PvP or PvE Have Become Meaningless Terms

I don’t think it’s really useful to just say PvP or PvE and assume everyone has a shared standard of values and definition of what it means anymore.

I mean, even the concept of a “raid” has begun to diverge.

A Wildstar raid has a different feel than a WoW raid. With absolutely zero experience in either, I feel fairly confident in saying that one is liable to have a lot more colored shapes on the ground and bullet hell than the other. An Archeage raid apparently involves trying to take down a world boss in the middle of a big ass PvP warzone, and then there’s GW2 not-quite-raids, which can apply to taking down world bosses or a zone challenge in an organized fashion with 100-150 members, or the WvW usage thereof, which is an organized PvP-esque group of 10-20 guild members, firing off skills in a coordinated fashion to defeat other parties.

What more a general term like PvP or PvE?

Instead, I’d like to suggest that we start breaking down these large concepts into various factors that we can profile different players by.

I’m still grappling with the precise factors, so there may be overlaps or repeat themselves somewhat, but I’d propose things like:

  • Loss aversion / Risk Tolerance
  • Need for Control (over self / surroundings or daily game experience / others)
  • Need for Variation
  • Need for Challenge
  • Luck vs Skill Preference
  • Time Investment / Effort vs Skill Preference
  • Contested / Non-contested Preference
  • Asymmetry Tolerance / Level or Uneven Playing Field?

Our very general concept of PvP tends to assume that PvPers have pretty high risk tolerance and aren’t very loss averse, treating character death or equipment loss as no big deal and part and parcel of the game. They’re probably fairly open to being acted on by others and responding to sudden changes in their surroundings or daily game experiences, while having a need to control or dominate others through defeating them and enjoying the sweet thrill of victory. They might have a high need for variety, given that PvP situations tend to result in unpredictable matchups and encounters. If you listen to what PvPers say about themselves, they love the challenge of an evenly-matched unpredictable human opponent wit-matching battle, and PvErs are ez-mode-seeking noobs.  And of course, they enjoy contested games.

You may note that I didn’t mention certain factors like  “luck vs skill” or “time/effort vs skill” yet. I’ll touch on that later.

Conversely, the generalized ideal of your typical PvE carebear is that they’re very loss averse, being allergic to dying even once in a fight. They may have a higher need for control over what happens to them in their daily game experience (which explains all the stereotypical begging for PvP flags or PvE servers so that they can choose when and where they encounter PvP.) If you listen to what PvErs say about themselves, they love a challenging raid encounter boss that they’ll have to keep trying and trying again to defeat, and PvPers are ganking griefing bullies who love to pick on those who can’t fight back.

Try as I might to shoehorn the other factors in, you might observe my attempted generalizations breaking down because really, there’s no stereotypical PvEr, just as there isn’t a stereotypical PvPer.

Some PvErs don’t really need a lot of variation in their daily MMO routine, or maybe it’s just for certain activities. I personally am quite content to farm repetitively for periods of time or mine a bunch of nodes in peace and quiet with no one interrupting me. I quite appreciate a predictable mob whose attack patterns I can learn and then slowly master and defeat. Then again, I get bored out of my mind if you ask me to repeat an easy world boss cycle or the same goddamn dungeon over and over, while other players – I note with absolute bemusement – are perfectly content to do just that!

Other PvErs are languishing away, hoping to eventually find devs with the tech and money to create a more unpredictable PvE world of mobs with intelligent AI and dynamic events producing a great variety of situations to encounter. But only computer-controlled, mind you, human players are too threatening.

Some PvPers are content to log in daily to their WvW matchup or their MOBAs at a set time every night and just play the same series of maps over and over, finding variation only in the players and playstyles they encounter, and the random micro-situations that result. Others really like the grand vision of a living breathing immersive world that’s set up like the Wild West, where you’re free to attack others whenever you want, where there aren’t many rules but the law of the jungle or the sheriff and his posse… while still others are sitting on the fence waiting for another set of laws somewhere in between the more lawless times of our history and our modern day world.

