Fight or Kite: 2010-2019, the decade when PvP boomed and MMOs languished

    
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The end of the decade is upon us. Many are now reflecting on how our lives have changed over the past 10 years. We’ve graduated high school, graduated college, and possibly entered the workforce as adults. Some have been married, been separated, or even built little, tiny, miniature versions of ourselves. Knowing full well that none of us will ever see another year ending in a “–teen,” let’s talk about what really matters – video games!

This past decade we’ve seen video games truly come into the mainstream in a way gamers of yore never even dreamed of. We started the decade strong with video game movies like Prince of Persia (everyone sits down by the fire for their annual Prince of Persia viewing, right?) and ended with hype dances a-plenty. And yet, there isn’t a single, shining example of the excellence of PvP in a MMO in pop culture.

We’ve seen some amazing innovations in terms of bringing PvP to the forefront of gaming – battle royales being only the most recent flavor-of-the-month. But our MMOs continue to struggle with the same concepts and game designs we began with.

Success?

Esports grew into a legitimate industry

In 2010, the concept of true esports on a large scale was still a novel one. Of course, gamers have been competing since the dawn of the industry. And sure, we had many gaming tournaments before we called them esports. But it was nothing compared to what we have now. Students can actually earn scholarships to represent their school esports team – crazy. If you’d told me back in 2009 that kids (ahem, young adults) are going to earn scholarships for playing video games in the near future, I would have several choice words for you that I can’t impart here.

Esports and gaming have been a defining element of this decade. While Counter-Strike and Quake and StarCraft and plenty of other games had prized tournaments before that – all the way back to 1972, as a matter of fact – we can’t debate that it was only in the last 10 years that it has truly taken off and permeated the mainstream. League of Legends’ first world championship tournament took place in July of 2011. Since then, the number of games and their popularity has skyrocketed.

Developers began to create compelling games that were not only enjoyable to play but also fun to watch. It was only a matter of time before one of those games hit just the right level of difficulty, visual appeal, and business model to become a cultural phenomenon.

Fortnite Fortnite FORTNITE!

Look, I swear it up and down. I’ve never played Fortnite. As if its societal impact weren’t evident enough, it continues to seep into my gaming column in spite of me. As much as I might want to glaze over the fact that this is a game, that it does have PvP, and that it is somewhat “massively,” I simply cannot ignore that it is a huge crescendo at the end of this decade in PvP gaming.

You could say that everything up to now was leading up to a game like Fortnite. But the fact is, Epic Games innovated and tried something a little new. It used lessons learned from other games and combat simulators, like PUBG before it. It added its own spin and style (and – ahem- considerable marketing power), and clearly what we got resonated with a lot of people.

So we need to ask ourselves: Where is the innovation in the MMO space, and why is it that we continue to see game after game being developed with the same concepts in mind – only with a shiny new veneer?

PvP-focused MMOs haven’t really changed at all

The PvP MMOs on the horizon (a horizon that appears to be never-ending) nearly all have the same playbook: large-scale battles in a destructible sandbox PvP environment, keep and territory defense, crafting and trade, and guild-oriented systems. It’s PvP alphabet soup. Everyone claims to be building games with all the pieces in there, but nobody ever bothers to figure out why or how those pieces should fit together. Or whether they even need to be in there in the first place! I don’t need a letter “c”; I already have the “s” and “k.” Better yet, “c” represents the “ch” sound now. English just got easier.

I know I’m going to get some heat from my guildies and many of you, but the truth is ugly. It isn’t so much that PvP MMOs are disappearing; it’s that we don’t see them innovating the way other games are. That PvP soup above – it’s exactly the same as it was ten years ago. Hell, that’s probably the same concepts Richard Garriott laid out when designing the original Ultima Online 20 years ago, although likely now with far less idealism and faith in the inherent goodness of players. So what are we doing?

Graphics and infrastructure have gotten a lot better, but the struggles remain the same.

The next decade of PvP

I don’t know what the games I’ll be playing in 2030 will look like. I know I’ll still be playing some form of MMO. We see the line between traditional and massively multiplayer continue to blur. It reached the point that Old Massively and MassivelyOP couldn’t even fit all the games into one bucket or the other, and so the not-so-massively genre was born. Perhaps by then there won’t be a line at all.

