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Penalties for dying in PvP

DAoC RvR death penalty

Here’s a random picture of dead people in Dark Age of Camelot.

The subject of consequences isn’t foreign to this blog.  We talk all the time about wanting games with more meaningful decisions. Over the past few days, Mark Jacobs has been publishing a lot of what he calls “Foundational Principles” wherein he discusses his thoughts on this very subject.  While reading his thoughts, and contemplating my own current feelings, I came to a conclusion about certain PvP penalties/consequences.

I’ve circled the MMO block a few times.  I started PvPing consistently in DAoC where there was no direct penalty.  I’ve played games like PotBS, Darkfall, UO, etc., where you can lose everything.  Personally, I prefer not losing my stuff.  I don’t see a need for losing gear, experience, or stats for a PvP death.  To borrow a phrase from Mark Jacobs, those are more often than not “quitting points.”  Different methods can produce very similar results.

Take DAoC for example.  Death meant being out of the fight.  You missed out on the action, missed out on the points, and had to run all the way back.   If you’re thinking to yourself that running back isn’t a big deal then you clearly never played DAoC where the run could be 20+ minutes.   In reality, it could take even longer waiting for a portal to teleport you back, and even longer if the action moved.

In my opinion, DAoC’s penalty for dying in RvR handles the issue with much more finesse.  By comparison, simply losing all your stuff feels like a cop-out, and unsupported by the rest of the game.  Weak penalties, like the one found in games like WAR, where death is nothing and neither side truly loses anything — ever — are just as bad… maybe worse.

Balance is needed between just enough to be meaningful, and not enough to make you want to quit.  I prefer when the penalty can be incorporated with more of mechanics and features of the world, rather than simply going the full-loot route.

Since I mentioned MJ’s foundational principles in the beginning, I’ll close by mentioning that Camelot Unchained will not have full-loot in PvP.  When I spoke with Mark at length about penalizing players for dying, he agreed with me that DAoC’s penalties (as I mentioned earlier) were adequate  and alluded to taking Camelot Unchained down a similar path.

Dare I say it: PvP isn’t necessary

So much of the MMO commentary out there these days focuses on improving or coming up with new ideas for PvP.  For the past few days I’ve had this nagging thought on my mind about whether or not I even truly care about PvP being in a game or not.  Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy PvP, I have a lot to say on the subject, and I know what I like and I don’t like about it.  I just don’t think it’s mandatory at all.  I’m going to quickly get my thoughts out and see if they form into anything coherent.

I think a game designed solely around capturing people in the moment by creating a really rich PvE world is a something I can really enjoy.  What does that mean?  I guess I envision myself packing a bag full of resources, and setting off in a direction with friends to see what we can find.  I like the idea of not knowing what’s out there, or not knowing when I’ll be back to town because the game — the world — is letting me go off and truly make the “player vs. environment” a reality.   Danger, intrigue, exploration of the unknown, and enjoying how I interact with the world rather than enjoying what I get out of it are attributes I don’t experience or see emphasized enough.

Many of my fondest (and worst) memories from past MMOs are from PvP, but the best and most memorable are from PvE.  Something about playing a MMORPG sounds like going out to slay dragons.  I realize that’s completely personal to me; maybe adding the “RPG” to the end — role playing — is PvE’ish.  Gosh, I don’t want to open that can.  Let me just quickly backtrack and say “PvE” is really ambiguous to some people compared to PvP being quite literally fighting other players.  I won’t try and define PvE, but I will say it encompasses much more than just combat against AI mobs; so much more that maybe it’s overwhelming for a developer to even attempt at getting it right.  That danger of tweaking PvE could explain themeparks — modular, linear experiences are easier.

Maybe that’s why I wish PvP was seen as less of a requirement.  PvE has the ability to create a much better experience for me, and I wish those types of experiences would be developed further even with the risk.

Hopefully that made sense and resonates with at least a few of you.

TESO Should Focus on PvE

The big news of the day is The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) cinematic trailer.  Let’s take a quick look, and then I want to offer up my thoughts.

We all know about trailers. You can buy into them a bit, but you have to really watch yourself; if you loose control you might actually believe the gameplay will be anything like that Legolas ninja shadowstalker sniper.  It’s never going to happen in our lifetime.  Nevertheless, it was quite exhilerating to watch and imagine myself in such a position.  This trailer shows me that TESO will have some money behind it, and they’re not goign to spare any expense with the hype and marketing.

Clearly this trailer showcases the three-way alliance PvP.  (AvA?)  What I want to know is just how central this PvP conflict will be to the rest of the game.  Is this going to be a huge focus?  Is the PvP what they want to drive everyone toward?  I think that would be a mistake.