You’ll find that among both PvErs and PvPers, some people are a lot more willing to gamble big than others, or able to take the prospect of serious loss or backwards progression with equanimity. Their opposite number are the ones that argue against permadeath, against equipment loss in any form, against anything high-risk and high-consequence and would prefer everything of that ilk not present in the games they play.

Someone without a very high need for control over themselves and their surroundings may be a viable candidate for showing up in an open world PvP game, or a game with negative or backward progress consequences, regardless of whether they consider themselves a PvPer. Especially if you can tempt them in with things they -are- interested in, such as being able to socialize in a close community, or crafting/building/decorating a house, or trading and market PvP, or a simulation of a ‘realistic-in-their-eyes’ world and they’ll cheerfully put up with being your fat targets for combat-oriented PvPers in trade for those things.

On the other hand, those players who hate that sort of thing won’t be caught dead or alive in those kinds of games, or if they did get attracted, they’ll probably end up flaming out and rage-quitting one day when they can’t take it anymore.

On the PvE front, the control freaks are the ones that are most likely to be in regular groups of friends and not caught dead in random LFG finders, or off soloing by themselves, or possibly even leading – setting up situations under their personal control, in other words, and are liable to get twitchy or toxic when things don’t quite go their way or as they expect. Their opposite number are liable to be flitting from random situation to random situation with nary a care in the world.

In the same way, one might even suggest that we have low-challenge-seeking PvErs AND PvPers. One farms punching bag autoattack mobs, the other farms newbies or low levels, and both enjoy what they do.

The typical gamer, whom you’ll find almost always praises themselves as loving high challenge, will often speak in desultory fashion about this subset of players – but like always, it’s not so much what people say, as what they do.

I’ll  personally admit to liking a bit of easy fun now and then, even if I’ll rather do it to mobs than on another person. Then again, if it’s for an overall objective, I’m not above ruthlessly spawn-camping someone to break their morale so that they leave the battlefield and leave the other side outnumbered, or targeting the weakest link first and taking them right out, when I’ve chosen to play a PvP game. I like to play my games well and as efficiently as I can.

Given my observation of the general mass of players in any game, I suspect the ‘easy fun’ lovers to be a substantial subset, if not an outright majority. A dev would actually have metrics of this. And if they want to get paid, it may very well be in their interests to give these easy fun lovers some outlets. (Which leads to things like ‘welfare epics,’ ‘spam 1 to get loot farming’ and ‘gankers that sit around in low level zones cackling.’ Evils in the eyes of high-challenge-seeking players, but perhaps they’re necessary evils in a particular game. Or perhaps not – we’ll just have to see if anyone comes up with any cleverer design solutions.)

I also want to point out that it’s not a dichotomy. The theory of flow suggests that there are at least three states that ‘challenge’ can exist, rather than just high vs low, black vs white.

There’s low, middle or optimal, and high.

Too high challenge is frustrating. Overly frustrating people leads to learned helplessness and quitting.

The dream, of course, is the middle path of perfect, optimal challenge, leading to engagement and flow. Except to complicate things, different people have different frustration tolerances too, so what’s middle and optimal for one, may be too hard or too easy for another.

(Variable difficulty levels that adjust to the player is one suggested solution, but it’s always much easier typed or said than done, of course. Exactly how you vary this, and whether you let the player have any say or control over the matter, have been attempted by different games to differing effect.)

Also, some are more able to persevere after being knocked down, and others will throw in the towel earlier. This is less of a moral impeachment on their character, but more often due to a perceived locus of control. People who believe they can’t affect their situation and convert it from a negative to positive result are more likely to just give up.

Someone who is convinced that their twitch reflexes aren’t very good and not easily improved are more liable to just shrug and dismiss ever being any good at action-y games, whereas another might find they have sufficient time and motivation to keep practicing and plugging away until they improve.

Me, I really detest the concept of grinding for better stats to improve performance, so if you present such a game scenario to me, I’m more likely to tell you to soak the game in a barrel of water and that I’m going off to play another less annoying game that doesn’t force me into this treadmill. Another person who really digs the idea of putting in effort and seeing visible incremental progress come back – regardless of how static his or her personal game-playing skills remain -  will happily jump onto this crystal clear path of progression “to get stronger.”

