PvP – My Take on It – Redux

A solid comment on my previous PvP post from Duke of O, was a rather long one with quite a few good elements in it.  Rather than bury it in a comment section, I would like to take the time to respond appropriately.  I’ll split up the comment here for readability but the entire content will be present.  You can always check the previous post for an unbroken version.  I’ll be using the royal version of I, You and We, unless noted otherwise.

As a long time PvPer, of both the discrete, balanced and instanced variety as well the persistent world variant, I find it interesting that the reasons why you dislike OWPvP games are the reasons why I like them. I like the chaos and the anarchy, and the feeling (albeit simulated) of living in a frontier world without laws or structure. I don’t mind the low standard of behaviour, as I already have a dim view of human nature, and all the adolescent posturing I see in these games just confirm what I already know about people interacting in anonymous environments without accountability. You don’t need OWPvP to see people behaving badly on the Internet – the more extreme polemic elements on both sides of the Gamergate debate are proof enough of that.

This is a rather fatalist view of the world and part of the core issue with the lack of progress.  A silent partner is as guilty as an active partner.  I personally expect more from people, you (specifically Duke) don’t share that view.  That doesn’t invalidate either argument, it just provides context on the entire comment.

I find it somewhat contradictory that you call these type of games anti-social, and then start talking about how common it is for players in these games to form what you call “gangs”. I don’t know why a PvE group banded together to achieve a mutual goal is called a raid group, while a OWPvP group doing the same thing becomes a “gang”, unless it is just your personal biases colouring your language.

This one is complicated due to my word use.  Raid is a military term, defining a quick attack and quick retreat before the enemy has a chance to know what’s going on.  Blitzkrieg is very close (and still used in US football).  The first time I saw the use of the word was in UO pre-Trammel and it was applied as per the definition.  It was used in EQ, again as per the definition (though you’ve likely also herd the term zerg which is similar).  It really took hold in WoW, where the events themselves were called raids and the meaning changed to one of strategy rather than guerrilla tactics.  A gang is a social construct that engages in illegal behavior.  I am selecting that term because that’s how I see it apply to OWPvP.  There is a difference between a gang and vigilantes, the latter of which is trying to enforce the law.  There are many more gangs than vigilantes and sometimes the line between them is very small.

And for anti-social, it’s how it applies to the general society and those not within your gang.  If you treat people outside your gang as you would treat people within, then you’re pro-society.  If you have a separate set of rules, then you’re anti-social.  If your goal is to destroy the enemy, rather than work cooperatively for a common goal, that’s anti-social.  If your goal is to inhibit your enemy for no tangible benefit (e.g. for the lulz) that’s anti-social.  If you use illegal or unethical methods to reach your goals, that’s anti-social.  Saying you made a friend or bonded is a drop in the bucket – if your enemy list is longer than your friend list…

Grouping together for the purposes of mutual gain, security or shared cultural identity seems to me to be the very essence of sociality, and speaking from personal experience I have found that the tightest bonds I have made in online spaces are in these types of games. Shared enemies and shared danger make for one hell of a bonding experience. Of course we treat the enemy with no quarter, but again this is what I expect from these anarchic and volatile environments, and I would like to think my opponents are aware of this.

This is the basis of my argument of consent.  If they are aware and agree, go nuts.  The argument that it builds social bonds is valid, just like a gang does.  Unless your group has some moral/ethical/legal code and actively defends that code, then you’re not a benefit to society, you’re a benefit to each other.

I do not disagree on the bonding aspect.  Our military brethren go through the same thing (ignoring the long-term effects of real-world combat for this argument).  If you share values with these people, as I assume you do, then it makes sense to build a stronger bond with them.  PvE builds similar bonds, assuming the values are shared.  Facing adversity, trusting that your team has your back and you are all working for the same goal will certainly build bonds.  Long-term trust.

I recall reading your comment on J3w3l’s blog, which says this about OWPvP – “honestly, it’s like seeing my history books in gaming.” That’s exactly why I love these type of games! If human history is the account of humanity’s rise from individualism to tribalism to nationalism to globalism via conflict and cooperation, then these type of games give us the opportunity to simulate them in a virtual environment, and to take part in them.

