Two years and 100 articles ago I wrote my first article for Geek to Me. In that article I made complaints about how Player vs. Player combat in MMO games seems to die down after the initial launch, lose meaning, and generally become another grind for players to do week after week. Overall the feeling of PvP in MMO games for the last eight years has been nothing more than a time sink for more gear. Even if the players finish a round of PvP rewards, we just wait until the next big patch to give us a new set of items to grind for!
The problem was that every new title made the exact same mistakes so PvP fanatics had no choice but to return to previous games over and over again. Well in these past two years developers have finally started listening to gamer feedback and nearly eleven years since the launch of Dark Age of Camelot we have the return of three-faction PvP!
So What Does Three Faction PvP Actually Accomplish?
Since it is a game design that hasn’t been explored much, it may not be obvious why it is a good idea. Most MMO games with PvP will fall into one of two styles. The first option is a free-for-all in which you find a guild, or go solo, and start trying to kill each other whenever/wherever you want. This method is okay and can work as long as the game provides a means in which you are penalized for excessive harassment, such as the karma system in Linage 2. If there is no penalty, then you end up in the situations that are found on the PvP servers in TERA: constant gank-fests with nothing but frustrated new players.
The second method is the standard two faction games, a la World of Warcraft. While this does provide a means in which players can enjoy a PvP focus it has two major issues. First, the community for every server is divided. Players of opposite factions on the same server can never play with each other so you only have half (sometimes less) of the server population available to complete any in-game content. The other major issue is faction balance caused by a higher population on one faction than on the other. There are very few ways to entice gamers to switch sides once they have established themselves, so it is an issue that can never truly be resolved in a two faction system.
So with free-for-all and two-faction PvP designs having been proven unsuccessful, models which have cause numerous new games and millions of dollars to fall flat, it’s time to look at a three-faction system. Put on your helmets, cause it might blow your mind.
The Beauty of a Three Faction System
Now you’re probably asking, “Blazek, how in the world can you fix the problem by adding a third faction, when two factions has so many flaws?” Three words: player generated balance. With two factions it is impossible to get players not to play with their friends, join the winning side, and generally overpopulate one side instead of another. Sorry developers, gamers like to win and play with friends. But with three factions, an organic process of strategy and balance can happen without needing to give artificial benefits to the losing side. This comes from players and their drive to have a fighting chance. What happens when one faction becomes too dominant? In my many years of playing Dark Age of Camelot, each realm on my server had its periods of dominance. But even if Hibernia actually gained control of all of the relics, the realms of Albion and Midgard would form a temporary truce to assault Hibernia simultaneously from different points. This would last until the server balanced out again and all three factions could break apart and continue with their own goals to try and obtain server dominance.
Realistically, the strategy involved in three faction PvP system could fill an article all on its own, so for now we’ll leave it at that outline.
Solving the Server Division for non-PvP Content
Now that we have the balancing issue under control, we have to solve the division in the player base that limits the people you can play with for content outside of PvP. Back in the early days, games that focused on PvP generally had very little “end game” PvE content; though what was available was generally manageable with fewer players. This helped, but it really limited the size of the audience to which a game could appeal. A better solution has appeared in two very new titles: The Secret World and Guild Wars 2.
In The Secret World, all factions are allowed to work together to help protect the world… so that they can one day control it. This very specific game lore allows the factions to work together while still being at each other’s throats, and while it somewhat limits the possibilities of PvP it has played out well in each beta test. Since PvP still affects your faction overall it still feels worthwhile to participate on both sides of the spectrum.