In my opinion, they should focus on creating an amazing and innovative PvE experience in TESO.  PvP has ruined more games in the last ten years than it has helped, and we haven’t received any innovations or PvE.  I have a feeling that the game is currently on a trajectory to try and capture some form of RvR 3-way conflict market.  If they do that, and fail to pull it off perfectly, it will be a superficial/shallow themepark mess.

Here’s hoping that TESO doesn’t focus on PvP.  Yep, I said it.

Chaos in MMORPGs

The topic of “chaos” came up in the discussion we’ve been having lately regarding things we want/don’t want in a next-gen MMORPG.  I thought I might share my thoughts on the subject and get your input.  First, what is meant by ‘chaos’?  I like the second definition available from Google: “Behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions.”

EverQuest Sand Giant

This poor fellow is about to experience chaos first hand.

In terms of class mechanics, a little bit of chaos can be fun.  A very static game is predictable.  An ability that does 5 damage will always hit for 5 damage.  Throw some chaos in there and that ability might hit for 5-10 or activate an effect.  Some ideas I have for implementing chaos include a bit of RNG (random number generator) and skill.  Imagine if you could hit someone with a sword on the leg.  First you do some damage, but since it was a sword you might also inflict a ‘cut’ to cause the target to bleed.  If you hit hard enough maybe you also hurt the target’s ability to move (snare or something).

Chaos can also be added into content.  Forget about randomness for a second and consider the ‘experience’ or ‘atmosphere’.  In EverQuest there was almost always an element of danger and unpredictability within a zone.  Desert of Ro and Oasis were plagued by Sand Giants.  For the majority of players in those zones, a Sand Giant would one shot you because it was a high level mob. This meant you were always watching your back in case a Sand Giant came up behind you. Unrest and Guk were infamous for ‘trains’ of mobs being dragged through the tight spaces of the zone.  One wrong step and a train might wipe you and your group.  This ‘chaos’ was more dynamic than it was random, and greatly increased my overall enjoyment of the game (even if it sucked hard dieing to a train).

In terms of RNG or unfortunate events, chaos can be really frustrating if it doesn’t go your way.  But you can also have amazing moments where the stars align and the game’s fun factor shoots through the roof — even if only for a few seconds — and uncertainty or chaos can create an atmosphere 10x more immersing than a linear and predictable experience.

What do you think?  Does ‘chaos’ have a place in MMORPG’s?  Should everything be apparent, expected, and linear or should you be surprised every once in a while?

PvP rewards without a cost for failure

Let’s start the new year off with a discussion about PvP.  I was thinking about why PvP — more specifically RvR/WvW — hasn’t succeeded or ultimately been a lot of fun for me in the past few years.  We had a brainstorming session on our Ventrilo server, and I think we nailed it.

PvP has too many rewards in all the wrong ways, and there is never any consequence or punishment for failure.

Take Guild Wars 2 where taking a keep grants a huge sum of points.  What happens when that keep is lost?  Nothing that matches the bonus for taking it.  What happens when you retake that keep?  You get another huge sum of points.  Why defend?  Why would anyone when there is more to gain from losing it and taking it again. Players will always seek the path of least resistance where they gain the most reward.  Then there’s the fact that death means nothing.  Die and you can be back at the keep in 4 minutes tops.  You probably miss out on next to nothing.

Here’s why taking and holding keeps in DAoC mattered: Losing them sucked!  The frontiers were a great place to exp.  When the enemy owned the keep near my favorite spot, guards would patrol and often kill me.  More players were also likely to be in the area.  Losing that keep also meant losing a bonus to experience; Leveling in DAoC wasn’t easy.  Losing a keep also meant losing relics with bonuses we wanted.  All of that might have been enough, but there’s another reason losing the keep sucked: Darkness Falls.  Whoever owns the most keeps has access to a dungeon with the best loot exp’ing locations.

Here’s a way to start fixing WvW/RvR and that type of PvP:

  • Remove immediate rewards for taking keeps.  No point gains, no experience.
  • Implement more indirect rewards like a dungeon for having the most keeps and meaningful/sought after rewards for being on the winning side.
  • Create ways to indirectly punish players for losing them. For example: Guard spawns I mentioned or not having access to an extremely desirable location.  Losing ground also means you probably won’t be killing as many players, so you probably won’t be on the winning side gaining points for killing other players.
  • Make keeps/holdings more difficult to siege.

The lack of risk and indirect loss for failing in PvP is game breaking for me.  If you’re not happy with the PvP in a game you’re playing, see if the rewards outweigh the penalties.  Chances are you’re not actually PvPing at all — you’re just gaming the system.