In both PvE and PvP, the overarching goal in many MMOs is to obtain better gear that allows you to excel in your chosen specialization. The more you PvP, the better quality of PvP gear you earn, which in turn makes you more formidable in PvP. The same principle exists for PvE. All of this seems pretty logical and basic for most anyone who has ever played World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, or any number of similar titles.
It also seems just as natural to many of us that trying to take your PvP gear into PvE, or your PvE gear into PvE, isn’t going to work out so well. The reason for this is because the gear is specialized through the use of stats that only benefit you in PvP or PvE respectively. In WoW, for example, this PvP stat is currently called Resilience and it boosts both your damage output and damage reduction when facing other players. In their next expansion, Resilience is being split into two separate stats, Defense and Power, that will handle each of these roles respectively. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, their PvP stat is called Expertise, and it functions like Resilience with the additional function of boosting your healing in PvP. In Patch 1.2, which releases tomorrow, BioWare is increasing the amount of Expertise found on their end game PvP gear.
A great deal of thought and planning revolves around these specialized stats, and these developers will try to sell you on them as if they’re doing you a favor. You’ll be told that PvE gear just isn’t designed to take the hits that PvP gear is because most players (other than tanks) aren’t supposed to be getting hit in PvE in the first place. PvP stats are therefore a requirement so people don’t get one-shot and so fights will last longer than a few seconds. This allegedly allows time for more complex strategies and battles to evolve during play, which should result in a more rewarding experience.
To me, that is a load of crap, and all it really does is highlight the downside of the holy trinity of PvE (tank/healer/DPS) in a game with PvP. If you didn’t force your players into these archaic roles, and if everyone shared the same overlapping responsibilities, you wouldn’t need to overcompensate for their weaknesses with a PvP stat.
The real idea around specialized gear is simple: developers of subscription-based MMOs don’t want players to be effective in both PvP and PvE without having to participate fully in both gear grinds.
Grinding is time, and time is money.
In SW:TOR, it has been far too easy, up to this point, to participate in both PvE and PvP using a single gear set. You didn’t need to spend time in hard mode flashpoints (dungeons) in order to work up to run raids (operations). You could just PvP and use that gear and clear all of their normal and hard mode PvE content. There was almost no incentive or need to spend weeks gearing up in PvE when you could easily skip that content entirely. This led to people clearing the end game content much faster than anticipated, which led to bored players, and bored players don’t continue to pay subscriptions.
The other thing that specialized gear does, and all end game gear for that matter, is create a status symbol for the player that can be envied by the rest of the player community. If you have the best of something, others want it. The key thing for subscription MMOs is that the best gear MUST exist at the end of a time sink.
I found an interesting article on Psychology Today that highlights a little of what I am talking about:
It’s all about status and exclusivity…
Whether we admit it or not, we all want to feel as if we are a little bit better than the people around us. We begin to establish that – at least in our own minds – with the accouterments of wealth such as branded clothing, jewelry, luxury automobiles, and exclusive neighborhoods. Even the poorest of people find symbols with which to establish their status. The visibility of these status symbols can create the powerfully motivating emotion of envy.
Most happiness that is acquired by achieving status symbols is short lived. Overtime such trappings become meaningless to us… But, status can continue to motivate us long after money ceases to do so. Bestowing a new title with added responsibilities yet without any added pay is a common method for rewarding employees.
This absolutely applies to end game gear in most MMOs, just at it applies to titles like “Gladiator” or “Battlemaster” or “Slayer Of That Totally Kickass Dragon”. And if that status is only temporary, no problem. It only has to last until the next arena season or raid content anyway, which is (surprise!) just long enough for most people to reach that plateau.
Without these carrots on sticks, the only incentive that players are left with to participate in PvP and PvE content is how challenging and dynamic the content is, and how much fun they’re having doing it. For the developer of a subscription-based MMO, that is a chilling thought. They need you to slow down and make sure you only progress in bite-sized increments.
- That is why loot is randomized in those games and why everyone doesn’t get a drop from each raid boss. They need you coming back and doing the same thing week after week, despite the very real threat of boredom, just so you can get that last piece of gear.
- That is why getting around in the game world is blocked by things like fast-travel cooldowns or flight paths or worse…. orbital stations… (and why in game flight in WoW was a big mistake on their part). They need to make you spend time getting from Point A to Point B, not so you can appreciate the scope of how large the game world is, but because time is money.
- That is why crafting stacks of a single item takes so bloody long.
- That is why there are PvP rankings that exist as prerequisites to purchasing high level PvP gear.
I won’t sit here and tell you that free-to-play MMOs are all innocent of this entirely, but they really don’t need to go to the same lengths to keep you playing every single day, so they don’t need to resort to all of the same tricks. You can stop playing a F2P MMO for days, weeks or even months in order to play something else or engage in other hobbies, just as easily as you can with games in other genres. You can always come back for the next expansion, or after you finish that one Sci-Fi trilogy with the horrible endings.
By contrast, in Guild Wars 2:
- You can get “end game” gear with all the same stats on it through various combinations of PvE, PvP and crafting. The only elite status symbols come in the form of cosmetic armor sets or titles. They’re there for the people who want to earn them, but they aren’t the entire reason for playing.
- Bosses in Guild Wars 2 drop loot for everyone. No one walks away empty handed.
- Fast travel has a cost, but is instant to anywhere you’ve already explored.
- Crafting multiples of the same item actually speeds up your crafting time for each progressive item.
- You can PvP in their structured PvP (battlegrounds) on DAY ONE using a PvP-only character with max level gear.
At the end of the day, the need for separate PvP and PvE gear isn’t about the game so much as it is about the subscription revenue. That model just doesn’t work for me anymore, because it isn’t honest. It isn’t about making the best game possible. It’s about keeping the grind alive to make the most money.
That’s another reason I’m taking my business to ArenaNet. Guild Wars 2 has a PvP stat as well. It’s called ‘Skill’.