Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Gevlon says PvP can't be fun

I find Gevlon, and especially his various projects with which he proves World of Warcraft to be a sandbox game by veering of the ordained themepark path, to be interesting, even if I find many of his opinions abhorrent. So on the one side I'm sad he cancelled his ganking project in what looks very much like a hissy fit, but on the other side he has some interesting arguments on PvP, if you arrive to sort them out from the rest of his rant. Gevlon says:
I think I figured out why there are no successful PvP MMOs. I mean I can prove that such game not only have not been made, but theoretically cannot be made. PvP MMOs will always be a small niche.
Flow is the "proper" way of fun. It is "the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity."
The flow needs, among other factors:
  • Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  • Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  • A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
And then explains why it is easier to give adequate feedback for PvE than for PvP, and concludes that because you can't have adequate feedback for PvP, you can't get into the "flow", and can't have fun. That leaves, in Gevlon's opinion, only three "small minorities" of types of players who enjoy PvP: Casuals who just want to batter the wall of Wintergrasp with a catapult from time to time (that would be me), Killers who enjoy ganking others, and a tiny "elite" who play PvP for the challenge they can't get from AI opponents.

As I said, some interesting arguments in there, although I found parts of them being contradictory. For example if the key to mass market success is the fun from "flow", and flow requires "balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult)", then why would the number of people seeking challenge in PvP be "a very small group by definition"? Why would only the tiny elite enjoy it? That is like saying the only people having fun playing football (soccer) are the teams currently involved the world cup, while everybody who is kicking a ball around in a local league on the weekend doesn't enjoy the challenge of it.

So I find myself in the unusual position of being *more* positive on PvP than another blogger. Now that must be a first. I think that Gevlon has a point on PvP remaining niche *only* for the case of free-for-all unbalanced hardcore PvP. I do think PvP games could be more successful if they would do a better job of pairing people with similar skills and abilities against each other. Gevlon's "balance between ability level and challenge" can work in PvP, as centuries of football leagues and chess clubs and ladder systems in other games people play against each other clearly show. So while I do agree that games in which lets say one side is allowed to capture a barely defended keep at 3 am in the morning, or a larger number of stronger players is allowed to beat up a smaller number of less strong players, can't create the "flow" Gevlon is talking of, I do think that it isn't "theoretically impossible" to create this flow in a PvP game. You just need to put up some restrictions and advancement systems which encourage players to play against equal numbers of players of similar strength.

Think of that when you watch the world cup, which apparently works quite well. You might argue that lets say North Korea doesn't have much of a chance against Brazil, but as they only lost 2:1 their "PvP" was still close enough to being balanced. Most current MMORPGs more resemble a system in which Manchester United is allowed with 11 players to play against a 5-man local Futsal junior team. It isn't "theoretically impossible" for PvP to have "flow", it only is impossible inside the game design most MMORPGs have now.
I agree. I agree with you on PvP. That must also be a first ;)

What hit me yesterday while watching said soccer match, was that much more people like to watch PvP than actually do it.

Also applied to the Roman Coliseum.

I always wondered why Blizzard didn't introduce the possibility to watch arena matches. Would have been a grand success, I think.
The problem with most MMORPGs' PvP is that each player only has very limited options of what the character can do (depending on what class). So in a PvP of Class A vs Class B, each class has a chance of winning, but more often than not, the method of victory will be the same which leads to boredom.

On the other hand, watching football (or other team sport) is like PvP in Atlantica Online. It's party vs party. Thus, the player's options are suddenly bigger. You have the options to decide what classes you have in your party. Then with 9 characters in a party, the way you play will also vary too. Making things much more interesting, both to do and to watch.
I think a big problem with most of the PvP today is that there aren’t enough outlets for it. Almost the only way to PvP is to kill the enemy as much as possible and sometimes capture a static point placed by the developers. It is often very unorganized because the game does almost nothing to aid in players’ coordination, while still encouraging them to act mindlessly. And if players are fighting over an area or object specifically placed by developers, then it loses some of its personal significance. In this case it’s sort of like a Player vs Player vs Developer.

Battleground type matches need balance because of how simplified they are. When Alterac Valley first came out, there were multiple objectives. For example, lower level players were often expected to control the mines. While this was a noble attempt, it was executed by the wrong people in the wrong game for the wrong audience, and ultimately didn’t work out. One of the big draws of PvP is that it’s dynamic and can require you to think and act without a guide you looked up beforehand. Streamlining it to the point where you’ve only got one or two options hurts that philosophy of a dynamic, living battle. We mostly complain about unfair situations because there's no, or few, accessible alternatives.

