WOO II An Exploration in Design - July 2012 - By Stoneghost: Dalaran

 

WOO II - PvP

PvP is PvP is PvP

No, it's not.

There are five distinct varieties of PvP in the current game:

  1. Dueling: one-on-one by invitation.
  2. Arenas: dueling matches between formal teams ... you can't play if you don't belong to a standing team.
  3. Battlegrounds: structured, timed combat between pickup teams.
  4. Random battleground melees: players who fight with one another within various battlegrounds, independently of the game.
  5. "Global" PvP: big groups of players fighting anywhere.

Some of this works well; some of it doesn't work at all. See the "Notes" Section, below, for a discussion of the latter.

The large majority of PvP combat in the current game takes place in Arenas and Battlegrounds. There is a small amount of dueling, and there is a very small amount of "global" PvP. In general, WOOII tries to accomplish the following with regard to PvP combat:

In order to make it easier to talk about them, theses groups are termed, in order, Militia, Gladiators and Soldiers. Gladiators and Soldiers are specializations within the Fighter Life Path. Militia are characters from any Life Path who come to Theme Parks to fight.

In general, the goal of the PvP venues is to move Hack-and-Slash and Grinding to the Theme Parks, and Dueling to the Arenas, and Strategic Combat to the Battlegrounds. (Due to time constraints Criminals are described, but not fully implemented here.)

The WOO II PvP Design

Generically, WOO II PvP fighting seeks to accommodate four kinds of players:

Theme Parks handle the first two categories, Arenas the third, and Battlegrounds the last.

Dueling

Dueling is an important PvP activity, but it has no specific venue. Dueling is encouraged in Theme Parks, and it should be encouraged elsewhere. Each major city should have a "far side of the tracks" area where duelers can gather and strut their stuff. As with Questing, however, the idea is to leave Dueling open as an activity that any player can take on, regardless of Life Path.

Strategy, Tactics and Free-For-All

Technically, "tactics" refer to the actions taken during a fight, while "strategy" refers to the planning of a campaign of many fights. WOO II, however, uses the terms to draw the line between knowing how to play your character, here called "tactics", and the need to communicate and cooperate during a battle, here called "strategy".

Theme parks require no strategy. Players can simply meet and fight, no planning or cooperation is required. In fact, there is little in a Theme Park that can be planned. The goal is to provide an enjoyable venue for players who do not want to have to think, cooperate and communicate. The same venue offers the fastest leveling and the coolest cosmetic enhancements ... and is meant to also attract players whose main concern is to level quickly or to "get good stuff".

Arenas are primarily tactical. Players need to fight efficiently and effectively, and good communications are very helpful. But the fight is quick, and very straightforward, with little need for planning.

Battlegrounds come with a progression that is mostly based on an increasing need for strategy. Tier 1 focuses on tactics, but also introduces the need for strategy. Battles such as Capture-the Flag and Fortress Assault do not require huge amounts of strategy, but they do ask players to cooperate with one another and work towards a common goal.

Tier 2 introduces randomly generated variations in the battlefields, which means that what worked last time might not work this time - making good communications a necessity.

Tier 3 battlegrounds introduce the fog of war and ask players to scout out the battlefield and communicate what they find. At the beginning, while the situation is foggy, considerable planning and cooperation is needed if the team is to succeed.

And finally at the top level, the Campaign consists of a group of battles that move towards a desired conclusion. These battles are asymmetrical (the sides are not evenly balanced), and considerable planning, cooperation and communication are required.

Theme Parks

In essence, Theme Parks merge the PvP Zone concept with the World PvP concept. The idea is to provide a place that is easily reachable, where combat is always available, where rezzing is easy, and where the rewards justify the effort. Theme Parks intend to accommodate players who want to spend some time killing the enemy, players who want a fast way to gain level, and players who want to acquire quick rewards - all without joining a team or engaging in a strategy game.

A second role of the Theme Parks is to serve as the training ground for new Fighters. Constant PvP combat is the best way to "learn your character" and develop hand to hand tactics.

(The corresponding venue in the Raider Life Path is the Fun House ... which is constructed as a waiting area for characters who are signed up for raids that haven't started yet. Some of these players may decide to come to a Theme Park instead. Both Theme Parks and Fun Houses are designed to accommodate characters from all Life Paths.)

