Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 01, 2016
 
PvP as sports won over PvP as war

In a different context a reader recently linked a post on the ENWorld forums describing the difference of combat as sports vs. combat as war. While the author was talking about pen & paper RPGs, his examples came from MMORPGs, and that is where that discussion has been going on for a long time. Mostly because of a very vocal minority pushing for PvP to be like war, free-for-all, and not hindered by any considerations of balance and fairness. The majority that didn't sign up for that vision of unlimited ganking was derided as carebears.

But in terms of commercial success we only need to look at what came after MMORPGs to see what players actually prefer: MOBAs like League of Legends or the upcoming new generation of MOBA-shooters are all pure and unadulterated PvP as sports. EVE Online peaked a few years ago at around 60,000 peak concurrent users (80% of which were said not to participate in PvP). League of Legends has 7.5 million peak concurrent users.

With that hindsight it becomes clear where the idea of mass market PvP MMORPGs went wrong: They went for the wrong PvP model. Often they offered different forms of PvP, some keep battles here, some arenas there, but that only served to dilute the population. Even WoW battlegrounds are far less structured than the lanes of a MOBA. Having more than 5 players per side in any PvP format often leads to zerging. It is clear that MOBAs with their lanes and limited player numbers got PvP right. Imagine Warhammer Online without any open world PvP, no keep battles at 3 am when the defenders were offline, but instead offering only PvP in a MOBA style. Wouldn't that have been far more successful and saved WAR from extinction?

Virtual worlds don't have the same rules as the real world. You can easily escape any situation in a virtual world by simply switching it off, and they are populated only at times where people in the real world have leisure time. That always clashed with the PvP as war concept. Waging war against offline opponents is of limited interest to most people, and players have been known to give up on characters on the losing side of war and play characters on the winning side instead. PvP as sports fits the fundamentals of an online game far better than PvP as war.

Comments:
For what little it's worth, I agree. I tend to extend this; is PvP as [e]Sport really compatible with MMOs? When I think of games/sports/esports I think of equality and fairness. Which IMO conflicts with the persistence of MMOs. How can a MMO character earn persistence levels and gear and it be a true game/sport?
 
Where in the world does "winning" come into this? Have superhero blockbuster movies "won" over arthouse films featuring two people talking in a room? Has Justin Bieber "won" over Courtney Barrett?

Products and services exist to meet the needs and desires of their markets. Very clearly there is a market for the "war" model of pvp rather than the "sport" model. It may well be a much smaller market but it has the same potential to be served as any other. There's a strong argument to be made that, as yet, it has not been well served, but that's a very different case from "winning" a competition that doesn't really exist.
 
In an idealized perfect economy, yes. In a real economy companies and investors often prefer for the large market, because it has much more potential and thus offers less risk for investment.

How many millions of dollars have been spent over the last couple of years to make MOBAs and shooter variants of MOBAs? How much money has been spent over the last couple of years to make war PvP games? Larger markets tend to end up oversupplied as everybody wants a piece of the pie; niche markets end up undersupplied because its too much risk for too little reward.
 
Look at the enormous amount of effort Blizzard has wasted on PvP in WoW. It's perpetually unbalancable and literally forces them to just throw their hands up and throw the lore out the window. Horde and Alliance are working together to defeat the forces of the Iron Horde? Nope! They're at each others throats in Asharan! What?

The worst aspect of "PvP as war" is the bait and switch games use to get you in so you can be "content" for the "PvP as war" players. WoW at least has PvE servers that allow you to avoid most of it, but games like Eve are unrepentant... they claim this huge "sandbox" where you can do "All this cool stuff", but in reality you are constant gank bait for their "real customers."

MMORPGs need to ditch PvP entirely and focus on cooperative PvE. MOBAs are where you go to PvP. And that PvP is sport based. Blizzard seems to be figuring this out by having Overwatch on the same launcher as WoW, so you can just jump back and forth.

There is still a niche for open PvP "war" games, but they will be perpetually small without the bait and switch of a sandbox to explore, as you can't have a gank game with no targets.
 
