Casual Play: Casual PvP Still Has Some Kinks
By: Steve Wilson
Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Steve Wilson. The column is called "Casual Play" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Wilson. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.
Player versus player combat isn't for everyone. Some casual players forego it altogether for a number of reasons. Some never attain the full range of skills to become effective at killing anything other than badly scripted monsters. Others find having to rely on guilds and secondary programs too onerous. And others embrace it wholeheartedly even with the knowledge that there are severe PvP drawbacks that apply only to the casual gamer.
In the older games PvP was dominated by gank squads. The worlds would generally have open PvP throughout their entire environment. Players could attack each other at any time and in any numbers. This typically led to gangs of thugs interested only in killing others, teaming up when needed to outnumber smaller groups. Guilds formed to fight these gankers and the arms race was on to see who could field a bigger group at any given moment. Players without guilds were often fodder that represented about as much resistance as a speed bump. In this environment the casual player suffers greatly. They often lacked the time required to immerse themselves in a guild capable of fielding enough members in order to win a race out-mobbing other players. Ultima Online was the first big commercial game to try this style of PvP and the majority of customers complained bitterly.
The first battleground concept in Dark Age of Camelot was an interesting one, but ultimately not completely successful. Because the environment was split into safe PvE areas and a PvP battlefield, casual players could at least play the game without fear of spending their entire time dirtnapping. For casual players where time is a limited and very valuable commodity this was especially important. The battlegrounds in this game still had the same problem with numbers however. A casual player that went in alone was completely at the mercy of large teams that would simply overwhelm them.
The battlegrounds introduced in World of Warcraft were a much better implementation of PvP conflict in a fairer environment. Now the combat areas were stratified by level and only a set number of players could join in the instanced area. Teams were generally equal in both number and level. The casual player now was not hopelessly outnumbered or completely out-leveled.
But both of these systems still favor the hardcore player. There are still a few problems in the battleground system when trying to make these environments fun for the casual player.
While casuals could find pick up groups to play with when confronted with an organized guild of gankers armed with voice over IP software it was almost always a losing proposition. The casual players came in as a mob with their own personal goals of fighting other players. Team based goals were difficult to achieve amongst a team of individuals who'd just met and were only looking to amuse themselves first and foremost. An organized team could easily tear a pick-up group apart.
Skill also plays a major factor. RPGs reward player accomplishments with artificial levels of skill. The player has successfully completed task for their character and to reflect those accomplishments the character and not the player are rewarded with ever increasing stats. I personally have no clue how to heal a person but my high level priest can do it wonderfully in the game. Typically this is represented as levels for the character. WoW did an amazing job stratifying the battlegrounds so that players will always be fighting other players within a reasonable range of their own level. EQ2 accomplished this on a worldwide scale.
Real world skill also comes into the equation as well. Hardcore players tend to have more real world skills behind their character although this isn't always the case. Real world skills are gained through natural ability and practice. Whatever real world skills a hardcore player may lack can often be gained by playing the game like a second job. This level of practice makes the hardcore player absolutely deadly when confronting the casual player. But these types of skills are the ones that casuals can pick up on. Being outclassed here isn't so much a problem as it is an opportunity to learn about the game intimately. However, even the very worst hardcore player can transcend their terrible personal skills by spending time gaining virtual skills for their character. The greatest level 10 PvPer is going to have no chance ever of defeating the worst level 60 player.
With WoW as the template of future games, casual players can rest assured the PvP will remain fun in many areas. If games going forward adopt battlegrounds with their evening of forces, level stratification, and limit the pain of dying to only those areas there will be an ever increasing number of casual players willing to give this PvP thing a shot.
The worst thing for casual players however is gear. Gear tends to be a significantly unbalanced proposition as well. Hardcore players typically have both the time and social resources to grind out raid level gear. This gives the hardcore player a decisive advantage in the PvP environment. In WoW there's little doubt that a player with legendary, or any tier level of gear, can easily outperform a player or even a group of players in their green rare drop items. The Monty Haul advantages given by gear in nearly all MMOs specifically rewards those players who spend the time to acquire them. No matter how badly they actually are at PvP. The solution to this seems obvious but has yet to be implemented, stratify it just like levels and total numbers of participant. Let the hardcore players with their legendary items duke it out in their own battlegrounds while the rag tag casuals meet in a battleground with significantly lower standards, a slapfest of the feebs if you will.
As a side note, LoTRO deserves special mention with monster play. Rather than using characters that a player is personally wrapped up in they will instead give the player a disposable character to test drive. The goal is to make certain areas more interesting by having players pull mosters out of scripted AI sequences. These test drive monsters shouldn't come with the same degree of emotional attachment, after all the player is just driving it to make the game more interesting for their fellow players. The monsters from what I understand won't be able to collect gear like players, but they will be able to form teams and communicate with each other. It will be very interesting to see if this form of PvP appeals. I for one look forward to seeing how it works from both sides.