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Blade Wars Developer Blog

Thoughts from ChangYou's Blade Wars Dev. Team about publishing a F2P game in the West, living the gaming life and the industry in general. To find more info about Blade Wars, go to http://bw.us.changyou.com/en/

Author: ChangYou2

The Thrill is Gone...Open World PvP in Today's Market

Posted by ChangYou2 Wednesday May 12 2010 at 6:59PM
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I recently stumbled upon a blog entry here on MMORPG.com by “MikeB” which addressed the concept of instancing within a MMORPG.  He quoted many different players who all had different viewpoints on this mechanic which effectively can “section off” certain areas of a game and limit encounters.  The idea is simple and has some merit, but is this truly the way to go? 
 
 
I remember a time, back in the annuls of video gaming history, when the online RPG was about experiencing encounters out in a persistent world amongst your fellow players.  You had to fight for everything you wanted from grind spots to boss mobs.  Even resource gathering was contested and a struggle within these early realms.  This is what separated the game from the single player console RPG’s.  This is where the term “MMORPG” was born.
 
 
As readers of my past blog posts could attest to, my favorite online game to date is pre-trammel Ultima Online from way back in 1997.  This title introduced me to an online gaming style which incorporated one world and one instance for all.  The genre was still in its infancy, so everything was new and the waters were untested….We were the guinea pigs.  If you wanted that mining vein you had to take it.  If you wanted to farm for cash you needed to prepare to fight other farmers who all needed money as well.  In short, the players themselves were your best friends and worst enemies in this world with no instances.  PvP occurred at places that the players deemed important.  There were no pre-determined objectives or artificial zones where one had to go to find any enemies….They existed around every corner!  You could be attacked anywhere and at any time, even in the center of town in broad daylight!
 
 
Bigger games such as World of Warcraft feature world PvP as well, but due to “instancing” fighting outside of the battlegrounds has quickly fallen out of favor with its gaming community.  Long gone are the days of hanging around Blackrock Mountain with the intent of attacking unsuspecting foes that had the misfortune of wondering across your path.  I am not talking about killing low level players or jumping those who were in the middle of killing monsters, but referring to good old fashioned 1 on 1 combat.  Being a good character in a 1 v 1 World PvP setting required a much different skill set then being a good team mate within an instanced battleground.  There were no rules, no objectives, and no one to hear you scream.  The only goal that existed was to defeat your opponent by any means necessary, even if it meant mind controlling them into a group of angry mobs. 
 
 
Why did instancing become so popular and World PvP fall out of favor with the masses?  There is no easy and clear cut answer, but I have a few theories.
 
 
For starters, let’s go over some of the issues that exist on the technical side of the spectrum.
 
 
Lag is always the first and foremost of a player’s complaints.  When something goes wrong, it’s because they lagged.  This excuse is common for all gamers from Super Street Fighter 4, to Counter Strike Source, to even Bomberman across the Sega Saturn network (which still works by the way), it's always about the lag.  Not even chess or spades online is free from this constaint complaint! 
 
 
What is the best way to fix this legendary issue, other then asking people to stop playing on a 28.8k modem?  The developer's solution came down to limiting the amount of interaction possible at one time by instancing off parts of the game.  Some games even took this to the extreme like Guild Wars and even instanced off parts of the world where there wasn’t even any fighting!  Will the issue of latency continue even after these changes?  The developers know they cannot please everyone, but instancing is about the extent of what can be done on their end.
 
 
You can still play with up to 10 people in a game of Bomberman with the Sega Saturn modem or on one television screen with 2 multitaps and 10 controllers!
 
 
Another attribute to decreased performance can be seen and best illustrated with a game like Age of Conan.  Their graphics are state of the art, but most players do not have a powerful enough computers to engage in large fights without seeing a drop in frame rates.  Every game has to deal with this issue in varying degrees depending on the engine (Anarchy Online was such a resource hog) and the year (Age of Conan is very recent), but instancing is once again the solution.  If a majority of people upgraded their systems this wouldn’t be such an problem, but not everyone can have a gaming rig that can run Crysis at 100 frames per second.  The explanation for this fix is very similar to that for lag.  If you limit the amount of characters that are on screen, you can prevent those players from losing too many frames.
 
 
The biggest factor I believe for the rise of instances, however, is more personal and severe then these convenient technical excuses.  Reasonable people can have differing views on what kind of system they enjoy within their MMO's, but the following opinion has been reached through experience and research into most of the MMO's that hit the market in recent history.
 
