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The Beatnik Box

Examining the concepts behind "meaningful play."

Author: Beatnik59

PvD: The Underutilized Alternative Antagonists

Posted by Beatnik59 Friday October 17 2008 at 11:04PM
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When I started playing online roleplaying games on the mainframe at college, there wasn't much of a divide between the players and the producers.  In fact, the players were the producers in a very real sense.  The founders of the MUD or MUSH would of course implement the major systems, but players were allowed to create large chunks of the environment using robust scripting languages.  Similarly, the founders would also be the most avid and active players of their own creation; oftentimes playing central (or not so central) figures in the world that moved the narrative along.

We don't have this sort of player and developer connection in today's studio-driven MMO culture.  The impact players have on the game world is constrained; certainly not trusted to create chunks of the play space or develop central narratives.  The developers also are absent from the play space; preferring instead to turn the servers on in the morning and let the systems they design entertain us without their constant intercession.  When the developers do decide to get involved, they usually do it in the form of patches or expansions.  While we used to get some cameos from Lord British in UO, and some big help from Pex's live team in SWG, developers or paid MMO staff are almost never called upon to contact the players directly in the game world.  When they do, they usually do it incognito like in EVE, and almost never take charge of an encounter or plot twist.

You see, I know a lot of you are sick of fighting the same MOBs with the same AI.  PvE is there of course for a very good reason; it's the game players play when there is nothing else they can do.  You see, not everyone can just pick up and go PvPing.  The vast majority of players aren't set up for PvP like the big time guilds are.  So people end up just PvEing, since this is the only game that everyone can play.  It allows players the freedom to do it like they want without being forced to do things they can't or won't do.

PvP, however, is equally tiring.  Either you play in "PvP reservations" or zones that take away all the visceral and tactical elements we enjoy, or we go to full world PvP; which means that people get ganked into early cancellation by twinks who have no desire to add anything to the experience for everyone.  Even the twinks, too, get bored; because once they've figured out the FOTM, combat is no longer a challenge.  If they are a different class than the FOTM, they get upset that the mechanics are stacked against them.

Both PvP and PvE are predictable and boring after awhile, because in both of them, the outcome is decided before the first blow ever happens.  In PvE, the outcome is decided in favor of the MOBs statistics relative to the player's, and since we can tell in advance how difficult a MOB will be, there's no surprise.  In PvP, the outcome is decided in favor of the player with the greater mechanical advantage, and since we can tell by visual cues how great each player's mechanical advantage may be, it's again boring and predictable.  The only way things can remain fresh and unpredictable is if you can't know or predict the mechanical advantage of the enemy; or if you can, the enemy can change.  The only way this can be done is if the enemy has developer commands; commands that help scale the encounter to the level of those who are engaged in it.

See, on those few occasions in SWG when I saw a live event, I saw an amazing thing.  Players from all around jumped in and participated.  TS/vent players helped out non-users.  Noobs and vets fought side-by-side.  No trash talking or childish behavior was engaged in.  Players instantly roleplayed--even if they weren't roleplayers--because the scene was so immersive.  In short, I saw what the essence of an MMO should be: players with a purpose outside of grinding levels or increasing kill/loss ratios.

So I honestly think that PvD, or "Player versus Developer" content, is the best form of combat content.  It is also, unfortunately, the least utilized.  Perhaps because the publishers feel they spend too much already on human resources, and would rather have their developers churn out bad patches and nerfs.  I agree that MMO publishers waste a lot of HR in post-launch.  A lot of the staff of a post-launch MMO never write a line of code.  Most are PR people, customer service people, producers, or other administrative types.  As far as the programmers are concerned, I think what they do is important, but their prerogative to change the game post-launch should be curtailed, and the ability to design interesting live events should be increased.  What I'd like to see is about a half-dozen actors that do nothing but create interesting scenarios on the servers for those that encounter them.  It could be as easy as manning an epic moster in the middle of town.  It could be as complex as a short story arc initiated when a person stumbles into town half-dead.

PvD is what we had at the beginning of online roleplay, and it's what we should have now.  It's unfair to ask players to pay a premium price just to battle scripts all day like in single player games, as it is unfair to expect players to everyone else's content--either as a roleplaying partner or a victim in PvP.  But PvD?  That's something everyone can have fun with when developers take an active role in setting the tone and creating a lively world.