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.

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4 thoughts on “PvP or PvE Have Become Meaningless Terms

  1. Izlain says:

    I don’t have much to add because you covered everything so beautifully.

    I admire the way you have been able to cover all of the aspects of the two sides of debate while not being inflammatory. You even managed to throw in justifications for all sides and throw yourself under the bus a little by admitting to participating in some corpse camping. Well written.

    I need to learn how to go on a rant without pissing everyone off in the process. Or maybe that’s half the fun?

    • Jeromai says:

      Oh, I can be just as inflammatory ranty when I want to be. 🙂

      I guess I find myself very much in the middle on the PvP/PvE debate – there are games where I’m quite open to participating in PvP, MOBAs, FPSes and certain MMO battlegrounds come to mind, but I also refuse to partake in other games, mostly FFA or open world ones that are less structured and cater more to the ganker mindset – so I find it easier to cover all the angles relatively neutrally.

  2. kiantremayne says:

    I’d say that players who indulge in PvP really fall into three categories – warriors (people who like a good fight), bullies (people who like beating others and aren’t remotely interested in a good fight) and, unfortunately, leeches (people who aren’t actually there for the PvP, they’re there for the PvP REWARDS and usually in the easiest way possible, hence AFK in battlegrounds or PvDoor zergs in WvW).

    You can break these categories down somewhat based on what people regard as a good fight and which sort of PvP activity best meets their ends, but an arena warrior, who wants close matches, has more in common with a RvR warrior than he does with an arena bully (who tanks his rating deliberately to let him roflstomp weaker teams).

    PvE on the other hand, is impossible to categorise as it’s pretty much defined as “everything that isn’t PvP”. Raiders, casual soloers, dedicated crafters, roleplayers, house decoration fanatics… the only thing they have in common is that they aren’t up for letting the bullies gank them, and the bullies think that if they throw around the phrase “PvE carebears” enough then the sheep will bare their throats for the knife.

  3. […]  Why I game Looks at the terms PvP and PvE, their components and what they mean to her. […]

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