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.

“It’s Just A Game” – Or Why We Can’t All Just Get Along

I’ve been ping-ponging back and forth from a series of blog posts, enjoying a great range of shared perspectives about PvP.

  • Somewhere along the way, Zubon produces an informative little aside about a new term that may be useful when discussing PvP – “Contested”

Naturally, when I read so much thought-provoking stuff, my mind goes into overdrive and starts to try and make sense of it all.

Mostly because I’m super-puzzled by my own reactions, where I generally agree with a good part of most of the things said in -every- post, and then come to a screeching halt at certain paragraphs and think, “Er, no, sorry, I don’t share that particular viewpoint” or “Wait, I’m like that in this one particular game, and like this in some other game.”

Also, one of the things I like most about reading other people’s opinions on their blogs is that I get to try and pick out the reasons for why they hold a particular point of view, and then attempt to bring it together to form some kind of generalized theory about why people play the games they do – it’s a fascination of mine, if you can’t tell from the name of my blog.

I find it’s also helpful for further discussion, since players are better able to articulate what precisely they like or dislike, and for future developers to then try and design games that put these various preferences together in unexpected ways, rather than just clone whatever has worked before.

Let’s start with some ground rules, since PvP vs PvE can end up as a very loaded and heated subject matter, and I’m simply -not- interested in the same old boring rehash of “PvPers are evil, PvErs are carebears. WE don’t want to associate with THEM.”

Name-calling and dismissing another person’s interests, or unique perspective thusly, is not productive for a shared dialogue.

I’ll be doing my best to try and avoid it for this post, though of course, it’s sometimes fun to write with a very subjective slant for hyperbolic effect, or useful as an emotional release to vent and so on.

You see, I recently attended a talk on mediation, where the speaker shared something I found rather insightful and helpful.

There are generally three ways human beings use to resolve a conflict:

1. War – Being ”right” through might or power. The victor gets to rewrite history to suit themselves.

Yep, through history, this has been a well-used means of settling disputes. Basically, you wipe out or defeat or otherwise try to dominate the other party into agreeing to your point of view.

I’m sure you can think of so-called “marriages” that have essentially descended to this level of negative-sum combat, where one party wins at the expense of another, and both may have bled or been hurt during the conflict it too.

2. Logic / Justice – Determining who is “right” or “wrong” through a series of arguments and fact-finding.

This is the realm of our legal system, where countless lawyers are paid to debate in front of judges (or a jury) over which individual is “objectively” right or wrong. Someone wins and someone loses, the loser usually has to pay the winner in some way and usually isn’t left very happy at all.

The problem with this style of conflict resolution is that it’s very binary and not at all suited for certain situations.

The example the speaker gave was being a grandparent to two siblings involved in a dispute over toys. If one turned it into a farcial trial where one takes each sibling’s statements and uses CCTV cameras to properly determine “who started it” and “who should be punished,”

a) The siblings’ relationship wouldn’t improve at all and they might grow up hating each other.

b) The children’s parents would probably think the grandparent had gone around the loony bin.

c) The overall objective of having a harmonious family where the siblings learned how to get along and play with each other and share their toys wouldn’t be achieved.

I might even suggest that this is something that gamers have been doing for a very long time now and that none of us have got nearer to any sense of satisfaction beyond “Duty calls. Someone is -wrong- on the Internet.

So what’s the third method?

3. Diplomacy / Mediation – Bringing all parties to the table to talk things through and try to come up with mutually agreeable solutions to everyone involved

It’s not an easy thing, of course. That’s why there’s a whole profession or two dedicated to it.

And long, entrenched conflicts that stretch generations can take an equally long time to resolve, or serious amounts of dedication and perseverance to the overall goal (be it peace, understanding or just a mutual agreeable separation which still caters and cares for the kids.)

But it is this third solution that leads to a potential net positive for everyone involved.

(I’d add on that there’s a fourth method of dealing with conflict – which is less conflict resolution and more conflict avoidance. I’m guilty of resorting to that quite a bit, sometimes. It’s useful when the conflict is really quite trivial in the larger scheme of things and you don’t really mind letting the other person “win,” but there -is- a loser in this situation, and this can build resentment and grudges when it’s more important an issue.)

The speaker then told a story of two sides in history that were so entrenched in hate and a cycle of violence that it took years of patience to negotiate a peace agreement – and even then, certain key individuals were killed off by violence and the passage of time before the remaining parties could come to any sort of understanding.

Anecdotally, an old woman who was very invested in the conflict (after all, her whole life had been centered around it) asked one of the leaders that was instrumental in pushing the peace accord through how he could conceive of doing this, after all, wasn’t he honor and duty bound to kill or defeat his enemy?

His reply: “Do I not defeat my enemy by making him my friend?”

You may, or may not, share this same belief or think it’s a worthy goal.

But I’ll make an appeal to your self-interest and suggest that it is only the third solution that can actually expand the pool of people you can play with, that increases the number of people interested in playing the game you like.

In every other solution to conflict, you separate yourself from a bunch of people you won’t ever play with, because eew, they’re different from you.

So how do we start coming to the table and finding commonalities with which to work from and begin?

We move from arguing about positions to focusing on interests – the WHYs behind our positions – and listing out what they are.

For example, I’m pretty well stuck on certain positions and values. I get very twitchy and intolerant of games that put vertical progression front and center, and I really hate elitist or close-minded viewpoints being outwardly expressed.


