Steinhauer’s Opinion: The PvP Debate, Part 2

In the last article, we looked at the evolution of PvP in gaming, from the unrestricted early years of Ultima Online, to its prohibition in early Everquest, then the server segregation method first seen in Asheron’s Call, and finally the introduction of Realms warfare. The diametrically opposed ambitions of PKers and Non-PKers alike have led to a demarcation of many players into one of the two camps. So, I concluded by asking if it is possible for these two distinct types of gamers to enjoy playing the same MMO.

Before I continue, I need to make certain I’ve defined these terms clearly. Based on the discussions that followed the last article, I think most people understood, but not all. When I use the term PK and non-PK, I’m not referring to game mechanics, but rather philosophy. So when I ask if PKers and non-PKers could co-exist I don’t mean a server where a few players are flagged for PK and the rest are invulnerable to PvP. Rather, my question is whether it is possible for players who enjoy PK to co-exist on a server with players who are non-PK by disposition, where all players are bound under the same PvP rules at all times and locations.

Some mention was made of WoW and Warhammer Online, but neither of these games truly merge the two. In WoW, the standard splitting of PK and NPK by server and/or zones defeats the whole point. And to quote Warhammer Online’s website: “Every aspect of the game, including PvE missions, is geared towards the greater war in some important way.” I addressed this last time when I said, “Much like the United States in World War II, all aspects of economy and existence are focused on the war effort. Crafting, trade, and exploration become important only insofar as they further ‘The Cause.'” A game world like this will offer little fulfillment for non-PK players who enjoy exploration, questing, and crafting for their own merits.

Now you might argue that the solutions of Wow and Warhammer are perfect end-states. If that’s the case, then this whole article is irrelevant. But Manaburn summed up the current shortcomings very succinctly when he said, “The moment you add a non PvP realm, is the moment the PvP realm will have no victims for the PKs, and the PKs will get bored and leave.” That is exactly what happens, and what I found on Darktide. Non-PKers end up being pushed to hiding places on the fringes, be they the “Oswald’s Cave” of Hedrafan, or a small camp on the northern edge of the desert for me. A server that has lost all of its NPKers will degenerate to Galadourn’s “free-for-all arena slaughterhouse” and then eventually disappear. This is why a merging of the two is so important. Those who are NPK in outlook will be a counterweight to the PKers. The game Darkfall, mentioned in some of the discussion, appears to be on the right track… if it ever goes live.

But getting back to the root question, I believe the answer is yes. PKers and NPKers can play the same game successfully for the simple reason that nearly all players like the MMOs they play to be as realistic as possible. An MMO’s PvP system that attempts to combine the two camps will be successful by the degree to which it allows enjoyable imitation of the real world.

The fundamental shortfall of current PvP systems in this endeavor is the lack of repercussions. Shifting over to the real world briefly, there are two basic reasons that people don’t kill. Either they have a moral objection to it, or they are afraid of the consequences. If we were to transpose this into an MMO, the general NPK population would fit somewhere into the first category. They don’t PK because either they don’t want to damage other players gaming experience, or they simply have no interest in it. In any case, this group requires no PvP regulations because incidents would be few and far between. The general PK population, on the other hand, would generally fit into the second category. And that is where consequences must weigh in to provide a limiting effect on PK activity. I’m not implying that PKers are moral degenerates. Far from it! This is a game, after all, and most PKers just enjoy the thrills and rewards of player on player combat. However, since each MMO exists as a “society” of sorts, PKing is a potential violence against any social contract and has the potential to destabilize that society. The key to preventing the PK aspect of a game from overwhelming the world is the introduction of consequence.

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The current PvP systems are almost completely lacking in any real repercussions. This is ironic considering cost-benefit analysis is rampant in just about every other facet of gaming. Should I train this skill which will help me survive, or that skill which will enable me do more damage? Should I hunt in high level areas where I will level quicker, yet die more often, or should I hunt in low level areas which are safer but slower? Should I sacrifice a measure of time and independence in order to hunt in a group, or solo and be restricted to lower level monsters and quests? Or more simply, should I be a fighter, an archer, or a mage? In contrast, let’s look at the cost-benefit analysis a PKer might go through when they consider whether to attack a potential mark:

The Benefits:

  • I will gain experience if I’m successful in the kill
  • I will get to steal some loot if I’m successful in the kill
  • Whether I succeed or not, I’ll gain a bit of mild notoriety and fame by word of mouth
  • And regardless, there is the thrill of the hunt

The Costs:

  • I might gain some notoriety by word of mouth which may mean I’ll get attacked or shunned by the target’s friends in the future
  • I might be killed by the target

So what are the costs? Perhaps a few people might not like you and you might get killed. But many PKers like a bit of fame and most don’t mind getting killed from time to time. They are careful with their best equipment and it’s the cost of the business.

Compare this with real life. A person who kills and escapes will live a life on the run. If they’re arrested, they’ll end up incarcerated for a long period of time or perhaps even get the death penalty. Their notoriety is widespread due to newspapers, television, and the internet. After serving their sentence, they may be shunned from employment, refused membership in various organizations, or denied some privileges (such as voting). In a more primitive society, they may even face a blood debt or end up getting strung up by an enraged posse.

So how does this fit into an MMO? Incarceration and permanent character death would ruin the fun for PKers (except perhaps a few extreme players), so we’ll toss those out since realism carried too far destroys the fun of the game. And what about posses? They certainly exist in MMOs; I’ve been a part of one or two. But in real life, a killer can’t escape by logging off, and that is just what gamers do to escape the heat. They jump to another character or leave the game for a while until the posse breaks up. Gamers (at least most gamers) have real lives outside of the MMO so they can’t keep a posse together for more than a few hours at best. Furthermore, PKers, by their very philosophy, are inclined towards raid organizations, escaping posses, and life on the run, while non-PKers tend towards group hunts, quests, and exploration. Only the first of these is useful for counter-PK action and that only marginally. A beast run by computer AI behaves a lot different from another player character. Thus in current MMOs, a PKer considering whether to attack another player character can expect great benefit with minimal cost.

So how can MMOs build in repercussions to protect non-PKers without ruining the fun for PKers?

I believe the key is to build an MMO society grounded on reputation, and, since I’m out of space this week, I’ll tell you how and why next time.

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