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

The Solution

Naturally, every problem has a solution. In this case, MMOs should be looking to more classically-competitive games like Counter-Strike, Dota 2, or even Call of Duty for ways to fix the issues with their competitive systems. While the exact implementation may not be the same, the lessons behind the approach don’t change.

1.) Reduce importance of disables and increase lethality

Nothing is more frustrating than watching your character die because of something you could not prevent. That’s why most successful games that use disables tend to do so sparingly. Instead, the player should be removed from combat through death. If they are a tank, they should ideally be able to survive a chain of disables until they can contribute to the fight. If they are a healer or damage-dealer, they should die fairly quickly unless they have quick reflexes to break away from the pain train barreling towards them at 60mph.

While this seems a bit counter-intuitive – make players less frustrated by killing them more – in reality it works out fairly well. In most current MMO systems, a player might be disabled and useless for 10+ seconds before dying or contributing to the fight. In a system that de-emphasizes disables and emphasizes lethality, such a player will only be disabled for a few short seconds before joining back in or dying. This reduces the overall time spent out of the fight, assuming that the respawn time stays the same, and makes the player feel like their actions have specific results and consequences.

2.) Make players collide with each other and make skills root the player to the ground

The most important thing that an MMO can do in the current system of PvP is make enemies collide rather than pass through each other. This is something that Warhammer Online used to great effect, and one of the reasons that it has my favorite variation on traditional PvP model. With enemy collision, tanks can act as linebackers, forcing enemy players to find new routes or focus on the beefy warrior. Backstabs become more rare and precious, as stealthy classes have to manuever behind their opponents instead of simply running through them

Skills rooting players is a little more controversial of a design decision, but it’s one I think would benefit PvP. Using skills while moving means that fights are a gelatinus blob of players swirling their axes and casting their fireballs. By forcing a player to stick in one place when they use a skill, designers and animator can give the impression that the character is putting their weight into the blow. It increases the importance of skill usage as well, as players must pick and choose their ability usage wisely instead of haphazardly swinging or casting.

3.) Make no debuffs/poisons last longer than five seconds unless they are refreshed by an opposing player

This is a very specific solution compared to the others in this list, and it comes straight from Dota 2. One of the reasons combat feels so responsive in Dota 2 is that negative effects almost always last five seconds or less. Players often escape fights with 10 HP out of 2000, and if an enemy wants to kill a player, they have to give chase. This does two things: It makes the targeted player feel like they can get away instead of simply dropping dead long after the fight is over, and it gives friendly players a chance to come and help their ailing teammate against enemy chasers. It also makes combat more involved than simply casting all poisons on the target and walking away.

4.) Only allow players to choose 4-6 skills to take into PvP

In an ideal world, players would only have access to around six skills in an MMO PvP environment. This concept is hardly a new one, as it is lifted straight from competitive game design. The best competitive games are often incredibly simple in terms of what the player is given at a particular time. Rather than having 30 options available to the player at all times, players are given only a few to take into battle. Quake 3 and its limited weapon selection, the primary/secondary gun systems in Counter-Strike or Call of Duty, the “four unique skills” system of most DOTA-likes, and even common strategies in otherwise complex games like Starcraft 2 all rely on this core design. Rather than asking the player to use all of their options at once, these games ask the player to figure out the best counters to a particular scenario and use them.

When you ask a player to perform a complicated skill rotation, you add significantly to the PvP learning curve without adding much to the complexity of interaction. By forcing players to choose a limited set of skills based on their total learned skills, you promote strategic thinking and planning over rote muscle memory. The concept “less is more” is very important to competitive games, and one that most MMO designers seem to have ignored.

Ultimately, MMO PvP falls down to the simple issue of players being overwhelmed. From huge skill rotations to stunlocks, the existing system beats down new players and forces them to either abandon PvP altogether or do research to actually be remotely competitive. MMO PvP forces players to jump from novice to expert if they want any chance of competing, which breaks the most fundamental rule of competition: players should feel like they can improve gradually on their own.

But I might be wrong! So let’s talk. Does MMO PvP excite you? Do you think that my issues are superficial or the talk of a true scrub? Or do you think the system is broken and in need of fixing? Let me know in the comments below!

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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.