“Gang wars” Vs “struggle of nations”

First post Lum wrote about game design since… forever. But he is well justified.

It’s also about a theme so dear to me that I discussed many times in the past. I usually presented it in the form of “personal Vs communal objectives” and here instead Lum does what he does best: being much more clear and straight to the point.

I agree with everything he wrote, both on principles and analysis. I’m also waiting for a game that goes in that precise direction. That’s my “dream game” and that kind of innovation I’d like to see. Whether it is really innovation or just incremental progress or evolution.

I always said that I don’t care much how something is delivered, but I care that specific goals are set and specific problems are recognized and addressed. So thanks to Lum to give this theme some legitimation. My effort in the past was to persuade people of the potential of that direction.

What lessons would YOU add to make a PvP game more of a struggle of nations and less of a gangbang?

Acknowledging that the “struggle of nation” is desired or even preferable to the gangbang already wins me as a supporter. Recognizing that point and setting that goal is already much, much more than what happened in the WHOLE industry till today. So I somewhat agree with Sinij, that’s exactly the heart of the discussion. Because before figuring out how to encourage and support the “struggle of nation” you have to have the desire to have it in the game and motivate this choice. Instead of going with the beaten path of the classic gang wars.

The next problem is the “scope”. This isn’t just one of the goals. This becomes the basic structure of the whole game, so it is tied with every other part and it’s actually very hard to make general considerations. In the past I suggested many ideas to address many of the problems that come up with the system (Ubiq in the comments brings up one: “The losers of any fight will only take being a loser for so long before they leave (either go to another server, or leave the game entirely). It’s imperative to give them a way back into the fight.” And a problem that is also somewhat near to an article from Gamasutra) the problem here is that it all depends on the actual structure of the game. What I mean is that you cannot abstract too much here, you have to go deal with the practice of the system. You have to have referents. Then you can prospect solutions and delve in every particular issue that comes up.

But that’s also what Lum demonstrated in the specifics. By providing well-known referents (“lessons” learned from past games) it’s much easier for people to follow what you write and understand the point. The problem is when you try to leave current games behind to suggest new solutions.

The simplification in “Gang wars Vs struggle of nations” is still already a lot. Partly because it gives legitimation to that goal, as I wrote above, and partly because it’s clear to the point. It sets two trends one against the other.

About the “lessons” I agree with each Lum pointed. In particular the last, that isn’t a “lesson” as it wasn’t actually learned, is something I’d STRONGLY support. And if I’d have to bring a concrete example about it I’d bring up what I wrote long ago about the early implementation of PvP in WoW. If systems are well put and coherent, then players comply to the context in a natural way. To the point that they don’t even notice this “transition”. But when the context is CONTRADICTORY, as it happens in WoW’s PvP where to get more points you avoid the fight (or jump between BGs looking for a more favorable situation), then all the context you are going to develop, no matter how much polish you put on it, will always get ignored.

The lesson here is “mandatory” to make Lum’s last lesson possible, like a postulate: develop systems so that they are faithful to the context. Or better, develop games systems starting from the context, to “realize” it.

Why this is a lesson? Because the reason why contexts till today didn’t work is that they were “tacked-on”. Added later. And not instead the *premise* from where you start to build the game systems coherently.

This is similar to the critics I had made to Raph about SWG. You should design a game “from the inside”. The game design should be a “simulation” of the setting and context. And not the setting and context “tacked-on” an arbitrary game system. “Metaphor” and “mechanics” ARE NOT independent.

That was one of my crusades and one lesson I’d suggest.

Instead I have some objections about the first lesson. I don’t think that the first lesson is absolute, but then, thinking more about it, it’s just that I would disagree on the implementation.

