Player Vs. Player Combat Then, Now, Next
Past: Player vs. Player (PvP) combat has been ingrained in me from the dawn of MMORPGs. I started with completely lawless and harsh games where you could drop items such as Ultima Online and Asheron's Call and progressed into more civilized Realm Vs Realm (RvR) affairs with the crown jewel being Dark Age of Camelot and their frontier system.
Present: Somewhere along the way, developers or more likely investors found that PvP/RvR wasn't as easy to balance or profitable as making a game based around gear grinds and PvE content so the PvP has slowly eroded or devolved into staged instances (battlegrounds/warfronts/arenas) and duels.
Why? Well for one it's easier to "balance" PvE content because even if your class/spec is doing a bit less damage (DPS) or healing (HPS) you don't suffer from it in a 25 man raid as much as you do when pitted against the class that does more damage toe to toe. A lot of these games weren't really designed with PvP in mind. They may say they are and I'm not saying they don't try to "make" it work, but at the end of the day it becomes painfully obvious when you play them as much as I have that they never intended nor do they in the future intend to make PvP really matter outside the nice neat little instanced fights they have created.
That developer direction has left the older generation of PvP players feeling jaded and missing the good ole days. Battlegrounds and arenas are completely instanced and static and do nothing to further the game world. In fact, most of the major titles now allow cross realm queues (WoW and Rift) and even further detract from the open world PvP rivalries and fun with almost invincible guards around towns and the introduction of "neutral" cities where each side cannot attack one another.
There is never a "point" to open world PvP which further encourages "gray gankers" and "griefers" because there is nothing to really do in PvP besides wait for another Battleground/arena queue or go out and cause pointless trouble. This drives people even further from wanting to do PvP because it's almost always being ganked while fighting monsters.
The solution: The next generation of games needs to write their game and code with PvP in mind from the outset instead of making it an afterthought as it was in World of Warcraft, EQ2, and Rift. They have nothing in place to police "gray ganking" or conversely ways to deal with outlaws, bounties or the ways those systems could be exploited. Age of Conan put in a half-hearted attempt but it still had many easy to solve flaws.
- First, you have a gradually building penalty for attacking gray (very low level) opponents.
- Second, you have a system in place to where if the gray opponent is grouped with a higher level opponent they count as the level of the highest person in the party to prevent high level players causing 'bounty points' to stack up on the enemy by having a gray running in and attacking.
- Third, if a gray con character is in particular high-level or pvp zones they are considered "fair game" or if the "gray con" character heals friends getting attacked, attacks a higher level player or in anyway interferes with the high level player they are fair game. These safeguards should prevent reverse griefing and using lowbies as fodder.
- The "bounty points" would build up faster the bigger level difference there is between you and the people you are killing with obviously no points built up on people within a few levels of you.
- When you reach the threshold of bounty points you may have a bounty put on your head and the people getting griefed may put your name on a bounty board to hire out higher level people to deal with you. If you are killed one of your "bound" items will fall from your body to be looted (These items may drop from your bank to avoid "stashing items" while you gank. In addition town guards etc will hunt you down and arrest you if you are caught in town (much like Oblivion) throwing you in jail and forcing you to fork over a stiff fine to be released (having no money on you will not help, it will have to come from somewhere otherwise you lose items to the game vendor to compensate).
- Third, and most important, the open world PvP needs a point. You need to be able to sack towns, capture relics and hold points of interest that are worth fighting over at all levels of the game.
- There needs to be loyalty bonuses for staying on the same realm for 'x' number of time to avoid people realm hopping from the losing side and to encourage people to stick it out.
- Crafting needs to further the cause of the realm as a whole instead of a totally selfish set of skills that it has become. Most gamers I know try to max a character of each profession just to become self-sufficient and not rely on other people. Crafters such as engineers need to be able to repair buildings, build/repair siege and they can operate the siege at a distinct advantage over say your typical person, or they can let an NPC run their siege using an aggro table or a pre-set attack you set it to do before going off to fight.
- All crafters should have skills that aid the war effort even if that person is inclined toward PvE. Quit excluding PvE people from helping in PvP and quit making gear that is PvP exlusive. Give people game-mechanic driven reasons to work together and participate in both parts of the game and you will have a winner on your hands. I personally despise running dungeons knowing the gear I collect is for the most part worthless in PvP. Talk about immersion losing, oh yes this Breastplate of the God-Slayer can help against the icy breath of a demon lord but not against a gnome rogue. Really awful design.
- If a developer took a look at these ideas and wrote code in the game from its inception to handle this they will have fixed the majority of complaints about open-world PvP.
- Battlegrounds would be more of an e-game worth almost nothing to participate in, but still fun side jaunts when you aren't in the mood or don't have the time for a full-scale battle. Quit making grinding so obvious. Hide it in powers (AAs in EQ or Realm Abilities in DAOC) instead of gear so a person would be more powerful naked than your beginning character. Gear is fine as a way to progress but quit making it the only way.
- Hide people's levels and hitpoints again in PvP and create a skill you develop as you pvp called perception that gives a chance upon an encounter to gauge your opponent's level and hitpoints. Make the mystery part of the fun. Maybe everyone in the open world con's 'yellow' in certain zones to hide their level and relative power making people start to look for other ways to gauge power (gear, skills etc).
I could go on for days in ways to improve the genre's pvp experience and add some flare and mystery to a game as well as giving it staying power. It just takes the right developer to convince the right investors that a game that really embraces PvP AND Pve instead of one or the other can succeed.
Having meaningful battlegrounds in a game with open world PvP is a recipe for disaster, ask Warhammer.