Greedy Goblin

Friday, May 20, 2011

Killers vs achievers

As I promised yesterday, here I am with the idea of financially successful PvP MMOs. PvP MMOs are small niches, usually with 10-50K players. No successful, high-subscriber count MMO has non-consensual PvP, not even EVE. You can play EVE for years without ever leaving safe zones, and that's what most people do.

The fundamental problem of PvP games is simple: someone have to lose and losing is not fun. Several games include the "reward for losing" scheme to lure losers for PvP, but it only works in PvE games, where the reward can be used for something "fun" later (like doing WoW BGs to get PvP gear to get ilvl to get in troll dungeons). Remember, game rewards are just pixels, and while players are ready to grind rewards for a time being, there must be at least hope of winning at the end. A game that is fundamentally PvP cannot offer that to those who suck. And by definition half of the playerbase is below average.

However the weird circle-zerging of Tol Barad opened the chance that both participants of the battle leave it happily, considering himself winner, despite obviously only one of them can be. The key is the "killers vs achievers" scheme. In this scheme rewards are given for two activities: killing enemies and winning some objective. The rewards can be both explicit ingame like honor points and social like achievements, titles, toplist places. While theoretically one can have both (killing and winning) or neither (being dead and lost), usually one of the participants get the kills and the other gets the win. It's important to make both winning and killing desired to prevent win-trading. So the aims are still conflicting but not mutually exclusive.

The only thing the game developer must care for is to clearly signal the players via lore or obvious mechanics which team/class fits ones playstyle, so killers go to the side that pwn and lose, achievers go to the side that dies and win. This is a very general and basic game design, that can be implemented in very different games. I provide you two games that implement these. Please don't criticize the obviously shallow gameplay of these "games", they are just simple examples, focus on the PvP aspect.

First example: "the noble knights vs evil demons". There are several zones of the kingdom where NPC peasants gather various resources to the king and those knights who defend that zone. There is a Hell plane where evil demons live. They need no resources besides souls of the innocents.

The game has two phases, like Tol Barad: a battle phase and a peace phase (for example demos can only leave hell at midnight which is at prime server time). In peace phase the knights can craft, build defensive forts, walls, traps, do quests like "save my farm from the wolves" for currencies and other PvE activities including even peasant-work. Such activities make them stronger by providing gear, consumables, war machines and so on. Demons in Hell can duel or do practice battles between each other or summoned ghosts who act like knights, gaining skill points becoming stronger.

In battle phase the demons attack one or more zones. This can happen as a zerg or a demon can even go alone, there are many different territories to attack and defend. The purpose of the demons is to gather souls that can only be gained from killed knights and NPC peasants. These are essential resources, without souls a demon can't progress (like they need a soul to elevate the cap of their combat skills that they can fill up in duels and practice battles). So killing people is essential for demons. Not dieing is also important, a dead demon loses a soul and also time while he respawns in hell and get to battle again. It is to prevent suicidal zerging.

Not dieing is also important for knights as they also lose time and resources like gear (replaceable next day by PvE). However not dying is not the primary objective of the knights as it is to defend the peasants and the infrastructure (demons get time and vanity rewards for mindless razing like titles or getting skill points free instead of having to duel for it in peace time). So it's completely rational for a knight to sacrifice himself to hold demons back while others and peasants are retreating to the fort or even to the zone portal evacuating people and resources. The essential item for a knight is promotion badge that he gets from the king for protecting his resources and to a lesser extent for killing demons. The rewards are group-wide, divided equally by members. At the end they get a letter "This shire was attacked by 46 demons, the brave knights protected 122/140 peasants and 15000/16000 gold worth buildings, killing 8 demons. So the King decided to award 123 badges among the 52 defenders".

Theoretically the demons can conquer a zone by taking the central fort and then for the next day they can farm it for hiding peasants and can even do quests (the Devil wants you to poison the wells so the people can't use it for a week even if they recapture it) but such outcome is highly unlikely due to the fort is well equipped with battle machines guaranteeing 1:5+ kill:death ratio for attackers (demons can't use them next day defending). Also, theoretically the knights can slay all the demons in the zone without them killing anyone, but hunting down the quick-moving, stealthing, elusive demons need such a manpower that would make the rewards go too many ways.

So at the end of a usual battle, demons are happy that they got some new souls and pwned hard, knights are happy that they defended most of the innocents and gained badges that they collect for levelups. Please note that this is not "reward for losing", both sides must win their own goals or no rewards.

