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The Quinquennial (or sometimes more often)

Various thoughts on online gaming, often pulled from articles I've written for other sources.

Author: Quizzical

All of the players are above average

Posted by Quizzical Tuesday January 13 2009 at 9:23PM
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Players generally like to win more than they like to lose. That makes it so that one of the main attractions of pve is that you can usually win. In many games, a player can win over 98% of his battles if not inclined to try something unduly hard.

The problem with this is that the reason why the player usually wins is that it is easy, often to the degree of being boring. Start a battle, leave the room to go get a drink, and come back to find that your deft use of auto-attack has obliterated the enemy mob.

The antidote for this sort of predictability is pvp. You fight someone who really is trying to beat you, and if you’re too predictable or not paying attention, he can adapt to what you’re doing and then you die.

The problem with this is that if one side wins, the other side loses. Players still like to win, and winning half of the time may not be as fun as winning 98% of the time.

Some games will let players get around this by having uneven numbers. If a battle is 4 on 1 and the 4 win, then 80% of the players just won. Getting ganked like that isn’t fun for the one, however--even compared to losing a fairer fight. Even for the four, if you want a free kill with a preordained result, why not just go pve? Mobs won’t even insult you for ganking them.

So in a pvp battle with even numbers on both sides, 50% of the players lose. If there are more than two sides in the battle, then perhaps most of the players lose.

It’s actually worse than that: some players are better at the game than others, and will thus win more often. The common quote is that 20% of the players win 80% of the time and vice versa. That’s usually cited in contexts far enough removed from the original one to be part of the 73% of statistics that are made up on the spot.

Still, the general point is a tautology: players who win a lot tend to win more than players who don’t win very much. That works out fine for the relative handful of players who win a lot. That doesn’t work so well for the other players who mostly lose.

Some games try to get around this by making it into a contest of leveling. Whoever is higher level usually wins, just because he’s higher level. The implicit promise is that, while you’re going to lose a lot at first because you’re low level, someday you’ll be the high level dominating pvp.

For most players, it never works out that way. When you get high level, other players have had more time and are higher level still (or have better gear or whatever). Companies add ever more grinding to let the top players become ever stronger, and most of the players are always behind.

The trick is to make it so that most of the players can win what seem a priori to be fair fights most of the time. What I would propose is to combine pvp and pve. Let mobs take a large fraction of the deaths while players fight both mobs and other players simultaneously.

Start by dividing players into separate areas by level, as WAR does. Next, add a bunch of NPCs allied with one player faction or the other. Give them a lot of different AI routines, so as to be unpredictable. Make their strength mostly toward the low end of the level range, so that they tend to die to players, but with some exceptions for the sake of unpredictability.

The key here is to prevent players from knowing whether they’re fighting mobs or other players. Prevent cross-faction communication. Make the AI allies look indistinguishable from players. It might be enough to simply pick random characters from the character generator, along with random armor skins (but not necessarily stats) from the appropriate level range. If this tends to pick clashing choices that real players would generally avoid, then one could give mobs the appearance of randomly chosen players who happen to be offline at the time.

If an average player wins half the time when fighting other players, but 80% of the time when fighting AI characters, then perhaps he can win 2/3 of the time or so. Thus, most of the players can win more often than not.

Better yet, some other benefits important to RvR combat drop out of this system for free. One is that you can balance numbers, so that both sides have a roughly equal chance of winning. If one side has 50 players in a zone and the other side has 20, it’s not hard to predict that the 20 will mostly get ganked by the 50. Add 20 AI characters to the first side and 60 to the latter, so that the second side outnumbers the former a bit, but with weaker characters on average (because the AI characters tend to be weaker than players) and it’s now a fair fight.

The number and strength of AI characters that spawn could depend both on the number and strength (level and gear) of the players on each side, with more and slightly stronger AI characters spawning when a side has fewer players.

