Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 22, 2013
Cyrodiil shatters illusions

There are quite a lot of people, Keen among them, upset about The Elder Scrolls Online's PvP zone Cyrodiil. The problem, as stated by the people who complain, is that TESO only has one mega-server, and thus Cyrodiil will exist in several mirrored copies. Thus if you are losing badly on Cyrodiil copy number 4, you can just switch over to Cyrodiil copy number 7, where your side is winning. Some people live under the illusion that PvP somehow "matters", and thus see TESO "ruining" 3-faction PvP.

The harsh truth is that playing only ever on the winning side has been possible in every PvP MMORPG ever made. It just used to be more complicated, requiring you to make several characters or other hoops to jump through. But by design territorial PvP, whatever the number of factions, is always and has always been an un-winnable war. Permanent territorial gains for any faction are impossible. With rewards usually being handed out for conquering, while defending is under-rewarded and boring, battles are in eternal flux.

Furthermore in large scale PvP the actions and performance of any single player matter very little. Thus the prevalent tactic in most of these games is the Zerg rush, where most of the players of one side form an unruly mob rushing towards some position of the enemy, while many other parts of the battlefield are completely deserted. Frequently you get silly merry-go-rounds, where each side has a zerg rush mob on the battlefield, all carefully avoiding to meet each other, but each attacking undefended targets.

In short: PvP as designed for MMORPGs never really matters. If it wasn't for fortresses where door hold up the attacking zerg for a bit, while a few defenders pointlessly shoot at them from the battlements, there wouldn't even be any combat in a battle-zone.

And that is not just due to bad design or anything, but due to some inherent unsolvable problems: Players get to choose on which side they play, they play only some hours during the day, and they prefer winning over losing. None of these core problems are likely to ever change. And thus PvP combat will never matter, because you can't force people to lose. As the losing side just logs off or switches server, they leave the winning side with a hollow victory against a fortress door or an undefended flag. TESO maybe makes this easier than other games, but the core problem has always been there.

The alternative to multiple instances is to put a cap on the zone and add a queue, simallar to what GW2 does. But that also excludes large groups queueing together, since there might be empty spots for only half of them.

And yet Keen was among the first to whine about how much he had to wait to play in WvW, as well as for the fact that he couldn't queue with a group.

This is why catering to the PvP crowd is hopeless.
This is exactly why pvp hasn't ever appealed to me. The only pvp I've ever done was a few low-level warzones in Rift when IRL friends "dragged me in" with them. After 3 or 4 times I was done. It was simply pointless. I scored at or near the top of the leaderboards each time, so apparently I "did well" (to the point one of my friends even asked what my spec was since I was doing so much better than she was, in spite of her being an "experience pvp'er" while this was my 1st time doing it) but to me it seemed it was just a lot of running around -- as you said, attacking undefended control points and avoiding the other team as much as possible, other than occasionally picking off single stragglers. Complete yawner for me.
Well, it would be fun if someone made it interesting, like the MMO in that recent Neal Stephenson novel. There, the idea was that RMT was so integrated into the game so that people actually could make real money and even a living out of playing the game – selling resources they picked out of a valuable mine (the game had a finite – or at least supply-limited - resource model as well).

Of course, a game like that would not get anywhere near the millions or even tens of millions of players required for the system to work, but at least there PvP mattered!
I don't think it's an unsolvable problem, though it would require an end to the avatar on a cartesian plane style of MMO.

You're right; this style of pvp is incredibly lame, and that was really the problem with Warhammer--- it's even lamer than WoW and it's not going to hold players because eventually they'll realize they are paying to be bored to tears.

But I think it could work, you would just need to engage on a smaller level.

For example:

you could have quests to sneak around in enemy territory gathering intel, or sabotaging enemy farms or a quest to capture an enemy player to interrogate.

If you were losing you could go guerrilla warfare and try to lead secret attacks into the enemy base just to create as much damage as you can.

You could get titles and rewards for defending, and if you could make it a bit more fun than waiting for them to knock down the door that would be great. Maybe some magic machine guns, or the ability to control a couple of raid-boss like Gundams would incentive defense by making it fun. Something like that.

I'd like to see some kind of command structure, where the game allows the leader of a warband to set goals for players, and players are penalized for disobeying the orders or leaving the group without permission from the leader (I guess you'd need some kind of time limit on that to avoid abuse of that power, but abusive players would quickly lose the ability to get players to follow them).

Also I think maybe letting players set up fortrs with automated soldiers for protection would add a strategic element that might make it a bit better than the zerg/counterzerg nonsense. You could have a resource game where the resources gained from controlling a fort could be used by the player to improve it or pocket it. Even better would be actual terrain and camoflauge, so if your fire mages are on a ridge behind some bushes they can fire on the enemy with greater accuracy and safety than the mages trying to cross a stream.

TLDR; MMO's need to stop being lame for RvR pvp to actually work.
Here's an idea. Why not make PvP zones hybrids of PvE and PvP? Meaning, There are initially 30 NPC's per side in a PvP zone duking it out and as players from each faction zone in, they replace the NPC's. Developers have become more and more adept at programming intelligent bots and in games where skill isn't as important as gear, aka MMO's, the NPC's could very well be tweaked to pose as much of a challenge as other PC's. This could solve the problem of having deserted areas and it also allows for greater creativity. I believe someone mentioned a command structure. Imagine having a headquarters that a person or people could stay at and watch over the battlefield/direct the friendly NPC's.
They've yet to make a game where 'to hold' is as fun as 'to take'. So pvp devolves into zergs running around flipping territory back and forth.

