Tobold's Blog
Friday, July 23, 2010
Impact vs. time

Much has been written about the relative greater success of PvE games over PvP games, or why in a game offering both a majority of players remains in safe areas like UO Trammel or EVE empire space. The theories range from impact PvP being inherently "niche" to the idea that PvP just "hasn't been done right yet". But while spending my holiday mostly away from computers, I came up with a different explanation: What if it is simply a question of time?

On the larger time scale, consider my holiday: When I'll be back to World of Warcraft after an absence of 3 weeks, I'll be able to continue as if I hadn't been away at all. The PvE content is still there like it was before I left, and my guild isn't so hardcore as to kick out players for a few weeks of absence. Now if I was playing a PvE game with lots of politics, territorial conquest, and warfare between alliances, several weeks of absence would be a lot more noticeable. A lot of things can happen during 3 weeks in an impact PvP game, and the more you are involved, lets say as leader of an alliance, the harder would it be to just take 3 weeks off. You'd probably find your position usurped by another player, and the situation completely changed.

On the smaller time scale, PvE content is easier to consume in shorter sessions. If you have just half an hour to play, you can do a heroic dungeon in World of Warcraft nowadays. But setting up a big PvP battle takes a lot longer. If you want to play politics in an impact PvP game, you'd better be online a lot. And games of territorial conquest become somewhat silly when everbody logs off after the enemy territory is taken, allowing the enemy to take it back a short time later.

While the press usually reports about the extremes, the players who play 16+ hours a day, the average player is estimated to spend just 20 hours a week online, and casual players might just be playing an hour per day, and not every day. That works fine in the pseudo-static environment of PvE games, but playing little and on an unpredictable schedule is certainly a huge disadvantage for PvP. So maybe the smaller number of PvP players can simply be explained by the average player not having the time to really get involved enough in a PvP game to really make the desired impact.
Time is a big factor. I am very much on the casual side of the gaming spectrum, and though I play EVE and dabble in PVP, I have never been heavily involved in 0.0 politics and corps. Faction Warfare and low sec small ship fights is about as deep into PVP as I go. I just don't have the time to participate in larger actions or the resources (again, linked to time in game) to sustain heavy loses to afford to risk bigger ships.
Going on a roam and making an impact on some random player isn't that time-critical, but if you want to hit specific enemies you need to match your schedule with theirs. Just like you can hit any random dungeon at any time, but raids need some scheduling.
Um, isn't the difference more between high and low impact than PvP and PvE? You can have low impact PvP (battlegrounds) and high impact PvE (A Tale in the Desert).

Low impact PvP is very very popular online (FPS/RTS matches) and it's free so there it is hard for MMORPGs to charge subscription fees for that.

However, there is a big market for subscription low impact PvE since there isn't much in the way of quality low impact online PvE that is free (just Guild Wars pretty much).

Of course it is much easier to provide low impact PvP without subscription fees than low impact PvE, since with PvP you don't need to constantly provide new content.

I think you're right that most people are looking for low impact gaming, which provides a lot of the skew in numbers between PvP and PvE.

Basically there are probably about the same number of players who want PvP and PvE, but people who want low impact PvP can just play games without having to pony up for a subscription, while PvE players who want to play one game for a long time have a lot fewer options.

That leaves people who want both high impact AND PvP as the main MMORPG PvP customer base, which just isn't that big. Having high impact PvP games be hard to make also doesn't help.
My first real introduction to PvP was in Dark Age of Camelot. In many ways I really enjoyed it, but there was one overriding factor that eventually led me to go back to pure PvE games. It was, indeed, time.

It wasn't, however, anything to do with the time needed for the macro game of realm control and politics. It was the incredible amount of time it took before any PvP ever took place.

I can't begin to count the time I spent roaming around the frontier either unable to find anyone from the other realm at all or finding only overwhelming numbers steamrolling my realm. Often there would be equal numbers in a stand-off at the Milegates, but even then over a three-hour session there would be maybe half an hour of actual fighting at best.

Even when Battlegrounds were introduced to counter the increasing complaints that PvP was too hard to find, after the initial excitement they too settled into stand-offs. I recall many wasted evenings trying to tempt the other realms out of their keeps or being helplessly trapped in my own.

The thing about PvE is, monsters are always there and always ready to fight. It seems the only way to replicate this availibility with PvP is to reduce the whole thing to the sports-pvp of WoW or WAR's randomly assigned, timed, victory-condition driven "matches". By which time you are pretty much playing a completely different genre.
There is more than one kind of PvP in an MMO.

There is the EVE Online type, where its not so much about the battle, but about the war. Of course this is going to be a long term type PvP where a huge number of factors are important, and drastic changes can take place with whole clusters of systems changing hands if one side pulls off a great offensive.

