Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Great Divide - PvP vs PvE

If you've followed this blog for any length of time you've probably noticed that I very rarely (if ever) write anything about pvp. The reason is simple - I don't enjoy pvp, so I don't engage in it, therefore I don't have much to say about it. Whether I don't enjoy pvp because I'm bad at it, or I'm bad at it because I never do it (probably a mix of both) is another question, suffice to say that I can hardly remember the last time I joined a bg. It might come as something of a surprise then if I tell you that pvping is how I started out to play this game.

When I first rolled what now is my main - Zinn the priest - I nearly exclusively pvpd for the first year or so. Back then I preferred playing shadow over healing, but unfortunately shadow priests weren't designed to be eligble dpsers in pve content. If I ever wanted to do instances, it had to be as a healer. So to get to play the spec I preferred at that time, I had to pvp, and that is what I did.

Pvp back then wasn't much like it is today. The only bgs around were WSG, AB and AV and classes were still pretty unbalanced on the pvp scene. The only arena around was the Gurubashi Arena. Warlocks had their trollolol fear and rng stuns made rogues and warriors really annoying. Some classes definitely kicked everyone elses ass, I even remember that rogues had a pretty easy time killing people with nothing but dirks. Skilled mages could pop PoM with their trinkets to solo a band of enemies. Shadowpriests weren't too shabby actually, I became really good at kill stealing with Mind Blast, easily getting me topped on the "kills" list.

I eventually found the joy in healing, and when BC was released I had pretty much left the pvp scene, never to return. Pvp changed alot during this time. To me the biggest bummer was that pvp became less of a fun side-game and more and more of a game of its own. This isn't a bad thing, only it made me enjoy pvp less. When you had to have a full special gear set only to be able to pvp, and the differences between those people who pvpd regularly and those who only wanted to jump in now and then for fun (like me) became too big, the fun just went out of pvp for me. The random skirmish that I enjoyed had transformed into a full fledged CS-wannabe where fun had been replaced with seriousness and people screaming "noob" after you if you didn't do everything perfectly. There is obviously fun in it, since people do it. It's just not my kind of fun. In a way I felt about pvp back then what alot of people feel about pve right now.

But even though I moved away from pvp, pvp became more and more prevalent in my gaming. As Blizzard set themselves on their quest to balance the two worlds together, players noticed that whatever happened on one arena was going to affect the other as well. Pvp was always an important part of the game, but never as important as the pve aspect. If it had been, then Blizzard would've started out with both parts equally well designed at the beginning. Instead pvp was slowly trickled into the pve setting. I can understand Blizzards idea here, catch them with the pve, keep them with the pvp. I'm not sure how many people actually start playing WoW because of the awesome pvp possibilities (there are probably loads of games out there that do it better than WoW). But I can imagine a whole lot of people who started out enjoying the pve part, getting bored with raiding/instancing, decided to sticking around because of the fun they found in pvp. I'm not sure if Blizzard had planned for this from the beginning, or if they soon realized the potential in pvp and from there on decided to make it a more and more important part of the game (as with many other aspects of the game). Either way it may be, pvp has become an equally important part of the game right now, if not perhaps, even more important than pve. Why do I say this?

Like I mentioned, when I pvpd back in Vanilla, the class differences and the game balance were an issue. But it was a charming issue for everyone who didn't take pvping dead serious. Being able to master a class that was an "underdog" and win over a class that had a better pvp design was very prestigeous. People really awed at skilled mages and druids. That doesn't mean you should keep design choices that meant one class never ever had a chance against another class (kind of like rogues vs warriors) or the ones that made some races completely overpowered against other races (like orc stun immunity). If the differences are too big, people won't play. But differences don't have to be a bad thing. Being bad in one area but excell in another is what makes a class interesting imo. When you chose to play a mage you knew that you'd have no survivability, unlike a paladin, but on the other hand you could one shot people if you played your cards right.

As pvp got more and more serious, so did the little details become more and more serious, similar to the course pve has taken as mentioned. It might just be that this is an inevitable part of how a game progresses. To keep peoples interest they have to be able to go nerdy into details, and the designers have to be able to offer everyone an equal chance at what they do. Maybe. It is clear that in any case, alot of people seem to enjoy the newness and freshness that new games offer, where people don't know the best course of action. But maybe it is impossible for a game to go back to this state, it can only move towards more and more detailed design choices and homogeny among the classes.

Just as too much homogeny among classes in pve has bothered me, so does too much homogeny between the pve and pvp arenas bother me. I never really understood why they had to be perfectly balanced. And in the end it always felt like it meant pve was really being balanced to work better in pvp (although I bet pvpers feel it's the other way around). Why did I, who wanted nothing to do with pvp, have to see a skill changed or nerfed (very rarely buffed) because of the fact that it didn't work well in pvp. A good example that comes to mind is the druid Entangling Roots Glyph, or the recent change to being able to shapeshift out of roots. A system (and glyph) I thought worked perfectly well and had a clear role in pve, completely changed because, I imagine, of reasons related solely to pvp (I could be wrong, but even if I am there are tons of more examples).

