How Legends of Aria is avoiding the ‘gankbox’ MMO problem

    
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leave my dagron alone

Player freedom in sandbox games is always a tricky balancing act, and developers often have to walk a very fine line to prevent their games from becoming “gankboxes.” This is the exact subject of Legends of Aria’s latest dev blog, in which Citadel Studios’s Jeffrey “Miphon” Edwards details the game’s Karma system and the difficulties of creating a system that provides players sufficient freedom — particularly in terms of criminal activity — while avoiding becoming “the dreaded ‘gankbox,’ a system which inevitably has a minority of winners and a graveyard of losers.”

According to the dev blog, one of the central facets of creating the Karma system is the notion of risk vs. reward: “With respect to risk it is imperative that players are coerced as opposed to forced out of their comfort zone. Risk can be a thrilling enterprise when engaged in willingly or a nightmare when enforced,” Edwards writes. The amount of risks a player is willing to take will likely correspond to his or her Karma level, which is divided into three alignments: Innocent, Chaotic, and Outcast. Innocent and Outcast occupy the extreme ends of the spectrum, with Innocent players “[enjoying] full protection from aggression inside the protected lands” and Outcast players being, well, outcast from civilization and hunted wherever they go.

The Chaotic alignment, however, occupies something of a grey area. These players are not completely exiled from civilization, nor do they enjoy the same degree of protection afforded to the Innocent, thus allowing them to still take part in PvP conflict “anywhere outside towns” without fully committing to a life of outlawry. For more details on Legends of Aria’s alignment and Karma system, you can check out the full post — and the accompanying feature highlight video — on the game’s official site.

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laelgon
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laelgon

I don’t have much confidence in these kind of Karma systems, they’re usually very easily gamed or circumvented altogether. Griefers will grief if given the opportunity, because some people are broken inside and find enjoyment through causing misery for others. Though with community modded servers, maybe someone will finally figure out that elusive peanut-butter and chocolate mix for a balanced sandbox experience that’s enjoyable for people who like PvP but aren’t jerks about it, and people who are more PvE oriented.

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Ardra Ventax

I don’t understand why it’s so forbidden these days to make PvP optional, either a flag or just allowing dueling. Is every dev convinced that everyone wants a Fortnite clone? Just like everyone in 2007 was convinced “everyone” wanted a WoW clone. Those who follow trends never prosper. Those who create trends do that.

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Arktouros

Flagging systems generally have given way to optional PvP zones or areas specifically designed for and revolve around PvP. So for example WvW in GW2 or Cyrodiil in ESO or Battlegrounds and Arena in WOW. This is because fundamentally PvP requires other people and by giving them a location to congregate in people who want PvP can find one another. However with optional flagging on it’s very random and can be incredibly frustrating. So simply put there’s just better ways to do optional PvP systems that games are already doing.

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Schmidt.Capela

GW2’s WvW greatly irked me. Why? Because there are blasted PvE objectives hidden inside that damned PvP map.

Thankfully the PvP is so broken, all I had to do was to wait for a week when my side was dominating the fight in an absolute way. Funny thing, how people usually only show up to fight in the very beginning, and after that only if their side is winning; it meas that about 90% of the time the server that came up in the first few hours is the only one that bothers entering the fight the rest of the week, which means I was able to complete all the supposedly PvP maps without ever having to fight another player.

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Arktouros

I didn’t even have to read the second sentence because after reading the first sentence I knew what the second was going to be.

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Bruno Brito

WvW is bad indeed, but i don’t think it’s bad because of having PvE. But because the PvP in GW2 is bad, and also because they’ve chosen to uphold terrible modes for WvW. It’s a conquest map where you backcap stuff. No one ever wins, no one really loses, only in score.

I don’t know, i wanted to see a more worldly pvp where you could actually WIN a war and dominate a faction spot. GW2 will never see that.

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Schmidt.Capela

I’m not sure most PvE players want that to even be possible, so I don’t think that is a good choice for any MMO that isn’t already centered around PvP. I for certain don’t want to ever see PvP being a potential way to enforce territory control in any map where PvE happens, and the main reason I didn’t leave GW2 over it was because, as I said, I only had to wait for a week where the other factions had given up in order to get through all the WvW PvE content without unwanted interference from other players.

BTW, from my point of view any PvP that includes meaningful PvE elements is bad. For me they are like lasagna bolognese and ice cream; I love pure PvP, I love pure PvE, but I can never stomach the two mixed together.

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Crowe

PvP developers rely on the experiences of PvP in lieu of content. Admittedly, as a person who doesn’t really care about PvP, I think it’s probably a lot easier to code for them than for us PvE content locusts. That said, I haven’t seen a good PvE game come along in several years now. I think there’s a good spot in the market for the right one. Until then, sure, it’s going to be another clone after a clone of whatever game suddenly exceeds expectations.