This also fixes time of day dependence. If a zone is designed to hold 50 players on each side, then during peak times, most of those could be real players. During the middle of the night, when only 10 players on each side are there, AI characters could fill in the slack, to let those players have some good battles, too. That might not be as good as fighting actual players, but it sure beats wandering around in a dead game. 

caemsg writes:

or there is another option you can look at the faction that is winning the most and then gimp them by nerfing their weapons or armour and/or boosting the suck players for being crap
though NPC's that dont suck could be an interesting concept

Tue Jan 13 2009 9:56PM Report
Ciano writes:

The problem is the nobody is a loser mentality that has been taught to children since the early 90's. It's pretty digusting and has transferred over to MMO's.

"I know you your team lost little billy but you actually didn't lose, you just didn't have the highest score".

People need to learn that there are winners and there are failures. If you are a failure you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself, grab your stones and go back and kick some butt.

Unfortunately people don't have the patience to make a comback. They figure they should all win because they all spend their money. My advice to those people is to never take up gambling.

Tue Jan 13 2009 9:58PM Report
ghstwolf writes:

Ciano- Unfortunately it's more than that.  IMO its the mentality that "if I'm not winning I'm not having fun".  It's not even about losing, a "push" (yeah I've been known to gamble) for those players is equally bad.

I like the idea of evening the sides a bit, but why not fully copy an offline player's toon.  The AI would still likely cripple the player's toon making them an easier target than if they were under the player's control, however they would be much harder to identify than some standardized NPC.  Heck imagine you can't sleep some night, and log in right in the middle of battle (next respawn with an option to desert).  That could be loads of fun as you'd be low on the "threat" list (after a couple deaths word would get out) only to start ripping them a new e-hole after you take control.

Wed Jan 14 2009 12:32AM Report
hanshotfirst writes:

Poor sports just suck. It's really that simple.

You have folks who whine that *everyone* is cheating whenever they lose. And then you have the folks who *do* cheat.

I'd like to think somewhere in the middle are the rest of us, but unfortunately the other two extremes infiltrate just about every game I've ever played.

Wed Jan 14 2009 1:55AM Report
Quizzical writes:

Ciano:  I am not asserting that everyone should always win.   Everyone should, however, have a legitimate shot at winning quite a bit.  That's important if the players who lose most of the actual pvp battles are to be kept playing the game.

ghstwolf:  Sure, it can be fun to be in a hard fought battle that you narrowly lose, if you believe that the outcome often would have been different.  It's not likely to be so much fun if that battle is the 17th consecutive time that you lost.

If the players who really aren't very good at pvp manage to kill 2/3 as much as they die, even if a lot of those kills are against AI characters, that's a lot more likely to keep them around than if they're just dying most of the time.


Wed Jan 14 2009 5:21AM Report
ghstwolf writes:

Quizzical- no question 17 loses in a row isn't fun.  I can't say I've been there honestly, I get bored of it in under 10.  So I go do something else, recruit some people I work well with (guildies/friends) or pick a different battle field, but I've never felt so trapped that I really got frustrated.  Usually I'll try to recruit first.

Wed Jan 14 2009 5:58AM Report
UncertaintyP writes:

Yeah, let's save players from their own lack of skill and inability to deal with losing.

Wed Jan 14 2009 6:18AM Report
NotArkard writes:

I have to agree with Ciano. There needs to be a loser for every winner. Players need to understand that in order to win against other players, they need to focus, and work with OTHER PEOPLE. This is important. Most players don't expect to go into PvP and win 90% of the battles. They expect to do this ALONE. In that sense, when they get jumped by a group of 4 friends, they deserve to die.

Take RuneScape way back in the day for example. When the wilderness was first introduced, I went in deep one day hoping to find people lower level than me(I was 84 at the time). I did find them, but it was a group hunting to gether with about 3 or 4 people. Needless to say, after I hit the first and got marked as  a PK, I quickly died and lost all my items. Lesson learned.

