PvP -- A Way of Life

In the past week one of the topics brought up on twitter was PvP in Diablo III. The entire Diablo series has always been one where the player versus player combat was unstructured. There are no arenas, no real PvP rules, and anyone can kill another player at any time. While the majority of the player base in Diablo II seemed to evolve a structure of some "good manners" rules to create a sort of dueling system, that was by no means the extent of player versus player interactions in Diablo or Diablo II.

In order to discuss player versus player combat or "PvP," I believe there are a few terms which need to be defined. One thing we have to realize is that there will always be malicious players out there who enjoy nothing more than ruining your fun. If you're in act 1 game, they kill Andy, if you're in a Baal game, they hostile the party, if you're in a duel game they bring in their drop barb and crash everybody out. Removing these mechanics doesn't remove these players. We're going to call these players griefers and we're going to call griefing a social fact.

Social facts are nothing new and specific to on-line gaming. A social fact is a value shared by a society or a group within it, and the value exists throughout the group. To take this to an extreme, getting rid of PvP won't stop people from griefing other players. Imagine if hardcore had no PvP in Diablo II. You could still train monsters to waypoints, exploit bugs to cause players to damage themselves, and purposefully place others in harm's way. No amount of restrictions will remove the type of players who want to do this. Since there will always be griefers and we can't remove them, in designing a system for PvP we'd need some way to make it as fun for as many people as possible without removing the freedoms other players enjoy. After all, some masochists like to be hunted down and PK'd in hardcore. The most common form of PvP griefing is to kill another player when they do not want to participate in PvP combat. Diablo II's system, and in fact every Diablo game, has enabled this.

In order to understand PvP we will need to understand the two main categories of PvP. Consensual PvP and non-consensual PvP. Consensual PvP is called dueling. Both players agree to duel on specific terms and fight within those rules. The rules are technically enforced by the system creating what we call good manner duels and bad manner duels. Both types of duels adhere to the game's rules (though possibly not the player's rules). For example, many so called good manner duels prohibit the use of rejuvenation potions in Diablo II, but there's no game mechanic that prevents using rejuvenation potions in PvP.

The other form of PvP is non-consensual. In Diablo II this is known as PK. The point where non-consensual PvP is griefing is when one player doesn't want the fight. This makes is pretty much impossible to tell when you're griefing somebody because how would you know which person standing around in a game or fighting a boss would be willing to fight you at that exact moment? My friend Eric loves to be hunted down while he is playing Hardcore, it makes the game fun for him. Many people however do not enjoy this but how do you tell when you're griefing somebody or when you're both having fun? It should be fairly obvious that it is nearly impossible to distinguish when PK is not griefing in an on-line game. This of course leads to a pretty obvious solution to the griefing problem via the PvP system.

It would be pretty easy to just remove world PvP. For all intents with the removal of the old title reward system it happened in World of WarCraft. Currently in Diablo II any player can express hostility to any other player without their permission and kill them at any time. Most people, as is evident from playing in public games, do not enjoy being hunted down and slaughtered by random people on-line. Player versus Player interaction would be restricted to dueling only. This is what most people do anyway, aside from the griefers who hunt down people for sport. This removes the issue of well geared level 95 players entering quest games and decimating groups of level 40 players. In fact it seems like a pretty great solution at first glance.

Some people, however, do want to be hunted down at random and attacked. These sorts of people might find Diablo II game content fairly easy and wish to have the additional challenge of having to fight players while they play through the game. This might seem masochistic, and the group may be small, but these people exist and should not be ignored if they can be accommodated. The sorts of players who enjoy this are commonly those who do not "play to win" but "play to play." So what if their avatar gets killed, they start over. Other players only add challenges and challenges make the game fun. There is a solution for them too, which has worked throughout every Diablo title to date.

We could always not change the PvP system. The current system works. Diablo II is one of the greatest games of all time and the Diablo II hostility system is basically the same as the Diablo hostility system, except it expresses hostility against people hostile to you automatically. It's worked for the Diablo series for over 12 years now and why fix what isn't broken?

The current system is broken though. Sure people have been playing for years and every time I log in to Battle.net there are at least 60,000 people playing during the weekday. There are however forum posts every week about people getting their items destroyed from players killing them dozens of times, and people using exploits to kill hardcore characters which may be impossible for untrained players to notice until it's too late. Some people even profit off griefing by stealing other player's gold to use for gambling and trading. Although some may feel that the "it's fine learn to play" mentality is ok, it is obvious that a great many players are unhappy with the current system.

Currently Jay Wilson, the lead designer of Diablo III, has expressed that the development team is going with the first option of removing world PvP to combat griefing in Diablo III and I have to say it seems like a good idea. In an interview with Jay, he explains that the current design goal is to move away from the lack of "formal support" for PvP in Diablo II. He says:

Official Blizzard Quote:

In the original Diablo and Diablo II PvP was just kind of a switch people turned on and there was no real formal support for it so that's something we want to change but we have not exactly decided how we are going to do that.