Agreed.  People want to simulate these events.  No different that war enactments or LARPing.  All the parties present consent and there are rules to the events.

The tale of the CFC’s rise to domination in null sec in EVE is like watching the pacification of the Wild West. From a frontier space filled with hundreds of self-serving, ruthless and selfish “gangs” the CFC has managed to create the biggest player association in MMO history, with over thousands of members, a feat no other player association in any other MMO has succeeded in or come close to doing. According to a long time writer on EVE politics (James315) the very reason why the CFC succeeded in bringing peace to null sec is because they treat their coalition members with respect, they honour their agreements and contracts, they are diplomatically astute and have a well-developed logistics and intelligence network, and when push comes to shove they can muster massive fleets in war.

CFC has done tremendously well through some of the most shady backdoor deals I have ever seen.  Governments would be proud of what this group has done in name of “the greater good”.  The amount of spying, ISK scams, backstabbing, murder, bribery, meta-PvP, and other assorted methods would astound anyone who paid attention.  Burn Jita helps the game how exactly?  What does CFC do to benefit the game, rather than benefit CFC?  It really is something to watch.  There is no game to compare to EvE where territorial control is similar.  But groups that have a similar social structure and larger overall impact?  Syndicate probably takes the cake on that one.

These are not attributes one immediately associates with “gangs”, although I do have to admit that there are plenty of player associations which fit that description in OWPvP MMOs. But it is equally possible for OWPvP worlds to have groups which conduct themselves with honour, integrity and trustworthiness.

I agree that there are people who conduct themselves with those values.  I remember the various towns that sprung up in UO, rune libraries and food dispensaries.  I have never seen an ounce of it in WoW.  AA has some, in particular the armadas.  EvE University is (mostly) a good example.

I would even contend that groups that succeed in dominating the meta-game in OWPvP games are groups which have the virtues of being able to work together internally and in partnership with other associations, and are competent and skilled in their chosen fields. I accept and respect the fact that they are not for everyone, and if anything, the fact that the reasons why I like them are the reasons why you hate them leads me to believe that these two viewpoints are probably irreconcilable.

I agree that they are both skilled and competent.  I think that their methods are abhorrent and provide no tangible benefit to anyone outside of the game.  Someone could be the best scam artist and make a mint in EvE (you see one every year or so) but you’ve screwed over a large group of people who placed trust.  So ya, they might find that they can smooth talk their way but now you have all those people who no longer want to trust anyone.  If that person scams someone outside of the group, it’s ok but if they were to scam someone in the group, it’s not.  The most notorious sociopaths are also extremely well skilled.  These arguments are not exclusionary.

I don’t think our points are irreconcilable because I don’t think we’re arguing the same thing.  My argument is that it requires consent and the majority of the actions in OWPvP are anti-social.  Your argument is that it’s fun, builds bonds between people, and requires skill and dedication.  They can both be true.

I truly do understand why people do it, in particular when there are no real world consequences of the actions (outside of meta-PvP).  It’s just not possible to argue that the actions support a progress of society as a whole, rather than subsets of individuals.  There are hundreds of reasons we don’t have tribal warfare anymore, that we have large partnerships across countries, that civilization has progressed more through cooperation than conflict.  OWPvP argues against all of that.

PvP for the sake of PvP

Darkfall: Unholy Wars launched a few months late but those who waited apparently enjoy what was given.  It does sound like a lot of fun and reading through that post gets me thinking about what I do like about sandboxes and what I don’t like about FFA PvP.  (To Syncaine’s credit, he has a fairly detailed post about a PvE sandbox that I would love to play someday.)

What I like is being able to do what you want to do, when you want to do it and never really having a schedule.  There’s no common ride and everyone’s adventure is slightly different than another’s.  I really liked that about UO and early SWG.  Community had a big part in it but the ability to socialize to consume PvE content was where it was at.  Killing dragons or liches, treasure hunting, animal taming, building a craft store – it was all great fun.

