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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 10:04PM
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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.

AlloughN writes:

There are still a few indie companies that believe in PvD as you call it.

Sat Oct 18 2008 3:40AM Report
HelMann writes:

Some very nice thoughts..

And you are right.. I have tried a little PvD.. But not much.. And it is fun when actual IRL persons help create a story..

So nice thoughts. Just to bad The big bad companies have no intentions of making it so!

Sat Oct 18 2008 6:06AM Report
AlloughN writes:

www.starquestonline.net

Devs still believe in PvD, in fact, they have their own "guild" called the Veteran Group. Its sort of a enhanced version of gm's. Except in StarQuest the gm's dont moderate, they help PvD become a reality.

Sat Oct 18 2008 11:00AM Report
Gaylen writes:

LOTRO did some PvD recently. A (presumably) GM controlled a powerful character that attacked towns in a specific end-game region. While the character herself was nearly invulnerable, the GM spawned many adds that dropped rare costume pieces. Not only did you get a chance at some rare, cool looking cloaks and haubreks, but was as also a blast to see the community pull together and fight side by side.

I would definitely love to see more of this kind of event.

Sat Oct 18 2008 1:15PM Report
Anofalye writes:

I don't believe in PvD from a player perspective.

 

However, if the devs would feel better, self-gratified and much cooler, in their FREE TIME, they could have NPCs in a zone where players have the choice to go for an alternate path for the SAME rewards.  How much easier or harder is of no consequences to me, as this is, afterall, an alternate path.

 

If your devs consists of 19-25 year old boy which enjoy uberness, it might be something to consider.  Keep in mind, this has to be an alternate path, it must be in the devs free time, it should be challenging for the players no matter how badly the devs could be sick about it.  The first reason for that feature is for the devs themselves...and for a few bored players which look to undertake impossible challenges (and perhaps succeed...or not...or partly).

Sat Oct 18 2008 4:39PM Report
Vemoi writes:

I agree. I have wondered about this in the past. The big problem I see is cost. People are all over the place on large worlds so how do you have enough devs churning out live content.  Hireing "gamers" to work at home, with a strict set of rules would be one option. Looking at EVE, not exactly what we are talking about but, they have player run radio stations, poker games, tons of original stories on the EVE site. I would think there would be people who would also like to run "dev content". Yes, I know there can be legal  problems or just people problems  with this but, there must be a way to make it work.

My first "mmo" was NWN1 and some servers had a lot of this. Of course, servers were very small and unstable. Some of the stuff was a blast though. I can remember groups of people sitting around listening to a character tell his poems. Not my cup of tea but more interesting than static NPCs with menu driven storyline.

Sun Oct 25 2009 2:42AM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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