The Soapbox: PvP MMOs desperately need PvE-style feedback loops

    
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The Soapbox: PvP MMOs desperately need PvE-style feedback loops

As I settled into my captain’s chair for my evening visit to World of Warships the other night, I had an interesting experience. In a game of domination (capture/hold three map points as long as possible to accumulate points), I was steaming toward a capture point in my brand-new Bismarck, supported by a pair of cruisers, when we spotted the enemy staring back at us from the far side of the point. This particular map presented a disadvantageous situation to my side, which was in open water. The enemy team’s side of the map was blessed with several islands that can be used for cover and to break our line of sight, causing us to lose contact with them periodically.

As I assessed the situation, I knew that charging into the point would cause me to be overmatched. The enemy battleship was the mighty Kremlin, a tier 10 Russian behemoth with deadly accurate cannons. She was flanked by at least two high-explosive (HE) spamming cruisers and a destroyer. As much as I like the Bismarck, at tier 8, it’s no match for a Kremlin one-on-one. When that Kremlin is supported by two island-covered HE spammers, the chances of survival are even slimmer. The term “Russian bias” is bandied about liberally within the World of Warships community, and for good reason. Russian ships, while mostly based on blueprints and not real-world counterparts, are some of the most dangerous in the game.

So, I decided to slow down and wait. Maybe one of the enemy cruisers would get impatient and make a mistake, showing me a full broadside that I could punish with strong armor-penetrating shells. As I waited, I noticed a friendly battleship approaching my stern. A Jean Bart! A boat so broken (in a good way) that Wargaming recently removed it from the armory for purchase. I throttled forward, thinking that with the support of the Jean Bart and my two cruisers, we had a better chance to push. But as I moved forward, the Jean Bart took a turn to starboard and went behind me 90 degrees. Then he kept going. Then he completely turned around, fleeing from the point.

By now, one of my supporting cruisers had been destroyed attempting to engage the enemy. I had to make a decision: push forward to certain heroic death or back out and follow the Jean Bart, perhaps regrouping with the rest of the fleet in time to roll back towards our initial objective. I chose the latter, slowly backing away to keep my thickest armor pointed towards the enemy fire. At this point, I was feeling pretty good about my performance. Yeah, I hadn’t done any damage to speak of, but I also hadn’t YOLO-ed into the point and gotten myself burned down for nothing. As I headed back toward the rest of the fleet, the Siegfried, the cruiser that had supported my side and was now heading back with me, torpedoed me. There was no enemy in sight, so the message was clear. He was upset with me.

Confused, I resorted to team chat. “Siggy, what did I do? Genuinely looking for some feedback.”

The Siegfried did not respond. In fact, Siggy decided to launch his second salvo of torpedoes toward the Jean Bart. He missed.

“Look out, JB, the Siggy is torping his teammates!” I hollered to the chat.

Still no response from the Siegfried. Lacking any other information, I was left to assume that, based on the fact that he was attacking multiple teammates, the cruiser captain was a griefer. So, I used my only recourse against such activity: I reported him for griefing.

Now, it’s not really a big deal to report someone in WoWS. By my observances, the karma system is not tied to reward or repercussion. It also does not require a detailed explanation of why somebody is being reported, so it is not a reliable feedback mechanism. In fact, I could probably write another thousand-word post on how useless the WoWS karma system is.

But to make a long story short, I died. I did eventually get burned down by the HE spammers pushing through our point because as a big, slow battleship I was the easiest one to spot and target, even as I fled. Taking a friendly torpedo from an apparent griefer certainly didn’t slow my imminent demise. I decided to spectate the remainder of the match to see if our other flank could pull off a surprise victory, but it was not meant to be. Just as the match was ending, I placed one last message in the chat: “I guess I’m not going to get any feedback, then?” It was the last message to show up in chat before the match ended.

Back at port, I was getting ready to select a ship for my next match when I was surprised by a barrage of personal messages from the captain of the Siegfried. He started off by apologizing for being a jerk. Well, really he started off by saying, “I didn’t mean to be a jerk, but…” which isn’t really an apology, I suppose. Then he admitted he was reported twice for that match. He had no way to know for certain it was me who reported him, but I’m sure sure he could probably deduce that it was the two teammates he’d torpedoed. He continued by explaining what he had expected of me as a mid-to-close range battleship with thick armor attempting to push into a capture point: He said that the Jean Bart and I were the reason our team lost (debatable) and that I needed to “play the Bismarck like a Bismarck” (a fair point that I’ll concede).