Timing

You port to a Theme Park from your User Interface. You return from the Theme Park via transporter to the place you came in from. There is no queue for any particular Theme Park, but there may be a "Park Full" sign on the door, and there are other Parks ... or ... perhaps there is one big Park and it opens new areas as the number of players increases - the final shape depends on the final design.

Combat is constant. If you're solo, drop in. If you and a group of friends want to "kick some enemy butt!", c'mon by. There is no formal game ... you leave when you are ready. When you die, you rez nearby and get right back into the fight.

Balance

There is no progression in Theme Park fighting. The fights are free-for-all and only the common areas are non-PvP.

Smart, tough and vicious NPC soldiers are are added to the Park to fight on the side of the faction with the fewer members in house. Killing NPCs gives rewards, so if the other side has lots of NPCs, and you call in your friends to help, it will also help balance the factions.

There may be large groups in one area of the park and small groups in another. When you walk around, you need to keep your eyes open ... carelessness could get you killed.

Rewards

Leveling achievements for the Fighter Life Path are offered in Theme Parks, and this is the only venue where level achievements are given for honorable kills.

Gear and enhancement rewards are given. Active enhancements are not as good as the ones given in Arenas, but they can be used in both Arenas and Battlegrounds. Passive enhancements are the best available in PvP.

Theme Parks are the bottom rung on the PvP progression scale. Rank gained here will qualify a player for higher level PvP venues: Arenas and Battlegrounds.

Arenas

Arenas provide dueling for formal groups. "Formal" means that you have to form the group before you enter the queue ... there are no random teams.

Arena matches involve basic, quick PvP encounters, without rezzing. In addition, teams are rated, ranked, and assigned to matches based on their ranks.

This seems like the appropriate venue for full gear and enhanced fighting. Characters with better gear and enhancements will have an advantage, but this should bring them higher rankings, and the matching system should keep dramatic mismatches from happening.

Timing

You must be a member of a team. The team leader puts you in the queue. You port to an Arena , and you return to the place you came from. The match ends when the other team is dead. This usually does not take very long, and if the match does go long, it is because the two teams are very evenly matched ... making it more fun. You don't rez, but you do get to watch the match as it plays out.

Balance

There is a progression. Teams are matched based on their ranking in the progression. The highest ranked teams are the ones that become eligible for end-of-season rewards.

Rewards

The best gear rewards are offered in Arenas. Some enhancement awards are offered ... however, any active enhancement rewards will only work in Arenas. Arena ranks are offered. These are higher than those for Theme Parks, but lower than Battlegrounds. Leveling achievements are offered. However, none of these are based on kills.

Battlegrounds

Battlegrounds provide games for individuals who are willing to play as teams in venues that focus on strategy. Most teams are formed randomly via a queuing system. Some teams are pre-formed and long lasting - these have a significant advantage in communications and coordination, and they fight in a separate "league".

Battlefields are fairly large and include obstacles. A certain amount of thought and planning is usually required to deal with these. Although each battlefield has a consistent design, the higher tiers have details that are created randomly when the battlefield space is generated. At even higher levels, the battlefield is covered initially with the "fog of war", necessitating scouting and good communications.

Timing

You can play either as a member of a team, or as an individual. Pre-formed teams fight in different "leagues" than randomly formed teams, so the wait might be longer there. You join a queue, or your leader joins the team to the queue, and you port to the battleground. At the conclusion of the battle, you return to your starting place.

When you die, you rez nearby. In lower progression levels you immediately rejoin the battle. At the highest level, you may have to wait until "reinforcements" are invoked.

Lower level battles are longer than most Arena matches, but always less than an hour in length. Higher level battles require more strategic planning and last longer. The highest level, the Campaign, lasts as long as a typical high level dungeon run and requires a similar amount of commitment.

Balance

There is a progression from simple strategy to complex. Players are placed into battlegrounds based on their ranking in the progression. In the "team league" placement is based on team rankings.

When a character ports into a battleground, his or her gear is replaced with "standard Army gear." This puts all players on an even footing in that regard.

Enhancements which adhere to the character are not affected. This means that active enhancements won in Theme Parks, and those gained in Battlegrounds, will still apply. Arena enhancements do not work in Battlegrounds.

Rewards

The highest rankings are offered for Battlegrounds. No gear is offered. Some enhancements are offered, however, active enhancements gained here will only work in Battlegrounds. Leveling achievements are offered for the lowest Tiers. None of these are based on kills.

