MMOs have shifted and changed over the past decade. We have seen the rise of theme parks like World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic, only to circle back to see sandbox games like ARK and DayZ do crazy numbers on Steam. But between both types of MMOs, few get the balance right between PVE and PVP.
The Balance of PvE
Content is king in any game. The more content you have the better it is for your player. That may hold true in most games, but in a theme park environment you are forcing developers to build bigger rides (which takes years) only to have players go on them for minutes of their time.
This concept was always tricky for me with Warcraft. I was traveling all over these amazing continents, never once did I look back or revisit those areas unless it was with a new character. Even worse, when i started a new character, I blitzed through them as fast as I could. Years of work, gone in a few weeks. Guild Wars 2's scaling zones helped old content matter for a longer period of time, but the same issue of repeating old scripted content always pops back up.
Building our zones to matter balances things out. In game events that impact the world a player knows well would certainly get me to rush home and jump into the game. Let’s say orcs are left unchecked and start getting stronger? Suddenly you have an invasion and their bosses now carry some great loot, wouldn’t you rally to this event?
Characters should have advancement in the world and that can be two fold. Building up your skills, but also building up the world around you. If you have crafting skills or even player housing, it should all be contained in the same space. That's why almost 20 years later people still play Ultima Online, because they are invested. Having that investment along with character advancement in the world worked very well in a lot of early MMOs.
The Balance of PvP
A lot of people may argue with me here. However, I’ll start by saying that zoned PvP in Dark Age of Camelot worked best for me. DAOC had great PvP, everyone who played always says that, however the keep sieges got old after a few years. The zones had to have some kind of objective that made it fun to fight over. Castles were cool, but I always thought that adding in mazes or temples would make sense. Even outdoor objectives that did not force players into a static never-ending battle would work really well.
You have one side of the extreme in games like EVE or Darkfall where you are in the sandbox and can be killed at any time. That is fine, for a certain type of player. We all like the danger, that is, until someone comes along and gets all of your stuff, forcing you to go back to the start again.
The opposite of this is battlegrounds or arena battles. Warcraft did a great job of these early on, but they soon became a rinse and repeat concept, fighting the same battle all the time. You ported out of the PvE portion of the game, and were ported into the battle. Great for a while, but eventually things got boring unless you were in it for the eSports or gear grind.
So what is the in between? I honestly think the balance point for PvP is a combination of open zones where players battle for meaningful objectives. Not just castles, but objectives. These objectives could change from locations, to items, to even NPCs. Once you have the open war zone, you then take your world events idea over from PvE and add it into the PvP zone as well. This keeps things interesting and moving. When you have spawning monsters in the PvP zone, open objectives, and different access points, it suddenly gets very exciting.
Balancing PvP for a player becomes tricky. Camelot did it with factions, Guild Wars 2 did it with servers. Now it is looking like Crowfall is giving you several options to enter zones by faction, guild, or even full solo PvP based on a world's ruleset. My point here is, like PvE your PvP systems needs to have meaning and options.
I know this is a very simple look at how things can balance out. There are a lot of games that have done very well on many of these concepts. However, I feel like no one has ever truly combined them all into a balanced MMO for all sorts of players, and it's hard to imagine anyone ever could. But we are getting much closer to that day. With Pantheon, Camelot Unchained, and Crowfall coming out hopefully within the next year, it will be interesting to see where these games find their balance.