I don’t want player improvement and learning to be masked by a number that merely grows from time invested. I don’t like that old artifact and hold-over from the devs trying to incentivize people to hold on to subscriptions. I basically don’t have such constant chunks of time to invest simply to stay competitive, and want games that demonstrate that they value my time more. I don’t want players to fall back on a number as an excuse for not increasing their skill or knowledge at a game. (That last, you’ll note, is a little value judgement that has slipped in.)


Because I believe that a player would appreciate a game more when they have sufficient skill or knowledge to play the game at a certain baseline or level, and when they see the depth that a game is capable of. Because I want to play with players of equivalent skill or knowledge so that we can progress or learn together.

I also want a level playing field where a new player has a decent chance of coming in and right away defeating a veteran player, if he or she plays in a smart, strategic or more skillful way than the old player.


Because that encourages new blood to join in at any time. Because new blood joining at any time is what keeps a game I like going. Because I might be that new blood and I’d like to have a locus of control and useful things I can do even when new, and aspire to victory, without having to spend 3-6 months “paying my dues” and “earning my way” – I don’t have the time for a game if it makes me do that.

I don’t know if anyone else is seeing this, but when I list all this explanatory stuff behind the simple “I hate vertical progression” statement, I also see the opportunity for different ways to tackle these issues.

You can put players of equivalent skill or knowledge together by -good- matchmaking, or even ensure that only players with the same stats meet, even if the rest of your game has vertical stat progression because you know, Achievers like that sort of thing, incrementing numbers.

You can also try your darnest to bootstrap more players to a skill or knowledge baseline by plenty of tutorials or other means of learning/teaching or if you’re a player, writing guides till your hands fall off or teaching via mic until your tongue turns blue.

You can make sure that your stat progression isn’t absurd to the point of removing all possibility of victory from the new blood or low level, if you -must- have stat progression. Maybe 2-3 low levels can gang up on a high level or highly geared player and achieve victory that way, rather than have it completely impossible or require a raid of 50 low-levels to take down a high level or something of that nature. That might be a balance point that becomes more acceptable to more people.

You can also see that I personally don’t have an intrinsic aversion to PvP, if presented in the right way and with the same kinds of values or philosophies.

Another position: I don’t like bullying. I don’t approve of encouraging this sort of negative, toxic behavior, even in a game, and will not support or play a game that produces safe places for griefer and troll types to feed on others and thrive.

(Note: I do not lump all PvPers as trolls or griefers. I am very specifically referring to those players that are out to ruin another person’s fun and will go through all kinds of hoops to do so, as well as people who enjoy low-skill easy fun “fights” – ok, I’m having a hard time calling it a fight, a “gank?” a “walk over?” “not even a speedbump?” – by one shot killing other players via a massive stat advantage and repeatedly do it, in the hopes of getting some sort of explosive or frustrated reaction from their victim, or even PvE-only players that are used to using abusive or racist slurs on other people as a matter of course, flinging blame around on everyone but themselves and generally “not playing well with others.” )

This one comes very close to being about fundamental values and nears intractability.

Why? Because I believe bullying behavior does result in emotional stress and hurt on the part of the bullied, even if the bully thinks that their victim should just “man up” or “get harder” or “grow thicker skin” or “why so serious, lulz.” I do think that what happens in a game can leak emotions back onto the player behind the character and that we naturally behave the way we are conditioned or have become habituated to behave. I think the world would be more of a better place if games encouraged players to be decent people to each other more, rather than throw hostilities and toxic slurs at each other.

I do however recognize though, that other people may not feel that a game has that much importance in the larger scheme of things.

Or that a particular game is set up with a particular set of rules and boundaries and design to prompt players into acting in a certain way, because it’s the point of the game, to a large extent.

(I personally don’t equate the killing of a game avatar to the killing of a person. Especially not if it’s a MOBA or FPS where respawns are quick and consequences aren’t persistent and don’t last beyond the match. Other people seem to apply a distinctly more elaborate honor code to the whole affair. Couldn’t begin to tell you why, maybe those who have this belief can share.

But I’m not really interested in playing a game like DayZ where I get to act out or experience Lord of the Flies scenarios, because I’d rather not “be content” for groups of friends that play in this fashion. Especially if they’re talking on voice, I’m calling emotional leak into real world right there. Not feeding that sort of predatory desire. Other people are cool with it, cos that’s the whole premise of the survival game.)

Or that a game is in fact a safe place to harmlessly vent or release emotions and behaviors that they would not dream of expressing in real life, because games can be a form of escapism too.

I would, in fact, agree that it’s much safer and probably more preferable for someone to experiment with these things in a game, and get it out of their system that way, even if I might disagree and believe that it’s probably habituating them to behave in a more hostile and combative and domineering fashion, having learned that it’s a viable form of conflict resolution and practising it so regularly.

I would also agree that it’s in our mutual interests to BOTH have games that cater for our specific needs and values. Someone publicly acting like an ass in Guild Wars 2 will get promptly slapped around by the Anet GMs with a suspension or a ban. I have my safe place to game in. I see less trolls and griefers around in my game, while I still have PvP options that I enjoy and plenty of PvP here too.

They’ve got to have somewhere to go. Their safe place that allows them to enjoy themselves. If another game is brave enough to take them on and take their money, then who am I to demand that that game cater to me too? I’m busy over here in my game anyway. In fact, there’s a certain poetic justice in that those who share the same beliefs are spending time with each other, engaged in behavior they understand and find natural.

It may very well be that we find that one of us won’t play a particular game for whatever reason, but are perfectly fine playing another together.

In the same way, it may very well be in all our interests as gamers, to encourage a diversity of games – even those we won’t play personally – so that others may have places where -they- can play together.