There is the WoW Arena type, which is basically just like most non-MMO PvP games where you just join a server and shoot each other or whatever, just replace shoot with hit with sword, or cast spells.

Then there is the one most people are ignoring, which is the purely PvP games like Planetside or World War 2 Online. There are always people to fight, you can come and go and not be screwed out of things because the long term impact isn't there (If your team gets pushed back in Planetside, eventually you are able to get a foothold back, in World War 2 the map resets after one side wins, which is generally a 1-2 month per campaign)

I think the last type hasn't been explored enough and I think that it gave have the best of both worlds. You can have a big impact on the state of the map whenever you play, but if you leave for a few weeks and come back, you aren't going to come home to your guild having no city, or whatever. I'd like to see some more attempts at games like this.

Lastly, if there is really no PvP market past a small subset, I think the issue is less about time and more about predictability. When you log onto to WoW you know EXACTLY what you are getting. When you are logging into a mainly PvP game of any sort (MMO or otherwise) you are dealing with other people and the experience you get is going to be unpredictable for this reason. It could be awful, it could be good, it could be frustrating, or the way people are playing that day might not be your cup of tea. That lack of stability seems far more likely to be the cause of why people prefer PvE than the time commitment.
I quite agree with you Tobold. I have recently started back in EVE but prior to my my leaving I did participate in some of the fleet and smaller ship to ship battles. However, now that I am back I find that I will not have the time to participate in these PvP conflicts as I am starting back to university soon.
You missed the PvP where its very comparable to your 30 minute random heroic. I log in and do one or two random BG's to get my 25 arena points. Same concept. 30-60 minutes a night, that is all.
Great post Tobold and I think you are right. A PvP game represents a commitment that most players are not willing or able to have.

Like bottling ships! :D

And it didn't hurt to write a post about PvP without writing the words: "evil", "sociopath" or "grieving" did it! The vacations are doing you some good! ;)
Sorry, I do not think time is all that important as a factor. The most important factors are success rate and rewards.

Most people can win at PvE nearly all the time. By necessity, in PvP the failures must equal the successes.

You also cannot provide substantial, character-advancing rewards for success in PvP. If you did, the better PvPers would further separate from the "losers."
Similar to time, there is the matter of skill. It requires little skill to quest and level in PvE, and there is no comparable mechanism in PvP. Even getting rewarded (honor or arena points) isn't enough incentive for new/unskilled players to be humiliated in PvP. So PvP is limited to people who have the time to build up their skills and in the case of MMOs, their characters.
I'd argue that it hasn't been done right.

RvR as implemented in WAR got incredibly monotonous. There's only so many hours you can spend standing around castles waiting for the gate to fall, or waiting to cap some objective. There needs to be fun activities you can do by yourself or with a few small friends, like, say, sneaking into the enemy camp and pickpocketing intelligence from the enemy, or ambushing a supply caravan or something. But a good stealth game requires that you be able to sneak around, climb walls, assassinate guards, etc. Which is apparently beyond the technical capabilities of today's MMOs.

Basically, I think MMOs will need to become more like other games, environments you can really engage with by climbing, hiding, etc, and have player mechanics that are more advanced that what you saw in Zelda. LOS mechanics will have to die, for instance, and be replaced with aiming mechanics, so the environment can't be used for exploits, that platform at the top of WSG is accessible without knowing exactly the right way to jump, that kind of thing. Also, the enemy can't have a bright red icon over their head that can be seen a mile away.

In short, contemporary MMO's are pretty gimpy when it comes to things that really make PvP fun, and that's why PVP-centered MMO's have had a hard time to date. I don't think it's really a time thing; if a player is playing 3 hours a week, he isn't making an impact in the world in any type of game. If anything, a quick and violent pvp match would be more suited to the player that pops on for a bit of fun. It's just a matter of delivering that rush to him in a timely manner.
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@samus - the WoW arena ratings are set up so failures don't equal successes. you can lose a good bit and still have your ratings rise. it is not zero-sum

@changed - i see a lot of people who the HK is more than enough (and that is even for the non-AFK non-bots) When people in chat are discussing how many more matches they need to do to get something, I feel that win/loss isn't a huge priority.

But i see the real difference in non-consensual and in particular interruptibility. I.e., if a friend/love one calls, child cries, TV becomes interesting, snacks, bathrooms, I can pause a lot of (solo) PvE. But if I can be ganked while/after autopiloting in EVE, there is a lot more hassle and planning and commitment. And I play games to avoid planning, hassle and commitment; i want fun not a job.

