Taking the “P” out of PvP

One of the things that people often request in multiplayer games is more ways to interact. They want more ways to make an impression on the environment or more ways to create a lasting impact. The problem is that a broad category of these requests are ways to create a lasting impact on other players.

If there is one thing that the game industry has learned from the massively-multiplayer online games (MMOs) of the early 2000s, it is that allowing players to impact the gameplay experience of other players almost always results in a negative experience for the player on the receiving end.

Let’s take a look at the progression:

  • Ultima Online (released in 1997) — had wide-open non-consensual PvP1 where the victor could take all of the loser’s possessions
  • EverQuest (released in 1999) — had opt-in PvP where the victor could take only one possession. Non-consensual PvP was restricted to certain specific servers.
  • Dark Age of Camelot (released in 2001) — had opt-in PvP between different “realms” but didn’t allow the victor any spoils nor were characters from different realms able to talk to each other in-game
  • World of Warcraft (released in 2004) — had opt-in PvP2 between different “factions” and experimented numerous times with methods to “punish” players that acted in an unsportsmanlike manner. Each and every one of them was abandoned when they were turned around and used against the people the systems were intended to protect.

See the trend? Now let’s jump into the recent past:

  • Forza Motorsport 5 (released in 2013) — has opt-in PvP, but the game records how you drive and creates an AI version of your driving style called a Drivatar. In single-player events you’re running against the AI versions of other players every time you race. This makes it unnecessary to ever enter the true multi-player mode.3
  • Hearthstone (released in 2014) — has opt-in PvP (even if the single-player game is pretty limited) but players that haven’t “friended” each other are restricted to only six emotes for communication: “Thanks”, “Well Played”, “Greetings”, “Sorry”, “Oops” and “Threaten”. And even those emotes can be “squelched” by the receiving player.

Game designers are now not only restricting how players interact with each other, they’re increasingly figuring out ways to distill real human participants down into essentially better AI for the entertainment of other customers.

Why are they doing this? Because it is easier to turn humans into glorified AI than it is to convince those same humans to play nice with each other.

  1. PvP — Player versus Player, the type of activity in a game where one human player is pitted against another human player. Constrast with PvE or Player versus Environment where the human player is pitted against the game environment. Non-consensual PvP is when one can be forced into a PvP situation by another player. 

  2. There were specific World of Warcraft servers that allowed for limited non-consensual PvP but only in specific locations 

  3. The Drivatars can pick up somewhat aggressive playstyles from their human counterparts, but a Drivatar will never send you a threatening message or taunt you with what it purportedly did to your motherboard last night. 


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