I would like to stress that formal support does not by any stretch mean that informal player versus player combat should be removed, or even that one would reduce the draw toward players participating in the other form.

Official Blizzard Quote:

Jay goes on to say the following in another interview with GameSpy:
We'd like there to be a dedicated PvP mode, and we'd like to move away from [how it worked in previous Diablo games] where players just enabled PvP.

Dedicated PvP is good, and as Jay also points out:

Official Blizzard Quote:

... we do not allow the 'hostility mode' that Diablo II had where you can go into town, go hostile, pop back through a town portal, and insta-kill your friend.

I feel that, in the spirit of making the most people happy, we can come to a better solution than simply removing world PvP. Removing world PvP doesn't make everybody happy, excluding the griefers of course, so it might not be the best solution to the problem. We want to make the masochistic players who crave challenges happy too, and it can be done without making the system exploitable by griefers.

Remember, we cannot remove griefers, so in finding a system that makes everybody happy we cannot focus on removing griefers. PvP should not be the tool to scare malicious players out of the game. Exploits should be fixed to stop people from harming others, and worrying about how to deal with untouchable players when you can't just kill them is not within the scope of our solution nor is it within the scope of Jay's current solution.

My solution is fairly complex, but it should play out simply enough. Since we do not know how Diablo III will work in terms of user interface, PvP structure and so on, I will actually explain this system as it would work in Diablo II.

The first and foremost goal of the PvP system is to remove the ability for people to attack those who do not want it. To this end characters could select PvP or standard upon character creation. This would determine how you wish to play through the game. Standard characters would play through the game content without player interruption and their only player versus player interaction would be in, for the sake of assuming we have learned something from World of WarCraft, dueling arenas. PvP characters would be open to attack from other players, but of course it's a bit more complex than that.

Unlike the two game content oriented modes Hardcore, which is you only live once, and Softcore, which is you are punished for getting your hero killed but the game does not end, PvP and standard characters should not be separated. There are a few reasons for this. The first reason is I do not feel that separating players is good for a community when the separation is not required to maintain the goals of the separation in the first place. Hardcore characters are supposed to be hardcore, you only live once. This means some things players can do in Softcore are not viable strategies in Hardcore. Hardcore in fact makes the player versus environment content more challenging which means the characters are not in fact playing the same game and the character types are incompatible. This would not be the same situation for PvP and standard characters. PvP characters would be playing through the same rules as their standard counterparts in regards to monster interaction and would thusly be playing the same game. This is of course not the only reason to keep PvP and standard characters together. First however I need to explain how the process would work.

The example I am going to use contains five players. Three of these players are completing some sort of quest within the game in a group. One of these players is PvP character. Two of them are not. There is another group of two standard characters. One of these players is nice, but one of these players is a malicious player with intent to PK the PvP character. Besides the PvP character, all characters in the game are standard.

For sake of understanding how the system works better, I'll use Diablo II characters in this situation. The PK character is an assassin class character using melee abilities. The person in the group with her is a paladin with the fanaticism aura active which increases damage for physical attacks, among other things. The PvP character, and our victim in this case, is a druid with the active skill oak sage. Oak sage provides a bonus to the party increasing their maximum life. The other two characters are both amazons and are granting no abilities to the druid.

The Assassin enters town and expresses hostility toward the druid and his party by clicking hostile on the party screen. Note that if there were no PvP characters in the game there would be nobody to hostile and it could not be done. Also note that the druid, even though he is PvP, cannot initiate hostility against a standard character. He would have to wait for the standard character to initiate it.

The druid is hostile back at once. In addition because the assassin is hostile but her party member is not, the paladin in her party no-longer grants his aura's bonus to players he is not hostile with. This means that when attacking the druid, the assassin attacks with her normal damage at her normal rate. The druid on the other hand is hostile back automatically. He is not hostile against the paladin nor has he expressed intent to fight him. If the paladin wanted to join the battle he would also have to express hostility to the druid.

The druid on the other hand is granting his passive oak sage bonus to the two amazons. The non-hostile amazons receive the benefit from the druid's passive skills even though they are not hostile. The amazons have also received an invitation to hostile the assassin. If they wanted they could join the battle to help the druid, for sake of the situation let's say one of them does. Now there are two players hostile to the Assassin's party.

The druid is getting low on life by this point and decides he cannot win the battle. In order to save himself and his precious ear he chooses the save and exit game option. Now we're left with a game that contains 4 standard characters and no hostile characters. The assassin has expressed hostility to the first amazon and she has accepted. The paladin in the assassin's party wishes to join in, since now it's a fair fight and he knows what's happening. Even though there are no PvP characters in the game the amazon has already expressed her intent to engage the Assassin in combat, and because of our previous rule where expressing hostility to a party member expresses hostility to the party the paladin can join in by accepting the challenge. That is only if they want to. The second amazon does not wish to fight and continues slaughtering demons to her heart's content.