As Talarian suggests, the higher-than-average skilled will always argue for a meritocracy where better skill leads to better rewards. But the presence of randomness and RNG luck rolls reward the weaker or below-average players from time to time and keep them playing the game – which is beneficial to both devs (who get paid) and for the game as a whole (higher population, more concurrent players, etc.)

Let’s not forget that if you chase away the worse players, the average will move, and there will be a new bar for “average” that’s set even higher, causing a new group of players to become “below average.”

Too much randomness, of course, and you don’t have very much of a game at all besides a game of pure chance, which will chase away the subset of players who want skill to have a tangible effect on their success at a game.

Then there’s my afterthought of asymmetry tolerance, which I -just- shoehorned in.

Perceptions of this also differ. Some people hate the very thought of GW2′s WvW because there are servers that are more populated than others, or number imbalances at different timezones, and refuse to play such an asymmetrical style of PvP. Give them totally even number tournament-style matchups, thank you. That’s a lot fairer and more competitive, in their viewpoint.

Me, I can deal with the above, because I find that they replicate a certain ‘reality’ of military history, that outnumbered fights happen and that there’s a beauty to tactics and strategy that can change localized number imbalances in your favor – such as feigning attacks in one place while committing to the real thing at another, or just spiking and focus-firing important or weaker targets.

But I do tend to cringe at stat and level imbalances piled on top of these, and find that a little -too- asymmetrical for myself to tolerate. Others are perfectly fine with it – after all, it’s ‘realistic’ too that some people might be naturally stronger than others, right?

The types of games that we play are very much dictated by our own preferences of factors like I’ve suggested above. It’s too much of a simplification to just lump things as PvE or PvP, and assume that never shall the twain meet.

Grouping and Soloing in Terraria Hardmode

Cowabunga!

Over on the Terraria end, hard-mode has been my drug of choice.

I find that I enjoy the challenge of facing something difficult and initially pwns your face off, but then steadily working out how to defeat it via better and creative tactics (and possibly incrementally better gear.)

The big BUT is that I can accept this quite easily in a singleplayer or small multiplayer game, but somehow the flow seeking for optimal challenge seems to break down in a big MMO.

One major difference that I can think of is that Terraria allows creativity of block placement and the ability to alter your scenery. You get to dig trap pits, walls and barriers to shield yourself, plot and plan and set up regeneration stations (<3 my honey pits) and the eventual reward of this industry is the capacity for “easy fun” when the mob progresses to the “on farm” phase, where you stand around, hold down a mouse button and cackle as things die and loot drops.

In a big MMO, progress is more measured by how good your gear gets, and how well your group/raid members play.

In Terraria, there is incrementally better gear as well, but progress on that front is generally a lot faster.

RNG chances of 0.5% – 1% are a LOT more palatable when you can go through one mob in under a few seconds and can generate hundreds of them in under an hour.

Contrast this with an MMO raid where you only get to test the favor of the RNG gods once a night for maybe twice a week at best and things start to get annoying very quickly.

Mobs in Terraria can be soloed. I’m not at the mercy of waiting for others to match my timings and praying they or their gear is up to the fight.

They’re also easier in a group, so there is still incentive to come together when everyone is online.

And of course, the most fun in Terraria arises from the creative collaboration. Taking the ideas of one person and then running with it, being inspired by and improving on it.

arena

The old new arena, you may recall, was a clean glitzy place marred only by the record of our untimely demise at the hands of Skeletron when we summoned him on a whim a little -too- close to the dawn.

Post-hardmode, one thing has pretty much led to another.

Our group ‘boss’ project has been the Pumpkin Moon event, a series of 15 waves to be fought during the space of night. Logically and rightfully, it’s a lot easier to push the waves when there’s more of us around than attempting to solo. (But you could always summon it solo and still try it out, so there’s no nasty restriction there.)

Eri and I once attempted the event as a duo, and got to something like Wave… 4? Memory fails. From there, we noticed the tendency of mobs to start falling into certain locations, like a lake bed, and the idea was born to start playing mechanic and wiring up traps to defeat the smaller mobs more easily. (Also conveniently getting all of us familiar with the new stuff to boot.)

