AAA development is taking a back seat to small teams and niche games, and almost all of the attention-earners have one thing in common: PVP. This isn’t the first time PVP has come to save the MMO world, and we at MMORPG love us some player on player combat. But there’s something special going on when the year’s most exciting games each list it as their most prized bullet point. The question is, is this trend here to stay, and Crowfall and Camelot: Unchained -- harbingers of the future or just the latest fad? Read on as we debate the issue.
Player Versus Player is your bi-weekly debate column where two MMORPG writers come head to head to discuss the issues you care about. Taking the podiums this week:
Chris “The Marketing Miser” Coke: Chris has been playing MMOs for most of the last decade and MUDs before that. He can spot a FOTM from a mile away!
Ryan “The Targeted Designer” Getchell: Ryan is a gamer who thinks developers should target their games directly to one crowd.
Chris: Hi, Ryan! It’s good to be with you again. I’m going to get right to the point. This genre, and all video games, go back and forth so much you’d think we moved with the tide. PvP itself isn’t a fad and never has been, but this whole “every game revolves around PVP” thing is as flavor of the month as it gets. Yes, PvP is a lot of fun, and large scale battles are even cooler, but games like Camelot: Unchained and Crowfall are the pendulum swing reaction away from a decade plus of PVE domination. It’s great, and I’m happy for those audiences, but hardcore PVP is and will remain niche.
Ryan: When we look at games in the past, we see games that try to offer everything to everyone yet never excel at any specific aspect of it. I think this is a horrible game design. If you try to cater to everyone you won’t be able to truly cater to anyone because your team is stretched so thin working on different aspects of the game that rarely mesh with each other. World of Warcraft is a great example of how the aspects don’t mesh; it has a large PvE raiding scene and a decent PvP scene but they don’t mesh at all. It’s as if they are two completely different games all together. Where with games like Camelot: Unchained and Crowfall, they are focusing solely on one aspect of game play, putting all their eggs in one basket, if you will. This’ll allow them to produce a much higher quality product, because everyone is working together..
Chris: That’s true, no disputing any of that, but we’re also seeing an era of very targeting games coming upon us. Those games are getting tons of attention. The big question is, once we have our hands on them, what will our next reaction be? The next bevy of stories we get about up and coming indie gems will be “A PvE Game for PvE Fans!” or some such. See what I’m saying? Yeah, building smaller, more targeted MMOs is good for everybody, but the push to PVP is the collective exhale of gamers tired of the same old, same old. It can’t last when history tells us that most MMO players, when given the option, bow out of PVP entirely.
Ryan: Without a doubt the games will receive a ton of criticism because they’re missing the “mandatory” features of endgame raiding, etc. But players need to realize that we’re stepping away from the “cater to everyone” model and focusing more on the niche markets. We’re going to see more and more PvP focused games, games that do storytelling in an epic way, games that allow for fantastic RP. PvP isn’t the only niche market, there are plenty of different play styles and each have thousands of players looking for a game to cater to their play style. This niche design era that we’re in isn’t a fad, it’s the way of the future. Companies are starting to realize that, sure, they won’t have the World of Warcraft player base, but they’ll have a much more dedicated player base, a community that isn’t divided everyone is playing the game for the same reasons.
Chris: True enough. I don’t think smaller MMOs are going anywhere. The AAA world has almost universally converted to a subscriptionless model to overcome their super unrealistic player expectations. And, you know, I think it’s smart to target your players and not all players. But can you remember a time when the playerbase at large was so hyped about PVP as an all-encompassing playstyle? Even going back to Dark Age of Camelot and Ultima Online, PVE was important! The biggest games right now all have a laissez faire attitude toward PvE. Just ask Warhammer Online how that worked out. I mean, you don’t have to target everybody, but you should at least try to have a well rounded game.
Ryan: DAoC to some extent has PvE, but that was only until the third expansion, Trials of Atlantis, and a few of the later ones. Unfortunately I am a bit ignorant to the later ones, but DAoC was hyped as a PvP game. Gear that was used for the PvP was obtained through crafting which in itself required little to no PvE requirements. So DAoC I really remember being solely a PvP focused game. However, that being said, you’re right there hasn’t been a lot of games that marketed themselves as a pure PvP focused or a specifically focused game. Does that mean it’s bound to fail right out of the start because it hasn’t been done? I don’t think so, the biggest hurdle these games are going to face is dealing with the game that expects the game to offer everything. Expectations provide bad press, which is what a lot of gamers do, they get overly excited about something, they take the vague information that is released and place high expectations on it. If they just play the game for what it is and not what they hoped to be we’d have an ideal gaming community, sadly that won’t happen.
Chris: Well, even a game like DAoC had some important PvE aspects, like Darkness Falls -- and I hope to see Crowfall and Camelot make their PvE equally important. They’re just not talking about it because you have to sell the FOTM. But I think you make a good point about expectations. With the push toward PvP over PvE, should players expect persistent worlds as they’ve come to know them through the AAA games of the last decade? I don’t think they should, because, as a dev, why would you waste your time meeting that expectation when the soul of your game is in combat? But here’s the thing, players will still expect it and be disappointed when they don’t get it. We can blame the players, but it won’t stop that pendulum from swinging the other way on its next turn.
Ryan: It’s true, you can’t stop the pendulum, or change a player’s behaviour. I know you hope that games like Crowfall or Camelot Unchained have some PvE aspects to them, I am the exact opposite. I really hope they do not, it’ll be a starting point to prove that niche games can work, and I may be wrong on this but I think Camelot Unchained announced really early on that they won’t have PvE. If they do offer some PvE it’ll be no different than what we have now in terms of MMO design, games trying to cater to multiple play styles. As for persistent worlds, even niche games that focus on one aspect can still have engrossing environments for you to play in. You may not be going through dungeons and killing giant monsters, but you’re still playing as a person within that world. especially in a game like Camelot Unchained where you have a three faction war for territory. In short, niche games and target marketing is where we are headed and I’m excited for it to happen.
That’s all from us, folks. Let us know what you think in the comments below!