I had to fight the urge to get defensive. As explained above, I did have reasons for playing that match the way I did, and I didn’t deserve to be teamkilled by my own side even if I were a terrible player. But all things considered, I also did appreciate that he took the time to reach out and explain his side of things to me. A quick look at his stats showed that he must have known what he was talking about. His win rate was far superior to mine.

As I reflected on the exchange, it occurred to me that this was the first valuable evaluation of my play that I had received in over 2,000 random matches. Besides the sporadic salty comment in chat, I mean. That led me to another question: How are people supposed to improve in PvP-centric or competitive games like WoWS?

There seems to be ample opportunity for feedback and improvement in PvE games, as the games themselves are usually designed with a logical learning progression, as well as with mechanics that build upon one another. Every time I’ve previewed an Elder Scrolls Online dungeon tour with ZeniMax’s Mike Finnegan, he’s pointed out certain design features the team has incorporated to “get players ready” for an upcoming boss fight or puzzle mechanic. Boss fights themselves allow for self-education as they operate within a specific, somewhat predictable set of skills and maneuvers. Repetition expedites learning.

But humans are unpredictable. A game with both human allies and adversaries is exponentially unpredictable. That’s part of the appeal, I understand, but it also makes learning strengths, strategies, and weaknesses endlessly more difficult. How do I know that the destroyer who just pushed into the point and sat in a smokescreen was making a mistake if he actually gets away with it and captures the point in the process? How am I to deduce that the Bismarck who pushed deep into the enemy flank and got burned down was actually playing the way he was supposed to but ended up at the bottom of the sea because his/her cruisers failed to support the advance? On the surface, one of these looks like a good move and one looks like a mistake when in reality they are reversed. I wouldn’t describe WoWS’ learning curve as especially steep. It’s more like a long, gradual climb that can take months, even years, to ascend.

I’ve read all of the Reddit suggestions. I watch the YouTube videos and streamers. The problem is, those content creators, while they try to explain their thought process in some cases, do so many little things that the casual player won’t notice. For them, checking the minimap and understanding the capabilities of the opposing ships is like checking the rearview mirrors for longtime drivers. It happens without forethought, and to point it out to a student driver every time it happens wouldn’t even occur to the experienced driver. So, while some tips can be garnered from online sources, the only way I’ve found to get better is to simply play the game, over and over and over. It certainly takes a lot of work, dedication, and in some cases, thick skin to get to a point in this type of game where your contributions are felt.

I don’t know what the best answer is, but I know that PvP MMOs desperately need PvE-style feedback loops of some form or another. For WoWS, I’ll probably continue down my current path, ingesting online content as much as possible and attempting to carry any lessons from my play sessions forward. It’s become obvious that the game itself does not provide any tools to speak of that focus on player improvement. So, to those teammates who I irritate along the way, please go easy on me, perhaps provide some constructive tidbits, and I’ll do my best to continue to improve. But please, keep your torpedoes in their tubes!

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!

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Vaeris
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Vaeris

Yup, I’ve seen this too in WoWS. You wouldn’t need a thousand words to define the karma system. Useless sums it up. You can get negative dinged for blowing up an enemy and the enemy guy being salty about dying.

Add to this there really isn’t much time to talk while the match is going because you should be, well, playing. You can get into the chat in the lobby and ask questions but that is hit or miss too. Best recourse to “get better” is to go to Youtube and watch videos.

Of course you “getting better” would not have done a thing about that JB being ditching you and the 2 cruisers. He was a for leaving you guys. At the end of the day you can’t do much about players that are just bad or that don’t look at their minimap, count ships and understand the flow of the battle.