 
I feel most players have grown weary of the constant bloodbaths which characterized most early MMOs.  Most would rather be protected during their travels instead of the having an ever-present fear that death may be around every corner.  To put it bluntly, most players have grown “soft” when it comes to player versus player combat.  Old Ultima Online and other early MMORPG’s were so brutal and unforgiving during the dawn of this now mammoth genre.  If you came across an opponent and lost, much more than just your dignity was at stake.  UO had "full loot" deaths, so if you died in front of any other player he could help himself to your items!  Full loot as a concept has been abandoned almost entirely, including in Ultima Online itself, due to a growing frustration by players from losing their items...and many would say this is for the best.  Slowly making the game friendly to the casual gamer turned out to be a slippery slope, however, and that slop would begin to claim many more gaming mechanics before finally the act of "dying" itself in the world came up next to the chopping block.  It became inconvenient to run into players and end up having to fight instead of just easily passing through, saving the fights for pre-determined locations. 
 
 
World PvP was always spontaneous and unexpected.  It gave players a rush that can’t be experienced within any pre-determined encounter.  Battlegrounds provide predictability and repetition, while world PvP provides apprehensiveness and fear. 
 
 
 
What is my personal opinion on this subject?
 
 
World PvP provides an experience that cannot be duplicated or recreated.  Once your game decides to add instances and battlegrounds, you lose a large aspect of what set this genre apart from its inception…..from what originally drew me towards MMO's.  I, as a player, enjoy the fight no matter the medium.  On consoles I am drawn to competitive games like fighters and first person shooters.  There is an inherent skill to be worked on in order to improve, and without an active human opponent to test yourself against you no longer need to adapt your playstyle.  Without this unknown factor, games are reduced to memorization and recognition of patterns.    
 
 
Instanced PvP has its appeal, especially within battlegrounds that are timed with a clear objective.  BG's provide an organized set up and give certain players the incentive they need to actually participate in a little friendly competiton.  If you have a team that is willing to work together, you can have alot of fun and success within these instances.  After the initial novelty of the fighting in these battlegrounds has worn off, however, these scripted encounters begin to move away from satisfying and dynamic experiences slowly, becoming more and more like a dungeon. 
 
 
Think about it.  Go back to the last battleground you have participated in.  What was your first thought?
 
 
Generally mine would involve moving from point A to B to complete some sort of objective.  Where is the unexpected?  Where is the anticipation?  Where is the fear?  All of these emotions are lost.  Players are not in these instances to fight, but usually there simply to grind out “points” or “gear”….you might as well just be fighting against NPCs.  As BB King would put it, “The Thrill is Gone” when it comes to PvP these days.
 
 
What do you all think?  Make sure to leave your thoughts if you agree or disagree with some of the points I have brought up in this article.  As always, I enjoy the responses and hope we can get a dialogue going over world PvP.
 
 
This has been another installment in the Blade Wars Development Blog, and hopefully you have enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.
 
 
PS - Closed Beta for Blade Wars begins on May 13th at 4pm PST.  Make sure to check it out :)
 
 
Josh Forester (Jaynestown)
-Community Manager, Changyou.com
JaggaSpikes writes:

poor article. no mention of EVE Online or Darkfall. back to the drawing board for you.

Thu May 13 2010 9:54AM Report
adog2k1 writes:

IMO, the problem with World PVP is that while it offers a lot of excitement potential, it has been gamed to the point that it never delivers anymore. World PVP gets gamed in two ways - ganking and speed.

Ganking is to make sure you never get ganked, but leads to your group doing the ganking. Speed is so that you can always run if you get attacked. Both choices force a similar response, reducing all the potential scenarios enabled by World PVP to 2 - ganking/being ganked and running/kiting. The only way to resolve that in an open world is by working with other players to arrange fights - and then we're just self-instancing, so instances make sense.

Thu May 13 2010 9:59AM Report
Rommie10-284 writes:

Yeah, I'll second the idea that the Players themselves have reduced World PvP to a small total of VERY predictable outcomes.  The idea of the unpredictable real player vs. the static programmed NPC, that it is this huge, appealing difference, is now a myth.  Real players are incredibly predictable, once a game community shakes out what works and what doesn't.

