So Kill Ten Rats has been pretty active in blogging about the recent Guild Wars 2 World versus World (versus World) changes. It caused me to step back and take a look at just how miserable our PvP experiences have become lately in MMO gaming. While most of this post will focus on Guild Wars 2, I will also be taking a historical look at PvP to put these changes into context.
PvP over the last few decades has evolved from a rough melee and no-holds barred combat (read as : no forced teams) into a conglomeration of gaming “evolutions” that have left us wondering why we play what we play. Let me be clear, none of the history of PvP necessarily was better then it is today, but their are some subtle changes that I feel are important to note.
In early MMO history, PvP was new and exciting. In Neverwinter Nights on AOL players could PvP in specifically designated zones. These zones were frequented only by players interested in PvPing and a subculture grew rapidly around the activity. Ultimate Online took it several steps farther, allowing players to literally rob you blind. Clearly this game play style appealed to many.
More recent games attempted to introduce an element of team play into PvP. Guilds became not just a social hub, but a place to rally other players to your side. Developers took note of the strong communities forming around PvP interests, and newer games were designed around them. Anarchy Online, EVE Online, Shadowbane can easily be placed into that category. None of these MMOs FORCED you onto a team, but rather gave rise to key game systems that encouraged and supported the idea. In Shadowbane the meta-game (politics) was born and later brought to perfection in EVE Online. Yet each of these games avoided tackling very serious issues. Balance.
Near about in time, World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online were born and they touted games that very seriously (or very lazily depending on perspective) took on the PvP archetype and went one step further. This was one of the first times in PvP gaming history that players who never previously knew each other would be forced onto the teams of other players who they also didn’t know. Its a small change, and many hardcore PvPers would likely disregard this change as an important one.
Why Forced Teams Hurt PvP
Forced teams have a few advantages for lazy developers. I say lazy, because its clear in almost every instance that games with forced teams are refusing to simultaneously take on the issue of skill balancing. In Warhammer Online the two factions Order and Chaos did battle against each other in zones spread throughout the world. In theory the opponents were numerically capped and the skill breakdown of a given side was largely an element of chance (and pre-launch server planning). Basically in Warhammer (and similar games) the forced teams did little but allow for more frequent (instanced) combat, yet at the same time it ignored player skill.
So your probably asking at this point, did any game attempt to approach the balancing of player-skill issue? Somewhat. Guild Wars 2 has a sort of bastardized system that rates its servers based on score, current opponents, and how well they did in a given week. Beat your opponents? Move up a rank (or two). The following week would see you fighting against a more realistic and balanced threat. Sounds great right? If only. You can basically read the two posts from Kill Ten Rats that I linked earlier and/or pop over to the WvW official Guild Wars 2 forums for how “balanced” the game play is.
Forced team games have unfortunately not taken into account one key aspect of the gamer mentality. Gamers play to WIN games. They will spend days, months and years fighting for a chance to knock off a raid boss in World of Warcraft. What made game developers think that Gamers wouldn’t want to win at World versus World combat in Guild Wars 2 and other similar games (Looking at you #elderscrollsonline). Yea, theirs a very real problem in gamer mentality. Combined with free server transfers at the outset of Guild Wars 2 what we saw is what happens when developers fail to take into account the real problem of PvP; the gamer.
Basically for those of you who never played Guild Wars 2, the very real chance that your server wasn’t going to win its matchups actually encouraged psychologically for you to transfer to a server that was. What you’d expect to happen when one server gets obliterated week after week did occur; players jumped ship and moved to greener more win-ier servers. Surprised? No. Yet the developers seemed to be. They claimed no problem existed. In fact its been largely ignored even still to this date. I reference you the charming post I linked first yet again; Ravious hit upon the very same conclusion, their was no attempt to even remotely make the leagues balanced. In fact, their was no way Guild Wars 2 developers could. It was an element of PvP that was never thought to be designed around.
You might think that merely turning off free server transfers would stop the problem, but you’d be wrong. In World of Warcraft similar population balances have occurred since launch. Take a look at Mal’ganis (the server I raided on for 6 years) and Illidan servers. These are two of the most raiding-centric servers in the game and easily have had in their long history the best and brightest of the raiders (and subsequently some of the best PvPers too…). In WoW you pay $15 for server transfers. Do you think adding a cost to server transfers in Guild Wars 2 would stop the problem of win-ier oriented players? Doubtful.
So lets summarize for those of you still reading, I know I can be bit verbose…
A Solution to the Problem
While many would argue that games like EVE Online have given rise to mega-corporations that span galaxies and that could easily defeat opponents if any should arise, the problem in that specific game is mitigated by an enormous universe that makes logistics and total-universe domination virtually impossible. In games like Warhammer we saw that the population of a single server is rarely enough to create enough conflict to keep players engaged in the PvP. Guild Wars 2 stepped into this with a solid notion of allowing servers to provide their whole populations as soldiers in a glorious three way battle. Yet they failed to address skill imbalances in game and in real time encouraging server-jumping and bandwagoning.
Guild Wars 2 and future games like The Elder Scrolls Online need to take a look at whats the root problem causing imbalances; a gamers desire to win. Directly impacting game play on the battlefield is absolutely the next step that needs to be taken. Lets give you a Guild Wars 2 example;
Server A: 30,000 points, Server B: 27,000 points, Server C: 24,000 points.
In this example, its pretty clear which server is likely to win. A little extra help should encourage the lesser servers to keep fighting. How about a direct stat boost? 1%, 10%? The amount could be tweaked based on just how far behind you are. Additionally the physical quantity of players allowed from each side could be reduced. Servers ahead by 20%? Reduce their population count by 20%.
Physically manipulating the battlefield is an unfortunate requirement of forced-team game play. Players can’t be trusted to join a server to “equalize the battlefield”, its really fucking obvious that they would gravitate towards the best chance to “win”. Forcibly balancing a game like Guild Wars 2 would be a fantastic way to draw more players back. It would encourage a near equal spread of players amongst the servers, and skill would be minimized on its impact to overall score. Instead of players leaving your game because they always lose in PvP, or forcing inane PvE objectives into it in the hopes of getting more people to play in it, you’d have people genuinely feeling like they are contributing irregardless of personal skill limitations.
A pipe dream I’m sure, but coming from a player who grew sick of the skill imbalances in Guild Wars 2 (I was on the winning side for far too long…), the fact that it still exists to this day is a testament to a game development team that can’t figure out (or implement) a solution.