Poll Feature: PvE or PvP?
Today we’d like to continue a new series of discussion features on MMORPG.com, where we post a few thoughts on a particular MMO game related topic, and then ask the readers to weigh in with their opinions by responding in the forum thread or casting a vote in the related poll. Once the poll has been open for a reasonable amount of time we’ll then come back and revisit the topic, summarizing the results of the poll and community discussion. Today's feature will focus on the question of PvP vs PvE and their improtance in an MMO.
Yesterday, I took part in a Voon debate (it’s a voice-based chat system created by the folks at Vivox, You can check it out here) on the merits of PvP vs the merits of PvE in MMORPGs. My opponent, Staci Krause from IGN Vault, took the side of PvE, while I stood up and defended the concept of PvP. I saw a certain irony in engaging in PvP (of the debate variety) over the subject, but maybe that’s just me and my over-used mis-use of the word irony.
In any case, taking part in the debate, making my arguments while my opponent made hers, I thought that this was probably a discussion that we should both be having within our respective communities. The only way to get any real answers, if there are answers to get, is to talk to large numbers of knowledgeable gamers who have strong opinions on the subject. Since few gamers have stronger opinions than the folks here at MMORPG.com, I wanted to bring the debate home to you.
Because I had to come up with a two minute intro, and did so in a relatively short time, I want to present you with what I said. After that, I’ll throw some of the other side’s points at you and at the end, I’ll ask you to vote:
An Argument for PvP:
Player vs. Player content is Vital to a modern video game, let alone MMOs. in fact, it's been there since the days of Pong, a two player vs. game.
According to Gamasutra, the top two highest selling games, Super Smash Bors and Mario Kart both pitt player against player as their primary focus. The third game on that list, Grand Theft Auto IV also sports a well-known PvP multiplayer mode.
It's really all about competition. It used to be enough for us to be able to compete against developer programmed and AI controlled opponents, but today's players are no longer satisfied with simply "beating the computer". They want to know that there is another human opponent on the other side of the keyboard.
So let's look specifically at MMOs.
Going all the way back to a popular entry point of MMOs, let's look at Ultima Online, a game made famous by its PvP nature. When you get old school MMO people into a room, one of the most frequent topics of conversation is always UO PvP.
Since then, many, if not all of the most popular MMOs have included PvP in some way or another. In fact, an overwhelming number of games on the MMORPG.com Game List include some form of PvP. Somewhere in the vicinity of 90%. This isn't accidental.
In the end, PvP content is one of the only ways to get a specifically unique experience out of an MMO, especially modern MMOs, where more often than not, players are simply repeating the same quest lines as everyone else. The content you're experiencing these days through PvE just isn't unique.
So, why is PvP so popular?
I'm glad I asked. Well, I talked earlier about some of the reasons that PvP is popular amoung players: it feeds the drive for competition. It's always more satisfying to defeat or kill an opponent if that opponent is human. The thing is, it's also a popular developer device, especially when it comes to talking about the boogeyman known as "endgame content". PvP at the highest levels of an MMO is simply the cheapest and easiest way for developers to keep providing their players with engaging content. The alternative is what? completing the same raid instances over and over again, looking for the newest, shiniest gear? and even then, what would you use that gear for if not PvP?
So, in my opinion, this debate shouldn't be about whether PvP belongs in an MMO, or whether PvP is better than PvE, it should instead be about the way in which PvP should be implemented into a game. Should it be Free for all ful loot, PvP anywhere? Should there be PvP zones and safe zones? should PvP be open or factional?
An Argument for PvE
PvE is the foundation of any good game. It is the glue that holds together story and lore and creates a game world. For every PvP game that has been released, MMO or otherwise, there are dozens and dozens of single-player, story-driven games that have been quite successful, not just in the past when multiplayer was less visible, but even in our more recent popular releases. Look at Bioshock, a non-PvP game that won numerous awards... But really, non-MMOs aren’t the focus of this discussion.
While the other side would want you to believe that all players want is head to head competition, I think that the facts far outreach the argument. People, on the whole, don’t play MMOs to compete, they play MMOs to co-operate and to be social. That’s why we have guilds, that’s why we have chat windows and emotes.
So, as my opponent in the original Voon debate suggested, let’s look at the numbers. World of Warcraft and EverQuest II are both games that provide PvP servers, but the vast majority of each game’s servers don’t cater to that ruleset. Clearly, if two of the most popular MMORPGs ever released don’t feel the need to cater to the PvP crowd, it isn’t too necessary a function of the genre.
PvE, as mentioned earlier, is the glue that holds a game together. In the MMORPG world, PvP-only games just don’t work. We had a great example of that when Fury, the PvP-only MMO launched, floundered and then closed in the not too distant past.
PvP might be just fine as a background feature, and it might even add some flavor to a game, but it’s not even in the same league as PvE in terms of importance to the overall design of an MMO.
Well, there you have it kids, two arguments, neither in any way water-tight. So, which aspect of MMO design is more important, PvE or PvP?