Massively Overthinking: Whither went the classic PvE MMORPG?


Today’s Massively Overthinking question was sent via e-pigeon from Kickstarter donor Apollymi. No e-pigeons were hurt in the writing of this article.

“Have you heard of any MMOs that will not be PvP-oriented — by that I mean, have completely consensual PvP — that may be coming out in the near future?”

Let’s draw out Apollymi’s question a bit and talk about the PvE/PvP divide in our genre. What PvE/consensual-PvP/classic PvE games do we love, which future ones do we have our eyes on, and why is the industry so focused lately on PvP MMOs? The MOP writers are discussing all that and more in today’s entry.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I think the genre cycles through PvE and PvP. After Ultima Online’s PvP-centered foundation, the genre swung to PvE with EverQuest and Asheron’s Call, which shoved PvP onto separate shards. It took several years before PvP became real content again in Dark Age of Camelot. And the genre lurched between the two ever since, settling into the PvE-with-optional-PvP-themepark groove we’re in right now and sending non-consensual PvP to seek refuge in non-MMORPGs, especially MOBAs. Only recently have we seen a push for the return of non-consensual PvP, primarily in retro sandboxes — gankboxes — and most of those games are still in production. What we haven’t seen a lot of is truly PvE-centric sandboxes. Keep an eye on Project Gorgon, Shroud of the Avatar, and EverQuest Next. They seem to be the big hopes for this playstyle.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): I totally understand feeling like the next few years are going to be dominated by PvP releases; the big games that have yet to come out seem pretty focused on fighting other players, after all, and it seems like every new Kickstarted project is an open PvP sandbox with consequences and yadda yadda yadda, stopped listening. That’s less a statement on the nature of MMOs as a whole, though, and more a statement on the way that MMOs go through cycles of trying to bring back old mechanics.

Put simply, the focus is on having another big PvP game out because it’s been a few years since one launched and did very well, so that’s the obvious target market that is underserved. I don’t think it’s going to pan out any more than trying to serve the hardcore market panned out, mostly because they’re both fundamentally readings of niche audiences as speaking for everyone, but we’ll just see. For now, I’m quite happy with Final Fantasy XIV and its almost completely sidelined PvP; it’s there if you want it, but it’s hardly a focus.

Jef Reahard (@jefreahard): Pretty much everything is PvE-focused with optional PvP nowadays, with the exception of a few indie gankboxes and what I’m just going to call AAA indies like Camelot Unchained, Pathfinder Online, and Crowfall that are catering to a very specific PvP audience. Devs focus on PvP because a) they like it and b) it’s much cheaper to throw people onto a map and say “kill each other” than it is to create content or an actual virtual society with consequences for being an asshole. Many if not most newer titles will have opt-in PvP, though. Gorgon and Ascent: The Space Game are almost entirely PvE. Shroud of the Avatar is opt-in PvP. Star Citizen is opt-in, and the list goes on and on.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Two titles come to mind on this: Shroud of the Avatar and Project Gorgon. Both have PvP (I think!), but there’s far more of an emphasis on PvE content and reclaiming older MMO and RPG concepts. Personally, I think PvP is easier to program, since you don’t have to provide for enemy AI and you can depend on your players to provide content for each other. It’s a tempting feature to put up front and center, particularly when you’re making an MMO on a limited budget. It’s not a horrible feature to have, but it’s not quite the draw that most devs hope it is.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I feel like I’ve used this as an answer too much, but it bears repeating here: Star Wars Galaxies had the best consensual PvP system. You could participate if you wanted in the main war, and you could also personalize wars between guilds. Tailor-made, consensual PvP — what’s not to like? This simply needs to be implemented in more games! For upcoming games, I am looking forward to Shroud of the Avatar, which also gives players flexibility and freedom to choose whether they will participate in PvP or not without blockading huge chunks of gameplay behind PvP, relegating PvEers to only a partial experience. I also like that making the decision to PvP there will not only be an active one but will have consequences since you cannot change back to PvE for 48 hours! Think before you act — a favorite feature.

But to be fair, I don’t believe the MMORPG industry is focused that heavily on PvP. I think it only feels that way because of the influx of MOBAs and the fact that some games in development are showering players with news much more frequently than has happened in previous years, putting the feature at the forefront of players’ minds. Basically you are hearing a lot about PvP in games because the PvP games are speaking the loudest.

Patreon Donor Roger: I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Not sure why non-consensual PvP is still a thing, though. Probably because it’s a cheap mechanic added that turns players into content. Well, cheap to the point of the constant balancing that has to be done. To me, Star Wars Galaxies did it best when it came to PvE/consensual-PvP because of the tagging system it used and how much it made sense in their setting. In Star Wars, as long as there are Rebels, they will fight the Imperials. They had a good reason to keep fighting, and it also made sense to go covert to keep from being attacked when you didn’t want to fight because there was a third faction, neutral. As for future titles, I still look forward to Star Citizen and its PvP slider. As for the moment, there are plenty of games to enjoy that allow you to PvE at your leisure without the pressures of PvP like Guild Wars 2 and EverQuest II (my personal favorites).

Your turn!

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