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Sykes

Age of Empires 2 does this really well, actually. They have remade the game twice now (2013 and 2019). In the last remake, they took to the community and created a series of single player scenarios that rated players and provided feedback on critical early game moves based on how pvpers played over the last 20 years. They have worked with casters to create esports events with commentary on the intricacies of high level play that most players miss (such as pointing out how top players delete their own catapults just before they will be destroyed after projectiles launch when attacking other catapults uphill, as the projectile loses the uphill disadvantage if it’s source unit is destroyed). They also created a ranking system with better matchmaking that allowed similarly skilled players to play each other, but doesn’t take effect until after 10 random matches to variously skilled players evaluates your performance on a number of in game metrics. The community also makes their own custom scenario tutorials that prompt new players with when to create villagers and shift macro resource collections for current meta build orders based on what you want to be able to produce in numbers in the mid game, along with common team combinations that can be successful in PVE. Temporary achievements earn permeant cosmetic unlocks, and the requirements for some of these can be adjusted by the balance team in an attempt to get mid-range players who are missing a better element of play to improve. There are also options and achievements for unbalanced play – beating 3 human players in a 3v1 match, for example, that encourages grouping naturally allowing new players to cooperate with more experienced lower ranked players while having a save game to review with a mid-tier player’s opening.

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Schlag Sweetleaf
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Rndomuser

How are people supposed to improve in PvP-centric or competitive games like WoWS?

You just play more and learn over time the strengths and weaknesses of each unit and how to use your weapons and how to efficiently move and other things like the positioning. I do not play World of Warships but I play World of Tanks, which is similar, and this is how I learned.

Not sure what “PvE-style feedback loops” you are talking about. Do you want a training mode like a map where you can practice with bots? If yes – I do agree that this may be helpful, but it will only be helpful to learn things like the damage when you hit certain areas with certain weapons at certain distance or how to avoid or maximize it. It will not help with things like knowing when to move towards specific area or when to help some teammate or when to retreat even if your teammate might be rushing certain area or which teammate it is more beneficial to help, it all depends on unpredictable behavior of your teammates and other players. You can only observe the behavior of your teammates and dynamically adjust to them and to overall situation, which is always unpredictable when you play with live players. The only thing you can do to decrease such unpredictability is find a good group of players to play with.

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Arktouros

Feedback in competitive gaming is a complex and difficult topic with many factors pulling in different directions and nothing short of a novella of articles could even hope to address it fully.

People generally handle the stress from competition very poorly. This manifests itself in ways people have come to refer to as “toxic” such as attacking fellow players. However that same stress can leave people more sensitive to criticism even when it’s constructive and good natured. Therefore it’s prudent to have a degree of caution when discussing another player’s performance because you have no idea how they will take it especially mid match.

The other inherent problem is people in my experience generally have an external locus of control when it comes to trying to understand scenarios. The ships we were facing are overpowered. My teammates didn’t play the way they should have played. This map gave the enemy an unfair advantage. They are too sweaty and playing this game way too seriously. All of that may be perfectly true but acknowledging it doesn’t lead to self improvement but more importantly to my point it is a poor basis for constructive criticism by your fellow teammates on how to improve.

It is only by looking at your own actions and behavior and seeing what you could do differently that you can find self improvement. This is not an easy thing and if you struggle with or can’t do this then I think that’s pretty understandable. There’s a reason why professional athletes go through hours of video studying their own performance with coaches and other objective observers trying to improve themselves. However such personal attention is unlikely, and not without cost generally, and not something the average gamer is going to need or even want.

So counting on feedback from the general public in games is largely a non-starter for a variety of reasons. As always “the best answer” is finding a group of like minded individuals who you can all provide feedback, discuss what happened, and improve yourselves. Personally I have never really found this as I tend to be very direct and objective about my own failings and the failings of others and that tends to put me too hostile for “nice” groups and too weak for “toxic” groups.

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wratts

It’s an interesting thought exercise about what those feedback loops would look like. I’d think that if you could adapt the challenges systems (I don’t know that WOWS actually has one) so that instead of something generic like “do x damage” or “revive y players” it was actually something role specific that represented good play you might be able to use the existing carrots.

I wonder if it’s possible with machine learning AI to have monitoring programs that identify positive play behaviors and sort of real time make a judgement that “this player deserves a cookie”, or if there would be better ways to get those feedback loops integrated without relying on similarly ignorant players too much

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Dean Dean

You almost figured out that grouping with random asshats is detrimental to your growth as a player.

Almost.