Second example: "fishermen vs pirates". This is a free for all PvP game where everyone can fish and be a pirate. There are skills that helps in combat, others helps in fishing. The characters and ships are uninspectable, so in the town everyone is a respected fisherman. Only at the seas do pirates show their true colors. Similarly you can only figure out if there are barrels of fish or cannons on ones ship by attacking him. Anyone is free attacking anyone, taking his equipment, the fish he caught, even sinking his ship and kill him, so it's really a negative-sum impact PvP game. When one hoist the Jolly Roger, the character's name changes to his pirate name, and the two names cannot be linked unless he tells it himself or change flags front of someone. So in the town you can't find the pirate who robbed you, he can be anyone. The pirate name can also be changed any time, the only consequence is that you lose your place on the toplist of infamous pirates.

You must have equipment in your ship, water and food for yourself and your NPC crew; fishing nets for fishing; salt to preserve your fish; wood, sails, ropes for repairs; cannons, powder, balls for ship vs ship combat; armor, sword, musket for boarding the enemy ship. You all buy these in the port for the gold you got for the fish that you - or your victims - caught. The trick is that the speed of the ship is strongly affected by its weight. You can lose weight by throwing the fish and the equipment to the water. So if there is a pirate chasing you, you can get away by losing some items. These float for a time being, so the pirate can get them, but only if he stops to pull them out of the water. If he continues to pursue, the booty can sink and get lost by the time he gets back or someone else might get it.

Theoretically you can catch someone, take all his resources, kill him and sink his ship. Also, you can fish successfully and when a pirate attacks you, you can kill him and take his stuff too. But these are very unlikely to happen. The skill system makes it impossible to be good at both fighting and fishing. You can be OK in both or specialized in one. So usually a fisherman is no match for a pirate, and knowing this, he runs when sees one, dropping some stuff to gain speed, providing the pirate booty. At the end of the day, the fisherman returns to the port with fish, the pirate returns with booty and the memories of others fleeing from him throwing their goods, so everyone is happy. On the long run average fishermen are richer than average pirates, but a good pirate can get very rich and can see his pirate name placated on the town walls (as wanted posters).

The real PvP is actually consensual, as the victim can always get away by throwing in enough stuff (if the pirate throws in equal stuff, finally he'll have no weapons to attack). Ships will only be sank if the victim stands and fights which (due to the fishermen run) happens only when two pirate candidates meet. The consequences of such battles are severe (one loses his ship, other gets damaged), so such battles will be rare.


Shilgrod said...

Long time listner first time caller:

The pirate game sounds like something I would play but I feel there needs to be ground based activities......all crafting/supply issues would be terrible if it was just fishing....and you need a reason to go beond eye-sight of a port. Maybe I will find an island with a diamond mine seems like a good reason to venture to me.

Anonymous said...

Just throwing it out there, technically you can be attacked even in the safe zones in EVE. Generally the NPC police will show up to help you, but people have figured out ways to get around it, one big example being "suicide ganking" in which a large alpha strike is used to destroy the ship faster than the NPCs can respond. (Google "Hulkageddon" for some examples of large-scale suicide operations and the destruction they wage, loosely calculating based on Hulkageddon 2, ~7,700 USD worth of in-game items were destroyed)

Your corporation can also be declared War on, which just costs a sum to the declarers; after it kicks in they are free to attack you anywhere they can defend yourself of course and they do eventually expire though nothing stops the declarer from renewing it indefinitely aside from their own finances.

Granted some of the rules may have changed in the year since I played but not drastically.

Also I am not sure either idea would really work for the achiever side of things. Most achiever types don't go for non-con PvP games specifically because they want to be able to give consent when it comes time to PvP. That said I think the knights v. demons game could be interesting.

Dalrian said...

Although I think the idea of those games you mentioned is pretty good, I think WoW has also come up with quite a good way to promote PvP, and making sure that everyone has a chance to win.

Maybe you don't win something in every match, although you do gain some honor in BGs for losing, you will always achieve around a 50% winrate in both arena and BGs.

In BGs you have honor, kills, KBs, damage done etc to compensate losses, which still makes you feel like you achieved something.

In arena a loss is a loss, but even the worst players will reach a 50% winrate due to the MMR system. This makes sure that everyone can feel like he/she achieved something, no matter how bad he/she actually is.

I recently heard that most PvE players aren't really familiar with the MMR system, so maybe I should also explain that. I wrote a guide about the system, which should summarize it in case you wonder how it works (I have been linking this all day long for some reason, so why not in here as well):

I think this system really solves the problems you might have with losing interest in PvP because of losing too much.

Imakulata said...

I can see a problem with the pirates vs. fishermen game; many people get emotionally attached to "their" stuff, in this case, the fish they caught. That would make them think, that they would lost most of the time no matter what, with a rare exception when then get ambushed with very little fish on board so they can flee the pirate without throwing the fish away.