With all the possibilities and combinations of buffs, NPCs, alerts, timers, rewards, etc, I think great PvP is very possible. The biggest difference between fights here and fights that happen online is that players aren’t always online to participate. Once that is dealt with accordingly (I can think of a few suggestions but it requires a whole new game soooo, too much to explain) then they can look at how it’s done in real life and emulate it reasonably into the context of a fantasy/sci fi MMORPG setting. The developers would probably have to first focus on removing exploitable behaviors one at a time with various mechanics.
Nils hit the nail on the head with his comment "more people like to watch than do it." I've gotten gladiator and I can tell you that it takes a very keen mindset where you analyze moves down like a chess match and make methodical decisions based on the situation. The flow of fun is in understanding all the possible outcomes and trying to force your opponents down one of the routes that will lead you to victory. It's fun to watch for most people but it isn't fun for most to try doing it because it's really really hard and for many that level of detail in playing the game isn't fun at all!

Gevlon just isn't that good of a player.
Chess is still segregated by gender. Explain that one.
This comment has been removed by the author.
You missed a critical point: I claimed there cannot be successful PvP MMO, not PvP game.

The soccer match or a Halo or HL CS or starcraft game can be balanced. Please note that in these games the "classes" are balanced or forced to be equal in both teams (1-1 sniper) easily changed or non-existent.

The match is also limited in time and has no result on further matches.

However MMOs have features that make it impossible:
- people stick to their classes
- their characters differ in strength
- there are social connections between players that cannot be severed according to game needs (it would be positive for the game to place similarly progressed players on the same server, but players don't want to be separated from differently progressed friends)
- People are defensive on their classes, making balancing hard "don't nerf me bro"
- Since characters progress, you must give rewards to losers or they fall behind, this allow chain-lose farming.

There can be PvP games. But they can't be MMOs.

@Markco: you are still as short sighted as always. If I am not good player enough, isn't it alone proves my point that PvP MMO is a small niche? (Please Tobold don't explain it to him, let his lone brain cell work for its glucose)
Soccer is an inherently boring and foolish game. Due to its nature games will always be low scoring and appear close, but thats just a poorly designed game at work ;)

Ok, soccer-bash over.

Now firstly, lets get one thing clear. There have been many successful PvP games, and in particular EvE has "pvp warfare" that is both semi-realistic and populated by what I would deem a "successful" number of players.

But to satisfy those who want meaningful, balanced, contained "battleground" PvP? I don't think that's possible.

People generally don't want to PvP, they want to feel like they are better than another player. So they will never be happy with "balanced" PvP. They want it to feel balanced while always winning.
Modern Warfare 2 is an FPS PvP game (with a small single-player component) with persistent levels and stats. There are "classes", and you get experience and gain levels and power just like an MMO.

In the past eight or so months since release it has sold 20 million copies. And a new entry in the franchise comes out every year, so to play the new one you have to buy a new one every year, kind of like a 'subscription'.

So there's a pretty convincing case that MW2, a PvP game, is more popular than WoW, the reigning MMO champ. And MW2 is about a breath away from being an MMO -- it already has persistence and centralized servers already, just add in a persistent world and maybe another raison d'etre or two and you are there.

So I'm not sure how anyone could say with a straight face that a PvP MMO could not be popular when MMO-lite MW2 is arguably the most popular video game in the world.
There can be successful PVP MMOs--but they really can't have a PVE part to it then.

I have played Planetside, on and off since beta--and had a heck of a lot of fun playing too. It was a small hit in the days when a big MMO was 400k--bigger than a niche game, back then.

Planetside, though, has no PVE. While there is some gain in power, most of the leveling gives the player more strategic flexibility rather than tactical flexibility or power.

It can be done with persistent characters--I don't think CCP is going down a rabbit hole with Dust 514.
You missed a critical point: I claimed there cannot be successful PvP MMO, not PvP game.

Wrong. There already is a very successful PvP MMO called EVE that exists and continues to grow.


It's not because people like to Gank each other. It's because it's a very dynamic and engaging virtual world.

A world in which the players have FAR FAR more control over the landscape than a game like WoW.

Your alliance isn't decided by the race you choose -- YOUR actions and YOUR relationships determine your alliance.

In 0.0 space, you claim the best mining territory. You develop and run a economic operation to finance your territorial expansion.

There is a purpose, but YOU define that purpose.

It works, people like it and the game is popular (has more subs than EverQuest at its peak).

Now I'm not saying that's better or worse than WoW, but what I am saying is that it works. So your statement above is obviously false and easy to refute.

Perhaps a more correct statement would be to say that in a game like WoW, fun PvP can't exist.
I think Gevlons logic works on the idea of small team PVP or individual PVP. Mainly because in MMO's you end up playing with the hardcore players that if you use your football analogy would be like playing agains pro players.