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

Completely agree. I’m having this issue in Star Citizen where I never get attacked in my Saber or Warden (combat ships), but get attacked frequently in my Prospector (mining ship). These people don’t want a PvP game because they don’t want to attack equally equipped players. They want a gank box where they can go after people who can’t defend themselves and CIG is happy to oblige. It boggles my mind that in 2020 game makers are still catering to the proclivities of school yard bullies. These very bright devs are happy to make games for people who want to have fun at other’s expense.

I think we should just have naming conventions to separate these things. Like tags for games on the Steam store, just call these games and MMOs gankboxes. Save PvP for games where everything is competitive multiplayer.

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Arktouros

At some point people are going to have to realize that people in PvP games aren’t looking for this antiquated, 1200’s-height-of-chivarly duel to the death for honor and glory.

Attacking you in a combat ship is dumb because you’re prepared for combat. It’s risk for what amounts to potentially very little reward depending on the cost. Attacking you in a mining ship is smart because there’s very little risk and a big reward. Like this is extremely basic tactics 101 that you don’t exactly need West Point training for.

People who are interested in equal competition tend to fall into games like CS:GO and not MMO games where any kind of progression will create inherent inequality.

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laelgon

Where does that get fun though? Eventually you gank enough loot pinatas that you have near infinite resources, and the game turns into a glorified deathmatch between the handful of players that all ground their way to the top and stuck around. Only the barrier to participate in the deathmatch is now so high that it prevents other people from even bothering to start playing.

There’s obviously some aspect of steamrolling weaker players that I need to like in order to properly enjoy a sandbox MMO, I just don’t get it, but I wish I did.

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Arktouros

Fun is such a subjective idea I am not really sure how to respond to that.

If your game design creates a barrier to participate for newer players then that’s a huge failure of game design. Every game will always want a constant influx of new and returning players and making it so people can’t be competitive in a competitive game just isn’t going to work. For example in the scenario you present even if people are overstocked with materials the game should be designed in such a way they can’t bring all those materials to bear. This would instead give them an endurance advantage (as they can weather losses due to deeper reserves) but not necessarily a combat advantage.

I don’t think it’s inherently obvious as the success of PvP games like Albion Online with rather generous PvP protection for it’s newer players.

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Schmidt.Capela

People who are interested in equal competition tend to fall into games like CS:GO and not MMO games where any kind of progression will create inherent inequality.

Exactly why I only play MMOs where I can completely opt out of PvP (without being handicapped or being locked out of any PvE content or rewards) and play PvP in pure, matchmaking-based PvP games.

I find one-sided fights to simply not be fun, even when I’m the one with the advantage; for example, successfully ambushing my opponents effectively prevents me from enjoying the fight. Thus, I can only ever find fun in PvP when it conforms to the “antiquated, 1200’s-height-of-chivarly duel to the death for honor and glory”, making any PvP game that doesn’t follow that completely worthless for me.

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Rndomuser

CIG is “happy to oblige” because PvP is a more popular gameplay type, this is a fact which you can confirm with multiple sources, from Steam Charts to WoW Classic server population (sort by player and see which type of servers are most populated). That, of course, does not mean that the other type of players should be neglected, everybody should enjoy doing their favorite activity, even if they are like you who dislike any kind of danger, be it either from player or from AI enemy (which can be programmed to behave exactly like other players, for example to attack only less powerful or defenseless players). Every MMORPG need “safe” areas where people can mine or grind some crafting resources, as well as “dangerous” areas where they can be attacked by players or AI at any time.

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angrakhan

I think the “I want PvE only” folks are missing a key point when it comes to mining in Star Citizen. I’ll attempt to make that point here and maybe someone will have the same “ah ha” moment I did.

Every activity in SC is based on risk/reward.

With PvP (in the “verse” not Arena Commander) you’re taking on risking losing your ship (which currently isn’t a huge deal really) and earning a pretty big crime stat for what? Payoff of some sort. That’s either going to be getting someone’s cargo or I suppose in the case of griefers the satisfaction of ruining someone’s day. In the future it will probably include potentially boarding and stealing their actual ship although I haven’t seem much movement on the development of boarding actions lately.

Ok, so why can’t you just go off and mine quietly by yourself in SC?