Anonymous said...

It's a misunderstanding of Eve to say that any zone is "safe." You are gloriously, horrifically enmeshed with other players who can and will impact your play experience whether you are in 0.0 or 1.0 space, just in different ways. There are griefing/pirate/ninja corporations that live exclusively in highsec space, because there are certain types of impact PvP you can ONLY do in high sec space.

Thinking that highsec space is "safe" the way other MMOs are is the sort of thinking that leads to people losing their ships =D.

David said...

I think you're along the right track having the sort of a symmetries that you're talking about let both sides feel that they've won something without handing out rewards to someone who's objectively lost.

Similar to the knights vs. demons one, you could have one a bit like DAoC and have one side get rewarded for holding objectives (keeps or whatever and rewarded for HOLDING not taking) and the other be rewarded for killing people. One side could feel happy for taking objectives and the other side could feel happy for killing people.

Similarly an easy way of making people feel like they won more than half the time is giving them different levels to track victories and defeats. Such as:
-I killed twice as many people as killed me! I rock!
-Sure I got killed a lot but my guild won, so since I'm part of them, I won!
-Damn, my alliance lost, that sucks, luckily my guild kicked a lot of ass. Too bad we have to support the rest of the dead weight in the alliance.

As long as someone feels that they're winning on any level they can feel that they're a winner, so that more than half of people think that they're awesome at any one time.

Anonymous said...

So your conclusion is that PvP games can not be fun if they are symmetric, and only by giving different sides different goals can can one make a good PvP game?

Your solutions seem to be about allowing PvP players to gank PvE players in a way that PvE players will accept getting ganked. As the knigths and fishermen are mostly PvE oriented, and the demons and pirates are pure PvP.

I think this is what Pirates of the burning sea is like.
The PvP oriented pirates are always the biggest faction, becausede pirates are cool...

Tehar said...

How would you solve 'balance issues'? If players assume that one of the two roles/sides is easier, they will choose that side. If they cannot choose, they will whine or leave the game.

WoW solves this with have two equal sides by having the same role/setting like in WSG or chaning roles/sides every time (SotA) or often (TB).

Gevlon said...

@Tehar: exactly because the aims of the sides are different it's easy to define the goals and rewards to adapt to different difficulties caused by faction inbalance.

Anonymous said...

I think what you describe is why multiplayer FPS are so much more successful with PvP than PvE (co-op against AI).

In FPS you can very well end a game having lost but having fought a pretty satisfying battle. Goals, nodes, flags and such are only an excuse to get in the fray, and even against overwhelming numbers you might not accomplish the goal or whatever, but you will kill someone.

In WoW getting in the fray is not fun unless you are in a well balanced, coordinate group. If you are in such one you are basically immortal against any disorganized attack.

Rushing head-first alone against a bunch of enemies might be stupid, but if you can manage at least to bring down some of them with you you could delude yourself that you are accomplishing something. To most players that would be enough.

Anonymous said...

Re EVE: it is a much harsher, more PvP place than WoW. And you can easily be killed in a "safe" area by suiciders. Besides, maybe half the humans may leave "safe" space even if less than a third of the "toons" do since many people have currency making/crafting alts in those safe areas and many people have more than 2 accounts and quite a number have two accounts (6 toon slots.) Still that is 100 to 150 thousand PvPers in EVE which is what 700% of Darkfall subscriber base. Approximately.

Your PvP idea is interesting.

But I still don't understand the PvP interest in WoW. WoW is essentially a PvE game and the PvP seems like a "checklist item." It is hard to see how people who are serious about PvP would choose WoW

Gevlon said...

Please stop commenting about Hulkageddon it's getting annoying to delete your crap in dozens. That event is well advertised, everyone knows about it. One can choose to not mine in that week. Mining during Hulkageddon is like questing in Tol Barad. You know that there are gankers out there and you moved out despite.

Grim said...

PvP does not necessarily have to be "harsh" to be appealing to serious PvPers.

PvP is a blanket term that covers every aspect of every game that pits you against another player in some form of direct confrontation.
E.g. - almost every non-MMO multiplayer game is PvP.

A lot of WoW PvP is a type of virtual sports, tad does not require any harshness to be appealing.
Think of it as basketball. You have your simplified "streetball" matches (arenas), regular basketball (rated battlegrounds) and pickup-basketball (random BGs, TB, WG). Nobody has to risk his jersey or sneakers to have some competitive fun in basketball.

If a computer game has engaging enough PvP, it can avoid the need for PvP to feature actually weakening the opponent for future battles.
In fact - none of the PvP games that are at least semi serious as cyber-sports have anything of the kind.

Michael said...

