Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Rise of Opt-In PVP

Like many gamers, Sanya Weathers is passing on Darkfall because she prefers to have a choice on whether to participate in PVP. Darkfall's relatively unique niche in the current market - FFA PVP at all times, with full looting of killed players - aside, I find the question of opt-in PVP interesting, because I'm currently doing a fair amount of it myself.

Voluntarily risking Greenwiz's neck in Wintergrasp without a raid group at my back, for the right incentive

Luring players to conflict with carrots, rather than sticks
We've recently seen a major rise in games offering non-instanced PVP that centers around certain locations where the normal rules of engagement do not apply.

- LOTRO offered its version back in 2007, with the Ettenmoors, a zone where player characters can be attacked freely by enemies controlling various monsters (Turbine felt that there was no lore justification for the Free Peoples fighting each other).
- WoW has made various attempts at world PVP in the past, but I would argue that Wintergrasp is the first version that gets the job done properly. Wintergrasp offers the right mix of incentives to participate and automatic PVP-flagging of participants. Though I strongly prefer WoW's non-PVP ruleset (I would call the distinction "ganking optional" versus "ganking enabled" - Warhammer offers the same rules under the names "core" and "open"), allowing players to hang out, without being flagged, near the fighting until the odds favored them was neither sporting nor good design.
- Warhammer has its RVR lakes and keep sieges, and now has the incentives needed to go along with them.

The systems share in common a central concept of a high risk, high reward alternative to the non-PVP content. Wintergrasp and the Ettenmoors both offer valuable crafting resources and a path to gear and other loot, while Warhammer's oRVR offers these rewards PLUS the game's separate RVR experience and access to the higher end siege game.

Of course, some of these incentives can be obtained by sneaky players during off-hours, when the risk of actually encountering the enemy is minimal. There's still a sense of accomplishment - e.g. "I pulled that off without being killed" - but it's not exactly PVP if you don't encounter other players. So imagine my surprise when I've found myself going into Wintergrasp actually LOOKING for other players to fight.

Seeking out conflict for the right price
Wintergrasp offers a daily quest with decent rewards for killing 20 enemy players. This might sound like an easy enough task, but simply receiving an "honorable kill" of a target does NOT necessarily grant credit for the quest. (My guess is that enemy players are considered "tapped" by a player or raid group for the purpose of the quest, as it seems like I have a lot more trouble completing this one when there are multiple raid groups up and running, especially when my group is smaller.) There have been quite a few days when I've ended up short by as few as a single kill, or perhaps as many as five.

A month ago, I would have given up and waited for the next battle (or the next day if needed). Nowadays, I'm not afraid to try and finish the job without a raid group at my back. Part of that may be due to gear - my PVP set now exceeds 800 resilience and 18K HP thanks to all the Wintergrasp and Archavon rewards, and there are certainly times when it feels like I have an enemy overmatched by virtue of all my shiny PVP loot. Still, I'd argue that there is something more at work here.

For every time I get the drop on a player engaged in combat with a mob and gank them - something I feel no guilt over since most will not hesitate to do the same to me while I work on quests, and because all have opted into PVP by entering Wintergrasp - there are just as many times when I find an even match, or even end up outnumbered and overwhelmed. One day, I was riding around looking for a fight when I saw an enemy who seemed determined to ride away from me at all costs. I pursued him for a bit, only to round the corner and find that he'd led me into an ambush by a group of his friends. I regret only that I did not have time to salute his ingenuity before my swift demise. At other times, the enemy will have reinforcements, and I will struggle to see if I can take one of them down with me.

In the end, I'm pretty sure that I still lose more fair fights than I win. From the incentive/time perspective that I usually apply to most of my MMORPG gaming, this would seem like a terrible deal - I sometimes spend significant time hunting for a foe who ultimately defeats me, earning no rewards whatsoever in the process. I'm okay with that trade, though, because it was my choice. The fair fight that I win, especially if it's against a hated Warlock (uncommon but oh so sweet), combined with the in-game incentives, is enough to make it worth my while.

I'm not saying that there is no role for the stick that is mandatory, ganking-enabled PVP. However, that ruleset has never appealed to me, precisely because it cuts off the choice on my end. The carrot of incentives to get me to opt-in to PVP of my own free will, on the other hand, has me actually attempting and even ENJOYING non-instanced PVP for the first time that I can remember. Sometimes a carrot really is that much more effective than a stick.


  1. I have no played Darkfall myself but all the posts at Broken Toys about it got me curious and I have read a great deal about the game.

    I think that full-on PvP in Darkfall is a big myth. First, because of the way the game is structured there is a significant in-game penalty to ganking other players. The more you gank the worse you reputation becomes and the harder it is to play the game as a whole because even NPCs will attack you on sight. Could a ruthless PvPer survive in Darkfall? Yes. But it would be a difficult and troublesome life; a whole lot of work just to stay alive.