These days, not only are players not punished for working alone, or dying, they're REWARDED. The main and obvious benefit of dying out in the open is teleportation. In Age of Conan PvP servers, often times people would just ASK others to kill them so they could travel somewhere faster(not sure if this is still the case, I played way back then). In games like World of Warcraft and Warhammer, a PvP loss just means that you get rewarded less than the winning team. What the fuck? It's like hosting a contest, for anything, and you reward all participants the same amount of cash  whether they won or lost, but give the first place winner a shiny trophy.

I think these days players get what they want. If we're looking at it from a rewards standpoint, all players win in PvP. All the time. At least in most mainstream games today. If you're playing one of the few games that forces you to think in PvP, like Guild Wars, then you're probably not PvPing alone, and so you're winning your share of battles.

In fact, in most games that offer PvP, the win/loss ratio, even when alone is pretty even. The only exceptions I can think of are World of Warcraft and Warhammer.

"So in a pvp battle with even numbers on both sides, 50% of the players lose. If there are more than two sides in the battle, then perhaps most of the players lose."

You follow that with "it's actually worse than that," but is that really a bad thing? Granted, that's not actually the case in most mainstream games as I mentioned above, it SHOULD be how it works. Those who never fail, never get better.

Wed Jan 14 2009 9:59AM Report
tbiaslorin writes:

Interesting discussion, though I see the two camps (the OP and most of the others) as not mutually exclusive.

While I agree with the commenters generally that people nowadays are poor losers and need to grab their cojones and step up their game, I realize that position is likely to lose players in the long run.  The 'everyone-must-win' mentality is societal, and will likely not be fixed by a video game with hardcore PVP, which will likely be unsuccessful as eventually you will be left with only the 20% of population that actually do well. (and the 10% of people that don't mind losing and always strive to be better)

I think Quizzical's post presents a good opportunity to help things 'the way they are' as opposed to 'the way we, as real gamers, think they should be.'  Star Wars Galaxies I think at some point allowed people to have squads of NPC folks along to help them out, and I think the concept is cool.

I played Warhammer for a couple of months and think having roaming bands of combined NPC's/PC's would be fun, if the AI scripting were halfway decent.  One way might be to just be able to fill out your 6-man group with NPC's if you don't have enough real players, and then wander around looking for a fight.  It is probably easier for an NPC to seem more natural if they are following someone around than if they had to try to find something to do based on their AI.

The OP is right, and winning IS fun.  Creatively allowing all players to win a few more than they lose and still allowing those truly great to shine sounds like a win-win to me.

Wed Jan 14 2009 10:56AM Report
haggus71 writes:

The thing is, PvP is about competition.  In real competion, there are winners and losers.  When I PvP in Guild Wars, I don't mind losing, because I know that, usually, it's a matter of skill vs skill, not gear vs gear, or higher vs lower level.  It's organized and even.  If you have a high pvp rank, it's because you and your guild are good at it, not because you are a gank machine, or because your guild won battles against guilds with half their number.

For those that want to win most of the time, when they play a game, they have a style for you.  It's called PvE.  Don't ask for them to change PvP to a different style just because you can't take losing.  They make plenty of games for you.  There are single player games with online play and servers, where you can socialize and still have your solo game.  Face reality(something your mom never forced you to do): you might never be good at football, you might never be a good musician, and you might never be good at PvP.  If you PRACTICE at them, however, you can be competent enough for them to be fun, and you may even be good.  Just don't ask people to hand it to you.

Wed Jan 14 2009 11:39AM Report
Ciano writes:

People can't take losing these days. Look at Pirate of the Burning Sea. First they had full loot, full loss combat. Then they introduced insurance at a rate of 50% to cover losses. People continued to whine and they introduced a system where if you didnt accept a 100% surrender then you didnt recieve an enemy's cargo. Now the economy is jacked up and they want to take insurance back out.


Gamers want to have it all. A perfect economy, a no lose system they can stroke thier e-peen's over. The ability to grind super OMFG I can in one hit weapons.

It's pretty pathetic in my opinion that we can't go back to the old days of gaming. The days when we had winners and losers. We had top tier equipment that was all similiar and skill or numbers decided a battle. Days when people joined guilds for fun, not to just be a part of the zerg.

