Why MMO PvP is Awful & 4 Ways to Make It Fun

The Problem

There are four main issues with PvP in MMOs: helplessness, lack of weight, unpreventable death, and skill confusion. Each one is a major issue in its own right, and altogether they can cripple the PvP experience for your average player. They are also issues that often afflict other, non-MMO titles like Super Monday Night Combat.

Helplessness is an issue that affects virtually every single competitive game, and is inherent to the nature of human competition. After all, some people (or classes) are simply better than others in certain respects. Rather than outright removing this feeling, which is impossible, it is the goal of the designer to alleviate this sense of helplessness. This is not the case in most MMOs, and a simple bad class match-up can often lead to one player getting absolutely destroyed by their rival. Helplessness most notably manifests through concepts such as long-duration stuns, slows, knockbacks, knockdowns, and other movement impairing or altering effects. It can also be noticed through one class simply being the counter to another. Nothing makes a player feel helpless quite like walking up to an enemy and just being burned alive before they can so much as say hello, much less fight.

Lack of weight is a problem mostly specific to MMOs, and it can be traced to two genre conventions: moving through enemy units and moving while attacking. When a player is not tied down by their actions, said actions lose the “sense of weight” you might see in something like a good kung-fu or action movie. Actions have reactions, after all, and when your virtual swordmaster can simply run through enemies and fling his sword every which way in the middle of combat, it reduces the impact of those reactions. There is also the concern of actions not having clear visual reactions in the target, which adds to this issue.

Unpreventable death is a bit more finicky than the previous two, and could even roll itself into helplessness. I’m separating it thanks to this specific scenario, however. Let’s say you are playing against a Warlock in World of Warcraft. You beat the snot out of him through any number of magicks and/or skills, and you walk away to go heal up and prepare for the next bout. But alas! Fifteen seconds after you killed your foe, you drop dead from some accursed poison that you could not remove. This specific scenario is far, far too common in the MMO world, and belies an essential misunderstanding of what makes player competition fun.

Finally, skill confusion is perhaps the most insidious and dangerous issue that MMOs face in setting up their PvP. Everyone wants to use that slick new skill they just got against both monsters and players. Unfortunately, every class has a huge variety of skills and each skill has effects ranging from the simple to the incredibly complicated. If you though Dota 2 skill memorization was difficult, try memorizing all the potential skill and talent matchups available in a game like Champions Online. Things get very confusing, very quickly, both for the player on the end of the massive beatdown and for the player issuing it. It’s a very frustrating thing to lose track of your skill order or the enemy skill order in the middle of a PvP fight. That’s why I enjoy low-level PvP in most MMOs: fewer skills makes it easier to identify and rotate important abilities.

Where does this leave PvPer new to the system of MMO combat? Confused as to the skills they should use, feeling like the skills they do use are worthless, constantly helpless and stunned by disables, and killed even when they manage to escape a fight with their lives. No wonder PvP is such a contentious and underplayed aspect of the MMO landscape.

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11 Comments on Why MMO PvP is Awful & 4 Ways to Make It Fun


On January 16, 2013 at 3:00 pm

I don’t know, I actually really enjoyed vanilla WOW’s PVP. I could jump into a bg in whatever gear I was wearing and be confident I’d do ok. This was back in the day when PVE gear worked just as well in PVP. Classes were hard counters to one another. With my mage, I could be sure that a warlock would kill me unless I got lucky and that I could kill a warrior unless I messed up. I didn’t get upset that I struggled to kill some classes – I accepted it as part of the game design in the warcraft universe. When I played the RTS Warcraft titles, some units killed others more easily. Then it was ruined, and I hardly ever played it again. What happened? Well two things really:

1.) PVP specific gear: With new gear, catering to the “hardcore pvpers,” the gear that I got from raiding, crafting, and spending hours hitting loot pinatas became worthless compared to the “PVP Resilience and high stam” armor. PVP was a place I could feel some kind of reward for spending countless hours in raids listening to my raid leader tell me what to do – my character was slightly better in PVP. With the change, the armor I had earned by spending countless hours hitting loot pinatas became only useful for hitting more loot pinatas and pvp became just another grind for better armor. Catering to “hardcore pvpers” ruined pvp and I don’t even care about all this arena garbage that has followed.

2.) Endless Balance Changes: blizzard games are plagued with things being called “OP” and things that need “nerfed” and blizzard caters to every single one of them to the point of making every class bland and not much different from another. Blizzard balances things to the point of making everything weak and pointless. They have the same problem in SC2, actually – the entire game is filled with subpar units which are only marginally weaker than their counters to the point of the rest of the match not mattering when one player gets a slight advantage – there are no “OP” units to race to in order to change the tide of battle because no unit is that much better than another. This was WOW – what’s really the difference between a mage and a warlock anymore? A paladin and a shaman? They have nerfed whatever powers they had to the point of irrelevance.