    Further, because of banking most characters are not going to be walking around with much worthwhile gear on them. So ganking other players is not going to gain you anything in material terms in most cases.

    The net result is (at least if it works as the developers have designed it) is far less PvP than RvR. I honestly think it's unfair to call Darkfall a PvP game. It's not. It's much more like Warhammer with the RP part taken out.

  2. The "ganking penalty" only applies to members of your own faction who have not made an unprovoked attack on their own side recently. Because Darkfall attacks do not have targeting (your swing literally hits whatever is in front of you), a would-be ganker can run in between you and the mob you're fighting, causing you to flag yourself and allow him to kill you without penalty. I think there's also some rule or another regarding guild warfare, but I don't know that much detail. The "endgame" appears to be having your guild build and defend a town of its own, which is a slightly different creature from Warhammer's keep sieges.

    If you're curious to hear it from someone who actually plays the game, you should pay Keen's blog a visit. (Start here and work backwards if you want.) He reports that he has both won and lost big to the full looting system. As far as I can tell, you definitely want to keep backup gear in your bank, but there's only so much of a point to saving the best stuff in your bank for some special occasion.

  3. Oh man, you really hit one of my sore spots with this post.

    I don't consider Wintergrasp to be anything like World PvP. Now granted, it is PvP that takes place in the world - but that phrase "World PvP" meant something before WG, and I've done a fair bit of it. WG is not at all like any World PvP that I've ever done.

    So what is Wintergrasp? It's a non-instanced BG. It has BG-style limitations, rules, and timers that are found nowhere in the world. There's no reason to go there other than to participate in the timed battle (I don't know anyone who farms it). You can't fly. It's a huge disappointment.

    WAR's RvR lakes that have normal PvE quests inside of them (as well as some PvP quests) are far, far better than WG, and they came first. Really, WG has not even come close to living up to the hype. For me, anyway. ;)


  4. @Fed: Well, you know one person who goes there when there isn't a timed battle going, and I can say that I've "met" a few others. :)

    The incentives to go there at off-hours are mining, herbing (it's the only place where you can get whole nodes worth of frost lotus in a single harvest), fishing (when patch 3.1 goes live), and farming chunks of eternals. There's also a daily quest good for 1.2K honor, 3 stone keeper shards, the usual chunk of gold, and whatever loot you obtain for killing 10 elementals. (Both sides get the same daily each day, and the hope is that you will find a fight when you arrive - having survived such chance encounters was something that helped me learn to enjoy roaming around looking for a fight.)

    Now, if you're talking about showing up in a raid group for no particular occasion, I'll agree that "noninstanced timed battleground, found nowhere other than the Terrokar Spirit Towers" is the closer description. If you're nostalgic for the Outland raids, or even the old SS/TM brawls (I remember participating once, it seemed relatively pointless), the closest we have are the random black war bear raids. These do appear to happen far more frequently than they used to now that there's an achievement involved.

    From a design perspective, slapping a timer on the battle allows it to have far greater rewards than would otherwise have been possible. There are limits to what kind of rewards can be tacked onto something like the Hellfire world PVP objectives that can be flipped infinitely - in fact, you might remember that they had to dramatically nerf the reward for doing so until the daily quest came along. Now, I suppose all the rules in WG are a far cry from HFP/Halaa, but I suppose that's the price of having rewards that make it actually worth players' time to participate.

  5. I much preferred the World PvP of BC; it occurred in or around places that you would actually normally go, and the normal rules of the world applied. For one, you can use flying mounts.

    The first place I ever say flying mounts, and Netherdrake flying mounts, was in Hellfire PvP. Those people seemed like gods hovering over me. It was very cool, and a really awesome introduction to them.

    WG is all walled off and clunky. You have to fly in, mount up, and ride around looking for other people to fight? And you can't fly over the zone, forcing very annoying detours if you're going from, say, Zul Drak to Coldarra. It's just weird. You can only get in by gryphon or parachuting. You can only get out by gryphon or hearthing. It all serves to take you out of the world in the same way a BG does, imho.

    Grizzly PvP isn't going on very much, but at least you can fly around the zone and see if anyone is there.

    Again, the WAR model has RvR lakes with real quests inside of them that make them worth venturing into.


  6. The no-fly zone in the middle of the continent is possibly the stupidest geographic decision Blizzard has made in the game. I actually have my hearth bound to the airstrip in Borean Tundra so that I don't have to fly around Wintergrasp to get to the Nexus, Sholazar dailies, Azjol Nerub, and the area with the plant and shadow elementals in the SW corner of WG. This is, I suppose, the luxury I have as a mage of not needing to bind in Dalaran, but I think I would actually pay for the hearth ring if my main were not a mage, just to avoid the idiotic placement of the zone.


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