A question. If I find the gameplay of being a fisher compelling and I enjoy looking for the best fishing spots, calculating yields and playing with markets, and there are two games available, one where we're all fishers and half the fishers occasionally go attack evil ghosts in haunted reefs or whatever and the other where a third of us are fishers and we're constantly worried and fearful of being preyed upon by pirates, why would I ever choose the pvp game?

Why would achiever types choose to join pvp games where they have to worry about being killed, instead of non-pvp games where they can just achieve all the time?

I would love if there was an open sandbox game with space mining, in depth crafting, tons of exploration, all without having to be constantly afraid of my fellow players. But there is no such game.

Anonymous said...

The pirates fishermen scenario is primed for collusion. Fisherman and pirate work together so that 3rd party attack and fisherman leads it to waiting pirate team mate who ambushes the attacking pirate...

Deepcut said...

I believe Ultima online was pretty much free for all PVP, and it was rather successful. Although you couldn't attack in cities, that was a small part of the game.

Vermis said...

I find it interesting that in both of your proposed PvP games that they are from a perspective of solo-play. Including all of the balancing based around that fact, and in both cases they break down when the "gank squad" is formed.

While there are people that like to PvP solo, there are probably far more people that like to be in a "gank squad". The more overwhelming the force you have, and the more helpless your victim, the more "fun" the experience is for the "gank squad".

In knights vs demons, if both sides have relatively the same abilities then two groups of equal size that are working together (voice com, good communication), the defenders are at a significant disadvantage because they can't control the resources they need to protect and the demons want a "meat grinder" experience of the peasants and knights for fast progression.

In fisherman vs pirates, something as simple the fact that the ships cannot sail through each other is enough for a small "gank squad" to have near 100% chance to kill a fisherman as they will not be able to run away if they are blockaded. In fact, the fisherman will most likely never even make it out of the harbor and into the sea.

Gevlon said...

@Vermis: "gank squad" is the byproduct of non-impact PvP. There is no point doing it effectively, gankers band up for "fun". In a properly designed PvP game, gankers, while easily win, fall behind in progression simply because ganking helpless victims doesn't provide enough booty.

Anonymous said...

Gevlon I dont know if you heard about it but guild wars 2 plans on implementing a similar pvp system. the idea is to pit servers against one another in world wide battles so players can choose whether to go around ganking people, defend their own towns, or go destroy the enemies. becuase it set in it onw realm(I think), the are no negative consequences and the large scale means even the m&s can contribute if only to delay the other team.

Anonymous said...

It depends on whether you are after a "good" game or a game that is a "good" business.

I.e., good games would tend to have ELO style rankings and would tend to shed subscribers as the bottom dwellers tend to unsubcribe, making better players the new bottom.

For a good business, you need a "bad" game. Pay for victims. I.e. what if I got 20 valor points each, above the weekly cap, for joining side 1 of ten BGs per week. All the PvEers, purple collectors, and hard-core raiders would join with their zero resilience gear. It would be mildly annoying to get farmed; but mining ore or doing the Firelands dailies are also annoying so it's just a typical grind. Allbeit most Korean MMOers would think it a trivial grind. The PvP children who play side 2, to the extent they think at all, would love all the 1337 pwnage of the l2p newbs. Only a small % of the PvPers would miss the challenge and there is always 2500+ arena teams for them.

Most people who are serious about PvP do Darkfall or EVE or something in that genre. For the rest of the MMOs, if you want victims, just "pay" them. What the "PvP side wants is much closer to griefing than hard combat against a skilled opponent. If you goal is more $15/month give both sides what they want.

Anonymous said...

Another issue is whether good PvP games can be MMOs? It is the game publisher's financial best interests for people to feel like someone who has paid $15/month for a year or two has an advantage. But what other games would it be acceptable for older players to get an advantage? Someone who has been going to the Casino for a while gets an extra card? Long term members get to tee up closer to the hole? How are MMOs not pay-for-win?

Would not the better game be for the person who spent $50 this morning and the bitter vet to walk into the BG with the same choices for gear and spec? And let skill determine the victor, not how long they have been spending $15/month or how many dailies they have done?

Alessandro said...

I really liked both of the games presented! Original, and game-world more persistent!

Leper said...

Gevlon I feel you are missing a key point.

There are plenty of PVP games out there... some PVP games are actually extremely competitive and people make their livelihoods from playing (starcraft 2 for instance). None of these games are MMO's.

For PVP to be truly competitive the game needs to be balanced. Warcraft is not balanced because players have unequal gear, it CANNOT be balanced as the gear grind is one of the big reasons people keep playing.

It's worth noting that the closest thing WOW has to competitive PVP the arena also offers the arena pass which allows players to compete without entering the gear grind.