What I didn’t like was the open/FFA PvP aspects.  One person could ruin 20 or 50 other player’s nights for no other reason than griefing.  Goal-based PvP makes sense and it’s always around controlling PvE access.  I can’t remember a game where you hunted people for their ears in order to make a coat but there are plenty where you keep people away from a resource spawn point so you can craft better gear.  UO private shards all have this problem and typically move towards extremely aggressive PvP controls.

The thing that lacks most in PvP games is the moderation of the activities.  In the real world, there are laws and law enforcement.  Typically these two combined will keep the general population from attempting a PvP activity (theft, harm, etc…) and those that do are tracked down and punished.  This doesn’t exist in games for a few reasons.

First, players are not online, their characters are and not 24/7.  I could play Jim as a PvP dink and Paul as a savior and most people would never know the difference.  There should be tools to identify a player based on all their characters.

Second, law enforcement is a thankless job, with little bite and no compensation.  When a griefer does it for the lulz, there is no in-game punishment possible to stop them from doing it again.  Short of removing all their skills and gear, or simply access to the game, why would the stop?  Moderation then requires a higher level of authority and then you get into the “god complex” issues.  Mind you, League of Legends has a decent system, even if there are still hundreds of horrible people playing.

The sheer lack of social restraint in these games is incredible.  No one would walk down the street and say “wow, that’s a nice car” and then proceed to break the window, hot wire it and proceed to row down a street full of people.  No, what happens is that you approach the driver, compliment them on the car and have a quick conversation.  I mean, I can’t imagine anyone on this planet thinking it’s acceptable for a group of people to simply walk around town, shooting everyone and then say “it’s to teach them buggers a lesson that crime is always around”.

I get PvP, I do.  It’s the reason we have MMA, boxing or any other combat sport.  There’s a primal need to compete against live people.  There’s a superiority complex that makes us strive to be better, to improve.  What I don’t get is some people’s need to intimidate or harass other players and their ability to find enjoyment in it.

Risky Business

I have a quick story to tell about PvP and item loss.  Back in the day, Ultima Online had open world, free for all PvP.  When you died, no matter how you died, anyone could loot your corpse clean.  If you died to a bear, another player could loot you and they would take a reputation hit.  If they had killed you, then they already had the hit.  Take too much of a hit and you turned red and people could kill you without worry.  Most PvPers had a main character for PvP and then alts that were “clean”.

My characters had houses.    Before the Trammel split, you needed a key to open the door and you needed that key to be on you.  Most players had multiple bags, in bags and hid their keys deep down.  That way, when someone tried to loot you, they had to find the key.  My crafter character (mining, lumberjack, smith, tinker and more) had no ability to fight.  He did have the ability to create and sell items from the house.  One day, out cutting lumber he was killed and lost the key to the house.  With that key, the PvPer took ownership of the house, then sold it on eBay.  I remember quitting that day.

When I did get back, again before the Trammel split but after the housing updates to no longer worry about keys, when I did get killed I lost time.  Since items degraded on use, and a super weapon was perhaps 25% stronger than a regular one, the difference wasn’t huge.  That part didn’t bug me as much.   The game had items that provided a boost but not such a boost that items were prized over all else.

I don’t mind PvP and item loss, if the item loss is reasonable.  I consider reasonable as a measure of time to get back to what would be competitive, not to where I was.  Losing a house and vendors, I would have to work for weeks to get back anything close to the competitiveness I had.  Losing a set of weapons and regeants, I’d be out 30 minutes.  I like having some risk involved with PvP.  I don’t like forced risk with no options to mitigate it.  I mean, imagine if EvE didn’t have clones.  You think people would still be playing today? 

PvP without risk is pretty boring as you can’t really invest into it.  Planetside 2 has no risk but plenty of benefits (which is why there are so many aimbots).  WoW PvP is even worse, with no link at all between PvP and the rest of the game.  I do have my fingers crossed that Camelot Unchained it able to find the right balance between PvP with risk (therefore investment) and not causing people to quit with rage.