Wed Jan 14 2009 1:20PM Report
t0nyd writes:

Losing usually isnt the problem. Its...

1. Losing to an overwhelming zerg.

2. Losing before you even performed a single action.

3. Losing due to poor game design.

Lets start with the overwhelming zerg. I like being zerged in instances where I have somewhere to put my back. Like in a keep for example. Being zerged in open terrain over and over is not going to be an enjoyable experience.

Dieing before you perform even a single action is about the worst thing you can do to someone learning PvP. This is usually performed by a stealth class that can one shot you or a class that can keep you crowd controlled the entire fight. I just dont think devs understand that we want a challenging fight.

Losing due to poor game design. Line of sight can be a big issue. When a player or pet can attack you with out even being able to see you is a problem. Pet classes can cause big problems. I for one love the idea of pets, but when 3 bone dancer pets can walk through the door and kill you, leaving him in relative safety. In a keep defense situation, if the bone dancer was outside the keep, sent his pets, then retreated inside the keep, I dont find this a problem. Its when your defending the keep and they can send pets through the locked doors, that I have a problem. Its when turret pets completely ignore walls and shoot you through them, that I have a problem. People just dont want to play a broken game.

 Losing isnt a big deal if the fight was a good one. If the guy you just lost to walks away very close to death, your not going to feel so bad about it. Losing to someone that simply presses one button over and over because he has better gear, or is a higher level, or reasons 1 2 and 3, is a problem.

Wed Jan 14 2009 1:28PM Report
tbiaslorin writes:

Guild Wars sounds like an exception, and better done than many PvP RPG's.  In many cases playing Warhammer, for example, the numbers for open PvP (RvR) are (or were, I haven' t played in a bit) not usually that even and result in many easy kills for one side and few to no kills for the other.  Doesn't sound like a lot of fun to me, no matter which side you are on.

I for one care very little whether I lose or not, and usually range in the 60/40 range of almost every game I play, from card games like Magic, to Battlefield 2, to Warhammer and now in Atlantica.  Not great, not bad, and I always feel 'on the cusp' of being much better.  There are even games like CoD4 where I get massacred constantly, and still have fun.;)

However, I think the idea presented, in certain contexts, would make more enjoyable open-field battles than 50 on 20 gankfests.  And to the dismissive tone of one of the above commenters, why shouldn't they change the rules of something if it appeals to more folks?  There are handicaps in at least a few sports (arguably the first PvP) to make things more interesting.  And I never had a problem spotting my friends 5 or 6 pieces in Stratego; I was better than them for whatever reason, and it made it more fun for BOTH of us to even the playing field a little.

Games are about revenue, and it would be better to have all 70 of those folks happy, than just the 50 who are winning.  And potentially, most of the 50 won't be happy when the 20 just go back to their PvE as suggested and there is no one to fight at all (and that situation happened, often, playing WAR).  If that 50 on 20 gankfest is now a 60 on 60 fight, with NPC's making up the extra 50 bodies, well heck yeah, more hacking to go around!  And instead of the fighting being done in 10 minutes, I bet you get hours-long rampages.  It may not be 'purist', but to many, it would be much more fun.


Wed Jan 14 2009 3:24PM Report
Ciano writes:

Except you never end up with 50 or 70 happy. What you end up with is the developers make changes to please the 30 or 40 non-pvp or casual people. Then they alienate the 30 or 40 pvp oriented people who then promptly quit. Then they make changes to bring back the pvp crowd and 10 or 20 of the previous pve only crowd quit.

The problem is how developers try to please both camps and end up alienating both. They need to do what EVE did and stick to the original game plan as much as possible. That equates to long term success. Making daily changes to please both crowds equates to short term instant failure like Pirates of the Burning Sea.

Wed Jan 14 2009 5:04PM Report
Quizzical writes:

NotArkard:  This wasn't designed for a game like Guild Wars, where everyone is the same level and has comparable gear, and both sides are stuck into an area with even numbers.  I agree that it wouldn't work very well in a game like that.  But that's not how pvp is done in most games.