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NecroFox4

Asheron’s Call did it right; have a system that allows players to flag for open PvP. They show up as a different color on the minimap, non-PvP players cannot cast beneficial spells on them (and vice versa), and once they kill another player, there is a mandatory cool-off period of XX number of DAYS before the player can drop their PvP flag.

It worked really well. Those that wanted to PvP were able to do so without being affected by non-PvPrs, and those that did not want to PvP were unaffected by PvPrs.

The reason we get gankbox games, is because there are people who want open PvP free-for-alls, so that they can kill anyone they want, whenever they want, and, there are still devs out there naive enough to think that THEY are finally the devs that will curb BASE HUMAN NATURE with some new kind of “karma” mechanic. It won’t work. It never has, and it never will.

If you have open FFA PvP in your game, it will become a gankbox. The only way to stop it is to have restricted/elective PvP.

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Ardra Ventax

*applause*

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Arktouros

Asheron’s Call also had Darktide.

Complaining about these game systems when you already have a host of non-PvP games to choose from to suit your flavor of PvP needs is like complaining that Darktide existed at all and that server should have been like all the others.

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Blazing Coconut

MMOs are a terrible place to have pvp. Because if you have any sort of gear/level progression that isn’t insanely easy, then regardless of what else you put into the game you have the issue of ganking.

When one person has a huge chance to win because of their gear/levels then it’s no longer a challenge or even a game. Games usually require both parties to have some chance of succeeding.

You don’t see people typically playing chess with differing starting pieces. The game has endured because it’s a fair contest of skill. MMO pvp too often is a judgement of time and money.

If you want to solve the pvp issue you nearly have to balance the actual risk between players so that regardless of gear and levels each has a reasonable expectation of winning. However, at that point you have fortnight, or overwatch and not a MMO.

PVP games need short level curves and nearly no gear progression if they don’t want to be gankboxes.

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Schmidt.Capela

Some of the best competitive games actually implement in their very mechanics handicap systems to make the weaker players effective, and in so doing lead to a better experience to nearly everyone except for the ultra-competitive.

My favorite example is Mario Kart. There’s, of course, the Blue Shell, the most powerful single-target weapon in the game, which when fired will always seek the racer that is in first place and is very hard to avoid, but that’s only part of the story; the game also gives better power-ups the further behind the racer is.

This kind of handicap designed to hinder the best players and boost the less skilled ones is likely part of the reason the list of best selling racing games of all time is headed by four games of the Mario Kart franchise, then a Mario Kart clone from Sega, before the first regular racing game finally appears.

kjempff
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kjempff

Yeas.. But!
Only if you think of pvp as one player versus another. If you make pvp less personal targeted but as a broader kind of conflict, then pvp is suddenly not so much about who can win a deathmatch, but applying your strength towards a broader goal. Simply adding co-op mechanics in form of roles already almost makes that 1v1 power relation pointless.
I know pvp is often thought of as one player being more powerful than the other and therefore is “the winner”, but it should be looked at with a broader perspective, by players but especially developers whose job it is to avoid it becooming that..gankbox.

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Roger Melly

I doubt this karma system will stop Legends of Aria from becoming a gankbox . How can these developers be so naive .

The only real solution that I have seen that worked that stopped a game with extensive world pvp from becoming a gankbox was in the early days of World of Warcraft , offering separate clearly defined factions allowed you to tell friend from foe . It also allowed you to call on friends if you were being attacked and that led to fun skirmishes in the open world between the two sides .

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Schmidt.Capela

“Fun” in this case is really subjective. Back then I was playing WoW in a PvP realm due to the fact a few real life friends refused to play on a PvE realm, and I absolutely hated every time I got into some bit of open world PvP. I never saw anything fun or enjoyable in it.

This is part of the reason I don’t play MMOs with real life friends anymore, BTW.

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thirtymil

I also started on a PvP realm back at the start of WoW because one of our group of five thought it’d be ‘fun’. We got continuously ganked by level 60s in the Shimmering Flats and (of course) Stranglethorn Vale until everyone moved off the server.

To be fair I did have some fun – defending the Crossroads and Tarren Mill versus Southshore – but there’s a big difference between large scale battles (which I think can be entertaining) and being continuously picked on by someone you have no way to defend yourself against. One is competition, the other is harassment – but as they all get lumped in together under most PvP rulesets I just avoid the whole thing nowadays.

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Schmidt.Capela

I disliked those large battles too, as they would get in the way of playing whichever PvE content I wanted to play. So, no, I didn’t see any upside, at all, from playing in a PvP server.

Though then, of course, I would never have chosen a PvP realm in the first place if not for peer pressure.