I don’t like the economy to have a strong impact on the game because it deteriorates other aspects and makes them overall less accessible and fun. Economy creates barriers. But I agree that the “economy” can be the fabric of the conflict. Going back to my ideas and notes on the “dream mmorg” I separated these two same-layers. From a side the personal economy, from the other the world economy. Usually in games these two blend. The same money you spend on your own items and other personal services is the same money your realm uses as greater motivation. In Eve (as Eve was the example) the money you use to buy your ship and modules is the same money involved in the warfare. What changes is the scale.

As I repeated a million of times I dislike this. I dislike the shortcomings that economic system bring and all the negative effects on the fun and accessibility.

So here I somewhat disagree on the goal and would look into possibly better alternatives. One specific idea I wrote about was about that separation. Personal from a side and communal from the other. For example everything belonging to your character would be “safe”. There should be the possibility to store your belongings so that you are sure that when you’ll log back in the game everything is still there. All this “layer” that concerns the “personal” sphere should be excluded from PvP and the level of the economy.

Then we have the other layer and that can be an element of the conflict. So I want resource systems, points of control and all similar structures. But I would keep all these on this specific layer. It means that their *purpose* in the game never coincides with the one of the single player. So if you get resources used on this “layer” you cannot sell them to buy your character a better sword. These two sides, personal and communal are kept separate. Personal wealth should be unrelated to realm warfare, the two systems should be impermeable between each other. Moreover while your personal items can be stored safely, all that belongs to the “world resource system” is persistent on the world. This means that nothing is ever safe (aside your own personal progress). Enemy players can come and not only conquer your territory, but even pillage your cities and steal resources from your depots. There would be no way to take the objects used on this layer and log off safely with them. If something exists on the world, then it never exits. It is sitting somewhere. You can hide it, you can defend it, but you cannot take it out the game with you.

Of course this choice would also force to deal and address other long-time problems, for example guaranteeing a balance and a tactical depth, so that when you log in the game you won’t find out that the enemy realm “won the game” during the night while the defense was down. I thought about these problems and I believe that they can effectively addressed with some work, but again I think it’s pretty useless to abstract here, as the solutions are too dependent on the concrete implementation and scope of the game.

In my “dream mmorpg” the conquest of the regions was somewhat predictable and strictly paced, with a wink to wargames, so you would know which regions you are going to conquer or lose just by glancing at the map. Basically the outcome is predictable, you would be able to guess what could happen in a day, within a best and worst case. The overall goal would be making this “struggle of nation” like a slower paced campaign. Something that evolves through days and weeks, not something that can be resolved in the arc of a few hours. Somewhat similarly, in Eve it takes a loooong time before you can effectively take over a system. You cannot conquer the map in just a few hours, it’s just not functionally possible.

As I always repeat in these cases, I don’t care much about the actual implementation, but just that the right goals are set and that the right problems are considered and addressed. I offer my own solutions, but this doesn’t mean that there cannot be better ones. In this case I believe it’s possible to counter effectively the problems arising.

Concluding. From a comment:

You looked at history of mmorpg PvP through distorted prism of hear-say and reached wrong conclusions. I think its prevalent problem with PvP designing, its never designed by someone who actually, you know, serious PvPers, instead it what other people think it should be and it often fall short.

PvPers want gang warfare and turf wars! Small scale guild warfare over points of control is ideal state of PvP in any game.

Yeah, that’s EXACTLY the reason why today PvE is much more prevalent over PvP. Because PvP was always delivered with that shortsighted mentality of yours.

The point is that we have already plenty of offers of those “turf wars”, in particular with non-persistent games where that model works better. So go play them, and leave us have at least ONE game that gives us the “struggle of nations”, that is where persistence can become a strong quality. Because we currently have none. And because it has the potential to become significantly more successful than current, unambitious models.

Again, I prefer games integrating players as much as possible instead of games designed around small and extremely selective niches.

I also wonder, why when I write about the same themes, brining up the same points I get completely ignored while when Lum does exactly the same it triggers impressive chain reactions? Oh well, I know the answer ;)

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