A View from Atlas Park: When Two Players Go To War

Player versus player (PVP) gameplay in mmogs attracts a lot of debate. On one end of the spectrum there are players who believe that PVP should never be in a game that they play; at the other end are players who won’t touch anything without PVP. The majority of players fall somewhere between these two extremes, but exactly how many players believe exactly what mix of PVP and player versus environment (PVE) should exist isn’t something I’ve seen a lot of information on.

The hidden reality of PVP is that a strong majority of players would get involved in PVP if it was done right. How “right” is defined varies widely from player to player and is especially dependent on the ability of a player to “win”, whatever that means in-game. If I have no chance of winning, PVP isn’t something I really want to be involved in. However, if I win, another player has to lose, and what does that mean to them?

City of Villains (CoV) is CoH’s future completely-separate-from-the-main-game expansion, with PVP being the large, shiny jewel that has so many players looking forward to it. Hard news on the ground about CoV’s PVP is sketchy at the moment since things are still under construction, but I have been thinking about it. And I’ve been wondering if CoV will manage to do PVP “right”.

First off, I’ve decided that CoV is worth exactly $3 a month to me. I’m already subscribed to CoH at $15 a month, and if Cryptic thinks they can wring an equivalent amount out of me for CoV, they are sorely mistaken. I’m not going to pay full-price for two games (even if they are in the same world) given that I don’t even have time to play the first one properly! At an extra $3, I’m paying $18 a month to Cryptic, which seems about right should I want to occassionally take a spin as a villain. Of course, if CoV is all I wanted to play, I’d pay the $15 and not be a hero. So, the price would need to be right for PVP to even start for me.

Secondly, as a lvl based game, CoV is already hamstrung against PVP being done right. A lvl-based game sees a character’s power tied to their level, so that higher lvl characters have more power to PVP than lower-lvl characters. This means all competitive ability is tied to a single lvl score, making lvl 50 (or max lvl) the only lvl where all players have a fair shot at each other (assuming that powers are balanced evenly … which they won’t be). I can already picture a situation where a supergroup of lvl 50’s (hero or villain) go on a rampage in an open PVP zone, slaughtering all in their wake. For the slaughtered, this won’t be much fun.

Which brings me to my next point – being a villain. The number of times a player is going to be rude, obnoxious, arrogant, underhanded, cheap and just plain mean and then justify that behaviour with “I’m a villain” is going to be staggering. This will just be compounded by PVP, since this means a player can whip another player and then gloat about it, long and loud to their victim. I could rant on, but I’ve already written about this problem. Such behaviour isn’t fun for the losing player, but really impacts on whether a player thinks PVP is done right or not.

In a perfect world, PVP done right should be two things: 1) competitive, and 2) fun. It should be competitive in so far as players have a relatively equal shot of winning and it should be fun so that you don’t smash your CoV game disk to smithereens after the first (or tenth or hundredth) beating you take from another player. You should actually want to play PVP if it is done correctly.

I’d like to see a PVP challenge system implemented in a manner similar to the team system – you put your hand up, someone picks you and then you zone off to a region to fight. The selection screen would need a lot of information to accommodate team / supergroup PVP but would be a huge step forward in terms of making things competitive. The challenge system would also allow you to bet influence / enhancements on the result to make the win / loss worth something (although by later lvls influence and enhancements are probably less valuable than they are when you are starting off…).

Open / unrestricted PVP should be absolutely verboten except in the most limited of areas to prevent PVP ambushes, because anywhere that it is possible will see gangs of griefers just lying in wait. It’s certainly not fun to arrive in a zone only to die before you can move.

Will CoV do PVP “right”? It might, but as stated above, “right” is a very subjective position. No one system is likely to please everyone. Here’s hoping however that Lord Recluse and the rest of the Cryptic gang working on CoV have learned from the failings of other mmogs in this area and if not manage to make PVP fun, at least manage to make it fair.

Merry Xmas all and have a great New Year too!

– UnSub [email protected] 22 December 2004

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