This was meant more for open world RvR combat, where you fight whoever happens to be there from the opposite faction(s).  Inadequate skill is hardly the only reason why someone might lose most of the time in such games.

Suppose that the other side outnumbers yours on your server 3:1.  You're going to be massively outnumbered pretty much no matter where you go, and the other side is also far more likely to get incidental reinforcements in mid-battle.  No matter how skilled you are, you're going to lose most of the time.

If you're going to lose most of the time, and there's no realistic prospect for that ever changing in the future, what's the reasonable thing to do?  Suck it up and keep losing?  No, you're going to quit the game.  Maybe you'll reroll on a different server, but if you have to start over, it's likely you'll do it in a different game.

And what if you're neither losing nor winning because you can't find anyone to fight?  Is that fun?  One of the things this proposal would do is to keep the populations up at off-peak times, so that you could play the game just fine in the middle of the night, too.

You ask if that's really a bad thing.  Well, if you want the players who, for whatever reason, will lose a disproportionate number of their fights to keep playing the game, then yes, it's a very bad thing.  If you prefer empty servers, it might not be a bad thing.

Ciano:  PotBS is perhaps an example of what happens if most players don't have a plausible shot at winning.  They quit.  And then the server is left with British automatically winning every single port battle because the other sides don't bother to show up, knowing that they have no hope of winning.

And then you get virtually no open world pvp, either.  There just aren't enough players around for it.  Even getting ganked can be hard to do, as you have to actually find other people looking for pvp.

Wouldn't it be better to set things at launch that will prevent the game from deteriorating into that, rather than trying to undo the carnage months later?

Wed Jan 14 2009 6:33PM Report
Zerran writes:

If you want a PvPvE go play WoW, its got tons of it, but that is NOT PvP. Ya, some people suck at PvP, but if that's the case then they should lose. Few things are more frustrating than losing to an 8 year old who just logged onto his big brother's account because a game is completely based on level/gear instead of skill.

If you're losing a lot at PvP then obviously you shouldn't be PvPing in the first place.

What I would suggest is a skill system for PvP areas, kind of like Halo's ranked matches, where you move up based on wins, and move down based on losses, so you end up in a skill range that you can handle.

Wed Jan 14 2009 10:28PM Report
Quizzical writes:

Does WoW have a system to ensure that both sides always have about the same number of players around in open world pvp?  Does it have a system to ensure that there will be plenty of players around at off-peak times?  Does it have a system to ensure that you aren't stuck facing off against players far, far above your level?

Those are rhetorical questions, but I'll answer them anyway.  The answer is no in all cases.  And that's why it doesn't have a viable system of open world pvp.

And that's before we get into whether players win or lose too much.

Wed Jan 14 2009 10:34PM Report
tbiaslorin writes:

Designers changing the game mid-stream is a completely different issue, and one where I agree with you.  If this was designed into a game from the ground up, would that change your opinion of the idea?  (Although I think more people than not playing WAR would love to see full open battlefields than the number of pureblood PVPers who would leave because many of the folks they were fighting were bots, but of course that's just my impression)

"If you're losing a lot at PvP then obviously you shouldn't be PvPing in the first place."

<If you're losing a lot at Chess then obviously you shouldn't be playing Chess in the first place>...not sure that really is what you meant.=)  Not many ways to get better at something other than doing it!

Your 2nd idea is a lot better; a ranking system is something that would help in certain games, depending on the number of groupings and the number of people on the server.  I am playing Atlantica, and they use a ranking system like this in their PvP league.  (Interestingly, they have also taken to using bots in the league in certain circumstances so someone always has a fight available; the bot is much poorer than a real player (generally) but it is definitely better than nothing.)

However, unless the server populations are very high, using this to control an open battlefield type environment might be challenging.  If there are only 70 folks in a tier (50 on one side and 20 on another) then subdividing them any more makes good PvP even more unlikely.


Wed Jan 14 2009 11:32PM Report writes:
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