Monday, November 21, 2011

World PvP Case Study: WoW

During my definition of World PvP, I explained that PvP in an MMORPG is inherently unfair, and World PvP is simply a mindset. It isn't knowing how to attack, but when, and for what purpose. World PvP is less restricted, and involves nudging a situation in your favor.

While WoW's PvP isn't the cream of the crop, it makes for an interesting case study since the capacity to engage in "world pvp" hasn't changed, yet the popularity of it has. WoW helps illustrate why World PvP is a presumption outside of the game mechanics.

Some of the best moments of leveling a WoW toon involve situations where players fight other players for access to resources. These resources are almost always quest mobs. A high level character "ganking" lowbies for the perverse thrill of exercising power is not world PvP, and actually leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the inexperienced. But that is a problem with game rules, not world PvP.

A brief history of PvP in WoW:
No honor system. Many people questing. Many people, including lowbies, engaging in open world town raids for the novelty of it. No lasting consequences.

Spontaneous Horde raid on Menethil Harbor.

World bosses introduced. Large scale fights to obtain boss loot. Scouting of enemy faction becomes paramount to knowing when to engage boss.

Old Honor system, but no Battlegrounds. Many fights between Southshore and Tarren Mill. Fighting to mutually gain Honor.

Battlegrounds. Much World PvP stomped out since Honor is easier to get in BGs. Without huge gear discrepancies yet, small pockets of world PvP still seen in Plaguelands. Blackrock Mountain has much PvP fighting over dungeon and raid access.

Blizzard creates "outdoor PvP objectives" in Eastern Plaguelands and Silithus, and iterates on them in Burning Crusade. These largely flop. Massive gear discrepancies and prevalence of BGs shatter world PvP expectation. Minor fighting around raid portals.

End of Vanilla saw bored raiders running 5-man PvP excursions while waiting for Arenas and BC. Ad hoc and arranged group fights while roaming.

Arenas are introduced in Burning Crusade to the lauding of "fair and balanced" PvP folks. Resilience is added as a gear attribute. "PvP" is now an official route of character progression, and thus everyone sits in instances to optimize their gear acquisition. World PvP is a dirty word equated to ganking.

Isle of Quel'Danas is added at the end of Burning Crusade to house Sunwell and a fresh batch of chores. This popularizes World PvP in WoW again. Players form parties for protection and fighting; they expect combat while questing. Isle of Quel'Danas implements a common model for World PvP that I will discuss later.

Achievement system is added; reward to kill world leaders is introduced. Cities are in faction-owned zones, and thus combat is opt-in. These raids are not very disruptive to the empty towns.

Wintergrasp experimentation with zone PvP with raid access reward. Like AV, Wintergrasp is just a larger Battleground. Vault of Archavon predictably and regularly changes hands between Alliance and Horde. World PvP is dead throughout Wrath, but accessibility is through the roof.

Blizzard repeats success of Isle of Quel'Danas with Tol Barad at beginning of Cataclysm. World PvP makes a slight comeback. But people quickly get their reputation rewards and leave.

It is fascinating to see interest in world PvP ebb and flow as Blizzard tweaks PvP progression rewards. WoW is very elder game heavy, and thus all the resource warfare is at max level: quest access, raid access, & tradeskill material access. Cataclysm seems to have eliminated many contested quests for Horde and Alliance, so any PvP experienced while leveling is ganking or in a Battleground instance.

I definitely believe there are players in WoW who enjoy world PvP very much, and they would engage in that type of play more often if the rewards were not stacked against them. In the current game, once players gain all the reputation or gear they need from Tol Barad, there is little reason to go back. No other location in WoW comes with the expectation of PvP, and thus there is no world PvP outside of TB.

Some of the comments on my Definition post called into question "influencing the world". While not necessary for world PvP (illustrated with WoW's world PvP: no one would say they hold influence over that world), it is a strong motivator and part of Risk & Consequences that change the emotions conjured by the game, but not the game itself. I hope to expound this soon.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Defining World PvP

I am a huge fan competition in video games, both direct player vs player and cooperative competition. Competition creates efficiency; it catalyzes and motivates the exploration of a game system. It is through contention that games become e-sports, that dungeon crawls turn into speed runs, and players employ clever uses of game mechanics.

Player vs player conflict can also conjure immense emotions such as fiero and agony, which make lasting impressions in memory.