Standard Army Gear for Battlegrounds

A universal complaint of fighters in the current game's battlegrounds is the disparity between newly leveled characters who are seeking gear and maxed out characters who are fully geared. A new character has almost no ability to do damage against an opponent in full PvP gear, and is likely to die frequently. This annoys the older players as much as the newer ones ... the older ones are looking for an even match and don't want to have to carry any undergeared members.

The ideal solution might be to stage PvP without gear, thus emphasizing skill to the maximum. However, some character attributes are increased or modified by gear, which makes this approach untenable.

A second solution is suggested by the releveling process. Since a character's gear must be releveled as the character enters a battleground, there is no reason why the character's personal gear cannot be replaced by a "standard reference set" of items. In other words, all plate head gear will have the same statistics, as will all cloth foot gear, all leather gloves, and so on. Ditto for classes of weapons - all swords will have the same statistics, as will all daggers, all wands, and so on.

To keep all characters from being exactly the same, and to motivate play, performance modifiers are offered as rewards. A modifier very slightly improves character performance, but it attaches to the character rather than to the gear. For example:

Enhancements should produce very small gains. They should be seen as a reward for good play over long periods of time. In particular, no one should want to grind for months at a time in order to gain an enhancement or two (though no doubt some players will, however small the value). And, enhancement should not apply in Theme Parks nor in Arenas, which already allow full gear.

Rewards

Rewards need to be structured to meet the needs of the venues. Theme Parks should give leveling points and enhancements, and winning or losing should not be of great importance. Arenas should give leveling points and enhancements, and winning or losing should establish a rating. Battlegrounds should give combat enhancements, and winning is all that matters.

 

NOTES

WHY Global PvP Doesn't Work

"Global" PvP is the notion that players will congregate in groups of varying size and battle with one another outside of the usual PvP venues.

PvP encounters tend to have three basic elements: timing, balance and rewards. Timing has to do with when the event occurs, how long it lasts and how long one can participate. Balance is the need for an even matchup. And rewards need to be adequate to the time and effort invested in the encounter. These three elements are present in all PvP venues, and so they are worth describing.

Timing

Most players want to fight on their schedules .. which is one reason why so many players choose random battlegrounds over team play in Arenas or Rated Battlegrounds ... randoms are there whenever you are ready to play. Included in this is the time it takes you to get to the fight. Putting a button for PvP play in the User Interface increased the number of players ... because they no longer had to take the time to go to a certain room to link in.

The elapsed time of the event is also a consideration. Arena matches and battlegrounds are fairly well defined in terms of length, and players make use of this information. Some players, for example, avoid Alterac Valley and Isle of Conquest because those encounters take too long. Others queue for Warsong Gulch because it has a fixed time limit.

Time-to-death is also a factor. Battleground fighters "rez", and usually not far from the action. Arena matches are short enough that even an early death is not a deterrent.

Balance

One aspect of balance is the overall relative strength of the sides. No one wants to constantly play against teams that have more players than they do. Nor do people want to play teams that clearly overmatch them in terms of gear and/or skill.

And, since PvP battles include numbers of short one-on-one encounters, the relative strength of those involved matters, too. Battlegrounds in the current game used to span ten levels, but level "zero" players were far too weak to face level "nine" players. Even with a span of five levels, the encounters are often one-sided.

Rewards

The problem of handing out rewards is a difficult one. If a reward is out in the open, easily available any time, where anyone can reach it, then everyone who wants it will get it. But that will quickly reduce the value of the reward. This is why the best rewards are held by bosses, located in dungeons, accessible only by adequately prepared groups.

PvP lags behind in this regard. Anyone can play PvP, and rewards are based primarily on participation ... if you play long enough, you gather enough points to get all the gear. Because of this, PvP has little in the way of unique, rare items to offer the better players.

PvP Zones

World of Warcraft has two zones especially set aside for PvP: Wintergrasp and Tol Barad. Today these are mostly empty most of the time. This is partly a matter of timing. The Zones are designed around forts and vehicles which are only active during the zone's formal battles, which happen every two hours or so, and there is no reason to be there while the equipment is "dead."

Partly the lack of use is a matter of balance. In the beginning, the battles were frequently one-sided, with one faction or the other having a bunch of people show up. The solution was to institute a queue, which limits participation on the larger side. But this just makes for smaller and smaller battles and reduces interest on both sides.

