Massively Overthinking: Should PvP MMOs offer PvE servers?


Last week, we covered the revelation that Corepunk is considering adding PvE servers to roster, and I have to say I didn’t see it coming. Usually, adding a completely different mode midway through development demands. But in this case, Corepunk’s a bit of an old-school open world combat setting, and the game as originally planned wasn’t so much a PvP-centered MMO as an MMO that happened to have FFA PvP toggled on. Toggling it off will likely not require the kind of additional intense guided PvE content that, say, New World suddenly needed when it switched up its template, and there would still be consensual PvP in things like battlegrounds.

A lot of our commenters (and Redditors too, I’ll note) took to the idea immediately, making me wonder why they just didn’t plan for both communities to begin with. Let’s hash it out in this week’s Overthinking: Should PvP MMOs offer PvE servers?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I think it really depends on the game. On the one hand, I feel PvP is actually fairly niche, and if every PvP game were to just have a single PvE server, they might find that said PvE server would become over crowded, maybe even requiring another PvE server down the road. I’d also worry that balancing for PvE content might then become more of a priority. It’s one thing for a AAA game company to tackle this, but if the product’s already niche and the team has a specific ideal, attracting a more mainstream audience may threaten the game’s original vision and push the developers to follow the money instead.

This is actually kind of the inverse of Fortnite, which started as a PvE tower defense kind of game that tacked on PvP, and PvP clearly took over.

On the other hand, though, it also keeps the servers up. I’m not sure what the Save the World population is these days, and I recall people feeling like the BR mode took resources away from it, but at least it’s still online. The same can’t be said for Worlds Adrift, which added PvE post-launch and still died.

One thing that I think might make things better would be if developers paid more attention to the genres they develop for. I’ve said this in the comments section before, but there are times where devs mention a feature, we question how that’s different from games X, Y, and Z, and the developers clearly didn’t know their feature’s already been tried several times before. No one can know the future, but if you don’t know how past attempts failed, it’s hard to avoid repeating them. PvP MMOs often could have separate PvE servers, but the team would really need to consider what that would mean and if it’s something they can tackle. Likewise, the PvE players will also have to recall that, oddly, they’ll be choosing to be the “weird” ones (at least initially), which in and of itself could be offputting.

Andy McAdams: I think it’s a false binary. If we waffle between the dystopian slaughterfest FFA PvP and the ultimate carebear no-one-can-actually-test-their-skills-against-another-person, we’ll end up with this same nonsensical dynamic. Early MMOs didn’t make distinctions between PvP and PvE content; it was just “the world.” A game can absolutely have a robust PvP scene and a robust PvE scene. Where I think developers fall down is in thinking that “robust PvP scene” is the same as “no holds barred, zero consequences, git gud or gfto PvP.” Create a combination of instanced PVP and create an actual system of consequences for open-world PvP, complete with 100% safe spots, and developers would find that the distinction between PvP and PvE isn’t the gulf of difference they think it is.

But I can’t think of a single successful full-on gankbox. They probably exist, but it’s not prominent enough in the zeitgeist for me to remember. Doesn’t stop developers from thinking that this time their FFA gankbox with some half-assed lore and a new coat of paint will somehow be “The Game.” That in and of itself should be enough to show that pure FFA PvP isn’t a successful model at scale.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I’d just as soon MMOs stop trying to do both PvP and PvE. It makes for much more difficult balancing decisions and a divided playerbase. Just pick one. As the great prophet Ron Swanson once said: “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I probably gave away my opinion too easily in the intro. Obviously you can’t just take PvP away from a game that is intentionally designed with nothing but PvP since there’s nothing left to do without it, whether there’s actual PvP content or “the players are the content.” But that actually describes precious few MMORPGs; even most gankbox MMOs have some sort of PvE or PvM content in them, just as Ultima Online did 24 years ago. I don’t see the harm in creating a PvE server to attract players who are interested in your world but aren’t interested in being someone else’s target. I understand the fear of “splitting” a playerbase, but those PvE-only players weren’t going to play your gankbox anyway, not in 2021. There’s really not a whole lot for a studio to lose here.

Also, as our resident econ PvPer, I have to point out that almost every game you already think of as a PvE MMO has econ PvP in it, and the same would be true of a “PvE” server for a “PvP” MMO. It’s the gateway drug.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): Sure! I’m all right with adding PvE servers in mainly games with open PvP. It gets people into the game; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if the devs focus on the PvP while the PvE servers becomes a mess of overcrowded grindspots.