"Where in the world does "winning" come into this? Have superhero blockbuster movies "won" over arthouse films featuring two people talking in a room?"

Ironically yes, as the market gradually pushes out the least favorable option. In my city (population ~5 million) there are only about 4 theaters that play arthouse films for maybe 1 or 2 weeks per title, while dozens screen Civil War weeks after its launch. Commercial victory is still a victory of one genre over the other, especially since time and money are seriously restrained for most of us.
 
Not to mention the fact that for a PvP war fan *everything* is about winning, even if it just writing comments on a blog. ;)
 
I don't think eSports are any direct competition for MMORPGs. In half of them I believe they don't even let the players talk, in case they say something naughty. MMORPGs can contain PvP and eSport-like modes, without being about them.
 
"Very clearly there is a market for the "war" model of pvp rather than the "sport" model. It may well be a much smaller market but it has the same potential to be served as any other. There's a strong argument to be made that, as yet, it has not been well served, but that's a very different case from "winning" a competition that doesn't really exist."

For the entire time between WAR and LoL, as far as I can remember there were ONLY games released with the "war" model. I would argue what should be a niche market has historically been massively over-served. Maybe you feel it has never been "done right," but that is not through lack of games trying.
 
> the upcoming new generation of MOBA-shooters

What is that?
 
While you are obviously right, it doesn't mean MMOs can or should go the MOBA way. Simply because MOBAs are better at being MOBAs.

One of the crucial part of sports is equal equipment. I can't bring bigger sword than my opponent to a fencing sport match. MMOs are all about a bigger sword.

I think MMOs shall go for full PvE or "PvP as War" and accept that "PvP as sport" players will leave for MOBAs anyway.
 
So.. we have PvP as sports, which is MOBAs. And we have solo PvM, which is Diablo (Hack&Slay) and/or instanced 5-man dungeons. The problem: I don't really see how the real, actual world of an MMO (the outdoors) serves any purpose in this. It doesn't really connect to the concepts of dungeons or MOBA very well. However, if you just skip the world, its not an MMORPG, its a MOBA or a Hack&Slay.
 
MOBA-shooters ... What is that?

Also known as hero shooters, as not all of them work with lanes. Long discussion about the difference and the various games can be found here.
 
I think it's not about sport, it's about structured rules.

War sounds appealing culturally and thematically, and it brings vivid images of sheer epicness, but what it really means in terms of a game system is usually loosely defined tug of war or king of the hill-style activity, where some people can maybe sometimes check-in somewhere if they want, and this somehow will actually influence the outcome in some way. It's a lame abstract surrogate system, because you wouldn't want to simulate a real war.

That's because real war is not designed to be interesting, on the contrary, the most effective warfare is the least interesting one. War is good for theme, but it doesn't have a system suitable for games at individual player level.

Sport, on the other hand, is strictly structured activity, which is designed to guarantee interesting contest. No wonder that people looking for something to do (not just to feel), prefer functioning systems, not handwavy-kinda-maybe-epic onese.
 
"That's because real war is not designed to be interesting, on the contrary, the most effective warfare is the least interesting one. War is good for theme, but it doesn't have a system suitable for games at individual player level."

As someone who plays a lot of Europa Universalis 4, this is definitely true. In the strategy of war, you don't want even battles. You want to catch out their smaller forces with your larger force. If you are sending your troops in against an equally matched enemy force, hoping that heroism and luck win the day, you are doing it wrong.

I believe this is why, despite the numerous "war" style games, the fans feel it has "never been done right." There's nothing wrong with the games themselves, the optimal strategy in war just isn't very exciting for the individual player (on either side).
 
Oh, I dunno... give it a few dozen years until we're all submerged in our VR-pods' 'living worlds'.
 
In fact, if war were fun and exciting for the enemy team, the best military strategy you could adopt would be to stop it being so.
 
Thing is, wars end. So can a mmorpg (which try to be endless) even do PVP as war?


 
Devs might settle for a Hundred Years War.
 
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