failing to learn from my mistakes.

Second case. While flying over Elwynn Forest the Defense channel popped up that Stonefield Farm was under attack. I landed, rode down there, popped Stealth and looked around and found...a low teens Horde Hunter killing the Stonefield NPCs. Just as the Horde Rogue had killed me so long ago, I slipped up behind him, hit Ambush, and one-shot him. Then I hit Stealth & slipped away. Not in case he had more powerful friends around, but because I didn't feel it necessary to stick around and corpse camp him. I also Stealthed and slipped away, rather than ride away in the open, because I wanted to leave him wondering whether or not I was still around. Ganking? Yes. Griefing? Not at all. He'd invaded Ally turf, slain some Ally NPCs, and died as a direct result of his own, deliberate actions.

Now had I stuck around and corpse camped him until he Hearthed or waited out his PvP Flag, would that have been Griefing? Again, just my opinion, but No, because he was the one who initiated PvP. He voluntarily flagged himself so any actions taken against him would have been completely justified.

Final incident. A Horde player rolls a lowbie Ally Alt on a PvE server, Flags himself in Goldshire, then challenges players to Duels. This results in numerous other low-level Ally players unintentionally Flagging themselves as they Duel him, buff him, heal him, etc. These Flagged players are then Ganked by a Horde Rogue hiding nearby. Is this Griefing?

IMO Yes. It's different from the Stonefield Farm incident because now you have two players conspiring to trick low-level players into Flagging themselves in order to Gank them. This was not consensual PvP. It was accidental Flagging by inattentive players. Yes, they should have been paying a little more attention to the player they were Healing, Buffing, etc, so it is a learning situation, but IMO it's also still Griefing.
sid67 says, "That's not the definition of griefing. That's the definition of "ganking" someone."

Oh please. Not all ganking is griefing, but it's pretty damn close, especially when it's deliberate, preplanned and located in a low-lev zone. Good day, sir.

To syncaine, yeah, EVE is growing - slowly. It's a quality game, but harsh. I had a chance to do the five-day return, it's beautiful and always a lot to do. But I'll bet zero-space is still lonely and the griefers are still in low-sec too. The majority of EVE are in high-sec, always will be.
@Ayr and J: The majority of players are in high sec and don't PvP, but what makes EVERYTHING in EVE work is the ripple effects of it's negative sum PvP (and in part its negative PvE penalties as well). That's my point, if you remove that smaller percentage living in 0.0 and blowing each other up while protecting high-value space, the effect it would have on empire space would be huge. So huge, that it would very likely make living in empire space far less interesting (ie: the game would NOT be growing)

Hell, even in DarkFall only a certain % of the population is focused on PvP, while a good number of others just enjoy living in the world and reacting to what happens, be it PvP or otherwise. But remove what PvP brings to DF, and even those who don't focus on it would find a far less interesting game.
[...]After reading Tobold’s response to yesterday’s entry and some of the comments, I wanted to take a moment to post this chart I created which I think does a better job of quickly explaining my take on the multi-facets of PvP.[...]
-"The PvP Political Compass" (Serial Ganker)

I would argue that the 'ripple' effect that you are describing is really owed to the (extremely brilliant) fact that EVE is a single shard game. Rather than fact that its brand of PvP is zero-sum rather instead of positive-sum.

In my humble opinion, even with a positive-sum mechanics that determine sov changes, you would still see a similar 'ripple' effect.
I'm not sure I understand why you think WAR failed in the context of your post. Are you suggesting WAR PvP is not Positive impact or are you suggesting it is Negative Sum?

I actually enjoy WARs PvP over WoWs, and feel like I was able to continually improve my charater's gear and stats through WARs PvP, win or lose. I also have fun while I am progressing. I have heard WAR described as Casual PvP,and for me, that is spot on. I guess in my mind that is Positive Impact PvP. I fel rewarded by the developers and teh experience.
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