Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Are powerful guilds a problem for PvP?

This blog has been a place in which the conflict between the hardcore and the casual gamers in games like World of Warcraft has been extensively discussed. But most of the real casual players in WoW aren't really bothered. The conflict is purely one of jealousy, fighting about abstract things like the attention of developers. It is fought on message boards, while being nearly invisible in the game itself. The casual player with his dozens of low level alts doesn't care that there are hardcore raiders loaded with epics, and the raider doesn't mind the casual much either. As long as they are all doing PvE, they barely notice each other.

The only place where things get a bit more annoying for the casual players in WoW is the small battleground PvP. A guild team from a powerful guild, well organized, having played together before, and being equipped with advanced technologies like voice chat is totally stomping a team of casual strangers into the ground. But in WoW that doesn't matter much, because you don't lose anything by losing in PvP, you actually get a prize for losing. And PvP isn't really the central point of World of Warcraft anyway.

But I'm wondering what will happen in all those new games now postponed into 2008 which proudly proclaim being more about PvP. The one thing that will undoubtedly be the same as with WoW is that a well-organized hardcore PvP guild will easily beat up any opposition made up from unorganized casual players. Only that in a more PvP centric game that might matter a lot more. There might be actual losses involved when losing in PvP, loss of xp or items (or ships in EVE-like games). And even if losing in PvP doesn't cost you xp or gold, at the very least you didn't achieve your PvP objective.

I am very much afraid that a handful of powerful guilds will dominate the battles in realm vs. realm types of PvP. The casual players will at best just be extras on the battlefield, at worst they'll be the eternal victims. And there is a certain logic to it, a well-organized guild *should* be much better in PvP than a bunch of casuals. Only that while the hardcore are more visible, and online a lot more than the casuals, the casual players are actually more numerous when you count subscriptions. In a PvE-centric game the silent majority of casual players isn't bothered by the hardcore minority, as the casuals can still advance at their own pace, killing computer controlled monsters that don't mind getting slaughtered. In a PvP-centric game you can't win without somebody else losing. And paying a monthly fee for losing all the time isn't very attractive. Casual players with no desire to raise their effort to that of the hardcore will quickly find themselves stuck, not able to achieve anything in PvP, and getting their butts handed to them when getting anywhere near it.

What is missing in all forms of PvP I've seen up to now is some sort of fair pairing system, which makes the best PvP players fight against each other, and has the less good PvPers battle against equally bad opponents. Just like in the real world the little league teams don't play against the Red Sox, in a MMORPG the PvP should be more league structured and not a free-for-all. You need to get every player into a situation where he wins sometimes and loses sometimes, not having the best win all the time and the least good never win. Because if the least good lose all they time, sooner or later they will quit, at which point another group is going to be the least good, and the player base will erode from below. And even for the powerful guilds it is probably more fun to battle somebody who is actually putting up a fight. But besides the WoW arenas I don't see any game even trying something in that direction. Which makes me doubt that the PvP games of 2008 are going to be a huge commercial success.

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