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Crowfall Bluesky Design Series Part 2 - PVPVEVP

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This is part of an on-going series of design rants. I make games for a living, and while this is not my game, I'm probably not going to work on an MMO for some time. I've been collecting thoughts for a while about the genre, and this seems like a perfect place to spew them out.


Part 1


Part 2 - PVPVEVP

The typical MMO is a hot mess, trying to be all things to all people. This often results in a schizophrenic design that sprawls like a cat over a keyboard. The developers then struggle not making a single game with a coherent vision, but multiple games that then they have to weld together into some half cat/half keyboard monstrosity.


Bad metaphor.

A prime example of this is the separation between PvP and PvE gameplay. Where PvP is typically balanced around a similar number of like-powered enemies, PvE is a role-based encounter against a smaller set of enemies who are more powerful than a single player.  These two approaches have different needs, and result in a cascade of divergent gameplay and elements. Fast forward through inevitable power creep, and PvE content is scripted, character customization is reduced to the trinity roles (Tank, Heals, DPS) and gameplay is simply getting big numbers and staying out of the fire. In contrast PvP content tends to be...


Emergent Gameplay

Hell is other people. But other people are also content. Content that pays to play!  Because the nature of PvP is towards single unit balance, the content designed to support that gameplay is also balanced towards a single unit. A good example is gear that progresses both in offensive and defensive stats. Because offense and defense tend to balance out, utility becomes more valuable. A skilled player is less concerned about maximizing damage per second as doing damage at the right time, or being able to purge a shield or break a snare.  


These skills naturally form a rock-paper-scissors game where a melee character is more vulnerable to someone who can snare, but whose snare is less effective against a ranged attack. An ecosystem springs up where counters to powerful builds are found, and then counters to the counter must be sought - there is no One Build to Rule Them All. Character customization matters, and suddenly every encounter you enter is against a new and interesting enemy. Gameplay isn't about memorizing and optimizing rotations, but trying to outmanuver and react to an interesting enemy.



If PvP is more interesting with greater freedom for character customization and constantly new content, why don't we just always do that? Well, it's because not everyone wants to fight for their life all the time, and gameplay like that is better suited towards instanced, arena-like games: Call of Duty, LoL & Dota, etc.  A MMO wants a broader content base that gives the player a sense that they are in a real, living world. 


So PvE is still valulable! It Gives designers freedom to add sources of loot and currency, lore and landmarks. Lets keep it, but lets make the gameplay no different than PVP; fighting groups of like-powered enemies who adopt unique strategies with AI that does more than "Target player with highest aggro." Want to make an encounter more difficult? MOAR ADDS! (Or See Coda) 


In terms of a system with settlement development and political structures, that part of the game can be accessed to NPC factions as well. A warlord decides to lay siege to your city, or builds a keep near the crossroads of major trading routes. Devs can spawn these events dynamically to help drive an ecosystem of stratigic turmoil.



Finally, make the PvE what that acronym stands for - the world should be trying to kill you, and make reacting to the environment a skill that the player has to develop. Fighting in a lightning storm? Don't stand next to a tall tree. A blizzard reduces visibility and movement speed. Lava pools!  Wandering critters are more scared of you than you are of them, but you don't want that elk to charge you while you wait to ambush another player.  Giants are basically honey badgers and dragons are hungry. Want a raid to be interesting while the enemies are the same power as you? Earthquake!



Can always count on BBC to catch the little details  ;)

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 Character customization matters, and suddenly every encounter you enter is against a new and interesting enemy. Gameplay isn't about memorizing and optimizing rotations, but trying to outmanuver and react to an interesting enemy.


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Great Post! You nailed what is currently happening in most of the large MMO's. We have gone through a decade of making games accessible to everyone, and largely copying the WoW themepark MMO template. In doing so, all people can relate to is now "raiding endgame" , "holy-trinity", "epics", etc.


This leads to a very specific kind of gameplay, especially if there is also PvP. Each type of gameplay has it's own progression path which are very different from each other, and lead to all kinds of things designers have to do that players don't like. For example Some abilities that flat out don't work in PvP (like taunts) or those abilities that are constantly get nerfed because they are overpowered in either PvE. I kinda like the idea of not having to have such a drastic balance different between the two.

Thomas Blair
ArtCraft Entertainment, Inc.
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