I consider Go, TF2, and Aion to all contain direct, explicit player competition. PvP is a broad category. However, there is clearly a distinction between Battlefield 3 matches and PvP in EVE. It boils down to fairness. Games of StarCraft begin and end; each player starts at a strategically balanced state; and it is through the game rules that deviations occur in power until one player succumbs and is defeated.

PvP in an MMO, specifically "world PvP", is inherently unfair. One or more players have an objective, quantifiable advantage over others. One side will have higher levels, better gear, or more participants. Any game with persistent character progression will have this imbalance manifest. A fair fight can occur coincidentally, but it is certainly not something to be expected.

MMO PvP happens within a larger context, thus world PvP transforms into more than a simple combat affair between two parties. PvP starts as soon as the player logs in. Events preceding the actual engagement ripple through the world and can affect fights. Actions that happen before, after, and during combat make world PvP an unbounded arena spatially and temporally. Without borders, players scout, hunt, run, hide, and most importantly are vulnerable before and after the actual combat.

A simple analogy: Fair PvP is a cock fight, and world PvP is the African Savannah.

World PvP requires players to be mindful of the environment. Not just navigable terrain, safe spots, and avenues of retreat, but also the entire possibility space of events. Does the enemy have backup? How many? How long until they arrive? What are my chances?

This is clearly an all-encompassing mindset of playing. It is more than action-oriented twitch combat, and more than efficient resource management; it is expecting the unexpected through planning and preparation. World PvP is an expectation in the minds of players.

Different mechanics can be layered on top of that expectation to change the level of risk and consequences, and thus the intensity of emotion the game provides. There are also many forms and implementations of world PvP.

I did a very brief and informal survey--"What is world pvp?". These were some of the answers:
unrestricted warfare
being able to pvp throughout the entire "game world"
you walking around and someone ganks you
using environment to your advantage
unknown, different factors you control, rather than just being fair
no rules
not worth my time
waiting until situation is in your advantage

What is world PvP to you?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

There's Something in the Water

We don’t want level-85 players to have a reasonable shot at level-90 dungeons and raids (or PvP opponents) just because that content is balanced for gear that isn’t much better than what the level-85 players have.

What a truly baffling sentence. Ghostcrawler is reflecting on the exponential attribute power progression in WoW, and I think this sentence says, "We don't want level 85s doing what is designed for level 90 characters." He never goes into the reason this is a design mantra for WoW, but I can't help but think of the movie Idiocracy:

Unquestioning and steadfast in their decisions, the WoW designers make seemingly contradictory choices. Why doesn't GC want level 85's to do higher level content? I could only assume it's so players do the leveling "content" first. Yet they constantly assault the leveling game, "The amount of experience needed to gain levels 71 through 80 has been reduced by approximately 33%." That's a patch note from the recent PTR, and those keeping score will know that they've already reduced that experience curve before.

It's almost as if Ghostcrawler trusts no design of WoW-past, not even his own. Only the current design and content is relevant to Mr. Street.

The article goes on, discussing various methods which could bandage WoW's broken attribute system, and then he unloads this gem: "If your answer is that stat budgets don’t have to grow so much in order for players to still want the gear, our experience says otherwise." Silly plebes with your naive remedies; I have data to dismiss your predictable suggestions!

Ignoring the arrogance, what metrics could they possibly have to discredit this simple solution? They can't use data from PTR, because that has bitten them in the ass before (There are huge discrepancies in motivation between PTR and live realms. Honor item costs had to be adjusted after players were getting them in a few hours on live realms.). They can't compare vanilla raiding to BC raiding because there are way too many variables. The only timeframe that I think they could refer to would be the beginning of the Burning Crusade, when after much bitching by players, they increased the attributes on T5 gear to make them more "worthwhile" than T4. (Aside: People don't know what they want, often desiring the opposite of what they say.)

But even this event isn't in a vacuum. Let's assume that after T5 attributes were increased, Blizzard saw a huge swell of players entering T5 raids. Ghostcrawler would like to say this was caused by an increase in reward value. What if players simply finished the T4 content and moved on the T5? What if players had every intention of doing T5 for the marginal rewards, obliged to work their way there slowly by using T4 as a stepping stone? With the margins highly increased, raid leaders rightly assumed T4 was useless and skipped it. Blizzard is in the business of making content obsolete as quickly as possible.