It’s because mining is BY FAR the most profitable activity in the game right now. I mean it’s silly profit per hour for basically no risk other than players. There’s no PvE mobs that attack you. The activity itself isn’t illegal so there’s no crime stat to worry with. It’s just pure sick profit. There’s guys in my corp that discuss mining. Its their thing. Some guys pull down 70-100k in a single run. Pulling in millions per weeks is totally doable. My corp has several Orions in our fleet and plenty of folks like myself with the full gambit of combat ships for escort. Guess what we’ll be doing once the Orion ship is flyable?

Personally I like to do PvE bounty and merc missions. They pay peanuts in comparison and I’m taking on a known combat situation missions. Unfortunately, they’re currently buggy as hell and half of them can’t be completed because the target ship becomes invulnerable or doesn’t spawn or something stupid like that.

Why can’t you just run off and mine in complete safety? It’s because CIG isn’t going to give you a max reward/no risk activity ever. Not in this game. Hopefully that clears things up for someone.

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Schmidt.Capela

from Steam Charts

If you actually look at the kind of PvP for the top 25 games:
– #1, 2, 9, 12, and 18 are lobby- and matchmaking-based team PvP games. Not really much in common with MMO PvP, as fights are meant to be balanced and any advantage obtained during the match is erased as soon as it ends.
– #3 is a Battle Royale game, which also doesn’t have much in common with MMO PvP for the same reasons.
– #4 and 11 are small scale, MMO-lite PvP games (assuming most people play GTAV for the online mode). And, incidentally, in both you can exploit how matchmaking works to force a “server” to only have you and your friends, turning the game into a PvE experience (which, from my point of view, make them far more pleasant).
– #5, 8, 10, 17, 19, 20, 21, 23, and 24 are mainly or exclusively single-player games, a couple of which have some kind of duel mode.
– #6, 13, 14, 15, 22, and 25 are mainly co-op multiplayer games.
– #7 and 16 are survival games with both PvP and PvE server options.

Edit: the top 25 list as I post this:
1. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
2. Dota 2
3. PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS
4. Grand Theft Auto V
5. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
6. Destiny 2
7. ARK: Survival Evolved
8. Football Manager 2020
9. Team Fortress 2
10. Terraria
11. Sea of Thieves
12. Dead by Daylight
13. Warframe
14. Path of Exile
15. MONSTER HUNTER: WORLD
16. Rust
17. Wallpaper Engine
18. Rocket League
19. Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
20. Garry’s Mod
21. NBA 2K20
22. PAYDAY 2
23. Total War: WARHAMMER II
24. Euro Truck Simulator 2
25. Don’t Starve Together

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Rndomuser

The kind of PvP is irrelevant, only fact that most people who enjoy playing multiplayer video games enjoy playing PvP mode is relevant. Which is true regardless if it is a CS:GO or WoW Classic where the “locked” servers with highest population are all PvP.

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Schmidt.Capela

The kind of PvP is very relevant because many people who enjoy lobby- and matchmaking-based PvP won’t ever touch the kind of open-world PvP that certain MMOs (including Star Citizen) offer. They are different audiences.

I’m an example of that way of thinking. I love pure PvP games where you fight other players in short, balanced matches — but I flat out refuse to even try any MMO where I can’t completely opt out of PvP while keeping access to absolutely every single piece of PvE content or reward.

The same distinction is also true for PvE, mind. Different PvE activities often have little to do with one another, and attract a very different audience, despite being all labeled as PvE.

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Rndomuser

many people who enjoy lobby- and matchmaking-based PvP won’t ever touch the kind of open-world PvP that certain MMOs (including Star Citizen) offer. They are different audiences.

How many? And where did you get such statistics?

I could also tell that some of my friends like games such as WoW Classic’s PvP servers and EVE Online as well as FPS games such as TF2, CoD:MW and Fortnite, which would be true, and even I myself enjoy playing all of those as well as variety of other multiplayer games, however my own preferences are not statistically relevant, nor are the preferences of my friends. So I do not use them. And only use what is relevant – a statistics which can be easily verifiable.

I understand the point you are trying to make, it is true that some people may like specific type of PvP and some may like another type, as well as PvE types, however overall the majority of multiplayer video game players prefer the PvP over PvE, this was the point in my original comment. This is why some game developers focus on it, though some focus too much, which makes the other parts less attractive for people who prefer different type of gameplay, especially people who want to avoid specific type of gameplay while enjoying the other type.