Thursday, March 6, 2008

Is WoW PvP the best possible PvP for a MMORPG?

I'm on holiday in one of these places where the geographical location doesn't really matter, as long as there is endless sun, blue sky, a beach, a pool, and an all-you-can eat buffet. But I'm interrupting this holiday for an hour to update this blog. Before I left, I spent an afternoon in World of Warcraft doing mostly PvP. Somebody was forming a "premade" PvP group in the trade chat channel and I joined this "trademade" group to do a couple of Eye of the Storm and Arathi Basin battlegrounds. A nice improvement over just joining random battlegrounds alone, especially the few times where we were originally paired against another premade group, which then promptly deserted the battleground when facing us. All in all a lot of fun, and I'm half-way in honor to the one-handed sword I want.

So I was wondering, if World of Warcraft PvP manages to entertain me, who certainly isn't a PvP fan, might WoW PvP already be the best form of MMORPG PvP possible?

My reasoning is that there is an inherent incompatibility between MMORPG and PvP. A MMORPG works on the basis of continual character improvement: systems where you can actually lose xp or levels have died out, and we are now always winning, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, but never really losing anything. PvP on the other hand, by definition has a winner and a loser. And PvP is best if the two sides are equally strong, which doesn't mix well with a system in which players can be more or less advanced, depending on how much they already played before.

World of Warcraft pretty much solves this incompatibility. You don't really lose in a battleground, you just win less. Being killed is nearly without consequence and happens so often you stop noticing. And the bigger the battleground is, the less important become differences in gear, because a few very well or very badly equipped people don't make a big impact in a 40 vs. 40 battle.

Now it is perfectly possible that some future MMORPGs will succeed with similar formulas: PvP in which character development isn't overly important, and in which there are no losers. You can call it carebear PvP, but by the simple fact that it doesn't frustrate people so much, it is bound to be the most popular PvP. If other people are clamoring for PvP which has a more lasting effect, "impact PvP", or "meaningful" PvP, I'm sceptical. In WoW you win PvP in an instanced battleground, and there is no lasting result, because when you log off the next person playing must be able to win *his* battleground without a lasting influence of what you did. As soon as you move PvP to the overland map, and have people conquer lands and castles, and set it up in a way that the castle you conquered is still around when you log on next time, your PvP success comes at the cost of a negative experience of somebody else. For a win to stay around, the loss has to stay too. Impact PvP is creating real losers for a longer time, and those people won't be happy. Even if the permanent losers are those who are objectively the worst PvP players, any system which continually frustrates one group of players is bound to fail in the long run. The worst and most frustrated players quit, and then it's the second-worst group of players getting hammered until they give up. That can only lead to a shrinking user-base, which is the last thing a MMORPG needs to be a success.

Other games where players fight other players, but that don't have the baggage of persistent worlds and MMORPG character development fare better here. Ladder systems in which people mostly play against people of similar skill level work better outside persistent worlds. For MMORPGs the carebear PvP of WoW might be the best possible solution.

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