Massively Overthinking: Should PvP MMOs offer PvE servers?

    
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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.

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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Toy Clown

My deal is I don’t like forced PvP. I love exploring, questing, collecting, crafting and gathering, as well as taking screenshots when something catches my eye. Nothing irritates me more than someone coming along and ruining that serendipity. Of course, most will say, “Why join a game with PvP as a main feature if you don’t want to deal with this?” My answer is that PvP-featured MMOs tend to have broader content to engage in, weirdly. They have nice housing, crafting, good character customization, etc. These types of PvP-featured MMOs would greatly benefit from PvE servers.

My friends and I have a running saying (kind of joke?) that if developers gave these games a PvE-only server that 90% of a game’s population would end up there.

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Humpy Pants

Depends. If there’s a layout that puts the player in a game that requires battling AI and other players can battle each other in this system as well, then you are just a few tweaks from satisfying two types of players at once. Games like Rust would gain more popularity in a pve server.

Sea of thieves would do much better if it contrasted their pvp arena with a number of coop missions, but they’d rather sink with their own ship with their 50% player decrease in less than a year than try to please everyone. That’s fine, but sometimes you need to evolve to bring in a broader audience.

Foundation is so important so it just depends on what a game has to offer and how simple it is to turn pvp into pve and vice versa. If you’re going one route, you’re gambling with your cards and it can be a fortnite or a battleborn or a game that’s hanging by a thread and going down until they start making changes.

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Richard de Leon III

I dont think PVP games have to make PVE. I would love it if they did, but not require them to. It depends how much actual PVE content in the base game there is. If there was none then I couldnt care less. If there was sufficient PVE content already but the PVP is just there to create conflict or resource shortages then I would love a PVE server or at least the ability to become immune to it if they want any of my dollars.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

If it’s focused on PvP, why would they waste their time?

Oh, as an attempt to lure prey for them to feast on.

Why if your game is so great as a PvP game, should you need to attract people who don’t want to be a part of it?

I notice quite a few comments in here are people complaining about ‘how dare they not focus on PvP’…when there’s MULTIPLE games out there that do focus on PvP…and then there’s the games that wanted to be a PvP game, and then added PvE just to lure people, who then don’t properly police their PvE servers and allow (Or even attempt to create) griefing/drama that will lead to their desired outcome of a PvP fight. Except those people don’t participate in it, so all they’ve done is create a reason to cause people harm/lead to their discomfort/lack of desire to continue your game and thus created just one more person who will tell people about how your game REALLY is to anyone who will listen.

Why do you find harm to be enjoyable? Does that not say something about you?

I’m fine with PvP lovers having their own games focused on that(And I avoid them as the plagues they are.). As long as they STAY THERE and keep away from those of us who don’t want to be a part of their mentality. Problem with PvE servers on PvP games, is they come over to try and goad people into joining their side…thinking that if only they say the right thing, they will be able to lure you over. That’s not how this works.

That’s not even getting into the arguments of ‘balance’ related to them(devs) focusing on one or the other and their additions subtracting from either side and just generally making things worse for the overall of the game and leading to more unhappy people.

So no, I don’t think it’s a good idea, and I wish they would stop it. Make your pure PvP games. Make pure PvE games. Make some that are both, some types enjoy both. But stop trying to ‘shoehorn’ (As people in other comments used it) players who don’t want to be a part of it into that which they don’t want to be.

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Meanie

“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.”

I feel like this is pretty close to what Corepunk was going for, but unaffected open world pvp is focused on same level people . Even then, I think you still can end up a criminal just from picking fights constantly. That coupled with the fact that there is no incentive to kill lower level people in the open (except being a griefer), and there are pretty steep consequences it feels like they’re on the right track.. Not to mention that the game is built around smaller group play so you won’t really run into a group of more than 4 people at a time in most instances I don’t think? Anyway, still it has no immediate consequences to open world pvp, but it was also initially (and still hopefully) a PvP focused game.

Having played a good bit of Albion pre launch and well into it’s early/mid life, seeing there were plenty of people willing to never leave town and grind out the absolutely boring instanced PvE dungeons from the town portal as their sole means of playtime in that game taught me that for as many people who complain about not wanting to PvP in a game, they’ll still play a PvP game just so they have a reason to complain about it. It is the most mundane boring PvE experience in any game I’ve played. But at the same time if that’s what someone enjoys what do I care. I don’t go into town and harass them in chat, I just go out and make the most of what the game offers me personally.

I just don’t really understand the entitlement people who don’t like PvP feel about games not being made for them in the first place. There seems to be a lot of that in the MO comments whenever PvP games come up. Everyone who has 0 plans to play a game throws in their two cents in about it. Personally, I would probably be more into FFXIV if they treated the PvP with more care (since the MQ PvE experience is so so boring), but it’s pretty obvious that is not of almost any concern to the developers. I don’t start badmouthing FFXIV because of that though, lol. I just…don’t play it.