Anyway, tirade over – I guess I look back nostalgically to the old days. I must be getting old.


On January 16, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Guild Wars 2 is PvP-centric?, wonder if arena net knows.


On January 16, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Balance changes are always going to happen. Especially as one side figures things out. Without balance changes, you get FOTM.

PvP gear should be a gigantic no-no at least if it iconfers a huge advantage. Back when I played POTBS, the pvp gear you bought might be 5% better than the loot gear or the craftable stuff. Now to the person who knew what they were doing with the right ship or build, that 5% was lethal.

Remove any stat that makes you better in pvp inherently (i.e. you take less damage in pvp because of it)

Now most of the authors suggestions are from someone who by his own admission, is more a casual pvper, mainly a battleground kind of guy. Those suggestions work pretty well for battlegrounds.

What about more RvR style pvp (or GW’s WvWvW). Me, I pretty much did pvp in all the games I played (pvp/econ) and I was always struck by no matter what, most RvR was unsatisfying, there was no meaning behind it. You never actually wanted to control something beyond bragging rights, which got old pretty quick.

Brandon Clark

On January 16, 2013 at 10:20 pm

I nearly never PvP. I almost always just play against the enviro.

Ron Whitaker

On January 17, 2013 at 5:51 am

@Quinsec: I agree. I feel like the introduction of resilience as a PvP mechanic ruined PvP for me. I enjoyed raiding and ‘hitting loot pinatas,’ but I also liked to unwind with a little PvP with friends. Once resilience was introduced (and whatever it became in later iterations), PvP became something far different, especially if you were behind the gear curve. It became a place you went to be constantly killed by people who did nothing but PvP, and you had little to no defense because you had no .

The thing that always bugged me about it was that PvP was certainly viable in PvE situations. It wasn’t the BEST gear, but it would get the job done. Resilience and similar stats made PvE all but useless in PvP, and I never could figure out why Blizz would want to do that.


On January 17, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I disagree with everything except the weight / collision aspect. :)

I love FFA, full loot pvp ever since shadowbane. not because I’m particularly good, or much of a griefer, but because for me it’s the only way pvp becomes meaningful and actually adds to the tension and political complexity of an MMO. I couldn’t care less about factions, or instanced pvp. My main grief with pvp in sandbox style games is that somebody has yet to figure out a system that works from both a balance and leveling point of view (walls of pain in darkfall being a prime example of suck), as well as not at some point making the introduction of safe zones / autonuke for red players a necessity because of underlying design flaws.

other than that, danger and frustration and utter confusion? bring it on. Getting shot by the damn archers in anor londo one million times in a row is frustrating too. fun? hell yes.


On January 19, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Its funny how gamefront editors comments on things that will never change. Lets write an article about something and let the community about it and change nothing. Wow great write up!


On January 20, 2013 at 12:53 am

I have spent the majority of my time in PvP with rift and I would agree with most of what you said.

As for resilience that is a rewarding system for pvpers since a dedicated pvper will spend far more time fighting then anyone else doing raids and for a person to get amazing loot after a couple hours of raiding there needs to be a balance so that’s where resilience comes into play, pvp gear is often times a HUGE grind fest, I personally remember spending close to 6 hours a day every day farming for my gear and still never got the best set by the time I quit the game which added up to about 250 hours of pvp or more.


On January 20, 2013 at 9:56 am


See, there’s the rub. Raid gear was not acquired by “a couple of hours of raiding.” It required, in vanilla WOW and TBC, 4-6 hour sessions multiple nights a week in giant 40 man groups. Sure, PVP gear was a huge grind, but one that could be undertaken alone if necessary – it wasn’t keeping a guild raid schedule, showing up for multiple hours to, many nights, leave with nothing. Resilience meant those hours getting that gear didn’t mean anything beyond allowing me to go whack larger loot pinatas.

I’m not trying to say one style of gaming is superior to the other – I’m just saying creating a separate grind for pvp ruined pvp for a lot of people. I understand why they did it – sub-based MMO’s are all about creating timesinks. It just made PVP inaccessible to those people who focused the bulk of their time on PVE.


On March 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm

This is right. PvP in most MMOs should be reworked. Currently many players in MMOs avoid PvP exactly because of not being suited to it or familiar with how to do it.


On June 26, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Normalized pvp is probably the best pvp. Anything that isnt normalized is a rigged game.