I have one simple, but ironclad, requirement for engaging in PvP: I need to be absolutely certain everyone taking part in the fight has explicitly chosen to fight. Not the kind of inferred choice from logging on a PvP server, but explicitly chosen to participate in that specific fight. This kind of guarantee is impossible in WoW-style open world PvP, which means I will never take part in it, neither willingly (because I don’t want to help ruin the experience for someone who didn’t want to fight) nor unwillingly (my usual reaction to being attacked was to just /sit and let the opponents kill me).

BTW, IMHO inter-faction competition only serves to make the whole game worse. More so because I can’t think of a single game with faction-based PvP that implemented rewards for being the most powerful faction in a way that doesn’t feed back into faction imbalance.

oldandgrumpy
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oldandgrumpy

Another game in search of sheep, which won’t find them and will fail ultimately when the PvP’er get tired of each other.

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thirtymil

“With respect to risk it is imperative that players are coerced as opposed to forced out of their comfort zone.”

Someone needs to look up the word ‘coerced’ in the dictionary. Perhaps they meant ‘coaxed’ instead?

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Ardra Ventax

perhaps it was a Freudian slip, or a show of the cards.

kjempff
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kjempff

The notes. (Apart from the standard “I liked the Shards concept more” hehe). Well anyways, this is what we will get, and it may be ok; as always if the hands on experience rock, and the community is good then design choices become less significant.

Nothing new about this karma system, it is exactly the same as all the other karma systems, which also doesn’t work..well it works but not as any kind of significant protection for someone not interested in pvp.
The thing is, as is also apparant from the amount of “safe” land (20-25% of total world size?), that the game is not built for pve. If you are a pve player you can play, but as with every single pvp game, you also only get a quarter of the total game.
It is not a complaint, just a notice of the facts – So far no pvp game have presented a formula to deal with this, and should it ? Maybe I don’t know but, it is very obvious that all these systems based on karma, outlawing, flagging, point does not do what they are meant to.

In my opinion it is possible to please both pve and pve players, but not by systems like these because all they do is limit both kind of players.
I think the only real solution will come with dynamic worlds, and by that I mean that territories/areas need to change dynamically in terms of security, based on player actions or conquests. We can not have these static “safe” and “unsafe” areas that locks pve players out of 3/4 of the game, we need these to change over time.

There are many ways this dynamic world could be made, it could be a simple pvp conflict for control of territories (which rarely turn out well), but I would advocate for npc factions to play a role too.

The game should bridge pve and pvp players instead of making their preferences a conflict. This can be done by making these player type dependent on eachother. I can type out 10 pages of ways to achieve this inter-dependenc; Beleive me or not, it can be desiged.

The point is pvp players need pve players so the game doesn’t turn into a gank box wasteland (dead game). And pve players need that dynamic sandboxee world to keep the feeling of progression.

Did I just describe EqNext? Well lets say inspired by.

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athiev

The thing is — open-world pvp players do organically need pve players to meet their personal gameplay goals. But pve players don’t similarly need pvp players, unless they are forced to need them. The best way to address pvp-pve dynamics for pve players is strict separation. So this is really a full conflict of interests.

kjempff
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kjempff

Well sort of agree to “strict separation”, but only when it comes to the actual act of pvp.
But I think it is very beneficial for all types of players to have non-pvp interactions, and that pve players game can be enhanced by what pvp players bring (or rather the dynamics the game systems bring by allowing pvp play).
Obviously lets ignore gankers, griefers and that sort of pvp players because they are not beneficial to any game and will not be attracted to this kind of setup; essentially these types will starve themselves out (aka kill the game) when there are no easy targets left – But there are another type of pvp player, a positive one and the one that keeps pvp games alive.

What I suggested was that areas in which this separation of pvp action is separated is dynamic instead of static. This so pve players over time can rotate around the world, and also it opens up for inter-dependence for example that pve players can support conflicts indirectly (by supplying, by questing, by all the usual pve means). This of course means that pvp is not about killing some other player because that act in itself is fun or feels good, but that the pvp action has a reason (control of territory, supporting a faction or cause, or the more traditional player conflicts).

Also there is the occasional pvp’er, who will take chances in unsafe areas and also enjoy that thrill, but still mostly just want to relax and have fun with pve content. I wonder what numbers these kind of players consist of, though I think Legend of Aria developers are over estimating these and their willingness to stay in a world rather limited in pve content.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

New dev speak for PvP: risk vs. reward.

Did they all take a seminar or something?

K38FishTacos
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K38FishTacos

The outlaws will just group up and form guilds and create their own stuff, so they won’t need to go into safe areas. Isn’t that was they always do? You can’t stop a red from going red and they will always drive out the pve players. How many times have we seen it?

But isn’t this one of those games where you can have your own server (shard) and create your own rule set? So couldn’t you disable pvp if you wanted to?