It must be this way. If holding territory were as fun as taking territory, there'd be no incentive to pvp. But because taking territory is more fun than holding territory, having something taken from you isn't as painful as taking something from someone else is thrilling.

The system has to be that way in order for pvp'ers to have self-consistent mindsets. If they found being attacked more painful than attacking is joyous, then anyone with that belief who still was willing to attack would be a complete monster.

PvP has to be pointless so that PvP'ers can be moral. So that moral people can do pvp.
And I'll be the obnoxious carebear here and ask: has anyone has confirmed that PvP is easily ignored or bypassed in ESO? Everyone gets worked up over the quality and design on the PvP in these reports, but what I want is confirmation that I can safely ignore all the PvPers and enjoy the PvE experience unmolested ;-)
As someone pointed out deep in the comments on Keen, how well PvP works (or doesn't work) doesn't matter much to the success of TESO.

PvP players (I don't include those like me who will do a battleground now and again if it's fun) are a vociferous, awkward minority, who will game every system anyway until it breaks.

Whether TESO will be a success or not is unknown, but whichever it is won't be due to PvP.
You provoked me into posting on this one. Your universal statements are incorrect. GW2 WvW has weekly winners as well as lead shifts throughout the week.

We are closing out this week in the next few hours and it looks like my server will win. At one point this week we were behind on a points but a concerted effort from several guilds has changed the tide.
Some people just enjoy fighting other players more than AI -- is it a waste of time if they enjoy it? It's no more of a waste of time than PvE -- it's just about having fun playing whichever aspect of the game you prefer (many people like a mix of both).

GW2 is pretty zergy in general, but people can and do defend supply camps, towers, keeps and the main castle -- often successfully and often defending something from a force 2-3 times your size.
On an unrelated note, Blizzard announces gear scaling for PvP in WoW in patch 5.3, which is a great change for people who like to casually hop into a battleground every now and then
For MMO PvP to have meaning players have to be invested in the territory they defend. A nameless keep populated by an NPC lord is completely alien and useless to you, so why not let the enemy take it?

However if that keep is your best source of resources, and your guild has spent weeks building it and growing its defenses, they WILL stand and hold it against assault.

Darkfall, for all its faults truly had epic siege fights, because there was a lot on the line. Not just some arbitrary point based reward but a home, a defensible base of operations and fountain of resource. These things made people care for their property, and they would show up by the 100's to defend it.
There's an easy fix for this but no one is game to go for it...

Only 1 pvp instance - no server swapping. When a character is "killed" or "Defeated" in that map they are put back into pve land and cannot return to the pvp battle (with any character on that account) for an hour, or maybe even just 30 minutes.

This will make tactics become slightly more important, and rushing a defended fortress may not be so wise.

If you have more than 1 account sure, you can jump in again but I would think that some hoops are just too bothersome to jump through.
Permanent territorial gains for any faction are impossible. With rewards usually being handed out for conquering, while defending is under-rewarded and boring, battles are in eternal flux.

What about EVE. Battling for systems against other players doesn't grant instant rewards, keeping the system does, and that I think counts as a permament territorial gain.

But frankly, the only PvP I like are tournaments, not unlike the GW2 tournaments, where you combat build vs build and not neccesary need to grind up better loot.

Neal Stephneson's novel MMO would reauire the world to change some fundamental laws, and a game where virtual resources are Real Money would have to have government level protection. Forget about freedom of internet then.

And the ideas of putting additional restrictions for disobedience of orders or serwver swapping is a workaround and not a fix in the system.

EVE gives rewards for keeping, the only reward in conquering is the fun you had while doing it. But to actually attack a territory and win you need to be a really sneaky and zealously devoted person and when a game attracts only that type of people, you know how it ends. (It ends like EVE, if you don't know: the biggest azzhole survives, the rest burns and cries)
The point is not that defending territory is less fun than attacking it - in fact I prefer defending, because it is often more strategic than attacking; where to put defense, when to repair and when to build, when try to push back, where to stop the enemie, etc.
The point is that waiting for enemy attacks is not fun. And often, developer fears to give the defenders good way to defend themselves and out-power the enemies.
Something that sticks out, and something that is hardly ever discussed, is the issue of asymmetrical game design as it pertains to PvP. The first person shooter crowd/developers grappled with this issue a LONG time ago, and have since come closer to a balance; more-so than the MMO genre due to its insistence on not implementing fixes for the most glaring issue in non-instanced PvP:

Population balance - it seems that MMO devs "assume" that the population balance will be ideal, and they seemingly continue to develope/operate under the assumption that character level trumps numbers, and numbers somehow trumps skill. Meanwhile, the population balance is rarely ideal, so character level, realm/faction population and skill never fully materialize in a meaningful way.

Having said that, I still feel that the best designed PvP/RvR game isn't the most selective one in terms of inclusion, but it's the one that takes you by the hand and teaches you how to learn to get better.
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