Monday, 10 December 2007

PvP and advancement

Psychochild's blog (RSS) sets a weekly game design challenge, which is a great exercise for thinking about possible game systems and game mechanics. This week's exercise is coming up with a successful PvP design. I've commented on his blog, but it's worth repeating here as PvP games with advancement are fundamentally broken. As David Sirlin points out, it's like a grandmaster getting two queens instead of bishops because he's been playing longer than his opponent. If you disagree, he's written an excellent article criticising World of Warcraft for this reason, among others.

So the challenge for anyone doing a PvP design where they want to allow advancement is to come up with a fundamentally unbroken version of advancement.

My suggestion follows:

If you are going to do PvP with advancement, I'd recommending taking a leaf out of the Call of Cthulhu RPG design and have a learn through failure approach. The loser gets to pick one ability that the winner has used, which they don't know. The winner improves the ability picked, and the loser learns it.

That immediately makes the advancement through PvP technique have it's own tactical component in terms of which opponents you select. By restricting the ability chosen to only something that the loser doesn't know, you also encourage people to go out and find enemies that they haven't fought before. They may even be encouraged to set up 'dojo' like systems, in order to train as many beginners in the ability they want to improve.

[Edit: You'll probably want to read 'How to make a game with PvP Done Right'.]


CPL said...

At the risk of sounding like a Grumpy Old Man, this sort of suggestion is a classic case of "don't think about it too much". In the case of the Call of Cthulhu system, the playing field levels out very quickly, as everyone's skills propagate exponentially. What you're left with is, as always, is players who play the most have the most levelled-up in-game abilities, and therefore an instrinsic advantage.

Subscription-based PvP games have to reward time invested... that's their business model. Ideally, you'd match up (and reward) players according to a Elo-like system, which biases the game back towards skill rather than raw time invested... but you can't do away with the latter altogether.

Andrew Doull said...

Why do subscription PvP games have to reward time invested?

Just look at the number of poker sites out there as a great counter example for a business model that doesn't reward time invested.

Or at least, they don't reward time invested directly. The pay offs are indirect: either more money, if you win consistently, or an improvement in player skill, but not character skill.

It's the business model of many current games for sure, but they're just better designed Skinner boxes.

CPL said...

For any game, the only two things a player can bring to the table are time and skill. If you can find a way to reward them for both, the odds of turning them into a nice, long-term subscriber are pretty high :)

Rewarding a player purely for time invested is bad, because it favors the proverbial basement-dweller, and works against the 'casual' player. On the other hand, purely skill-based rewards are also bad, because they punish new and/or average players. As always, the art is in finding a balance.

Gareth LovesTha Pye said...

I tend to think that something akin to the mechanic of collecting in collectable card games would be relevant.

reward time spent with more tools, but don't make the tools have different intrinsic worth. At least balance them. A game needs to be very complex to allow for enough tools that are differentiable without power creep.

Andrew Doull said...

I was going to do a big follow-up, but then I read

and realised it left me very little left to say.

Andrew Doull said...

I'll dump the full link in the OP.

Ravious said...

Read the followup link. I am surprised GW doesn't get more high marks and notice. You know why, IMHO? Because GW lacks the grind. I have not had more fun in PvP though than playing a GvG or Fort Aspenwood or Alliance Battle in Guild Wars (although a siege in DaoC comes in a not too far second).

Christopher Brandt said...

Regarding your poker example: All the internet Poker sites I know of let you bring materialistic advantages into play instead of time based advantages by offering texas hold'em no limit, which I would suggest brings the most money to the provider's pockets.
(and it IS an advantage in poker to bring more money into play than your opponent).

I tend to say that all subscription based PvP game reward the money invested (which in most cases is time). Another example for this is Magic: The Gathering online, where you have to buy your cards like in real life. But maybe you can give me a good example for subscription based PvP games who don't do that.

A good example for non-subscription based PvP playing, is playing MTG with MTG-Workstation, where every player has access to all cards. The only things he can bring into the game is card knowledge and creativity as well as a sense of combination for the deckbuilding part and pure skill and deck knowledge for the playing part.

Furthermore, I thought this still would be a roguelike development site, but you didn't mention the interesting aspect of permadeath. The mechanic of permadeath makes the time invested (or better: the time the game allows you to invest into one char) equal to the player skill*, so letting two roguelike chars fight each other (if they are both willing to) is totally legit to the fun-aspect of PvP (mentioned in the linked article): they invested the time their skill allowed them to invest into a char, which they are now risking to loose just to get some loot and experience. During the fight, player-skill will still important (think of the great tactical opportunities in roguelikes e.g.) and even before the fight game-knowledge is very important: is it worth the fight and is it possible for me to win against char x with equipment and skills y?

Hope there will be more roguelike realated stuff when you're talking about things that are especially interesting when combined with roguelike mechanics in the future.

* of course you can spend hours just pressing no key and staring at the screen but I think we can well assume that there's an average time for a well-thought ingame action

Andrew Doull said...

Hope there will be more roguelike realated stuff when you're talking about things that are especially interesting when combined with roguelike mechanics in the future.

There will be. Don't worry. An announcement about that will be coming up...