And yet I’m not sure how my PvP MMOs will get there. Will we finally achieve true large-scale hundreds-vs.-hundreds and thousands-vs.-thousands battles, and more importantly, will our hardware be able to handle it without rendering us all as slow-mo dots? Camelot Unchained is trying its damnedest; so are EVE Online, Dual Universe, and Ashes of Creation. And even if it is achieved, will those games have enough meat around them to make them fun and successful enough to bring in the gamers eager to play them? We need developers to not only push the limits of technology and what they want these battles to look like but find a way to make those games feasible and fun.

And I know fun is completely subjective, but look at all the games that have tried it. Warhammer Online, Guild Wars 2’s WvW, and all the RvR games of the past – we can’t seem to prevent combat at that scale from devolving into zergfests. Sure, it is fun in its own way, but not on the level we as PvP players want and deserve. We can’t create battles over territory that doesn’t result in a silly game of taking turns. When we get close to something meaningful, players leave or jump all into the winning faction. It isn’t fun to lose all the time, nor is it fun to have no one to fight.

Crowfall originally sold me on its campaign-style gameplay. It sounded like a really innovative and unique concept being brought into the MMO space. But in practice, does the game play out that way? Will it at launch when it’s contending with more than just loyal testers? Or is it just a new coat of paint on that same old sandbox RvR game? Only time will tell.

What did you think were some of the standout moments in PvP this past decade? I’ve mostly focused on the rise of esports and the idea that innovation led there, but what do you think? Do you think the future of PvP MMOs is already out there somewhere, or is there something no one has even thought of yet that will rise to the top? Maybe MMOs don’t even have PvP in the future. How about that?

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!
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kjempff
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kjempff

Well first I would like to point out that every new “mmo” is pvp based. At least I struggle to think of anything new that resembles a “real mmo” is pve based.
As a pve player who has zero interest in fighting other people for the sake of the fight itself, I am probably not qualified to have an opinion, but here it is anyway.
Pvp as it is in current games does not match with a mmo (mmo world), because it is almost purely based on combat itself as the carrying gameplay.
This is why we see all these arena pvp games, they just skip all the filler part, the mmo world, and give you the pvp combat.
If pvp should fit into a mmo world, the thinking about pvp as mainly combat, has to go away, and be replaced to more interesting conceps. Actually pvp should not be what the game is about, pvp should be just one part of the mmo world. Actual pvp should not be about killing players, it should be about conflicts between factions in the world, NOT conflict between players in the world directly. EqNext had the right idea, with multiple ways of supporting and directing conflicts in the mmo world, while actual pvp combat would just be one of those ways, not the dominating way.
Virtual world with conflict, not pvp combat with a mmo setting.

BodeanG
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BodeanG

I’ve always wondered if an open world, mega server game would work if you had to choose PvP or PvE at character creation? Once you chose, everything within the game associated with that character is based on your Choice. If you choose PvE and you get to build a base it can only be used as PvE. No character that was designed for PvP on your account could ever use it as a base, etc. .

To me this seems so simple. No flagging mechanic. No combat griefing (splash damage/friendly fire won’t work unless you are all PvP characters.). Interaction in PvE can still happen. Trades, grouping and the like. Just no killing of a designated PvE player. This way a large community could co-exist.

/shrug I’m not very devious so I’m sure someone can find the holes in this theory, or ways to grief anyways.

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Zero_1_Zerum

I’m a PVE player, I never, ever, PVP.
I don’t have the time, or the inclination, to fight other players in a video game. So, I avoid every game that makes PVE players content for PVP players. I shouldn’t have to get ganked when I’m trying to enjoy a game. But, people who enjoy PVP shouldn’t be too limited by having PVE in the same game.

For example, ESO turned Cyrodill into a PVP zone. I never go to Cyrodill, so I’ll never be able to 100% the story of the game. PVP players are limited to Cyrodill, while PVE players who want to avoid them can’t ever go there.