You can't make the players un-learn the Meta-game that exists from years of play - you can only change the environment to force the players to throw out the book of tactics.  Even then, the speed with which the veteran players can develop a new book is amazing, and outclasses developers by the sheer brainpower involved.  That's why I think the devs really love instances for - it's FAR easier to manage them.

Thu May 13 2010 11:39AM Report
dionysus444 writes:

Instancing has to be here for the playerbase to be attracted to any MMO.  Yeah, you have hard-core PvPers, and then you have the masses, those here to explorer or PvP on thier own schedule, or just to have an escape for a couple hours a month.  Open world PvP means you have to log off to go to the can or grab a can of pop.  It becomes a pain and an inconvience.  With the current grind to get equipment, "full loot" deaths just hurt far too much, especially since it took you 3 weeks to craft some of your stuff and another month to gather up your armour from various grinds, all to be lost while taking a bio break. 

Battlegrounds however, do make it a grind, I'm not a WoW player, but have seen the battlegrounds played, and its boring.  Push, die, push, die, take an objective, repeat till battle over.

LOTRO's approach is more my style, an area to PvP in, with no real set objectives except for bonuses for controlling certain locations.  More or less, it remains an open world PvP area that you can choose to visit or not.  No final 'win or lose', the fights roll from location to location with different strategies used and moving battles.

Thu May 13 2010 12:34PM Report
drumchannell writes:

You completely failed to mention that Darkfall provides awesome open world PvP.

Thu May 13 2010 1:17PM Report
dtal311 writes:

To Josh - You should try Darkfall.

Thu May 13 2010 1:43PM Report
ChangYou2 writes:

Heh, just because I didn't mention Darkfall and Eve doesn't mean i have discounted them or their importence out there today.  This article was pointing more towards those games that don't have this sort of system.

Eve is a juggernaut that seems to be getting bigger every year, so they definitely took a chance and are getting paid off for it.  I like how the devs change the map to reflect certain corporations hold over individual regions as well as large guild battles, etc...the list goes on :)

When it comes to Darkfall, I was actually in the beta for this as well and can tell you, I had alot of Ultima flashbacks.  There were some drawbacks of the game certainly, but this isn;t the place to discuss those. 

In the essence of full disclosure, I should let you all know that I still have an active Eve Online account and have tried the $1 free trial in Darkfall after being unable to get in during their infamous "launch" after participating in closed beta. 

I must probably admit here now that I didn't mention these two titles before because I wanted this article to be more about the system then these titles that I currently am a fan of, yet when you look at the numbers a large majority of subscribers don't agree.

Eve has reached around 300,000k subscribers, which is pretty substantial in the market.  Darkfall has less, but I must confess I have yet to find a credible number, but being "generous" I think I could estimate that no more then 20-30k subscribe.  These numbers are far less then the like of warcraft, Aion, Lineage 2 and even the original Lineage to name a few.  While these titles exist to try and carry the torch, I still stand by my assertion that open world PvP has fallen greatly out of favor in the market today.

Thu May 13 2010 1:56PM Report
hoopty writes:

Really Darkfall sucks...Only hard core about DF is becoming a Pker...If you want a rush feeling pking is the way to go...Further more why bother having any Npc's...Just make a big world and fill it with players..Put a title on the game as "Any things Goes"..Now that would be something different....

Thu May 13 2010 2:00PM Report
maplestone writes:

I feel the reason open-world PvP fails in mass-market MMOs is because it's not fun to most people to play a random victim. 

In order for there to be a great and successful PvPer, by the pidgeon-hole principal, there have to be one or more players who are consistently unsuccessful.  If you look at these sorts of nostalgic articles, they are almost always from the point of view of the aggressor - although people may have a fond memory of a particular encounter with a clever PKer, very few people look back nostalgicly on being the one being killed over and over.

I've always suspected, from years of watching flamewars, that open-PvP MMOs die from the bottom up - the top tier PvPers will always be having fun, but people who are not successful realize that the only winning move is to not play and move on.

However, it would be interesting to know if there is any database of user stats out there from an open-PvP world that could be looked at to test my theory with hard numbers.  Are there any published studies out there on the dynamics of an open-PvP world over time: aggressive vs avoidant play styles, change rates from one play style to the other, victory/loss percentrages and quit rates from the game?

Thu May 13 2010 3:52PM Report
BigJohnny writes:

I have to somewhat disagree with the overall message here.

Some of my most memorable moments in WoW were that of random world PvP while questing. Me and some friends still share battle stories from our WoW days, that's how memorable and fun they were.

