I’ve recently come to realize that my self-identification as a PvP focused player might not be entirely accurate. I certainly enjoy PvP a lot – the more of it, the better, really -, but when I think about my favorite MMO of all time, Star Wars Galaxies, it’s hard to reconcile how little PvP I did in the game with identifying primarily as a PvP player.
We all know what made Star Wars Galaxies special by now: player interdependence and the community it fostered (if you didn’t know that, I highly recommend reading Raph Koster’s post-mortem series, particularly the two on designing a living society). The game’s deep crafting, sprawling worlds, and even its being set in my favorite fandom all paled in comparison to the strength of its community, a community tempered by the fire of literally not being able to do anything without other players.
Besides the obvious features like everything in the game being player crafted, you were driven back to players in ways we’ve never seen in other games. If you took serious damage, you could only be healed in a hospital by a doctor (generally another player) or in a camp set up by a ranger in the wild. The game also included a form of longer-term damage via a system called battle fatigue (the historical term for PTSD), which could only be cured by spending time in the company of dancer and musician players, who would hang out in city cantinas. The cities in Star Wars Galaxies were living social hubs, creating a society the likes of which may never be replicated.
This nostalgia for a peaceful, Utopian society of dancers and doctors seems hard to reconcile with my identification as a PvP focused player. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy ostensibly hardcore features like free-for-all rulesets and corpse looting just as much as the next person, but how can I call those my focus when my favorite game was nothing like that?
Thinking back to my favorite PvP memories, my thoughts are drawn to World of Warcraft circa The Burning Crusade, which is weird enough in its own right (why not a game with a greater emphasis on PvP?). I’ve written before of a rivalry I had during this time, recalling some of my fondest PvP memories of hunting and being hunted in the open world, along with a ‘crew’ of 2-4 dedicated friends.
These battles were personal, to say the least. I wasn’t just roaming the overworld looking for fights so much as I was hunting specific players, specific guilds. Despite being fairly low population, my server had a thriving world PvP community with many like-minded groups, so conflict was plentiful.
That’s a theme that followed me into more PvP focused titles. I’ve never cared much for matchmaking based PvP. It can be fun in brief stints, but it’s never personal like it is in a small server’s open world community. Outside of World of Warcraft, my favorite experiences have always come from games with free-for-all PvP rulesets like Age of Conan, EVE Online, and Albion Online. Despite its reputation as a hostile environment, FFA promotes community in a way that faction-based rulesets never will, with the actions and reputations of players taking full reign of the boundaries between friend and foe.
Perhaps my two seemingly disparate preferences stand at two ends of a common thread – that importance of community. It’s not that I have an inherent preference for PvP; it’s that interdependence and the importance of community have been thoroughly eroded from the genre’s PvE offerings over the last generation of MMOs. With that gone, I haven’t really had any other options if I want the kind of social experiences the genre used to center on.
Fortunately, there does appear to be some hope on the horizon. After the demise of Everquest: Next, I wrote a short piece for MMOGames highlighting some of the upcoming PvE sandbox MMOs, and ‘we aren’t catering to solo players’ seemed to be a recurring theme.
Saga of Lucimia in particular has my attention, as it’s a game being made for MMO players by MMO players that seems to align extremely well with my recent writings on quest design and RPG features (expect more on that in the near future [Update: Link]). I’ve even heard tell of the game implementing SWG-esque crafters and entertainers. The game is PvE only, so it might prove a good opportunity to put this theory to the test. If we’re lucky, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to find that community magic in a PvE MMO again.