I would hope the future that PVP and PVE players can coexist in the same game, without one play style being limited or favored over the other. What if the entire world was open to both, PVE players able to mind their own business and ignore the PVP players without being killed, while PVP players can run around and murder each other to their heart’s content?

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Arktouros

There’s two general issues with this.

So what ends up happening a lot of times is majority of people will flag off for PvE so they can power up for PvP and only flag for PvP when they have an advantage (or feel they have an advantage). This isn’t because PvPers are wolves looking for sheep to prey on or any other nonsensical claims but rather because tactically speaking it’s smart. Vast majority of players play PvP games to win at any cost even at their own detriment. If you can flip a switch and all the danger, all the potential risk evaporates and you’re free to farm or build up for when you turn PvP on. So the spontaneous PvP that makes a PvP environment so compelling dies out. You can see this in action in World of Warcraft, where it’s possible to flag up for PvP on PvE servers but you literally see no one do it outside of scenarios where they know (or think) they’ll be at an advantage.

There’s also really no way not to favor PvE or PvP simply because of time/resource limitations. While many people think PvP systems are a developer cop-out so they don’t have to design PvE content the fact is PvP systems require constant tweaking and adjustments. Competitive PvP players are always looking for any advantage they can get and will exploit, take advantage and come up with the most craziest things possible. Developers have to be constantly on top of this adjusting things, disabling mechanics, and rebalancing the game in a PvP environment or it just dies out. Players dying off in a PvP environment is super critical because, well obviously, the less players is the less content your PvP game has. A great example of this was Warhammer Age of Reckoning when Mythic just let Bright Wizards stack their AOEs turning them into instant AOE kill fields our alliance went from like 900 people to under 100 over the months it took them to finally address the issue.

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Anstalt

Can’t really comment much on PvP in general. The only PvP I do is in MMOs (and I haven’t done more than test MMOs since early 2013) or split screen. Standard multiplayer PvP is just not my cup of tea, fighting randoms isn’t for me at all.

PvP in MMOs?

It’s been a bad decade. First, the increasing demand for higher graphics has meant a reduction in scale for the PvP, thus removing the main unique selling point of the genre. But, there also just hasn’t been many MMOs released in that time.

However, the main barrier to PvP success is in the core design. You cannot have a stable long term PvP community of any size if you base your game around vertical progression. Just not possible. The very design of the game means fresh meat has a terrible time. And like you say: losing sucks, so the fresh meat doesn’t stick around, the PvP community dwindles to a tiny die-hard fanbase, and the devs stop spending money developing the PvP.

The next decade?

I still think it’s going to mostly suck for MMO PvP. But, I think the next decade is going to set us up for the future.

I think Camelot Unchained is going to provide “proof of concept” for large scale concept. This will be the first MMORPG specifically designed for massively multiplayer. Sounds strange, but no other MMO designs for it, they just hack the engine until it can cope with slightly larger than average numbers. CU will show it’s possible, inspiring others to follow suit, leading to a creative explosion in the way we approach large scale PvP.

Following from CU, I expect the most innovation to come in the form of group formations and communication tools. This is what is needed to get past the zerg and into organised, interesting, tactical battles.

Crowfall should be providing “proof of concept” for medium duration campaigns. Part of the problem with MMO PvP is simply staleness – fighting over the same territory does get boring, but the MMO crowd (myself included) is attached to persistent worlds.

Following from CF, I expect/hope it to inspire the first generation of MMO battlegrounds. Log in, select your character, then jump into a 100v100v100 battleground for 30 minutes, using typical MMO combat and horiztonal progression but without a permanent world or RPG stuff.

New World will hopefully provide the proof of concept for MMOs outside of the RPG genre. I believe New World will be the first survival MMO ever, so if it performs well then other devs will be tempted to turn their standard multiplayer games into massively multiplayer games.

Sandboxes will still be screwed. I think some indie sandboxes may help give us new ways of designing a sandbox, which is always good. But, I’ve not seen any evidence of them trying to solve the two fundamental problems with sandboxes. The first is accessibility. Sandboxes have never been well explained or accessible to the masses, which is why most people quit. The second is that sandboxes require you to set your own goals, and most humans are quite bad at self-motivation. No sandbox has ever even hinted at trying to help with this psychological block.

