Tobold's Blog
Saturday, January 21, 2012
 
Playing nice

You might have heard of this week's Ilium disaster in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Basically Bioware changed the rules how PvP is handled in a specific PvP zone, and got surprised by the consequences to a degree that they needed to emergency patch in a hotfix. It turned out that if you make PvP very unrestricted, with very few limitations except that you can only kill players of the other faction, players will react by playing not nice. In this case it was possible to camp spawn the enemy faction, and people did so in large numbers. The previously barely reported faction imbalance between Empire and Republic, with Empire outnumbering Republic up to 6:1 on some servers, of course also played a big role.

It is stories like these why I don't play unbalanced PvP. I only ever create characters on PvE servers, and I avoid games which don't balance their PvP, except for testing. The problem is not even necessarily the games, but the problem is that people online don't play nice. In the real world people set up things like amateur soccer matches, where without external pressure the players themselves prefer an organization which is as fair as possible. In online virtual worlds people always try to make PvP as unfair as possible to their advantage. The Council of Stellar Management (CSM), a player-elected council who represent the views of the members of the EVE Online community to CCP, recently stated that in their mind the "unique attraction of EVE is "you can grief people" and "it's not a game for wusses"". People pay money for the privilege to grief other players, that is the kind of world we live in.

There are a lot of good PvP games out there, but if you look closely they are good because in some way the game developers forced balance into the game. Unbalanced games only hold on to their players by offering them safe zones, which is what Bioware now patched into SWTOR. World of Tanks is an extremely well balanced game, which promptly makes some people complain about that balance. It appears that there is a large demand not for games in which players fight against other players in some balanced way with uncertain outcome, but rather for games which allow you to completely crush your opponents without ever giving them even a hint of a chance.

The problem with unbalanced PvP in virtual online worlds is that the losing players have the unalienable right to log off. Bioware had to patch Ilium because Republic players simply logged off, or found the trick on how to sign up for a warzone and use the emergency fleet pass from there to escape Ilium. If the zone hadn't been patched, it would have become deserted within days. Nobody wants to play the loser without a chance in a virtual war. If everybody wants to crush their opponents, and nobody wants to play the crushed opponent, then maybe it is time for some new business models: The predetermined winners could be made to pay to win, while the losers would be paid to lose. In a way Free2Play games with "pay to win" items in the shop already function a bit like that. Or people need to play PvE, because computer opponents don't mind getting crushed all the time.
Comments:
The other problem with the Ilum corpse camping is that it isn't a good pvp game. Even for pvpers.

Sure, it must have been nice to get loads of honour or whatever points one needs but standing at a graveyard waiting for the flash of red names so you can aoe them down? That's simply not much of a game.
 
EVE is doing just fine with "unbalanced" PvP. Any system that has these artificial limitations (2 factions, respawning points, etc) will always be open to abuse by players playing to win. The solution, I think is either keep things to a rated arena (think WoW) system, or open sandbox (a la EVE). Anything in the middle is just going to be subjected to issues you and other MMORPG bloggers bring up.
 
How about variable subscription pricing for different factions? An account is only able to create characters on one of the two factions. Every month the sub fee is recalculated based on faction imbalance as judged by population or PVP results (total battlegrounds won etc)
 
You need to differentiate between games with PvP which is directly fun and games that have a strategic, immersive element to it. That is the difference between SW and Eve, for example.

As for SW: Any blogger could have predicted this outcome. ridiculous.
 
You make a very good point about ad hoc soccer matches in the real world. Why can this not be replicated in an online world?

Is it perhaps because in the back yard soccer match players themselves have the power to influence the rules on the spot if they feel they are being unfairly treated?
 
The problem here, Tobold, is that you are defining 'balance' in a very restrictive way. For you a 'balanced' game is a game of short skirmishes in which there are no lasting consequences for winning or losing.

There is nothing wrong with such games - I enjoy them myself - but they are a very specific category of game and 'balanced' is not a good definition for them. Many people want to play games using other kinds of rules: for example rules in which skill actually counts significantly towards a player's success, and people with poor skills do badly. Now some people do indeed have more skill than others, but 'unbalanced' is the wrong word to describe this reality.

