Wednesday, December 26, 2007

We just don't want to lose

If you haven't read Scott Jenning's How to Make a Game with PvP Done Right article I linked to two weeks ago yet, you should do so now. The only problem I have with it is that it talks a lot about how PvP can't work, and a lot less about how PvP can work. There is an up to now not disproven theory that PvP can't work in a MMORPG at all, because it is incompatible with whatever makes a MMORPG a MMORPG, for example levels and gear. But I think *if* PvP can work in a MMORPG, it can only do so by rewarding *both* the winner and the loser.

I came to that conclusion by listening to a conversation in guild chat where one player was complaining how much it sucked that he got only 83 honor points in half an hour of Alter Valley battleground. I restrained myself from typing into guild chat that "this is called losing". Because I understood perfectly well that he wasn't complaining about losing AV, he was complaining that recent changes to AV made losing give less rewards than it used to. You get more honor per hour now from winning, as battles are shorter now, but less from losing. And apparently although you get "some" honor and 1 victory mark for losing, people like it less than the previous situation, where the difference in honor gained for winners and losers wasn't so big.

The other insight I arrived at this year was that people care a lot about individual PvP rewards, but don't care all that much about which side is winning. In the Pirates of the Burning Sea beta we had a situation where a hardcore guild after one wipe switched to a previously underdog nation, leveled up to the cap quickly, and then started to dominate PvP with their higher levels and better organization. That turned out to be a bad idea, because you could read endless rants from them about how the enemy nations had a "conspiracy" going on to "boycott" port battles. What really happened was that players from other nations had quickly realized that they were losing each battle, and thus simply didn't go to them any more. Because if you came to a port battle and lost on the sea part, your ship lost durability and eventually sunk. A big personal loss, not considered worth risking for the small possibility of winning, which only helped the nation, but gave no individual PvP rewards.

In the December video podcast of Warhammer Online the devs again talk a lot about their RvR PvP-system, about keeps, siege weapons, and victory points that make one side or the other win. What they are strangely silent about is personal PvP rewards, and how these are affected by winning and losing. Keeps are probably going to change owner many times between map resets. That is certainly going to be huge fun to do a couple of times. But if you EA Mythic expects people to keep doing it for a long time, they better hand out personal PvP rewards for every time you capture a keep or accomplish other PvP objectives, whether they are instanced or open world RvR objectives. *And* you better also give personal PvP rewards for the losing side. Not for "losing a keep" if you lost it while asleep. But unsuccessfully defending a keep should give nearly as many personal PvP points per hour as successfully taking it.

People simply don't want to lose. And they certainly don't want to pay $10 to $15 a month for the privilege of losing. That means PvP has to be positive sum, so if you win some and lose some you still end up coming out ahead. But as some people lose a lot more than they win, the only way to make sure PvP is positive sum for everybody is to give out PvP rewards for losing. The huge increase in PvP activity from before to after patch 1.13 in World of Warcraft, which turned WoW from a game where PvP rewarded the winners to one where PvP rewarded the losers nearly as well, tells us that this is the way to go. After all, X hours spent in PvE in a MMORPG are certain to earn you a reward. So if PvP wants to compete with that, the same X hours have to earn you a similar reward. Losing doesn't hurt if you still come home with a nice reward for the time spent, and the fact that the winner got a somewhat bigger price even keeps you motivated to try and do better. That system is still full of design pit traps (like afk honor farming in AV), but those problems can be solved with careful design.

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