Note the difference between this system and the current system. With this method nobody entered the fight who didn't wish to fight. In addition nobody was out of the fight but aiding others who were in the fight via passive skills. If you wanted to aid your teammates you were forced to join the battle. This is great but let's address the apparent weaknesses with such a system and potential alternatives.

The two questions that jump to mind, besides why not separate these character types which we already discussed, are why not choose PvP or standard games on game creation instead and how does this remove griefers. I will address the second point first.

It quite simply doesn't remove griefers. Such a feat is not possible at least accepting the premise that griefing is a social fact. Since we cannot remove those types of players, I dodged the issue completely by removing their ability to grief using the PvP system while keeping in PK. Of course there will be other ways to grief, but that is not within the scope of the PvP system, at least I feel it should not be. Jay Wilson's solution certainly doesn't address the fact that you cannot kill players who are griefing you with it. I currently don't have a better way than Diablo II's current system to do this, and of course we've already seen that system does not work.

In order to solidify the system against griefing however, we must make sure there are safeguards to non-PvP characters participating in world PvP combat. I would suggest the following safety measures, which for obvious reasons would only apply to Softcore games. The first solution I would propose is once a standard character is killed, they are no-longer hostile to any other players, and other players are no-longer hostile to them. This ensures that players cannot corpse camp standard characters or otherwise harm them once the initial battle has taken place. Note this would not apply to PvP characters. The second safeguard I suggest is when other players join a party, or enter a game, they are not automatically hostile to those hostile to their party, the automatic hostility only happens when the initial event is triggered. This is to stop players from playing both sides in order to get very powerful characters in situations where they are fighting standard characters only.

Secondly the character creation issue ties into separation of character types we discussed earlier and of course discourages people from making not only PvP type characters, but PK characters being the characters used to hunt down PK characters. The goal of keeping characters together in game is to broaden the potential pool of people who could attack a PvP created character. If for example you are in a game with two PvP characters and six standard and you know that standard characters cannot attack you, it's going to be fairly easy to watch just one person. If you are in a game and anybody can attack you it makes the game harder, and thusly more fun for the people who would choose the PvP style. Why would we remove fun?

There do need to be incentives to play a PvP character, besides the rush of playing PvP. They don't need to be big incentives but big enough that people on the fence would decide to create a PvP hero. The incentives I thought of are firstly, add finishing the game as a PvP character to the upcoming achievement system for Battle.net 2.0. Achievements make people want to play to reach those goals. This would interest perfectionists and goal oriented players who might not otherwise have the desire to pick PvP. The second reward I feel would be appropriate would be an awesome title. In Diablo II characters were awarded titled for completing a difficulty level and the cooler titles obviously went to the characters who played the more challenging hardcore mode. I suggest giving PvP characters both hardcore and softcore better titles for completing the game on each difficulty. Players would be like "Wow! How do you get that awesome 'avatar of Chuck Norris' title?" Oh, you could say, well you need to make a PvP character.

The final incentive I would suggest for the PvP characters is have player ears, which was the reward for killing other players in Diablo II, similar to a shrunken head or a dog tag, only drop for players killed via PK, not through duels. This would create an incentive to kill PvP characters, especially in hardcore, just to prove you had done it and would allow players to have bounties on PvP characters. Rewards aren't the only thing the system needs to attract players. It also needs to be approachable.

To this end I recommend not restricting interaction between PvP and standard characters. Like battlegroups in World of WarCraft where all types of servers are in one group, PvP and standard characters would play together in arenas. They would also however adventure together, and most importantly be able to trade together. This would allow people to make PvP twinks to PK other players, or make standard characters easily if you had PvP characters. Allowing people this option only makes it more fun, because making the opponents more difficult is the goal with the PvP character type. Better outfitted players fighting you means a more enjoyable gameplay experience and also encourages players to decide to "try" PvP after playing through the game on standard instead of creating another standard character since they can transfer good low level gear to their new PvP character from their standard character.

In addition to approachability and rewards my system offers one final thing that the current design of PvP system does not, that is familiarity with the previous Diablo PvP systems. Instead of adopting completely the system we have in World of WarCraft of separating people into small groups of like-minded players and even then forcing them into arenas to combat each other my system builds on the familiarity of the previous Diablo games by allowing people to express hostility to others whenever they wish in terms of PK while still leaving enormous room for a organized dueling system. The dueling system should have real rewards like World of WarCraft does and both players of PvP and standard characters will be able to enjoy this. Players who wish to have the added challenges of a hostile and unforgiving Diablo experience should also be able to have them, and I feel my system allows players to do this without destroying the experience of those who just want to adventure through the game with their friends safely.

(This was written by KaylinL and posted in his absence.)


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