PvP is pretty darn problematic for modern MMOs.
Part of this is a balance issue. Creating a PvP environment that’s actually fair is a challenge all by itself, and creating one that’s unfair does not exactly foster a spirit of lively competition. But part of this is the nature of players. You have players who run the gamut, from people who don’t want anything to do with PvP (mostly due to players on the other end of the spectrum) to players who assume that PvP is a mandate to do nasty things to unaware participants (especially people on the other end of the spectrum).
WildStar is stepping into this minefield, and as we all know the game is trying to provide something for everyone from the top down. So today I want to look at what we know about the game’s PvP and how various camps can be courted with the overall mechanics of the game.
Casual PvP fans
Some people like to drop into PvP, chase some lower-tier rewards, and then happily bow out. WildStar has a lot of available content, after all, and you might want to sample a bit of everything instead of devoting all of your effort to one meal. This is the desire for casual PvP, the option to jump into a fight for a while and then step out once you’re done.
Arguably, this is really important to provide. A lot of people have a mental image of PvP that isn’t flattering, that PvP fans consist of people who want the thrill of random, noncompetitive PvP and prey upon the people who want nothing to do with PvP. The idea that this can be fun instead of an unbroken sequence of profanity and cruelty needs to be introduced slowly, and that means offering the option to jump in and out as you wish.
This is the usual purpose that instanced battlegrounds serve. We know WildStar will have these, so that’s good. The trick is making these intuitive enough that new players can grasp what needs to be done without lengthy explanations but still complicated enough to allow entertaining scenarios. Done correctly, someone can jump in, play a few matches, and then continue or abstain from that point onward.
Devoted PvP fans who aren’t interested in eSports
Regular readers know that the entire concept of eSports raises my hackles. And I’m not the only one. There are a lot of people very interested in PvP but completely uninterested in an arena-style format. These are people who want to face off against other players in vicious combat but want to do so with a purpose, quite possibly players who look back at Dark Age of Camelot with fondness. It’s not the thrill of competing for points, it’s the thrill of scaling a castle wall when you know that the defenders are people trying their hardest to knock you back down.
Warplots, fortunately, seem custom-tailored to appeal to this camp. This is an entire system devoted to pitting players against one another in large-scale conflicts with a sense of overall objectives rather than a simple deathmatch. So Warplots need to be engaging and worthwhile, both for the team being attacked and the attacking team. It’s a chance to get a sense of epic combat between players, and that’s a good thing.
People who want nothing to do with PvP
Don’t force anyone into PvP.
This seems like a kind of flip statement, but there are more than a few games where the only real method of advancement available to people who aren’t on board for raiding is running instanced PvP. That is not a desirable state of affairs. As I mentioned in last week’s column, if you’re going to offer everyone an endgame, don’t forget the people who have traditionally been ignored.
Ranked competition fans
Just because I dislike this particular gameplay model doesn’t mean that other people don’t love it. For some people, the whole fun of the game is pitting yourself against other players in a straight contest of skill, with both sides ranked according to skill. I don’t agree that it’s a sport, but I do agree that it’s a valid approach to the game.
Arenas can easily serve this purpose in game, but the biggest risk here is that rated arenas start to become the only means of advancement. World of Warcraft has a ranking system wherein access to the best gear is restricted for those with the highest rating, which is sort of like allowing the baseball team with the most wins in a season to play with a wiffle ball and two dozen outfielders. Or like allowing the best Magic: the Gathering players first pick of cards from the next set. Newer or worse teams need an opportunity to catch up, because the best of the best will remain that regardless of equipment. Otherwise the format is essentially closed to outsiders, and no one will ever find out if it is fun.
People who want the thrill of random PvP
Open PvP servers are pretty much the answer here. World PvP objectives would theoretically help, but the problem there is that those objectives either provide no PvE benefit whatsoever (thereby ensuring that no one is there but dedicated PvP players) or they provide a significant PvE benefit — at which point PvE players are being forced into PvP, which is a bad idea for reasons explained above. It’s never worked well in a game that doesn’t have open-world PvP as a core component anyway.
I would believe that the development team on WildStar could come up with an engaging model, but it’s a difficult road. You have to give a reason for people to be there despite the risk without being too generous or too punishing. It hasn’t happened yet, that’s for sure.
People who want the thrill of random, noncompetitive PvP by preying upon the people who want nothing to do with PvP
These people are not worth courting.