Each person has built upon the ideas of the other, and our new arena is pretty danged lethal. (Note: Keep hands and feet and body away from machinery when spiky balls are in operation!)

newnewarena

The assorted junk at the center of the arena was also a collaborative effort. I stuck a honey pit and campfire (and later a heart crystal) there cos I loves me some stacked regen. I put a clock there too cos I hate shuffling around my accessories trying to check when night was coming via a GPS.

Eri set up teleporters for kiting bosses, and a bed spawn point, and a chest and other conveniences have popped on in.

I wanted to play with asphalt.

I had 999 pieces of gel to use up, and the thought of running places at double the speed was very appealing to my lazy soul. Especially for getting to the dungeon quickly to farm all the goodies inside.

What better to use it on than Eri’s already set-up highway?

Followin' the black brick road...

Followin’ the black brick road…

Of course, sometimes collaboration has a cost. It involves compromises.

The new and improved lethal trap corridor below our arena necessitated the removal of a scenic lake. Someone’s *cough* lazy draining methods have turned it into a somewhat boring rectangular underwater reservoir.

reservoirdeath

I see it also claimed the life of its builder. Hooray for turtles and their were-merfolk ability!

Of course, all this means is the ability to re-collaborate and re-improve on the design.

I’m still pondering what to do with the stored water. I recently worked out how to pump liquids with pumps and wires and am somewhat eager to play with it. Just need a good idea.

I installed a bit better lighting because turtles are still blind as a bat (need to farm my nice white light off dungeon mobs at some point), took the opportunity to redecorate my tunnel in the gaudy fashion of someone who really likes those crystal shards but has no real sense of what’s appropriate, and stuck in a new door for one more minor mob speedbump before they pop in to plague me in the midst of crafting stuff.

Oh, and I also repaved the new way up (the one that doesn’t involve flying head on into a hundred spiky balls) with asphalt, just because.

It makes a hilarious fun slide into the other pond on returning from the castle.

And the cost of the speedy new west highway?

pumpkintunnel

Someone’s pumpkin has a hole in it. A very straight worm drilled through it. That’s what a little bird told me. Yes.

Halloween’s over. Pumpkins rot, y’know?! (At least, partially.)

My creations tend to be more on the ugly but functional side of things. Especially for speeding up farming of items I want, but am too impatient to spend hours waiting for.

Terraria has been kind enough to allow increasing mob spawn rates by standing by a water candle and drinking a battle potion, so farming seems to be very much a part of the game.

I want the ability to summon Pirate Invasions, because they’re fun, and that requires a pirate map consumable that is used up per summon. You get a pirate map off a rare chance killing mobs in the Ocean biome. That involves walking to the edge of the map and lots of swimming, and I’ve already killed so many sharks in a prior search for a diving helmet that I could make shark’s fin soup if such an item existed in Terraria.

Solution? Enter the meteor farm. Placing 50 pieces of meteorite anywhere turns it into an artificial meteor biome, and in near end-game armor, a helpful leaf crystal acts like an autoturret that can one-shot the meteor heads that spawn to accompany the biome.

sunsandandmeteors

Ugly, but functional. And the wooden platform below catches most of the drops.

It also allows for more active participation when desired, because I can only AFK so long before getting trigger happy.

The other thing that I regularly amuse myself with is the artificial biome project.

I guess I just enjoy taming the wilderness by encasing it in easily accessible little bubbles that preserve its habitat for posterity. I don’t even mind the mobs that keep spawning from them, they make life fairly entertaining (though I do have a certain hatred for a giant fungi bulb that insists on throwing nasty spores in the air that whack an unaware person for 56 damage per spore.)

Home sweet artificial biomes. All trees finally growing.

Home sweet artificial biomes. All trees finally growing.

All attempts at preserving natural antlion populations are failing miserably. I think I need a longer desert.

All attempts at preserving the natural antlion populations are failing miserably. I think I need a longer desert.
Work has begun on an underground jungle, though so far, it's more of an underground fish farm.