Don't get me wrong - I don't mind pvp being a big part of WoW. I do not necessarily wish for them to be completely split up, as I know some people have suggested. Where you choose servers that are either balanced towards pvp or pve. I do feel like everyone should be able to choose to do either at any given time without having to switch servers. But I also wish that they would be split up in some sense. The funny thing is that Blizzard already have taken steps in this direction. There are plenty of skills, mostly cc skills, that work very different in pve vs pvp. Some skills and items don't work at all. Yet they completely refuse to take the final step to just have every skill work differently (if needed) in pvp and pve. Blizzard have stated that they will never take this final step, because it has always been their intent to have the both worlds intertwined. I don't feel like splitting the skills necessarily has to remove this. Like I said, they've already done this to a couple of skills, so the technology and knowledge as to how to go about doing it is already there. Players have already played with these differences for a long time so I can't imagine that being a big reason for not wanting to do this either.

About a year ago the company I worked for were bankrupted, and I was out of a job. The company had been doing well, and had a positive net, yet they had to close down. The reason was that another company within the corporate group had made a bad move and lost a huge sum of money. My company was deemed less necessary and the entire shortage was put on its shoulders instead, saving the other companies ass. Although I had had nothing to do with the other company, although the two companies had nothing in common besides being under the same corporate group, and although my company had done nothing wrong, I was still the one without a job. Some other peoples problems became my problems, because it was a "smooth way to solve the situation". I can see a resemblance to how pvp and pve works in WoW.

Interestingly enough, these are one of the few things where Blizzard stubbornly go against what the majority of the players would want. I don't know anyone who feels like the constant balancing between pvp and pve is a good thing about the game or that the game would be ruined if they just made a pvp and pve version of all the skills. I believe most people would enjoy this idea. Imagine if you could play your class completely unrestricted by rules put on it from another part of the game? Imagine if you could pull off awesome pve stunts, that would be overpowered in pvp, but completely cool in pve? Imagine if the Blizzard dev team could go "Omg this idea would be completely awesome to implement!" without having to go "no wait, scrap that, too good in pvp" (and vice versa).

That is really another argument for it. When Blizzard first launched dks, they wanted them to be able to dps or tank with any spec. In Cataclysm they scrapped that design choice because the balancing between specs was too difficult. It was too much trouble making a talent tree that would accommodate both a tank and a dpser without making the spec too powerful, let alone three (there are probably other reasons, but I am sure this is the main reason). Yet they are decided on keeping the same idea for pvp and pve. Imagine all the trouble that would be solved like with a magic wand if Blizzard just could cut the chord between pvp and pve. They should love the idea as much as I do!

One of the reasons Blizzard thinks world-pvp is dead is because of the balance issues (another is the lack of rewards, which should be easily fixed although that says something about the motivations of pvpers in WoW too). I've done the bolding (bolded? Boldified?).
"The best I can think that you could do is create a specific world PvP zone where you don't allow flying mounts, give some objective to tug-o-war over, and so you can justify giving some semi-meaningful rewards and keep people interested you'd need to find some way to even up the sides (because world PvP is inherently going to be unfair). I think you do all that and you probably have the best working solution for bringing back world PvP." - Source
If we leave out the kind of world-pvp where one player jumps another who is questing, and take the kind where both parts are ready for it, does world pvp really have to be inherently unfair? Unfixably unfair? It isn't in other pvp games, at least not to the extent where the game is unplayable. World-pvp is basically pvp in a pve setting, and throughout the years Blizzard have made alot of adjustments to how pvp works in a pvp setting, to be able to fix the balance issues. Because they wouldn't have the same control over the pve-setting they have balance issues. But isn't that because they're really patching the wrong area? What they really are doing already, is having classes and items work very differently in pvp and pve, only they've moved the fix to the surroundings instead of the classes themselves. I am speculating now, but maybe world-pvp would get another chance if all our spells (not just a few) just simply worked differently when used against other players in any setting. That has to be simpler to balance methinks.

Right now pve and pvp are holding eachother back. I wouldn't have minded Blizzards grand ideas of balancing the two with eachother, if I ever, during these 6 years, felt like it had actually worked. Right now I constantly see how one is hampered by the other and also that the problem is growing (see abovementioned druid issues for example). In the end I feel sorry for Blizzard, for undertaking such a huge task and refusing to just admit that everything would be so much simpler if they gave both arenas equal chance to be important and grow in their own directions. That their pve-pvp marriage just wasn't meant to be in this manner. Now Blizzard reminds me of when I tried to learn juggling with clubs at 9 years of age. I ended up crying and completely blue on the arms but sternly refused to realize that I'd be better off trying another way of doing and learning it. Practice makes perfect, and Blizzard might just get the hang of the balancing act in the end. I'm just not sure it's worth all the pain it takes to get there.


  1. I think what is meant by "Inherently unfair" with regards to world PvP is that there is no throttle over how many of each faction is involved at any given time. Oh a horde-heavy server, for example, world PvP would be such that Alliance would never, ever win.

    Well, there *are* ways to balance it. But I doubt anyone would want the more obvious ones.

  2. My take on the whole PvP vs. PvE situation is to have ONE system for all combats. There should be no reason why you shouldn't be able to go from fighting that quest mob to fending off an attack from a faction opposite without having to stop and think about what kind of gear you have on or how your talents are going to work just because you're fighting a live player. Make it ONE system, ONE set of game mechanics and ONE set of gear and voila! Problem solved.