I also think that until MMO PvP starts going back towards multiple different combat mechanics (i.e. not just twitch games), it will continue to cut itself in half. I understand why some people love twitch gameplay, but currently that seems to be all that gets developed. For people like me, I want something more mentally stimulating. I don’t want my muscle memory being challenged, I want my brain to be challenged. The shallowness of current twitch mechanics means I’m bored so quickly that you’ll never retain me as a customer. Keep the shallow twitch combat for those who prefer it, but please start developing games with more combat depth for the rest of us too.

Final thought: if I ever get round to designing/building my virtual reality exo-skeleton, I’ll revolutionise PvP (and help us all get fit at the same time :P ). however, im pretty lazy so this probably won’t happen

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flamethekid .

the problem with pvp in 2010 – 2019 is that it was mostly a second thought and was just shoved in as a side factor.

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Arktouros

I know I’m going to get some heat from my guildies and many of you, but the truth is ugly. It isn’t so much that PvP MMOs are disappearing; it’s that we don’t see them innovating the way other games are.

As predicted, this is the part I disagree with.

The idea that MMOs are innovating really baffles me because I haven’t seen much if any innovation come out of the MMO space regardless what kind of game it is in a really long time. The only game I can honestly say feels like it’s trying to innovate is maybe Black Desert with some really off the wall play styles (I certainly never expected there to be a game where it’s viable to be a full time sailor on the high seas peacefully trading goods). Even games like GW2 which launched full of new bright ideas fell into the standard dungeon/raid release (“more content plz”) end game cycle.

The part I do agree with many PvP games are just re-hashes of past titles (LOA = UO managed by idiots or Camelot Unchained literally being run by the guy who made Dark Age of Camelot). It’s full of developers with bad ideas who don’t understand the three pillars of what makes a strong PvP environment. You have to give people a reason not to murder everyone without thought. You have to give players a way to recover when they die. You have to give people a win objective before crushing the enemy so thoroughly that they quit.

As to the future most games aren’t addressing those issues and the only one I see even discussing those issues is Crowfall. Their campaign system gives a win condition. The ample sources of crafting materials in and out of a campaign gives players a way to recover. Their unique order-balance-chaos mechanic addresses the intrinsic faults of 3 way faction PvP. These are by far from perfect, but they’re at least attempting to address issues that lead to the common criticisms you see out of the PvE crowd anytime PvP comes up.

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Baemir

People like SpawN and fatal1ty must be a little pissed about the immense growth of the scene after their glory days were already over. Talk about being born in the wrong time. f0rest didn’t miss out though, he only quit this year at 31yo.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

MMO’s are hardly “languishing”. They’re more popular than ever. More of them exist than ever, more people are playing them than ever, more money is being earned by them than ever.

So that aside, if what you’re talking about is no big new innovations, Battle Royale is basically Team Deathmatch from many years ago. PvP didn’t have any big new innovations either. They got some interesting games that people liked to play and watch but no real new innovation.

Battle Royale grew more because it’s more fun to watch than watching people play MMORPGs. MMORPGs are your own little experience. It’s your own choices and story and it’s not very fun to watch other people play them. PvP games are sort of like watching sports. They set everybody up as equal and so the fights end up being based on skill, they’re fast moving and many matches can happen in a row. We had some amazingly skilled players come along with the rise of Twitch viewership and Fortnite that all caused this synergy and made others want to play the games they were watching.

They’re actually a bit amusing to view people play, especially people who are good at them, and they’re easy enough to get into that anybody can jump in and try them out.

The Battle Royale growth in popularity was because of many different things coming together at the same time but great innovation was not a part of it. They are basically the same deathmatch games that they have been from the beginning.

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PanagiotisLial1

I see Battle Royales as team Arena mode chopped down from major mmorpgs that had team play and MOBAs as chopped down battlegrounds mode from mmorpgs. It was nicer while they existed within a mmorpg to my opinion.