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