MMO PvP – Stop learning the wrong lesson

As I mentioned in my Huttball post, I am something of a PvP enthusiast in most MMOs that I play. Dating back to EverQuest, I have competed on a fairly high level in most of the games I have played. However, with the advent of World of Warcraft the MMO PvP scene drastically changed, and not in ways that are necessarily positive. World of Warcraft did two big things that everyone has copied afterwards.

1) Instanced PvP
2) PvP Only Stats

Let’s take a look at these two contributions to the PvP aspect of games, starting with Instanced PvP.

Instanced PvP
To say that this revolutionized MMO PvP would be an understatement. It took the traditionally FPS/RTS domain of standalone maps and adopted them for MMOs. This allowed people who were not on Open World PvP servers to be able to focus on PvP at their own pace. These maps have changed a lot over the seven and a half years since the launch of WoW, including the complete redesign of several of them in concept, not just execution. There was a problem with this implementation, however. Two, in fact. The first was the PvP progression system, which wasn’t implemented until much later than it should have been, and the second was the reward system. I will go into the first point momentarily, since it’s a bit mathy, but the second point is one that has been repeated in several games that have been released afterward.

Each Battleground had an associated group. In order to get rewards, you had to play the Battleground and get your reputation increased with these groups. This meant that to get some of the best possible PvP rewards you had to play these Battlegrounds, rather than PvP in the open world, as you didn’t get any reputation with any group. To make matters worse, the PvP progression system actively discouraged open world PvP. The progression system was a ladder system, in which each of the 14 ladder ranks had associated points totals that must be obtained. The amount of honor one received in a week was compared against the other players on your faction, and then all the players were ranked. Each position of the rankings rewarded a certain amount of points that then helped you advance your rankings. This means you were competing directly with people on your own faction, so working together could actually hinder your chances of advancing in a given week. This was, of course, coupled with a system of decay once you reached a certain rank, making your journey to the top slower and more difficult. You made much less honor in the open world than you made in instanced PvP.

Serious PvPers quickly abandoned World PvP as a means to advance. You saw guilds forming on PvE Servers with the intent of only doing PvP. When WoW switched away from the ladder system to a currency based honor system, it still didn’t incentivize open world PvP. Winning games gave you much more honor than killing people with no bonuses could ever reward. It also did away with the reputation needed, which made a large portion of the game angry at the time, since they were in the process of purchasing the rep rewards. However, people were now trying out PvP in record amounts. There was no real fear in it, since it was “just a game”. This level of participation was unheard of, and it was very friendly in that simply playing could lead to rewards. Now everyone was PvPing a little. However, there was still no reason to go out in the world. With the influx of all these people who were not focused on PvP, the people who were focused on PvP wanted more. Arena was introduced for the “hardcore pvpers”.

The lesson that games learned from this was that people want instanced PvP. They don’t care about any other PvP, since instanced PvP is what hooked people. SWTOR at least has Illum, but even that isn’t what people are focused on playing. Illum has rewards that only really help in Instanced PvP, after all, since that’s what people are focused on. This is a shame. If people have reasons to go out into the world to PvP, they will. That was the entire, and successful, premise of Dark Age of Camelot. Warhammer tried to recapture this, but they messed with the keep/relic/actual benefits and dropped the ball. The idea of staged PvP gear still haunts my nightmares. The point is, no one explores your world and conducts epic battles in it any longer. As soon as you take out the reason, it stops happening. No one has added it back yet. This is the WRONG lesson to take from WoW.

While Instanced PvP is great, and you should make it matter to your world, you need to integrate PvP in the world to make it a full system. Your world should have lots of reasons to go explore and kill people in it. People should care about PvP objectives out in the world, and should want them to help out their faction. The idea of making both World and Instanced PvP matter is something Warhammer tried to do. Seeing that implemented effectively would be a glorious day. Just don’t rule out maps like Warhammer did. I mentioned they did a lot of things wrong, right?

PvP Only Stats
This is the biggest incorrect lesson that people learned from WoW. Prior to the advent of Arena, PvP gear had three things that set it apart from PvE gear, Armor, Stamina, and Mp5 instead of Spirit. That’s it. There was no concept of resilience or penetration. Now, there was always a concern about people wearing PvE gear and dominating in PvP, but this was a problem with weapons more than anything else. The crit percentages were an issue as well, but since so much relied on the weapon still, this was more of a secondary issue than anything. Yes, crit values could reach insane levels, but that’s exacerbated by weaponry. Ironically, they created a worse problem when the PvP gear was done in seasons and the PvP weapons were much easier to obtain than raid weapons. Then PvPers could all of a sudden outperform PvEers in PvE content. The problem has traditionally revolved around weapons, but Blizzard created resilience to do two things. One, lower the damage dealt by people in PvE gear with high crit values and silly weapons. Two, set people apart that did Arena. Resilience was by far the best pvp stat. It lowered the amount of the times you got critically hit, and lowered the damage of the critical hit. It also passively reduced damage from players.