Finally, the rewards are limited. The value was reasonably good, but there were not very many of them. So as soon as players acquired what they could use, they stopped coming. Further, as time passes a zone by, as happened first with Wintergrasp, the rewards are too low level to be of interest to high level players. (I've played Wintergrasp at night, with a total of 8 players in the zone, four on each faction ... it's a weird and kind of senseless experience.)

World PvP

World PvP is deficient in each of these categories. Its timing is sporadic and unpredictable.

World PvP is very unbalanced. It just depends on who shows up.

And its rewards are less desirable than those of Arenas and Battlegrounds.

You would think that the players who want unstructured combat would flock to World PvP, but battlegrounds offer a better venue. Battlegrounds run on an all day schedule, they have fixed spaces in which to fight, they support rezzing, and they have useful rewards. So, when I am in a random battleground queue and someone shouts "the Horde are attacking Stormwind!", I shrug and wait for my battleground to come up.

(You can argue that I should care that Stormwind is under attack ... "be true to your faction", right? But I have as many Horde characters as Alliance, and I play them all regularly. For many players, "faction" is a convenient mechanic ... without it there would be a lack of conflict. When it comes to Election Day in the real world, I have loyalties ... but in an online combat game, not so much.)

The question is: can World PvP be fixed? And the answer is: probably not.

To rise to a level on par with Arena and Battleground venues, World PvP would need:

Rewards are easy, and rezzing could probably be done by creating a spell that automatically rezzes you within a few seconds if your PvP flag is up and you are dead. But travel to the fight is hard to set up if the fight can be anywhere in the world, and balancing a free-for-all engagement in the middle of anyplace is probably impossible.

The rational action is would seem to be the elimination of world PvP entirely, with servers defaulting to PvE. Any player who wants to put his character's PvP flag up can do so, which means that people who want to fight with one another can easily identify themselves. Faction conflict is firmly ingrained in the story line, and removing world PvP would not affect it. Players who want faction fighting have plenty of opportunity in the PvP venues.

There remains the argument from History. PvP was glorious in the old days, and the dream of armies swarming and heroes rising does not want to die. But reality disappoints. Even if there was a way to balance the gear and skills of large numbers of players of differing levels so that they could meet effectively in combat, there just aren't large numbers of players who are interested. At one time, "world PvP" played a significant role in the game. But that time has passed. PvP has moved to instanced venues, and it needs to be dealt with on that basis.

Nonetheless, the illusion of world combat might be maintained by presenting the Theme Parks as global conflict venues. One Park could be named "Warsong", for example, and could be presented as a location on the border conflict between the two factions. Another could be named "Alterac", another "Hellfire", and so on. Since the combat in Theme Parks is free form and ongoing, each could be embedded in a story line and contain attractions that denoted global conflict. Chains of "meta-achievements" could encourage players to move from one Park to another, increasing the feeling of world involvement.

Current PvP combat

Three features stand out in current PvP combat: get-the-healers, the "road/mid" problem, and the lack of progression.

Get the Healers

If two teams are evenly balanced in terms of gear and skill, the presence of an extra healer on one side or the other can make the difference. Probably, in most battlegrounds, the teams are not this evenly balanced; nonetheless, "kill the healers" has become the first rule of PvP combat. The logic is unassailable. If you burn down the other team's healers, then you have healers and they don't. So you won't die and they will. QED.

The result of this is the, probably inevitable, rise of the Healer Tank. At one point a popular build for PvP was a Protection Paladin wearing Healer gear. Carrying a flag, with another healer and one damage as company, this build was very hard to stop. It was erased, of course, as was a build with similar effect for Restoration Druids, but out of necessity, the trend continues.

It's hard to play a healer in PvP. You are constantly under attack, so much so that it's not unusual for most of your healing to be done to yourself. Nor is it unusual for a healer to run around, self-healing and drawing enemy fire, while his or her team's damage members try to kill the enemy ...(though, of course, if there are enemy healers nearby, the damage will be directed at them). The situation has been made worse by the introduction of Resilience ... which allows characters to take damage so slowly that small amounts of healing go a long way. Strangely, this does not reduce the importance of healers ... it just makes the fights last for very long periods of time.

Perhaps the key insight is to notice that PvP is not Raiding. The Tank, Healer, Damage triad that governs dungeon raids makes little sense in PvP encounters. This is the basic argument for WOO II's Life Paths ... it's silly to imagine that the same character can be equally effective in Raiding and PvP ... the activities have evolved to the point where they are just too different.