Work has begun on an underground jungle, though so far, it’s more of an underground fish farm.

The Repetitive Nature of Games and Why Endgame is Elusive

Here we go round the mulberry bush...

Scree’s back! And the criticism this time is repetition.

Here’s the dirty little secret: games -are- repetitive.

One of the points of a game is that it lays out a set of rules and you repeat and iterate on the scenarios it presents you with till you get better at it and “beat it” or “win.” Games have a learning curve.

The nirvana that everyone is seeking is that perfect state of flow, where one’s skill level perfectly matches the level of challenge so that one is deeply engaged.

(Image from Wikipedia.)

(Image from Wikipedia)

Problem is, everyone is different.

One game’s level of challenge may match one player perfectly, while another may find the challenge too difficult and thus end up worried and anxious.

I’m not sure that graph is accurate on the lower scale, where relaxation is graphed at a higher skill level than boredom.

For some, it could be the other way around, where high skill level and low challenge leads to boredom, while a medium skill level and low challenge leads to finding the activity relaxing.

Then again, for others, it’s a lot easier to be bored than it is to really relax – one may need l33t Zen monk skills in meditation to achieve proper relaxation, while nearly anyone can be bored outta their effing mind on a regular basis.

It’s in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.

It really comes down to what kind of repetition you find fun (or will put up with) in order to do something that you feel is enjoyable.

Different people reach different answers.

Scree finds that PvP produces a new situation every time it occurs. Those who prefer PvP tend to claim that they are drawn to this because the skills used can be the same, but the opponents are different, creating sufficient variety for them.

I’m especially tickled because I somehow managed to find that WvW was too repetitive and burned myself out from the game format some time ago.

You see, personality-wise, I’m very low on the competitive Killer Bartle scale. I’m just not really interested in the whole metagame of guess and second-guess your opponent in order to get one-up on them and win. So my tolerance for repetition on things PvP tend to be rather low, a couple rounds played for fun and variety… done.

Even in that eden of PvP, Eve Online, the blogosphere has been exchanging a little quote of the day highlighting a core repetitive aspect of the game.

Getting from one place to another apparently involves a lot of the same steps repeated over and over – turn off and on autopilot, manually warp to zero per jump gate. The only variety is what manner of shark awaits you at each step.

For some, that’s enough to consist of quite an adventure, and they willingly acclimatize themselves to the game’s little repetitive quirks to get the bigger experience.

I’ve been playing Don’t Starve quite a bit over the last few days. I easily get to my second winter and often get to days in the 100+ range. But then, I turtle.

homesweetbase

I turtle A LOT. I don’t play RTS games on a competitive basis because I tend to derive more pleasure spending two hours teching up to EVERYTHING and then creeping in the equivalent of siege tanks or battlecruisers to slowly demolish the computer’s bases one building at a time over outsmarting a real life person, who can turn out to be exceedingly obnoxious, win or lose.

I get that a lot of clever people have discovered they can shortcut this process and created dozens upon dozens of other strategies they can use to win against another party trying to turtle, which leads to more counter-strategies to defend against this, which leads to more counter-counter strategies to get the upper hand, unsoweiter.

I get that this is a delightfully deep metagame for some.

I admire it from afar with videos and commentators to help me understand it, but I choose not to spend a good part of my life learning one game to such a high degree of focus.

Back to Don’t Starve. I build a base. Preferably near 5-6 rabbit holes.

I expand it. I make a little tooth trap alley to the side to fend off hounds.

icallitthehoundnommer

I engage in tons and tons of repetition, including chopping wood for a day or two, gathering grass and twigs for another day, checking on my nearby spider den with pigs (aka silk farm) to make sure it won’t ever overgrow into a Spider Queen, catch and cook meals for another day or two, spend another day or two figuring out and reaching the next source of rocks and flint – just to prep for an expedition that may extend me into unexplored territory and necessitate a secondary base/firepit or an overnight stay not-at-home-base with a campfire.

When Winter comes, I run back to civilization central and my tooth traps and spend a good half my time just chopping wood and keeping the food supply going. Because I don’t want to starve, thank you. (Or freeze.)

