Thursday, January 24, 2008

Somebody is going to be disappointed by WAR

We're just not sure yet who. Syncaine has a Warhammer rant on his site complaining about people who are looking forward to WAR, but aren't big fans of PvP. Which would include me. He says: "I sincerely hope you HATE Warhammer. I mean absolutely HATE it. Because if carebear Joey likes Warhammer for its fun questing, crafting, and easy solo nature, that means everyone looking forward to Warhammer for it's impact PvP will hate it." And while I of course hope that it will be me who likes WAR and him who hates it (just kidding), I totally agree with his analysis that it is nearly impossible that both of us will like it. One of us, and by extension the two groups of people that like similar things than we do, is going to be severely disappointed by WAR.

I have a grudging admiration for the camp that Syncaine represents, because they are so passionate. They love what Syncaine calls "impact PvP", that is players being able by means of PvP to change the virtual world, to control parts of it, to affect what is going on for everybody. You just need to poke one of them and they will wax lyrically about how great Ultima Online was before Trammel "ruined" it for them.

Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for me, history is against "impact PvP". Reality shows that it is impossible to have impact PvP unless you allow a small minority of extremely dedicated players to dominate the less dedicated masses. It also shows that the less dedicated masses react to that by quitting the game in question, because nobody wants to pay $15 a month for being ganked and relegated to the bottom of the pile. UO didn't introduce Trammel to ruin the game for the PvP fans, they introduced it as an emergency measure to keep their game from dying, because they were bleeding subscribers. Over 90% of the UO player base ended up on PvP-free Trammel, while the mirror image Felucca with its free-for-all PvP was pretty much deserted. Other MMORPGs that tried to attract players with impact PvP, like Shadowbane, Archlord, or Fury, ended in dismal failure. There are passionate PvP fans out there, but there aren't very many of them.

It is theoretically possible that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is all that what Syncaine desires: impact PvP, hated by "carebear Joey". In that case WAR would be one of the greatest financial flops in MMO history, failing worse than Vanguard. While some players and game developers might prefer PvP purity over financial success, I'm pretty certain that the business managers of EA see the matter differently.

I'm somewhat a cynic regarding statements by game developers. To me the most likely outcome is that WAR will offer fake PvP: something that looks like impact PvP, but is in reality limited to special areas, with carebear Joey being well protected and able to do the "fun questing, crafting, and easy solo" gameplay he wants. The PvP fans would conquer their keeps, proudly lording it over the lands, and hopefully not notice that they aren't actually lording over anyone, because the people they'd love to rule just stay outside their reach. And to me that sounds like a great solution.

In other words: I think WAR will be for PvP fans what WoW is for raid fans. In WoW the hardcore raiders think they are the elite, but their actual impact on the lives of the non-raiders is minimal. I think in WAR there will be PvP elite guilds capturing keeps and thinking they are the elite, but have little actual impact on the lives of the non-PvP players. Once in a while one side will capture the capital city of the other side, but then the map resets a few days after, and the whole system is set up in a way that casual players don't suffer too much for not having access to that city for a few days. And to make up for that little hardship, all players of the winning and of the losing side will receive some rewards, even if they didn't participate in PvP at all. The winners for having won, and the losers for balancing the sides out so that the same side isn't winning all the time. The developers will do their utmost to reach "well balanced" PvP, but well balanced isn't all that much difference from the static situation of a pure PvE game. I'm sure I can live with a balanced "fake impact" PvP like that. I just hope Syncaine will learn to love it too. Because if you want real impact PvP, you're forever condemned to low budget niche games. You can't have both impact PvP and a million subscribers.

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