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Anstalt

Choice is king.

So, if a PvP MMO can add a PvE server and thus provide more choice to the community, then fine, go for it and best of luck to you.

I do feel like the design of some PvP MMOs would make adding a PvE server a silly choice as the content and systems wouldn’t be there to provide a good experience. But, if the content is already there, if the systems are already there, then why not?

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Leiloni

It really depends on the game. Some games are built with PvE and PvP so intertwined that if you have a PvE only server, a lot of stuff just doesn’t work when nobody is doing the PvP. But a game like WoW where you have two very separate game modes? Sure that works fine.

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Dug From The Earth

Unless a core aspect of your game requires pvp, yes, absolutely pve servers should be offered.

And no, most of these mmorpgs with open world pvp do not have a core aspect of their gameplay that involves pvp. Its just an added mechanic… just because.

A core aspect would be a game like Crowfall, where a huge part of the game is based on the conflict.

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Bruno Brito

I feel sad for PvP’ers being relegated to Crowfall lol

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Dug From The Earth

i honestly feel sad for pvpers in general, because very few, if any, games actually provide them a GOOD pvp experience. Most pvp in games is just shoe horned in at the last minute, or simply just switch that allows players to attack other players with no actual mechanics or system in place to make it anything substancial. Once in the game, pvp is one of the LAST elements to ever get any real updates, content, or focus. The team will assign a much larger portion of its development force to every other aspect of the game, other than pvp.

Just look at the Cyrodil development cycle in ESO or WvWvW in GW2. Its sad.

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squid

TBH, the whole idea of PvP just doesn’t fit well in 90% of MMORPGs. It only seems to work in game specifically designed for it, with things like territory control, gear destruction, and limited/easy progression.

MMO devs did PvPers dirty when they started just shoehorning PvP into games that weren’t designed for it, like EQ1 back in the day.

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Bruno Brito

I think that’s the problem. PvP must be a CORE feature of PvP MMOs and the entire game should circulate around that. That’s why mobas work, everything revolves around the PvP.

Good luck with that, tho.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

MMO PvP tends to stink because MMO developers keep trying to make PvP level or gear progression based. The other problem is they don’t get the difference between PvP (burst) and PvE (sustained) combat.

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squid

I say that any game with both PvE and PvP—even if it’s just arena/BG PvP—should have dedicated servers for each. In the case of PvP, they’d be open-world PvP.

That way us PvEers can point at the empty PvP servers and say “Told ya.”

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Arktouros

Game creates a PvP only server. Game does maybe one PvP focused update a year or two. PvP players don’t waste their time on a game that doesn’t update the game at all for them. PvE players point at the empty PvP servers and say “tOlD yA” as if they stumbled onto some universal truth.

Meanwhile…

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squid

Game creates a PvP only server. Game does maybe one PvP focused update a year or two. PvP players don’t waste their time on a game that doesn’t update the game at all for them.

Sounds like the PvE servers are more popular, since that’s what the developers are focusing on. Yes, the PvPers are doing the PvE as well, but isn’t the idea behind PvP that other players are the content? Other than an occasional balance pass to shake up the meta, how much dev time does a PvP server need?

For what it’s worth, I’d play the shit out of a PvE Albion.

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Arktouros

It’s a self fulfilling prophecy scenario. If you don’t do regular updates for PvP focused players then PvP focused players won’t remain with the game. It’d be the same scenario if they did all PvP updates and never updated the PvE, it would be perfectly understandable if the PvE players quit and stopped playing. That wouldn’t mean PvP is more popular than PvE it’d simply mean the game mode those people are interested in is never updated. So it has nothing to do with popularity as much as people love to throw that around.

PvP players are not the content and that’s a common mistake. PvP players are the risk in the risk vs reward element towards a game. I go out and farm mobs to collect resources. Wow I have a lot of money on me. Do I stay and keep farming and risk dying if someone comes along and lose it all? On my way back to town I see someone, are they friendly, are they an enemy? They are the danger, but there still has to be that base game underneath it all.

Yea if I had a dime for every PvE player who’d say they’d play the shit out of games if there was no PvP. I feel sad for developers like World’s Adrift or Legends of Aria who believed it.

creationguru
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creationguru

This sums up how I feel really well

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Schmidt.Capela

“Should” might be too strong a word. I would go with “does it make sense” instead.

That said, it really depends on the game, and more specifically on whether it would have a desirable experience for PvE players if you remove the PvP. For some games it would be a no-brainer, for other games it would require a near complete revamp to even have a viable PvE game that wouldn’t be worth the potential player base increase.

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Schmidt.Capela

Addendum: it should be noted that a half-assed effort to attract PvE players is often worse than just doing nothing, as it will fail to attract PvE players while driving away part of the PvP players. Worlds Adrift is, IMHO, one victim of this trap.