But I was one of those people that wanted world PvP to go away. The reason wasn't that I didn't enjoy it, but it was that it got in the way of my questing/grinding.

In short, I feel that the grindiness is what killed world PvP.

Even if it's in the form of quests. If there was a game that had no levels, so I wouldn't have to worry about questing and grinding, I would do pretty much nothing but world PvP. It's just that they put you on a treadmill of grinding XP, and then when you lose in a world PVP fight, it feels like you're being set back. So there comes a point where you wanna just avoid PvP, and just grind in peace. Which sucks. I'd rather I didn't have to grind, and just spend all my time looking for a fight.

Another point I wanna add, is about the full-loot question. I really despise the idea, but I also think that losing nothing is just not fun. In fact, I think that in order to get the PvP flag so that you can attack and be attacked, you should be forced to carry some gold, and then the reward for winning would be a random % of the other guy's gold. I don't see why we need to lose items, but I'm fine with losing even enormous amounts of gold.

Thu May 13 2010 4:26PM Report
maplestone writes:

BigJohney ... couldn't another interpretation of your experience be that when push came to shove, you were more entertained by the grind than by the PvP?

Also, if being set back by the opportunity cost of missing grind-gains was enough to turn you off open-world PvP, wouldn't any form of loot loss have the same effect on your emotions after the initial novelty wore off?

Thu May 13 2010 4:48PM Report
mmrv2 writes:

Essentially what other posters have said. Players have not gotten soft, the open world PVP gameplay has just become to exploitable. There was a time early on in ultima where it was fresh new exciting, as players learned the mechanics they have reduced it down to basic ganking, they took the fight out of the game.

We became so adept at stacking the deck there is no battle, the outcome is predetermined, we stacked it with numbers, classes, and or skillsets. They sucked the life out of it, with prefabbed gank groups, voice com's etc.

We now have prey and predators, the predators spend all thier time avoiding each other looking for prey, easy fights little chance to lose, like farming grey mobs. The prey have gotten tired of it.

Instances serve to do what the pussy predators refused to do for themselves, aka enter fair and competitive fun fights. Even then these people still do everything possible to stack the deck and take the game out of the game, doing all they can to stack the deck.

 

In the end the true carebears are the ones who call themself hardcore they have ruined the pvp with thier fear of losing on even ground  and thier quest to be recognized as being larger than they truly are.

Thu May 13 2010 5:14PM Report
BigJohnny writes:

Absolutely not. In fact, when me and my friends quit WoW, we swore we're never doing another quest or killing another monster again.

Which is why we're all now playing Warhammer. For all its faults, we can level completely through PvP. I run nothing but scenarios in it, and haven't done any questing at all.

And about the loot loss, no I don't feel it would, that's why I specified gold. If I actually lost the items I worked hard for, then yeah, that would piss me off. But just the gold itself? Not really. Simply because of the fact that when I win, I'll get gold back. So I don't feel the net loss is that great. Unless I suck at PvP of course... but ideally it would be 50/50. And I can always recover gold, but I can never require that one rare item that I love so much.

Thu May 13 2010 5:16PM Report
maplestone writes:

Ah, ok ... yes, I did have a bias that assumed that when people talked about "open world PvP" they still expected a PvE world going on underneath the PvP.  I wasn't thinking a pure PvP-only battlefield environment.

Thu May 13 2010 6:46PM Report
Leethe writes:

I don't even pvp in MMOs  and  can't believe he didn't mention darkfall or EVE. Bad article.

Thu May 13 2010 6:58PM Report
Noshowers writes:

Wow, so many haters around lol.  One of his comments talks about Eve and DF and why he didn;t mention it, though it would have been better the mention all of that in the article to avoid people focusing on that as opposed to the pvp. 

You should really subscribe to Darkfall from your trial, it will be worth it :)   Have been playing since day 1 and me and my friends really enjoy it.