Low stress is you can take a 3 week vacation or spend 3 minutes watching TV & microwave without a disaster. High stress is a Goon CEO taking a vacation and a 5000 person alliance fails and tens of thousand of dollars worth of virtual assets are misappropriated.
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@Hagu - "I want fun, not a job"

I think this speaks to a difference in mentality between PvE and PvP players generally speaking. Most PvE players do treat it like "just a game."

A lot of PvP players though treat it more seriously. I think that the job analogy is actually poor though. I think that PvP players approach it like a *sport.* You need to put in preparation time both in terms of skill and strategy, you need to practice with the people you'll be playing with so you are on the same wavelength as them while playing, and you then when game time comes you play competitively.

Now, I can see how this would be "work like" to people that never played or don't enjoy now playing sports, but I think this is the digital equivalent. Even when you're not talking strictly about "e-sports," I think the mentality of the PvP player is generally much more sport-like.
I agree with Hagu's sentiments somewhat about wanting to "pause" the game.

I think a big part of the equation is the mindset of the player in question. In WoW, I play exclusively on PvE servers. There are 2 reasons for this. First, when I log in and intend to level, I don't want my progress to be slowed down by some ultra-highlevel jackass who has nothing better to do. Second, most of the people I wish I could kill are on my faction anyway, so being on a PvP server would do me no good in this respect.

At level 80, on the other hand, there is practically no world PvP to be had. People aren't really "in the world" anymore with LFD, and there aren't worthwhile rewards for hunting players. Besides, we all know world PvP in WoW largely amounts to whoever gets the jump wins, unless the other person is loaded for bear with PvP gear.

I think one way WoW could really have improved the open-world PvP concept would be to restrict combat to level ranges, or being able to only fight back against a low level player if they "go grey" on you (sorry, UO/darkfall lingo, basically, if someone attacks you, you are free to lace into them for up to 5 minutes since their last action toward you)

That said, every PvP-based game that I've played tends toward the same mentality as PvE-based games. If you want good, full-flavored combat, you have to be online and ready at the same time as the majority of other players, just like raiding.
Most people can win at PvE nearly all the time. By necessity, in PvP the failures must equal the successes.

Which doesn't happen unless you have the same amount of time into the pvp game as the other people you are playing with. If you can't play as much you become the road kill over and over. Whether its because of gear in an MMO or just not playing as much and not building up the skills in a FPS.
He was talking about global statistics, not personal statistics. If someone loses in a PvP game, someone else must by definition win. Still, a proper ranking system should detect your decreased skill fairly quickly and adjust your rank downwards until you start winning again. Eventually, it should stabilize to the 50-50 win/loss ratio.
If the rating system is designed so that you win about half the time, regardless of your skill, just against lesser/worse opponents, then I don't see it being popular. I also think there are many examples, from Blizzards change that twinks only BG with twinks killing twinking to the EVE gatecamps show that the number of PvPers that want fair PvP is a minority.

The idea that a game developer coming up with a numeric rating so that half of their paying customers could see they are below average seems to me like a very, very bad business decision.

It's not PvP per se, it is PvP-in-a-MMO that is difficult to pull off. Historically, and for financial reasons if not always good game play, MMO are about progression. Whether by killing pigs or EVE skill queue or Turbine points, MMO are about creating differently abled players. And players with the same human skills competing directly against someone with a lesser capability toon tends to not be fun for the underdog.

Things like the Blizzard Tounament - everyone has the same skill and gear choices - if good eSports and good PvP. but it is not a traditional MMO.
If the rating system is designed so that you win about half the time, regardless of your skill, just against lesser/worse opponents, then I don't see it being popular.
Which is why many ranking systems use the win/loss ratio to gauge whether you're facing appropriate opponents. 50-50 win ratio means that you are. If it's less than that, then your rank is adjusted downwards so that you'll face easier opponents. If it's higher, your rank will raise and thus you'll face tougher opponents.

The idea that a game developer coming up with a numeric rating so that half of their paying customers could see they are below average seems to me like a very, very bad business decision.
Indeed, that truism hurts. One way to solve this dilemma would be to introduce inflation to the ranks. Even if their skill and thus relative position on the ranking chart stays the same, constantly rising numbers can conjure a convincing illusion of progress. It will also provide an incentive for skilled casual players to resume playing. If their skill has not diminished during the absence, their first matches will be easy, because those will be against opponents with inflated ranks. A few easy victories will feel good and they will catch up to their proper opponents soon enough.
Thats a factor too. In fact in more "hardcore" mmo (shadowbane, df) I think it was one of the major factors in player burnout. You had to play a lot , 2 am ,4 am -doesnt matter if your city is sieged

But its bad design. You say people "log off" -well in mmo there are never such time, people are always logged on.Its a question of proper streamlining and organiziation of world pvp content so next wave of players can take over when one logs off
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