At first, you had to participate and succeed in Arena in order to get this gear. Well, this just made people who did Arena dominate even more in regular PvP. Not to mention that to succeed in Arena, you had to obtain the gear that your higher ranked competitors were already going to have. This lead to forming teams to grind gear, then disbanding and recreating teams to start over once you had the gear. This meant that people just starting out would get crushed by people who started over with their shiny new gear. This remained a serious problem through three seasons of Arena play. In order to not kill off Battleground PvP entirely, the old seasons of Arena gear had to start showing up to be purchasable in Battlegrounds to allow those people any chance of competing in Battlegrounds. This means their experience starting off at max level was them getting dominated over and over and over again while they slowly ground out the gear. Unless they did PvP all the way to max level, so they could purchase a piece or two right away with their banked honor currency. Of course, doing that creates a very different picture of what PvP is like. Without Resilience, matches and classes are vastly different. The game one level from max doesn’t even remotely resemble the PvP game at max. This is a huge problem. It creates false expectations and false experiences.

This problem could be fixed extremely easily, as Rift ALMOST showed. Rift was tuning certain abilities to behave differently in PvP. Instead of creating a brand new stat that then causes balance issues and barriers to entry, why not just balance the items to behave differently in PvP? All PvE gear is tagged as PvE and receives rating adjustments in PvP. That puts the PvEers inline, and might make basic PvP gear more desirable still, with keeping PvP gear without an additional stat to create barriers to entry. Without this additional stat weighting, players who decide to enter into PvE could wear their PvP gear and be slightly less effective, but still not be unable to perform in it. The same with players who choose to PvP in their PvE gear.

SWTOR and Rift both decreased healing received in PvP, though they left shields alone which is another issue entirely, and it’s worked out well. These sort of “wheelhouse specific” tweaks are ideal. They allow granular control without having to complicate things with an additional stat. Sadly, SWTOR committed an even worse crime by making their one PvP stat both offensive and defensive. People who are not 50 simply couldn’t compete in their awesome idea of single-bracket PvP. This was a very bold decision, and one I was hoping would see stick around. It had some other issue, but it was a great concept. It kept people interacting with each other all the time, and kept instanced PvP snappy, which it needs to be if it’s your ONLY PvP source, see point one. Instead, people who were 50 would just incredibly dominate everyone else, since they had access to this stat. The stat adjustment buff that players got didn’t give this stat to anyone, so max level characters became nigh untouchable gods against non 50s. The gap between 49 and 50 was simply tremendous. Now that brackets are split, the fresh 50s have the same problem that the new max level characters in WoW face when they enter into PvP. They spend a long time getting their face pushed in by the people who already have this PvP stat. It’s a needless barrier to entry and something that needs to be expunged. Control it with tagging, like you already do with abilities. There is no reason to cut people out of the fun or force a harsh penalty during the time you want people to be grinding and playing your game. People will want the better gear, especially if they can work to guarantee obtaining it. They don’t need to be incentivized further with pure punishment because of a stat.

Games are constantly learning the right things from each other, which I might cover next week. I beseech them to stop learning the wrong lessons, just because a game was successful. Innovate. If you aren’t changing what’s come before and pushing the envelope you won’t be an anything killer. Don’t cut out a market due to being lazy and saying “well it was good enough for WoW”.


  1. … it’s odd: I had a /long/ discussion with someone on Rubat Crystal just yesterday about this topic. Needless to say, you’ve hit all the points I was .. uh.. nerdraging over.

    The biggest point is that: at level 31, I have _TONS OF FUN_ in PVP. everything seems to be balanced and enjoyable, and … though.. frankly I didn’t have much of an issue with the 50’s either, as the brackets broke before the Gods of PVP really got to be hugely godlike.

    The thing is, I’m not likely to continue PVPing at 50 simply because I don’t get why we even need this particular skill, and I’m not willing to go be mashed for a while just because of it. If I’m running 40-and-5 in existing battlegrounds (as I am), and will suddenly be worthless? This isn’t my idea of fun.

    I do NOT get why you can’t simply use SWTOR’s buff mechanic to normalize everyone -a s they do in the lower brackets – in all brackets, and remove the stupid grindstat entirely. As you say, just tune the battlefields: put a buff on that sets crit arbitrarially, even, if need be, or something similar.

    Just.. let people queue and have fun. Punishment isn’t the point – I don’t mind losing if I have half a chance in a battlefield. I just feel abused if I had no chance at all.

    1. One of the particular problems this presents in something you briefly commented on. There exists a considerable range of gear that you can purchase through PvP commendations as you are leveling up. It starts at level 20, and is in 8 level increments from there on out. However, you are encouraged by the system to hoard your commendations, converting them to merc comms, and reach the max of 1k/1k so that you can purchase the maximum amount of bags right away. You only end up spending your Warzone Currency after you max mercenary, otherwise you are cheating yourself out of time, essentially. This means that all of that gear they put the work into developing is more or less useless.

      There are some glaring issues in PvP still that are being addressed, I hope. Most of this has to do with the nigh useless Resolve mechanic and Operatives/Smugglers simply doing way too much damage coupled with the knockdown of doom.

      Linking gear to the PvP titles is something I am a little surprised they didn’t do, frankly.

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