NOT FREEZING.

NOT FREEZING. FIRE LEVEL ABOVE DESIGN PARAMETERS.

On the other hand, Azuriel would probably stab his eyes out from the repetition I engage in with the same game. He prefers forward adventuring progress.

Me, I haven’t even seen Maxwell’s door in many of my worlds, and never stepped once through it. I prefer a slow and steady stable state with some incremental creep.

My guess is that each person’s preference for how much excitement and adrenaline rush and thrill versus relaxation they want in their games is different.

(The old hard fun vs easy fun war again. There’s actually two more types if you follow the link.)

For those who find they enjoy a game that is short and linear but continually ramps up the challenge till the content is all done (like Portal and Portal 2), MMOs are going to be an inherently disappointing affair. Once they’ve mastered every challenge they care to, that’s it, done. Finite content is finite.

Time to go on to another game or another MMO, at least until the devs have enough time to produce more content to devour.

An endless endgame?

Whatever it is, it’s going to repeat -somehow-.

WoW raids are a delaying tactic. Kindly repeat the same fight but with the variation and difficulty of cat herding a lot of players with different schedules and skill levels for an RNG chance of desirable loot. Hopefully, this takes you long enough so that the devs can produce the next raid for you to do something similar till the next patch.

If you think that in Everquest Next, there won’t be players who will be searching for and making a point of repeatedly killing the most desirable mobs… I think that you’re sorely mistaken.

One hope that it has of stretching gameplay is the possibility of player-created content, which provides supplementary content to dev-created content, just like how mods can extend the lifespan of a single-player game.

Clarity of preference is important, rather than just dismissing a game as “too repetitive.”

I suspect that Scree prefers “impactful” games. A game where player actions can mean a great deal. Where player actions form the meat of the content via emergence. Where hopefully the NPCs have enough AI to form meaningful, discernable patterns that can be exploited but not TOO exploited.

Well, we’ll all be watching upcoming PvE sandbox games to see if they manage to achieve this elusive holy grail.

A lot of this stuff tends to break the moment you throw the “massively multiplayer” part of the equation in.

We’ve learned that player-created content tends to give rise to “xp farms” where players design, create and run repetitively an optimized encounter so that they can reach max level (and level alts) at the best possible speed. (Thank you, City of Heroes and Neverwinter. Possibly Everquest 2 too.)

We’ll see how fast ingenious players can map the world sufficiently to determine node spawning patterns (must farm crafting materials, y’know!) or provide trackers for mob movement or spawns to determine the most probable places to head to for xp/loot/combat action.

Case in point: observe niche game A Tale in the Desert – randomly spawning mushroom locations produced a shroomdar. This game barely attracts 1000 players at the best of times.

Do you think the combined brainpower of a popular MMO cannot crack what a single team of developers code? Or at least harness the power of massive crowds via  individual player reports? e.g. see GW2 dragon timers before the API was made available.

If you have xp in a game, players will figure out the best way to get xp fast. Even (and especially) if it means repetition.

Skills-based, not levels, you say? I point you to Darkfall and its stories of skill grind, where at least some players will macro it, or engage in the equivalent of leaving a weight on one’s keyboard a la Morrowind or other Elder Scrolls games.

If you have loot in a game, rest assured players will repeatedly do whatever it is to gather it.

Ideally, they are enjoying the activity they repeat. (Note: level of enjoyment varies based on player personality and preference.)

Whether that activity is combat (versus mobs or against other players), or gathering some form of resource (xp, gold, shiny loot for stats or looking pretty, craftables, luxury collectibles), or exploration and discovery or yes, even travel and commuting from point A to point B.

Eventually though, a player is bound to get bored of whatever repetition they were engaged in and wander off. Or burn out if they weren’t careful enough. Part of the gaming life cycle.

The real questions are:

  • Do they wander off to another activity in the same game?
  • If they wandered off to another game, do they ever come back to the one they left? (Check things out or pick up where they left off?)
  • And how frequently do they do it?
  • (Oh, and do they give the devs any money for providing such experiences in the meantime, of course. :) )