I've tried to resist the urge to comment on Warhammer as much as possible as the game is still in beta, the NDA still in force (with the one month mark on the game's retail launch looming, and many pre-order customers set to be admitted into the beta in the next week or so), etc. There was a tidbit in Massively's authorized pre-NDA-drop coverage, however, that has me concerned.
Reflecting on WoW's Honor System
As I discussed last week, WoW places the incentives for its PVP system in the wrong place. The goal of any given battleground is for the team to win, which generally requires capturing and defending strategic destinations. The problem is that the very same honor points that you get for winning the battleground are ALSO available for being alive and present for honorable kills (HK's) of enemy players. Now sure, it's nice to get the honor bonus for winning, but it's even better to be where the action is during a battle your side eventually wins so that you get BOTH the bonus honor points AND the HK honor points.
The system still work in an organized group of your friends, where you've got camaraderie with your teammates, confidence that your strategy will be rewarded with victory (or at least that your guildies will kick you out of the group if you won't follow orders), and security knowing that you're eventually going to get a turn on the front lines to soak up the extra honor. For those of us not lucky enough to be in a guild that likes to PVP, however, the only alternative is the dreaded "pick up group" (PUG).
Unfortunately, your typical PUG tends to fare pretty poorly in battle. The problem isn't hard to identify; if you watch the battleground chat, you will see a lot of complaints that the team isn't defending various locations that need to be defended. The people making these complaints typically are NOT actually guarding some remote but essential location to make sure that any lone enemy that wanders by can't seize it unmolested. Instead, they're running around following the action in order to soak up the HK honor. But they feel very adamant that somebody (who isn't them) should be doing this job for the good of the team.
In short, the system rewards players for behavior that isn't in the team's best interest. And, shockingly, people do what's in their best interest rather than sacrificing their best interest for the good of a team of strangers. Losing because you lost can be hard, but losing because most of your team wasn't even making an effort to win is very frustrating.
Is Warhammer's Public Quest System Walking The Same Road?
Warhammer has a much touted "public quest" system that is intended to encourage players to team up. Massively has been writing up some examples; in one typical quest, there's an initial stage where players have to kill 30 soloable mobs, followed by a second stage where players have to kill 15 mobs that are hard to solo, and finally a third stage with a boss that is intended to require a group. Unlike a traditional quest, you don't get an entry in your quest log etc, you simply pitch in when you're in the area and your chances of obtaining loot when the dust settles are based on how much you contributed to the victory. It's not exactly like a WoW battleground (for example, battlegrounds are instanced), but there are parallels; your success is ultimately going to depend on the cooperation and competence of others.
And here's where I get very very worried. In a writeup of the Archmage class, Massively offers the following advice to players:
"You see, in PQ's you get rewarded at the end of it based on how much you contributed. As an Archmage with instacast DoTs, you are going to be on the top of the charts. Just drop a DoT (or two) on every single mob in the PQ area. If there are enough people there, all mobs will die too quickly to even take a swipe at you. With your ability to DoT multiple mobs, your total damage output for the PQ will at or near the top."
Yes, that's correct, they just advised players to throw a bunch of damage over time effects on a greater number of mobs than they could possibly handle in order to leech damage contribution from the players who actually kill those mobs. This is almost certainly not in the team's interest in terms of everyone beating the public quest. It is, however, in the best interest of the individual player who is running around slapping DoT's on everything and reaping the rewards. If this is actually the case, you can bet that players will do it.
Will this bring down the Public Quest system?
It's hard to say. Warhammer's NDA is still in place due to one major issue that the devs believe they can fix in the immediate future. Massively's information could be out of date. It's also possible that social consequences may be able to rein in player behavior; WoW battlegrounds are pretty anonymous (most of your teammates may not even play on your server, a change instituted to reduce queue times, and it's not like you can keep unhelpful players from appearing in your next PUG match), but there are potentially more times in a heavily PVP game in which getting a bad reputation for leeching public quest rewards might burn players down the road. (Whether would-be offenders will realize this BEFORE they do it is a separate question.)
Either way, I'm very concerned to see the incentives in a place that may end up repeating WoW's mistakes. Public Quests are a major feature of Warhammer (/random argues that they will play a major role in building faction community), and I would hate to see them fail.