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Is Free For All PvP a Myth?

Tim Eisen Posted:
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I come here before you a MMORPG fan but not just a MMORPG fan; a PVP first MMORPG fan. That means I don’t just play MMORPGs, I play PVP MMORPGs exclusively. That said I’m going to break a few of my fellow PVPers little black hearts with this column as I challenge our favorite myth, that open world free for all (FFA) PVP is sustainable. It’s not all darkness, I’ll also list the ingredients that I believe make for a FFA PVP MMORPG experience that is sustainable.

Despite a variety of games that have claimed it and possibly more that have used it as the marketing for a crowd funded campaign no MMORPG studio has solved the open world FFA PVP riddle. Not one. Some have come close but none were able to sustain it. Most games haven’t even been able to support the tech let alone the pvp! (Scowls as he recalls numerous past disappointments and broken PVPromises) Of the few that were capable FFA quickly evolved into mostly FFA or something else entirely.

Most games dipped a toe in, saw users decrease and their tech fail then created safe zone work-a-rounds pulling back from open world FFA or flat out killing it (pours libations for T-Mill vs S-Shore in Vanilla WOW on a PVP server). In all fairness, they did this because open world FFA PVP does not work, check the MMORPG mausoleum if you don’t believe me.

Reoccurring game killing scenarios play out as players gang up and kill weaker players to a quit point before running out of people to fight then moving to a new game to do it again. Losing in a PVP game, having your death simulated, goes against the very fabric of our DNA. We are hard wired to survive even in sim. It doesn’t just make us uncomfortable, our instinct makes us want to run away, so we do.

In a sea of empty vessels once known as FFA PVP games two games have pulled off a near open world FFA PVP experience that is sustainable. They are EVE Online (not surprising) and Star Wars Galaxies (not just because I’m a fanboy-I got legit reasons yall).

From them I have distilled several ingredients that I believe equate to an ideal PVP experience. It isn’t perfect but it’s able to give us most of the best and less of the worst that PVP in MMORPGs has to offer. I call it Eisen’s Rules for Sustainable Open World Near Free For All PVP Experience or ERISOWNFFAPVP-XP for short. I threw that “I” in there as a decoy just to see if you were paying attention! (Numbered but not in order of importance as all of these rules rely on one another in order to form PVP Voltron.)

PVErs. When I say PVErs I mean people that like to gather resources (including NPC animals), haul things and craft.

A crafted economy. A given.

A division of labor. This one is an unsung hero that few games utilize. Its why EVE and SWG feel like real worlds.

Rare regionally located resources that eventually deplete and change location. You have to keep the crafters interested and invested. Resource hunting is their PVP and it keeps them moving around the open world generating conflict.

Hauling of said resources. I can’t say it enough, this generates PVP! See the history of the world if you don’t believe me. Why only EVE has figured it out I’ll never know.

Safe spaces that aren’t too safe but give people seeking a break a means to obtain it. This is important in retaining the craters that in effect retain the PVPers.

Flattish veteran to newb skill/XP gap. A PVP game can’t retain new players if they are just going to be fodder, they need to feel they can contribute or even have a chance in some rare cases.

Espionage. This one is special. Few games manage to have rules but be free enough to create espionage beyond a cross faction account meanwhile EVE and SWG both excel in it.

Freedom! A lack of rules and restriction. This creates emergent PVP content which translates to players taking away real memories that dedicates them to the game in a way scripted content rarely does.

EVE pulls off the above with limited restriction and a tiered PVP zone system. Star Wars Galaxies TEF system had similar results without the territorial modifier. The EVE version works in EVE because it features outer space and thousands of chained instances. As a result, you don’t feel like EVE is segregated. Games that feature a main open world can’t get away with that as easily which is why I think the SWG TEF system might work better for most world based games.

The TEF system is the only one I’m not 100% on. If someone has a better way to incorporate all of the other items then I’m all ears but until they do the TEF system did it and did it well and it ruined me. Running to the PVP zone or hoping into a PVP instance can’t compare to siting in a cantina when an argument escalates into a fight which spills into the mean streets of Mos Eisley and before you know it the entire town looks like a Blue Man concept (with less aliens)!

After 20 years of PVP games I’ve finally come to the unfortunate conclusion that PVP games that are truly free for all simply don’t last. We need some forced civility but not too much and always err on the side of less is more. Finding the PVP goldilocks zone isn’t easy but what’s been proven before is often easier to replicate than trying something unproven (except the moon landing for some odd reason). If you have thoughts or suggestions on how to get into that zone I’d love to read them in the comments below. 


Tim Eisen

I roleplay a wordsmith that writes about the technological and social evolution within the game industry