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The Great Player Versus Player Debate

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Different MMORPGs have different systems for player-versus-player (PVP) combat. In some games, players may attack each other at any time, anywhere, while in other games players may only attack each other if both consent or they are both in special zones (if at all), and other games are somewhere in the middle. Which system is best is fiercely debated by gamers, and there is a derogatory nickname for the Pro-UPVP and Anti-UPVP sides, "Gankers" and "Carebears" respectively.

Arguments for unrestricted PVP systems (UPVP) include:

  • UPVP provides a means by which players can punish other players who are engaging in antisocial behavior (by killing them in PVP). According to some, this enables a "self-policing" mode which helps ensure civilized behavior.
  • UPVP provides a source of real danger to players, as they can be killed by other players at any time. This forces them to band together for mutual protection, which may lead to closer-knit communities and more interesting social dynamics.
  • UPVP enables new gameplay tactics such as ambushing other players to get loot as well as guarding and controlling territory.
  • PVP combat may be more challenging and interesting than PVE (player-versus-environment) combat.
  • In a combat-centric game (as most MMORPGs are), a game without much PVP is pretty much a game where the thousands of simultaneous players in addition to your party that distinguish an MMO from a typical MP game can't interact with each other. When combined with overuse of instancing, this means that players are paying a monthly fee for what is essentially a typical Diablo/Hexen-type LAN co-op experience (or even a single-player game if the character is soloing!).
  • Dynamic competition between massive guild alliances (player-run wars, economies, events etc.) is one of the most effective ways to have a noticeable effect on all of the thousands of other players that are on your server (and vice versa). If most groups of 2-50 PVE players have no practical effect on most other groups of 2-50 PVE players, then the thousands of such groups wasting their money to play on the same massive 1st-party server at the same time aren't buying anything they couldn't get playing alone on their own private servers for free.

However, advocates of more restricted PVP systems make the following counter-arguments:

  • The idea that UPVP is necessary for players to punish others is logically inconsistent. If there are practical non-PVP ways for players to harm others (e.g. chat-spamming, spawn-camping, ninja-looting, etc.), then these methods can also be used by punishers. If these methods are not practical, then the issue is moot, as there is no way for players to harm others in the first place, and thus no reason to punish.
  • Most forms of antisocial behavior can be more easily dealt with directly. For example, chat-spamming can be prevented by having an "ignore" list that enables people to block messages, spawn-camping can be prevented by having "instanced" mission areas where each group that goes in gets a separate copy of the mission area, and ninja-looting can be prevented by including an in-game facility that automatically distributes the loot earned by a group to the group members either randomly or according to a predefined rule. Most games nowadays include many of these features.
  • UPVP as a form of punishment only works in one direction: from the stronger to the weaker player. If a weak player wrongs a strong player, the strong player can easily kill them, but if it's the other way around, the weak player has no recourse (unless he has strong allies). If the point is to enable players to punish others, an eBay-style reputation/feedback system may be more effective, as it puts everyone on an equal footing.
  • The threat of being killed in PVP is only an effective deterrent to antisocial behavior (or an effective source of real danger) if the penalty for death is reasonably high. However, the higher the penalty for death is, the more likely the game is to become frustrating for players who die often.
  • Players can form communities even without the looming threat of PVP, and attempting to force players to do so may end up driving away players who do not have regular playing schedules and thus find it difficult to coordinate with friends for protection. (In the real world, there are many places where residents are regularly forced to band together to avoid being killed by unsavory characters. None of these places are places where many of us would want to live, for that very reason.)
  • UPVP makes the game much more difficult for new players, who have not yet found a group of friends and are weak and thus easy targets. A new player who is constantly killed by much stronger players may become frustrated and quit the game. (The creators of the game will pay attention to this fact especially; an MMO that everyone quits is an MMO that is headed for The Great Respawn Zone In The Sky.)
  • Some people don't find PVP more interesting than PVE. UPVP basically forces them to play in that style.
  • PVP as a deterrent for anti-social behavior only works if the PVP itself is not an outlet for anti-social behavior. Devising a method of player-vs-player combat that doesn't allow someone to adversely affect another player is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • Saying that a combat-centric MMORPG without PVP is a game where only a tiny circle of acquaintances plucked from the game's entire fee-paying playerbase are capable of exerting a noticeable effect on each other's games willfully ignores the possibility of players that interact by cooperating. Player interaction can be achieved in groups of players teaming up to defeat computer-controlled enemies, and interaction with friends is more pleasant than interaction with enemies by the very definition of the terms.
  • Dynamic competition between massive guild alliances is unquestionably an excellent idea. However, every single example that the UPVP entry notes can be accomplished without UPVP. Players having the ability to kill any other player at any time is simply not in any way, shape, or form a requirement for this.

In order to preserve some of the benefits and new possibilities inherent in PVP while avoiding many of the frustrations, most modern MMORPGs include a PVP system that is somewhere between "consensual only" and "completely unrestricted". Common features include:

  • Giving players under a certain level protection from PVP, thus enabling new players to learn the game without risk.
  • Restricting PVP to designated zones, so players can wait to enter those zones until they are ready for PVP.
  • Assigning players to one of two (or more) "sides" (e.g. the Alliance and Horde in World of Warcraft) and making people have unrestricted PVP only against those on the other side. This gives all players a large group of "friends" (everyone on their side) that can provide protection.
  • Enabling players to choose between "PVP servers" and "non-PVP servers" that have different PVP rules, so that players can decide which PVP regime they prefer.

See also Player Killing, PVP Balanced, and Competitive Balance.