The biggest flaw I see in the implementations of FFA PvP I have seen in MMOs over the past 10+ years all boils down to the exact same thing:
It's far too easy to be a PK or be "the bad guy" because there are always places to go to hide and be "safe" from pursuit and from redemption. Because it's a game, you can simply log off.
The punishment systems and morality systems and alignment systems and security systems etc. etc. are always FAR FAR FAR too forgiving - there are not really ever any truly negative effects to spending your time ruining other people's time.
Because it's a game, and not real life, why shouldn't you take that candy from that baby? Why shouldn't you camp and PK and steal and grief someone? It's just a game right?
The grind be it levels or skills or gear or whatever and the ridiculous disparty it creates between vets and noobs is a big part of it too.
Those who have been playing for longer have all the advantages, they have all the power and thus have the control. The noobs cannot really fight back and win a lot of the time because they simply don't have the gear or level or skill points etc.
Point is - developers cave in too much to the PK's and give them all the advantages. The PKs whine and moan almost as much as their victims, but the developers tell the non-PKs "that's just the way the game is played" but to the PKs they bend over backwards to accomodate them.
In UO the PK's complained about having to rez in town and run from the guards so the developers created "Red Healers" to rez the PK's outside of town.
They complained about not being able to get bank access so the developers created a Pirate town without guards so the PK's could still bank.
Those who DON'T PK and try to live in the same sandbox as the PKs end up becoming the lambs for the wolves to slaughter.
You may say, "why play a FFA PvP MMO if you don't want to PK?" and there is definitely some logic in that statement - if you don't want to be subjected to this behavior, why subject yourself to it?
Perhaps the real problem is that no one seems to know how to make a Sandbox MMO that isn't FFA PvP or they are unable to understand or sever the connection between FFA PvP and Sandbox game play.
This has unfortunately been true in every FFA PvP MMORPG to date. Though there have been a very small handful of quote "sandbox" games without FFA PvP, namely SWG and FFXI, there is no MMORPG in development that I am aware of that is both sandbox and NOT FFA PvP.
There are probably several solutions, to seem there is no need for a solution because their is no problem. Games like UO and Eve split their game worlds into pieces, Trammel/Felucca for UO and High Sec/Null Sec for Eve.
But here is my suggestion-
Permadeath for PK's if they are caught or killed. Yep, that's right.
Unless it's factional or guild vs. guild or something like Order/Chaos like UO had, then if you are a Murderer, a PK who kills other players with no provocation or reason (no war declaration, no factional/racial etc.) then if you are killed then that toon is permanently dead.
But you HAVE to couple this with a fast progression curve and NO stat based gear. You couldn't do this in a no-progression game because then it'd pretty much be a shooter. Death would be meaningless.
No permadeath for non-PK's.
They want a rush? There you go! You can be a ganker/greifer PK but if you get caught... it's game over man.
Each death and reboot would be a learning experience. A chance to try something different, work your stats and progression a different way, try new strategies...
But it would also help even the playing field between the PK and the non-PK, because the non-PK has little to risk in defending themselves and the PK risks everything in the attack.
At least, that's one way that would actually work.
If PermaDeath is too extreme, then MAJOR stat/skill loss for the PK's on death, no stat/skill loss for non-PK's.
By major I mean like... 1/2 or more or make the stat/skill loss depend on how high your bounty is or how many PK kills you have had since your last death. Something like that.
Or a rebirth system. Killed as a PK you "come back" as a outcast and are no longer a criminal but are pretty much looked down upon by every NPC faction in the game. You'd have to work your way back up, reacquire your former power and glory and fame.
You have to make "being the bad guy" truly dangerous or everyone will be the bad guy and there will be no good guys.
Wouldn't that be hardcore? Something to brag about?
Imagine being a PK with enough kills who has lived long enough to have a huge bounty and know that when and if you are finally caught and killed, you'd lose everything?
That's a rush. That is something to strive for that has MEANING not just randomly killing weaker players. THAT is fame. That is being feared and respected.
Another big component to any truly amazing and balanced FFA PvP system would be to have no safe zones or conveniences for PKs.
This is a huge point.
Developers have to stop coddling the PKs and giving them everything they want. Stuff like bank access and storage, NPC item repair, instant/fast travel options that are NPC dependant etc.
Take them away from PKs.
Make them totally self reliant and give them the skills to live and survive outside of society without ever having to step into a town or city or installation/station again -
If they can hack it.
Having players and even NPC bounty hunters stalking you trying to end your reign of terror, with no where to run and hide? Amazing.
Careful, calculated, skillful play is rewarded and REQUIRED to survive being the bad guy.
But if you do? If you can hack it and excel at it despite all the additional challenges? Famous. Legendary. Epic.
Being the bad guy is WAY too easy in every FFA PvP MMORPG, in these games, it's a LOT harder to play a "good guy."
Make it really, really convenient with a lot of bonuses and incentives to NOT being a PK and NOT being "the bad guy."
The reward for being the PK, being the bad guy and actually exceling at it should be pride, fame, glory, and most importantly FUN.
Not phat loots and easy access and a smug sense of cocky superiority because what? You excel at beating up players that are not as good as you? Takes a really big man to PK a noob...
Should always have a reason to steal and murder etc. of course, profit and monetary/financial gain in the game should be one of the motivations for deciding to become a PK so there have to be SOME rewards like loot/gear etc. for a successful PK. Full loot PvP is a GREAT mechanic if used right.
Unfortunately, I don't think it has been used right yet.
I know this is a big slap in the face to the PK loving FFA PvP community to actually suggest their prefered play style be intentionally made MORE difficult then the play style of "following the rules" and not being a PK.
Ya'll have had all the advantages for far too long, in my view you are all a bunch of whiney care-bears that have gotten too soft for a real challenge.
Playing with "one hand tied behind your back" so to say, and STILL coming out ahead? Still beating the other guy who has everything handed to him?
Now that is epic.