PVE and PVP Harmony is Impossible


I was reading an article over by Sprinks on SWTOR class design and ultimately she gets to a point in which she asks the question: (major paraphrase) with all the off specs and specialization, what’s the likelihood that I choose the best class for that function? And that I just don’t “… pick a warrior/ burglar and the paladin/loremaster outperforms me in every respect.

Now, I don’t normally interact with her blog, but I do get around to reading it as I read lots of other bloggers far outside my normal genre of MMOs and games. But it struck me immediately odd that this was even a question. As soon as I read it my response in my head was, “Of course.” Every game with classes (IE themepark fantasy) are going to be inherently imbalanced. That’s why all developers always spout the same post launch reflections and that is always about class balance. They always say it because it’s just guaranteed to be a problem.

And not by a little bit. By a lot. It’s just the plague of the game design. You start with the basics of your design which is MMO PvE. I need something to take a punch, a tank is born. Then I need something to heal that tank, and a healer is born. Then I need to something that can kill that monster, so the DPS was the next obvious choice. Simple enough. But then it’s going to, even in the simplest of concepts, turn ugly. Because there must be some sort of PVP/PVE balance Tanks and Healers are too strong for what they do. Our PVE needs to be challenging. So it moves in a direction that forces the Tank to be super hard-hitting to retain agro and our healers have too much healing to make sure they are on their toes healing. The result in PVP from the PVE checks are Tanks that hit too hard and then healers that are unkillable. It’s the same problem in every game. 

On top of that we need separation in our DPS. So comes the Ranged vs. Melee. In itself in PVE is bound for imbalance right there. Just the concept of a class being able to be full-time ranged is room for disaster. Because ultimately, the PVE will be designed to challenge the Melee by putting in DPS stops with AOEs, meaning the ranged have the full advantage by never having to stop DPSing. We then give the melee a much stronger single target hit to make up for all the stops and obstacles and by doing so we make a PVP nightmare by giving a class the ability to one/two shot someone. Now the ranged is jealous that they have cast times and so we give them tremendous AOE and Magic Power as an advantage. And so the AOE balance game will take place. It’s the same evolution in every post-launch game.

Now, we don’t stop there. We need mass variety. So then we invent at least 10 different versions of a healer and then multiple different versions of a tank. And then we make the DPS so complex we can’t even map what the hell most the classes do. So then the problem with diversity in this aspect is if your function is to do this one thing, IE, Tank and hold agro, Heal and keep it alive, DPS and kill it fast. If I only need to do one thing absolutely the best, then at some point, one of these multitude of ‘classes’ is going to have that aspect far better. This class is better, nerf it. This class is pointless, buff it. The circle of jealousy and regret evolves forever and ever and ever.

And it doesn’t just end there. You still have games on top of those moves, then going and making different versions of mirror classes on the opposing realm. So not only can you be potentially jealous of a team-mate, now you can be completely frustrated with something your side can never have. The problem with class balance isn’t that a developer can’t seem to do it right. It’s because it was impossible to do based off the design itself from the very start.

So what can we tell about SW:TOR advanced class system? The same thing we can tell about every game that has ever had classes. One class will be better at what it does; Everyone will notice during Beta; That class will be over played; That class will get nerfed; A new star will take the role of major complaints; And in months take a nerf. Atleast one class will be gimp for a major term of the game, it may never see a buff. Rinse and then repeat, until everybody at some point is unhappy from jealousy, being nerfed, or being ignored. As a developer in charge of balance, you just can’t win. Someone’s going to hate you. By the 2nd year of your game, a guaranteed everyone will hate you.

Our current themepark is an evolution of a PVE concept that has a major focus for One Boss to kill. As a result, we want tank, heal, dps. However, its impossible to have our PVP work that way. So, we have imbalance. Because the two worlds don’t work the same. Now if a game came along and said “I’ll make the PVE like PVP, and then we can all enjoy the Pizza,” that would be balance. However, it would be the worst PVE that anyone has ever played. PVE acting like players. Just a bunch of random NPCs running about /shout obscenities. What, would you encounter a boss that’s major attack was demoralization by nerd rage logging off so you couldn’t kill him? I can see it now, the ultimate boss; The Troll. As you enter his chamber he /emotes, “LOLUMAD bro?”

I don’t really have a suggestion on how balance this mess we seem to enjoy to complain about. The only real thing that I understand about playing a class is to find a way to enjoy it. If it’s too good you are just going to get nerfed to oblivion. If it’s too gimp, then you are bound for a buff. At some point you have to just enjoy what you play and make it your own. I have a lot of respect for those players that found something they liked and stuck through it, despite the disadvantage. They made it their own and wore the badge of honor, till they finally nerd raged and played another game.

So when SW:TOR hits I will roll and play something I think I can enjoy based off the synopsis I am given. Most likely a Jedi Consular, even despite the fact I hate what I see in the videos. I don’t think I’ve seen such static movements on a character since Mr. Grim from Twisted Metal. Don’t know what I am talking about?

If you are planning to play one like I am, prepare for the most graphically impressive left hand movements you have ever seen, ever. No, these aren’t strategically taken screens. Its’ literally because the Conuslar’s body pose never changes. Despite this, I will still play it. Even if they do made a healer class based on the Hutt race that was 100% more effective, I will still play what I want. But like every gamer, I’ll bitch the entire time. Such is what the developer deserves for making their game the way it is.

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3 thoughts on “PVE and PVP Harmony is Impossible

  1. I have to disagree on you conclusion that it’s impossible to balance PvE and PvP and the impact on careers ..

    The problem lies in some ..now taken as granted.. starting points.

    You have to start and build the careers around PvP, but can have those holy trinity of archetypes in the back of your head. Then you can think about how a PvE fight should work (aggro-managment maybe changed by positional fighting?).. then you can build the PvE around the careers who are balanced around PvP.

    In the current ..lets say..standard way of fighting things are difficult to balance, because people aren’t flexible enough. I’m sure that a game won’t sell good if the dev’s try something too different than that what the people already know from other existing games. That is the real problem, not the PvE or PvP. .. ok ..and to be clear and repeat myself .. I’m sure that the balance can work if you start at PvP and build PvE around it. Scripts can always be adapted to career balance, mechanics, etc.. Player behavior (PvP) simple.. not.

    • Ahhhh… but then you are agreeing. Because you are coming around to my assumption by the end. That games (that we buy and that sell well) are built on the premise that bounds them for this imbalance. Therefore, you were always doomed for this to happen because you built the game from the start on this basis.

      Could you build a balanced MMO? Yes. It would be completely different from what most of us know in the genre.
      Would this balanced MMO sell well? Doubtful.

      If you start at PVP and balance PVE, then the customer base on normal Carebear games are being introduced to something completely new. New means likely not to sell. People want improved, not revolutionary (my assumption, I think historically in the last decade we can view that trend to be true).

      So yes, hypothetically, a developer could break the mold. Would they be successful?

      I think it will take time and slow progression to move away from what we have. I don’t see SWTOR or GW2 making that leap. Or anyother big MMO in the next 5 years.

  2. Well..so we agree and disagree ;)

    The only “critical” point is the boundary condition, i.e. if you allow a totally new concept..

    If the target group are Carebears, then you will have problems with PvP anyways. The reason is simple.. In PvE you only die (lose) when you do something wrong and in PvP you die, even if you do everything right. That is something that target group dislikes.

    I’m not sure if this will be a slow progression, but I agree that SWTOR and GW2 won’t deliver any real new concepts and that they will most likely won’t be able to balance PvE and PvP.

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