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NetDevil
MMORPG | Genre:Sci-Fi | Status:Cancelled  (est.rel N/A)  | Pub:Codemasters
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Jumpgate Evolution - PvP: Conflicts and Considerations

NetDevil Programmer Steve "Istvan" Hartmeyer stops by once more to talk about the upcoming MMORPG, Jumpgate Evolution. In this new developer journal Hartmeyer talks about PvP in the sci-fi game.

The issue of PvP features in Jumpgate Evolution has the appearance of being extremely controversial, making the subject sensitive for the development team to address. Jumpgate Evolution is in many ways derived from Jumpgate Classic, and the original game's community has become extremely agitated over the potential changes coming in the new product. Even before Jumpgate Evolution appeared on the horizon, PvP was a divisive issue for the Jumpgate Classic community. Jumpgate Classic was designed from the start as a PvP game. Its simplistic PvE gameplay was a late-beta addition, nearly an afterthought. For some players, however, the available PvE became a major draw and main point of the game. For many others, PvP combat was simply never interesting or important because other activities and styles of play were more enjoyable.

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Discussions of PvP matters in Jumpgate have a tendency to take on aspects of religious warfare. There are two diametrically opposed camps within the Jumpgate community, and there appears to be no dissuading members of either side. One group insists that "No place in the game should be safe from PvP", while the other side demands "Don't push your RP on me." As developers, we absolutely must build our game to appeal to the most customers possible, maximizing commercial success, or we risk inability to offset the costs of development. The PvP issue is so strongly polarizing, however, that the forms of PvP gameplay we provide can powerfully affect the number of customers we might attract. Despite the obvious conflict, we want to build a sound PvP system for Jumpgate Evolution that will satisfy many of the extremists in both camps, while also ensuring there is plenty of room in the game for people who don't wish PvP to be the entirety of their game experience.

Besides consideration of the general appeal of PvP gameplay, other factors significantly influence design decisions when choosing how PvP is regulated. Frequently these factors directly conflict with one another. First of all, PvP must be fun, which implies elements of balance, excitement, and challenge. Accomplishing just these things within a game's context can be demanding for any design team; balance, especially, tends to be where developers spend much of their time and effort. Furthermore, new players must not be chased out of the game by griefers using the PvP system to their advantage. Allowing such things to occur limits a game's potential growth, clearly bad news when trying to make a commercially successful product. The game's context or milieu may also strongly influence the design of a PvP system; for instance, it may mandate certain conflicts while restricting or prohibiting others. As a possible corollary to mandating or restricting PvP, it's also desirable for the means by which this is accomplished to either be realistic, or at least consistent with the game environment, to promote the players' sense of immersion. All these factors, and more, come into play when designing a PvP system, and they have all been topics of design discussions within the Jumpgate Evolution dev team.

Other online games provide many examples of interesting PvP mechanics to choose from or to use as starting points for innovation. We might look first to the example of Jumpgate Classic, Evolution's forerunner: in principle, all players in Jumpgate Classic were at risk from PvP, all the time. There were some minor protections in home areas or station sectors, but those deterrents in no way made those areas safe. EVE Online (CCP), presently the most successful online space-genre game, possesses wholly safe zones, where the mere beginnings of a PvP attack result in artificially effective obliteration for the attacker. From these de facto secure areas, space in EVE is assigned degrees of risk, in which the magically powerful guardian forces are gradually reduced in effectiveness until the player reaches space where the guardians are nonexistent and PvP is routine. Though not a science fiction game, Dark Age of Camelot (Mythic) offered a novel approach by developing the concept of "realm vs. realm" (RvR) PvP, in which players choose to play as a member of one of three nations, all of which are permanently in mutual conflict. DAoC possesses entirely safe homelands, where only PvE is possible, and totally open battlefields, where both directed and spontaneous PvP may take place at will among members of the three nations. Battlegrounds are also available in DAoC for lower-ranking characters who wish to sample PvP but who cannot participate usefully in the open PvP frontiers. NetDevil's own Auto Assault chose a somewhat similar safe-homeland, open battlefield approach, but also included arenas for PvP. The arenas didn't impact the global conflict, but unlike DAoC's junior battlegrounds, they did provide an alternative type of balanced and gank-free PvP that offered a venue for PvP tournament ladders, leaderboards, and stat-tracking.

On the basis of subscription numbers, World of Warcraft (Blizzard) is unquestionably the most successful commercial online game today, so one might presume that designers might find its chosen approach to PvP gameplay informative. Though its design includes only two sides rather than three, World of Warcraft also uses a variant of the RvR PvP idea. However, on standard-gameplay servers, meaning the "normal rules" for which WoW was presumably designed, a player is largely safe from PvP attack. One must deliberately choose to participate in a PvP based instance or contest, or otherwise "flag" oneself as willing to engage in PvP. As with most large commercial games, WoW is sharded, and there are servers with variant rules. WoW happens to also offer "PvP servers" as a shard variant, in which the rules are quite different: although the starting areas are once again entirely safe, the majority of the rest of the game environment is "contested" and open PvP is permitted within the "Alliance vs. Horde" RvR context. Fascinatingly, a server breakdown for WoW in North America and Europe reveals that the division between very limited PvP and mainly open PvP rulesets is very nearly 50/50. This suggests that about half the WoW customers in this region of the world play characters where mainly unrestricted PvP is the norm, and the other half play where PvP is available but solely consensual - which appears to mirror the polarization found within the much smaller Jumpgate community! In both cases, though, some areas of this very popular game's environment are entirely safe, and because the game uses an RvR model, truly open PvP is prohibited with a very few specific exceptions.

We consider PvP gameplay extremely important for Jumpgate Evolution, and are wrestling with the issues outlined here as we continue the development process. World of Warcraft's decision to apply different rules on different shards is highly instructive, given the visible polarization of attitudes among our potential customers, but we haven't quite given up on design ideas that have the possibility of making different rule sets unnecessary. Ultimately, we aim to deliver a deep game where PvP is only one of many attractive activities for players, but we want that PvP experience to be fun and satisfying enough that the players who choose to devote themselves to it completely will remain just as entertained and enthralled as anyone else.

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