I’m probably biased, but when open PvP is part if the game, then I think the PvE players are missing out on a big part of the game.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’m kind of parroting a lot of others’ impressions here into my own opinion chimera. With that in mind, and speaking as a fluffy, downy, huggable sheep that’s just so ripe and juicy for PvP slaughter… no, I don’t want PvE servers in a PvP-built game.

To be fair, if you’re going to do both, as others have said, designing both as their own entities with research and lessons learned from previously released games would be awesome. Merging the two and forcing them to coexist just doesn’t seem to work out, especially since PvP players and PvE players have extremely specific needs.

Take the case of Sea of Thieves: That game’s separate Arena mode has halted all development updates, while the game’s Adventure mode has been steadily adding on more and more PvE-minded gameplay loops — in this example, a PvE server would make so much sense. However, a game like Albion Online would probably be the most boring PvE MMORPG experience imaginable since the vast majority of its design is focused on both organized and small-scale/random encounter PvPing.

Basically, I’m unconvinced that anyone can make PvE and PvP hold hands, so forcing a PvE server into a PvP-minded game is just not really going to work in my view.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Listen: It’s your game. You make it, you get to set the rules. And I understand that if you’ve set it up to be a very PvP-centric experience, trying to shoehorn in a non-PvP server might be counter productive and not a good use of resources.


But that does limit your MMO because there’s a good crowd that really doesn’t like non-consensual PvP in MMO gameplay. And there are plenty of titles that I think people like me would consider if it weren’t trying to shove a particular style of FFA PvP down our throats. I know I always get laughed at when I say this, but EVE Online? I’d seriously consider playing you if you did have a whole server where jerks couldn’t come out of nowhere and gank me.

MMOs need financial success to survive, so it never makes much sense to me to limit the size of the net you’re casting for players. Make both rulesets and reap the profits!

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): Um, yes. How is this even a question! It already happens in the reverse all the time in MMOs, so why would there even be a problem? There are so many people who would try a game except for “it’s focused on all PvP so nope.” Options give more people the chance to play the game, and isn’t that always the carrot devs are chasing? And who knows, there may be a number who decide after already playing to give the PvP a try and find they like it too! Also, PvE players tend to settle down into a game more and can make a more stable base for long-term viability.

Now, this is for larger world-based MMOs, not the battle royales and lobby shooters and such. Even then there are exceptions based on the game in question. But I’d say that even for games like Crowfall, then yes. It is less splitting the population and more just having more players because folks who would never join the PvP one would join PvE. Honestly, I suspect PvPers (specifically the griefer subculture) just hate when their sheep have a different place to go.

As for the argument of worrying about balancing PvE servers taking attention away from PvP ones and “ruining things,” welcome to the gaming world now. That already happens in PvE games. Maybe since PvPers say that’s no biggy, they won’t mind the switcheroo and understand the need.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I’m all for PvE servers. When it comes to player choice, I’ll nearly always fall on the side of more options are better. I’ve said it dozens of times and it applies not just to offering a variety of PvP modes for players to compete in, but to almost everything including PvE servers.

Give players the choices to play and do the activities they want to. It’ll all come out in the wash. Just because the developers figure that their game should be played one way doesn’t mean players won’t find more joy in something else.

Let the players play! If the developers have an open mind, they might even find their game works better as a playground with great player housing than as a hardcore endgame raid centric MMO. *Cough cough* Wildstar *cough cough*

Tyler Edwards (blog): I don’t think every game needs PvE servers. If a game is truly all PvP, all the time, there might not be a need. I don’t think anyone’s really champing at the bit for PvE servers of Camelot Unchained.

But if PvE makes up any significant part of the game — if it’s meant to be a supported playstyle in any capacity — then yes, PvE servers are a must. Most people who enjoy PvE don’t want to engage with PvP in any capacity; if we don’t have the option to avoid it, we’re not going to play. Again, if your game is nothing but PvP, that’s fine, but if you’ve got things that are likely to appeal to the PvE crowd as well — like quests, dungeons, an interesting setting, that sort of thing — then forcing us into an open PvP scenario kind of feels like a bait and switch. Like we’re just being lured in to be fodder for the gank crowd. Not that we’re actually gonna fall for it, but it sucks to see a game that seems fun in other ways choose to go down that road.

And from the developer’s perspective, you’re just leaving money on the table if you’re not offering a version of the game that’s friendly to PvE players.

In the case of Corepunk specifically, I’ve gone from being excited to try it to losing interest entirely when I found it was going the open PvP route. If they do follow through on adding PvE servers, it will be back on my radar as a game to check out.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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