A second observation has to do with focus. In a typical melee, without healers, players focus on one another more or less at random. When a healer appears, it's easy to say "get the healer" and focus fire. Especially in random battlegrounds, where most players do not cooperate very well, this is one of the few actions that happen with efficient regularity.

A more effective way to deal with this problem might be to provide PvP damage players with less mitigation and more self-healing. That way they would have less need for healers, and they would have to balance their time between offense and defense, which could break up the "kill the healers" pattern. In the same sense, PvP healers need to be less effective as healers and more so as damagers - making them less of a threat overall. The ideal, a situation where all PvP fighters are equally able to damage and heal, is probably unlikely, but the balance probably could be shifted in that direction.

The Road/Mid Problem

This is a problem that is peculiar to battlegrounds. Arenas are settings in which fights occur, but Battlegrounds are games. The games involve goals: capturing flags, breaking down walls, killing bosses, and so on. In order to accomplish these goals, the players need to work as a team.

Unfortunately, it is not unusual for some of the players on nearly every random battleground team to prefer to meet in the middle of the battlefield ("mid") or in the spaces between the game's objectives ("roads") and duel ... essentially to fight an Arena battle inside a Battleground.

When the assumption that a group of battleground players is a team breaks down, the results are dissatisfying for all involved. The "midiots", "roadkill", or ... there are a number of disparaging terms ... get yelled at by the other players, mocked, and occasionally cursed. The game players end up playing the game shorthanded, which frustrates and angers them. As it angers the duelers, who pay their subscription fees and see not reason not to use the venues as they see fit.

This isn't good, and the problem is directly the fault of the game's design. To raid in dungeons, a player must join a team, but players who are too fractious to get along in a random raid will be quickly "kicked". Arena teams are permanent, and players who do not get along will have to leave. Random Battlegrounds are the one place in the game where combat is permitted without any need for cooperation.

This situation reaches in peak during the weeks after the Arena season ends and before a new game upgrade comes out. During this time, Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds are closed. Those players, having nowhere else to go, descend on the Random Battlegrounds. The Arena pros have no desire to play a game, so they hang out in the midfields and the roads and utterly slaughter the players who normally duel there. Meanwhile, the RBG teams run plays communicated via Ventrilo as they rack up easy wins.

The bottom line is that the game designers need to find a place for the duelers to hang out. All they really want is to go somewhere and fight with one another without the hassle of rules or teams. This shouldn't be all that hard to arrange.

A second group of Road/Mid fighters are the "grinders." These are players who are leveling characters by means of Battlegrounds. While Questing, Arenas and Dungeons also provide experience, battlegrounds require the least effort ... being the only venue where you can simply hang out in a crowd, out of the action, and gain points without actually doing anything. Nor does it matter very much whether your team wins or loses - you get points in any case, and over time these add up.

The problem with grinding lies partly in the "Level Cap", which pushes players to level their characters as quickly as possible, and partly in the structure of Battlegrounds, which have no progression and make the need to succeed relatively less important.

The WOO II approach to this problem is to make Theme Parks the most attractive venue for the duelers and the grinders. Theme Parks offer endless unstructured fighting, they offer the highest degree of leveling for Fighters, and they offer the best passive enhancement rewards. At the same time, Battlegrounds become more oriented towards strategy and game play. The hope is that the combination will separate the groups of Players.

Battleground Progression

PvP combat suffers in comparison to PvE combat in that PvE players progress, while PvP players simply repeat the same battles over and over again.

"Progression" means, in essence, that as you succeed, you gain access to more difficult challenges. So, in the same sense that PvE Dungeon progression requires increasingly high levels of coordination and expertise, PvP progression should require the same. For battlegrounds this implies a series that might go like this:

  1. Tier 1 - simple, unstructured melee combat,
  2. Tier 2 - simple tactical combat with some communication and cooperation,
  3. Tier 3 - more complex tactical combat with some strategy and significant cooperation,
  4. Tier 4 - highly strategic combat.

The list of sample battlegrounds that appears on the Battlegrounds page was built with this in mind. Tier 1 has simple battlegrounds such as basic "capture-the-flag" that let players practice team play and individual fighting without worrying too much about strategy. Tiers 2 battlegrounds make communication more important and introduce more complicated objectives. Tier 3 requires solid coordination and communications and knowledge of the battlegrounds strategies. Tier 4 introduces Campaigns, hour-long, asymmetric battles in which strategy and excellent teamwork are the key to success.