Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.

I wonder whether PvP MMO games such as All Points Bulletin should adopt a gear system which is inverted to the norm for most MMOs, such that players start with powerful gear that degrades to a constant level, rather than having to work up to the level of gear of the early adopters by struggling against those same – now seemingly overpowered – early adopters.

It’s like have an Olympic race where you’ve trained yourself to be an excellent athlete at the four hundred metres event with times towards the low end of the forty second bracket, but when you turn up you find out that all the runners who competed last year now have bionic leg replacements that mean they can run it in the low thirties. The problem is that the only way to get bionic legs yourself is to win against the guys who already have them. So your competitive goal actually turns in to trying to convince one of the bionic competitors to give you a piggy back, and the whole race turns into some sort of perverse bionic Grand National with unenhanced jockeys riding around on the backs of whichever bionic big boy they can convince to carry them.

I just don’t think PvP is compatible with the traditional gear system of MMOs because game knowledge and skill is already a massive obstacle for the new player to overcome, layering on an additional artificial ‘gear gap’ makes for a game that will be inordinately intimidating to all but the most dedicated of masochists. This is why I think Counter Strike was (perhaps still is) the darling of the FPS online world for so long, because it used gear to allow players to specialise into different roles based on their personal preference or what the map demanded, without creating any sort of gap between the new and veteran players; yet if you visit a Counter Strike server as a new player you will know who the veteran players are quickly enough, because they will be the ones who understand the map and use its terrain to their advantage, but if you play carefully and craftily, you have every much a chance at killing them as they do you. This is why I think that adding gear levels to FPS games in order to keep players grinding away at them is such a massive mistake by gaming companies, because yes, you may well keep the early adopters invested in your game for longer, but once your game has been established for a week or two you essentially close the doors to a huge proportion of the potential new player population.

When you take these things into consideration, it quickly becomes clear just how good EVE Online’s skill training and ‘ship role’ systems are for allowing players to have disparate levels of ‘gear’ and yet still participate in PvP in a meaningful way.

Today’s post was brought to you by the phrase ‘Oh look, I’ve been two-shot by a magnum having emptied my entire automatic rifle clip into them without any discernible effect’, and the command ‘/quit’.

3 thoughts on “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.

  1. Fortuente

    I thoroughly agree with this sentiment. I really noticed this playing PVP in WoW, which to me is and always will be fundamentally broken for the same reasons you outlined.

    Having never played competitive FPSs like Counter Strike I just assumed I would hate them based on my experiences in phat lewtz games like WoW. Then I got the Orange Box, thought I would give TF2 a shot and was instantly hooked. That was when I realized that I wasn’t the one doing it wrong – it was the developers of phat lewtz games.

    I really like your idea of item degradation, I haven’t heard that one before.

  2. kingofys

    It’s something that would be nice to see in PVE as well. It still boggles the mind the gear grind in something like WOW, the more you play the better your gear and the easier everything gets, except future content, don’t like the idea of content becoming obsolete or a boring grind. Could they have locked gear at say a minimum ilvl 200 in Wrath, still adding harder content and better gear (within reason say a max of ilvl 225) that degrades back to ilvl 200 eventually. It degrades faster the more attempts you make at hard mode than normal mode and fail, successful attempts don’t affect the gear. Kinda like a resource to manage.

    To justify it a bit more, say the Ashen Verdict could kit everyone out in ilvl 225 gear at the release of Icecrown, an average player would need to be cautious not to risk having it degrade on defeat, same for elite players tackling hardmode for greater prestige and rewards. It could be repaired by the ashen verdict for rep got by killing bosses. Do the same thing with PvP gear and the PvP factions. I don’t know if it’s the most elegant idea, but it narrows the gear difference between a great player and average player.

  3. Melmoth Post author

    @Fortuente: Indeed. I think it’s clear to see from a game like TF2 that even without gear there is a huge disparity in player power based upon individual player skill, teamwork skill, and knowledge of the game’s maps, classes and weapons. By introducing gear disparity into the equation, I think MMO developers are basically building themselves an almost impossible balancing act.

    @kingofys: I’m torn on the idea of gear, because it does give players an incentive to try to achieve things in the game, especially at the end game, but you’re right in the fact that it does drastically magnify the out-levelling of old content. Personally I’d consider making gear a cosmetic option – a badge of honour only – and leave progression to the character levelling system: players would still be able to ePeen outside the Ironforge bank, say, but they’d also be able to find challenges in far more of the game’s existing content, not just the bleeding edge raid dungeon. It would also remove the need for silly artificial gating of content based on gear level or radiance or some other such mechanic.

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