PvE, PvP, and Racing

The topic of discussion from the NBI Talkback is whether or not PvE and PvP mix in MMOPRGs. At long last I have some time to write about it, now that everyone else has moved on.

Racing cars

The answer is no, they don’t mix. Thanks for reading.

But seriously, we’ve all seen the sharp divide between the PvE and PvP communities within any given MMORPG. In my opinion, it’s not because of the games or the players. The problem to me is that PvE and PvP require two entirely different competitive mindsets.

Competition is the basis of all games at some level, but there are different kinds of competition. Sometimes you are competing with yourself, such as when you play solitaire. Sometimes you are competing with other people, individually or in teams, such as when you are bowling or ski jumping. And sometimes you are competing against other people, such as when you play tennis or volleyball.

To further illustrate the different kinds of competition, I will use a weird racing metaphor.

I’m told that there are people in the world who participate in activities that aren’t on computers, so imagine driving cars as a sport. Let us assume that this is analogous to the “sport” of playing MMORPGs.

At the most basic level, you can enjoy the sport of car racing by getting in a car and driving down a road. You enjoy the wind whipping through your hair on a sunny day. You enjoy listening to the radio. You don’t care if someone in a Maserati passes you at the speed of sound. You don’t care if you have to swerve around an old man with his blinkers on. You just like going fast. You’re not competing with anyone. You are a casual PvE player.

As you get more serious about your car racing, you might start to care about how fast you’re going. Maybe you want to try racing on a track. So you go down to the local race track on the weekend and drive 10 laps in your car. You do this every weekend, and start to record how long it takes each time. You start to compare your times from weekend to weekend to see if you’re getting better or worse. You’re competing against yourself. Maybe you put on better tires or replace your carburetor to go faster. You’re still a PvE player, but maybe you’ve installed a DPS meter and you’re trying to play as best you can. I think the unofficial name for you is a “midcore” player.

Now you want to take your racing to the next level. You start to enter some time trials with other drivers. Each driver takes a turn at the track and does their best. In the end, you compare the times and the fastest one is declared the winner and gets a cash prize. You’re technically competing with other people, but you’re not racing with other people. You’re still a PvE player, but now you’re in a hardcore raiding guild and you’re trying to beat all the other guilds to the world firsts.

Finally you decide to enter a real race. Your time trials qualify you for a pole position. (Is that a real thing? I don’t know. :) Now you’re racing against other people on the same track at the same time. Now it doesn’t matter so much how fast you go, just so long as you are ahead of all the other racers at the end. This puts the racers in direct competition against one another. You have to adjust your tactics based on what the other racers are doing in real-time. Now you’ve become a PvP player, albeit of the more casual sort, playing in battlegrounds.

If you’re still not satisfied, you might turn to a demolition derby. Now there are no rules, and anything goes. (Sort of.) Now you’re not only trying to beat the other racers, you’re trying to knock them completely out of the race by smashing their cars to bits so they can’t race again tomorrow. Now you’re a more hardcore PvP player, perhaps playing in world versus world events or structured PvP matches.

But wait, there’s more. After the apocalypse, you still need your demolition derby fix. But now there are no more laws, and nobody to enforce them even if there were any. You attach thick, bullet-proof metal plates to your car and sharp spikes to your hubs. You don’t care about competition anymore, you just want to destroy things. You drive into random neighborhoods and start ramming minivans and mopeds, tossing grenades through windows and blowing vehicles into flaming fragments, shooting at defenseless people walking by on the street. You join a gang and terrorize whole towns together. Now you’ve gone as far as you can in an MMORPG: You’ve gone into open-world, full loot PvP, and you probably play EVE or you think Ultima Online was the greatest MMO ever made.

Hrm. That metaphor works, right? Well, it’s something along those lines.

I don’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with PvE or PvP. The point is that each of those examples is a different kind of competition with different emotional risks and rewards, and they don’t all appeal to the same group of people. That’s why there isn’t just one kind of racing sport in the whole world. There’s a bunch of different ones. I’m assuming. I’m not much into racing.

Yet modern MMORPG games typically try to jam most of those styles of competition into their games, with varying degrees of success. Instead of focusing on one core style of gameplay, they divide their attention across a dozen different styles. Inevitably, something suffers, or the game changes completely when you enter different phases.

For myself, I generally don’t play MMORPGs to compete against other people. I play them to chill out, and competition has the exact opposite effect on me because I must win all the things all the time. Ahem. Honestly I don’t consider PvP in most MMOs to be a legitimate form of competition anyway, because there is almost never a level playing field on which to compete. It’s always a competition of group size. And if you’re unlucky enough to be stuck in an even 1-on-1 matchup, it’s mostly a competition of class stun abilities and gear. (I am coming from a Quake background, where everyone had the same abilities and gear and there was no crowd control except when you hit the floor at someone’s feet with a rocket and bounced them across the room, like God intended.)

Did I have a point? I’m not sure any more. I think it’s this: It takes a certain mindset to play PvP, and it is antithetical to the mindset of the typical PvE player. In my opinion, studios should develop one game for PvE, and another game entirely for PvP.

But then I’m not a game publisher trying to keep players and appease shareholders. From a business perspective, you would want all players in your game no matter how they play. So in that case I would keep them separated as much as possible. I would probably go so far as to have PvE classes separated from PvP classes, and you couldn’t go into PvE zones with a PvP character and vice versa. (Like for example at character creation you could make a “Warlock” class that can only level in PvP, or make a “Wizard” class that can only level in PvE. Something like that.)

Many other great thoughts on this topic can be found in these posts:

Co-existence of PvP and PvE

NBI Talkback, pvp-pve mixing!

Memories of PvP!

To PvP or not PvP, that is the Question

And I’m sure many more that I have missed, sorry!

2 thoughts on “PvE, PvP, and Racing”

  1. The racing metaphor worked… for the most part :P

    At least I got what you were trying to do. I wouldn’t want to play a game like you mentioned with completely separate roles/classes for pve and pvp. I don’t want to have to double the work to be able to enjoy all the facets of a game. I think that in the current crop of MMOs, the ones with battlegrounds are doing it the best, although I still think the suggestion I made about homogenized characters would make it more fair (apparently GW2 does something like this from what commentators told me). I’m watching H1Z1 intently because I think it just might do pvp the way I’d want it to be. Plus, zombies are kind of my thing (since before all of America caught up).

    Good post, thanks for the link back.

  2. Hey hey.

    I like the racing metaphor. Oddly enough I’ve always thought of toons and avatars like cars, too, and optimising one’s toon was very much like tinkering with a car and getting as much mileage and horsepower from it.

    I love PvP, both competitive ladder type PvP (Arenas/Rated BGs/SC2/Counterstrike/Halo 4), and open world PvP (EVE/Darkfall/DAOC/TESO) and there was a time where I would try to defend its merits to all and sundry whenever I read a critique of it. Nowadays I’ve been convinced by a lot of writers that they don’t really mix for the reason you state in your post above. I do wish that people criticising PvP would not mix these two types of PvP when doing their analysis, however, because I think instanced PvP is a totally different creature to open world PvP. The chief difference between these two types of PvP is the persistence of the world in which the PvP is set in. Competitive ladder PvP are discrete, instanced matches with a beginning and an end, and are therefore easy to balance. Open world PvP has more asymmetry to it because even taking out the power differential between characters (let’s assume everyone from newbies to vets have equal power and gear) there will always be differences in readiness (i.e. attacked while AFK), numbers (2v1? 3v1? Zergv1?), experience and duration played.

    But yeah, different mindsets, different appeal, different demographics.

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