Now Larger teams allow players to fail but feel they've contributed to the win. In that context I think your point is correct.

I don't believe ther will ever be an mmo that is single player pvp focused in the western world that will be a mainstream hit
The value system in WoW's PvP is exactly the same as their PvE system. It's all based on getting badges (Honor) and getting better gear.

So you have people there that don't really want to be, but might just want to get a really cool weapon or armor. The best way to do that is kill other players, and ignore the objectives.

We all know it is a minority of people that want to play PvP in an MMO. It's been that way since forever. I think Trammel in UO proved there are a lot less of us then you would have thought before hand.

If that is true, then it would be a good idea for Bliz to open up the number of people that can congregate together much like the clusters they have now. Include all servers. Also change the focus of the games to something we actually care about. Winning, and conquering the enemy is a very good motivation for someone who loves PvP. Make the objectives mean something to the team, and make it take something away from the enemy.

Ultima Online Back in the day, we fought in bone armor because we didn't want to lose our "good" stuff. Maybe they should go back to their roots and make PvP a true challenge again?

That's all I got...
Gevlon's experimental PvP guild Inglorious Gankers, worked out an aim to dominate WG, and try and deny the horde access to Voa, on a server where horde massively outnumbered alliance.

When IG started they would get 6-8 guild players in each WG, with maybe only one outsider or none. Alliance had been so used to losing they had given up playing this bg. Usually against 80 or so horde. With tenacity IG won, won, and won again.

Then the horde players began to organise more, and discuss tactics beforehand. It was easy for IG to monitor this by logging horde characters.

IG became more tactical. IG had it's own forums where wins and losses were analysed and tactics developed. OG continued to win with 6-7 in WG against 80 horde but it was becoming harder even with tenacity.

What sank it, was that IG was getting fewer into WG. In addition other alliance were seeing WG won and so joining WG battles more readily. Sadly the randoms (a) wouldn't follow tactics, and (b) not really knowing what to do, died to easily to the horde to give the horde promotions they would otherwise not have obtained.

Thus by the end it would be 2-4 IG members with maybe 3-4 randoms, and at that margin the IG members could not win often enough, and thus Gevlon pulled the plug.

IG was closed therefore due to (a) it had provided Gevlon with sufficient information, and (b) because it did not have sufficient active members who were willing and motivated to attempt to continuously fight WG to the exclusion of other areas of the game.

Thus the conclusions that Gevlon draws are as a direct result of the experiment he has conducted and what it produced. If there are flaws in his conclusions, then scientifically they can only be as a result of his "population" being too small.

@ Markco, I have watched your videos and read your blog, and you are very good at warrior arena and making gold and moneyterising your own blog.

However, to say that "Gevlon isn't that good of a player", shows (a) a misunderstanding of what Gevlon has achieved, and (b) how bitter you remain still over being busted by Gevlon and Tobold over the guide thing months ago.

Gevlon's performance with Undergeared is impressive.

Gevlon's leadership of IG lead to (a) wins in WG, (b) tactical analysis and strategies to overcome more and more horde organisation in WG as time went by, (c) successful AB/wsg/eot groups as well.

As Tobold says his ability to think outside the box within wow sets him apart.

Thus despite the fact he is not a Gladiator like you, to the contrary he is a "good player" given his other "abilities"/"achievements".
"If I am not good player enough, isn't it alone proves my point that PvP MMO is a small niche?"
That proof would depend on you being a representative player, typical, average, seemingly everything you constantly try to claim you are not.
There already is a very successful PvP MMO called EVE that exists and continues to grow.

Now there is something my recent experiment of playing EVE for a while taught me: Gevlon would be extremely bad at playing EVE, because EVE is such a social game. I'm sure he could figure out how to make billions of ISK, but I don't see him getting anywhere with EVE PvP.
There already is a very successful PvP MMO called EVE that exists and continues to grow

EVE is no PvP-MMO. It is a MMO that also supports PvP as a major element, but only for those players interested in PvP.
EVE is no PvP-MMO. It is a MMO that also supports PvP as a major element, but only for those players interested in PvP.

There is no point to EVE except to compete against other players for dominance. Which is why I call it a Domination game rather than a Sandbox game.

Players compete at an economic level, a territory level and at a personal level.

PvP isn't supported by EVE -- it's the POINT of the game. Even players who aren't directly involved are there to SUPPORT the ongoing war efforts of others.

What makes EVE work, however, is that when there are no forced alliances, people quickly realize that the only real way to compete is to form large groups.

And as pointed out above, that's where Gevlon's thinking about a PvP MMO starts to really fall apart. User defined "groups" competing against other "groups" is a scale of PvP that does work very well even if certain individual participants are far more powerful than the competition.