Thu May 13 2010 9:05PM Report
Shadowpod writes:

open world pvp while distorted by plateauing (however ye spell it) isnt ultimately ruined by it like mmrv2 wrote, its expansions. players havent gotten soft, mmo gaming just became mainstream n screwed us "undergrounds" over. i reveled in fighting 25% odds, so did most of the players i fought agaisnt in eq pvp. they had 1 item loot plus all money upon death btw very decent system that got screwed by expansions. therefore its the rise of the mainstream gamers (casual or non) that ruined open world pvp. its them that only fight stacked deck odds its the expansions that screw balance n gameplay styles. dont get me wrong im not naive enough to say keep a game the exact way it is forever, of course thats not what im saying. im just pointing out the real cause as it seems form my point of view. games competing with wow screwed over a lot of games as well and i couldnt stomach playing wow even though im a very big fan of wc3. forgive me for my stream of conscious writing style. and how come there is no mention of servers....eq had several: team vs team pvp server, rp server, pvp server ....how hard of a concept is that? why not just have a game with those 3 types plus an instanced server? lol thats funny i wonder if that would work.....anyways i remember epic battles from uo n eq after my friends n i plateued i rmeember watching as a newb when i saw the higher levels do it n i stood in awe taking a million screenshots n tellin all my friends to come check this out. when i was that high level n newbs did it around me i rejoiced in it. in uo i remember all the websites where people use to post step by step progression stories on how they conned or just murdered people. never got boring until updates or expansions shook the snowglobe just a bit too much. i forget the path of uo i was mostly a newb and i had to share comp with my pro brother who i watched for most my uo knowledge. but eq lost it with instances, safe zones, insta traveling, no drop items and aas. this new hippy coexistence crap sucks.. i miss camping spawns only to get trained or killed by my teammates when i was low health so they could get my loot plus item we were camping, afking to find myself dead even stealthed lol, conning and trash talking across zones for hours, corpse camping...being beaten only to beat others when ye had a chance...savage ncvrude warfare at its not so finest...the glory of victory....the shame of defeat...all gone....darkfall is horrilbe...eves mechanics are too strange a concept for me but it is a glorious game ill admit. world pvp isnt dead..its just that mmos are a service industry cept 1 thing...cant order burgers without veggies =(

Fri May 14 2010 3:29AM Report
Stenzo writes:

That is all very true, i have actually been scrolling for games with "world pvp" but gave up because the best of them have died, though you didnt mention Helbreath, it has factions but at its glory days you had to make a group before you went out to try to do some grinding before a angry mob kills you for EK points. Sadly i never got to try UO as i didnt have a computer there. Gaming companies focus on one thing MONEY, i would probably do the same, but still they make thousands of games, with mediocre or very high detail graphics but gameplay is hollow, just point click, and spam your numpad. How about make it heck even 8bit, add couple of thousand abilities, turn the world into a battlefield and enjoy the game. Also another game which comes to my mind was and is Tibia, well now its weak and horrible, i dont even want to log-in, but at its glory days it had the most unique pvp you ever seen, + it was world pvp, however, if you kill or attack someone you will be marked with a skull, on normal worlds that is. So yeah, to summarize:

Enchance gameplay, ditch the ram/processor eating gfx, get rid of point and click attacks, and have some dignity for pvp.

Fri May 14 2010 7:09AM Report
quentin405 writes:

  Great article.. Don't worry about the haters.. I was about 14 when UO came out, played it for many many years.. never been anything like it.  I still enjoy MMO's tho, but have long since given up on PVP.

(Btw, no one plays darkfall, not even people that play darkfall lol)

Maybe its been fixed since release, I had maybe 2 friends try it.. but he probably didnt mention darkfall cause barely anyone has heard of it.. and eve online pvp really isnt in the same category as fantasy rpg mmos.  I wouldnt have thought to mention it in an article starting out on the subject of one of the original mmo's PvP.

 

But anywho, great article.

Fri May 14 2010 6:30PM Report
Vasagralem writes:

What the OP says is true, the gamers has become soft, all this talk about ganking... so what, shit happens, suck it up, meet some friends and be prepared for the next time. Never played UO in its golden years but im sure ganking happened all the time there and im sure it was seen as another of the game mechanics.

 

To you all softies "Quit ruining the game industry"

Fri May 14 2010 6:57PM Report
weslubow writes:

Good article. Personally I believe the problems and rise of lag come from hardware. When gaming started to move towards mmo country, not that much diversity in hardware existed. We gamers pretty much all played on a level field with the equipment available. As CPU and other hardware began to vary, lag became a real problem. Machines and the OS varied so much that the MMO's couldn't help but have problems. Then broadband vs dialup. How can anyone design a game and make it equal across all this happening at once? So the question I ask you is; if we all the same system and the same connection would we still have lag? 

Wed May 19 2010 2:02PM Report

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