In the real world there are many games of this kind, and I don't see why there can't be in virtual worlds too. Not every game has to be designed in such a way that it would be ideal for a childrens' playground. I'm not being dismissive of people who like such games: as I've said, I like them myself. But I also like games with a bit more in the way of consequences.

Probably most subscription-style MMORPGs in at least the medium term will lean towards your model anyway, so you don't have to worry. Bioware inadvertently created a realistic role-playing situation in which a large force of evil Imperials brutally subjugated a smaller force of brave republicans, and immediately they were falling over themselves fixing it, to the tune of anguished howling from every quarter of the internet when the fix took more than five minutes. Skill games or games in which random factors impact the development of characters will be a niche, for now anyway, though perhaps they will become more common as the player base matures.

I don't play Eve, but I'm glad it's out there, and other games that differ from what has become the norm for games targeted at the mass market.
 
"In the real world there are many games of this kind"

Can you name any of these games?
 
Pretty much every game there is, and every organized sport. Golf even has handicaps that are designed to maximally balance the game out between players of different skill. Do you know any real world game in which ganking and griefing is a normal feature?
 
"the "unique attraction of EVE is "you can grief people" and "it's not a game for wusses"". "

Why is the ability to "pwn" helpless "noobz," rather than face an equally matched opponent, something that makes you NOT a wuss?
 
Do you know any real world game in which ganking and griefing is a normal feature?

War
 
"Many people want to play games using other kinds of rules: for example rules in which skill actually counts significantly towards a player's success, and people with poor skills do badly. Now some people do indeed have more skill than others, but 'unbalanced' is the wrong word to describe this reality."

Player skill doesn't count for much when you are vastly outnumbered in an MMO. In RL maybe, but these games aren't even close to that complex so far. I think you missed the point of the OP.
 
I wonder if it says anything about certain people that rather than emulate any single game or sport in human history, which seeks balanced matches, would prefer to emulate war, which matches the griefing and unbalanced action and heavy consequences model.
 
@Tobold: I meant these other games that are not "short skirmishes in which there are no lasting consequences for winning or losing.
". Perhaps I should have quoted that part too.
 
Aren't even serious sports organized in leagues, making sure that about equally powerful teams meet? Even world championships of team sports have equal numbers of players on both sides. I can't think of any game or sport that has a superior number of players gank a lower number.
 
Why do you keep comparing organized sports with open world PvP? Instanced PvP should definitely be balanced, and it's also the only type of PvP you can liken to a soccer match.

Open world PvP can only be compared to war, which is exactly what it's emulating. If there were open world soccer matches I'm sure those wouldn't be nearly as balanced or fair as a regular one.

While I think the problem with Ilum (which stems from SWTOR's schizophrenic method of game design) is one that definitely needed fixing, your understanding of "balance" with that type of PvP is just wrong. Like, literally you just misunderstand the point.

Instanced matches should always be balanced. Open world PvP is different, the fluctuation of highs and lows is part of the experience. The balance comes at the macro level, not immediately.
 
Why would war be balanced at the macro level? There is no example in thousands years of human history where war ended up balanced on the macro level. Instead one side always won, and ended the war.

Is that what you want? Open war in Star Wars: The Old Republic? The Empire winning within days, and then game over? Who the heck would want to play that?
 
Sports are completely unbalanced. Hardly anyone has the ability to become a star at any given sport. You don't win the big prizes for winning a golf tournament with a 40handicap.

There are certainly rated arenas, but the rewards are biased towards the higher arenas.

Don't many of the issues with open warfare in MMORPGs arise because the 'war' is not based on real needs or tensions but on an artificial storyline?
 
"Do you know any real world game in which ganking and griefing is a normal feature?"

Hockey.
 
How people react in the short term to something is no great indication of anything.

Lotro has appallingly balanced pvp but most people will play sensibly as the game, at 4 years old, is mature and people understand what happens when they dont play nice. I can remember one of my guildies getting kicked for persistently camping the enemy starting zone, and people who do this soon get themselves known and are generally disliked as it ruins the pvp as a whole. When the numbers are unbalanced both sides will often refrain from taking all of the "keeps" just to keep the pvp going.

Its not much different from trading - there has to be some sort of win for both sides to make the transactions continue and all but the most stupid realise this either conciously or sub-conciously.
 
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