It's not David vs. Goliath. It's David, his extended family, their friends, and their friend's friends vs. Goliath.
"It's fun to watch for most people but it isn't fun for most to try doing"

MMO PvP matches are not remotely fun to watch for most people.
MMOs don't have good systems in place to match players against other players of the same skill level. This is probably the most frustrating part of MMO PVP gameplay. No one likes getting rolled over without ever having a shot at winning. It's not fun.

Why aren't their better ladders and ranking systems in place? I don't know. Blizzard created an awesome ranking system for StarCraft 2. I had a great time with the beta because I was always playing against opponents near my skill level.

I wish MMOs would take more time to work on match making systems.
"MMO PvP matches are not remotely fun to watch for most people."

Because they don't understand what's going on. I wouldn't watch an Arimaa tournament because I would be overburdened just trying to plan a single turn ahead, let alone try to figure out what each player is going for. But I could watch american football or chess or ping pong because I know the systems and rules and what makes a good player, so I can feel like a part of it.
I've always been biased that pve is no where near as challenging as pvp so that's why I don't feel gevlon is that great of a player (nor does he claim to be).

The real difficulty of pve is organizing the right people to get the job done, execution isn't really that challenging for a moderately skilled player when the organization is done correctly.

I apologize if I came across as a little too harsh, I know everyone thinks I'm some kind of gerk thanks in part to my reactions to Gevlon's post a while back. Even if I'm not upset about it anymore doesn't mean that I have to like the guy! And honestly... is it really that impressive to wear blue gear and beat content with 20% buffs or organize 8 people with huge buffs to take on unorganized groups? Once Gevlon goes up against fair odds or worthy opponents he falls flat on his face. It's only when he controls the challenge and sets the rules that he has any measureable amount of success. Pvp is not controlled, it is brutal and sometimes very random and you have to improvise quite a bit.

Oh nice point about people not really understanding what is going on when watching professional pvp. It's so true! I cannot tell you how much more enjoyable it is to watch pvp when you understand the reasoning behind all the moves and how players are working hard to trick opponents.
I know of atleast 1 MMO that is pretty much well rounded in terms of balance. and that is Planetside. Yes, imbalances exist there to as its not a true "red box versus white box" as there are weapon differences on each side (that everyone can use if they loot the corps of a enemy player that carries it) but mostly the imbalance is down to player "skill" rather then what type of gear or level he/she is.
The problem with most MMOs is they have two factions, and one is always more popular with higher numbers. So in open-world PvP like in Warhammer Online, one side is usually dominating the battefield. MMOs need 3-4 factions minimum, which is why EVE has been successful.

I play lots of online shooters, but in MMOs I tend to avoid the PvP. The problem with MMO PvP is a new player really has no chance of competing against a leveled and geared toon. In an online shooter, even if you are level 1 with basic weapons, at least you can still manage to compete and get a few kills.
I have to disagree that there is no 'flow' in PvP. Feedback? You're dead, there's your immediate feedback. Full immersion is certainly required: It takes focus to kill players who don't act like AI. Success? That depends. Did you use good tactics? Was your team any good? Is your equipment crap?

All things being equal, this 'flow' thing is subjective. Maybe Gevlon doesn't feel it in PvP, but I certainly do. It comes in short, intense bursts most of the time, but it's there. Mileage varies.

However MMOs have features that make it impossible:
- people stick to their classes

Class is not a problem, many FPS have classes (TF2)

- their characters differ in strength

It can be solved trough more horizontal progression .

- there are social connections between players that cannot be severed according to game needs (it would be positive for the game to place similarly progressed players on the same server, but players don't want to be separated from differently progressed friends)

How its a pvp specific problem?

- People are defensive on their classes, making balancing hard "don't nerf me bro"

It impossible to have game perfectly balanced (e.g. every possible combo is viable in every situation), however its quite possible to have it balanced to the point where all intended playstyles are viable (and that should be the target)

Allow for easy respec to not penalize players for rebalancing (nerfs and buffs)

Ignore the rest of the whiners (e.g. a ret paladin insisting he heals for too little)

- Since characters progress, you must give rewards to losers or they fall behind, this allow chain-lose farming.

There are many ways to reward losing side, and you dont have to reward the losing players directly. So losing side as a whole may get a boost , but it wont be allow chain lose farming by individual players

For me one crucial difference between MMO and FPS is persistent world with many players and ability to influence the world.

MMO attributes such as endless xp/gear grind, power imbalances are optional

I think Tobolds has surprisingly sane view on the issue- PvP mmo just havent been done right. The design needs to be different and optimized for the task. It will take a designer who is intelligent and understands group dynamics, as well as competent dev tema to implement tools
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