PvP is broken, and why it can’t be fixed: an outsider’s analysis
Disclaimer: I don’t play PvP. I do, however, read these forums a lot, and over the last year I’ve seen PvPers complaining about many perceived problems. I want to address these problems seriously (even if I can’t take all of the complaining people seriously).
There are two ways to approach fixing perceived problems:
a) change the feature that causes the problem
b) change the perception.
Option b) is what benefits from having another perspective, which is the point of this brief essay. By looking at the issue from another point of view we can perhaps discover ways to deal with it, either by finding a workaround solution, or finding out that the problem was never in the feature itself, but in the way we approach it.
First of all, let’s list some of the more commonly expressed complaints, especially in regards to PvP even though some of these are applicable to a PvE environment too.
- Obelisk/dungeon entrance camping. A player’s character is unresponsive for several seconds after using a map room to teleport to an obelisk, as well as when entering or exiting a dungeon. The player sees only a loading screen, but his character is still in the game and can be interacted with, including attacking (and killing) the character in PvP while the player is helpless to defend himself.
- Horses have a major advantage over players fighting on foot (this item can be applied to any “OP meta” in the game). This complaint usually includes the implication that the complainer himself does not, for some reason, use this “meta” tech. Often, we also see claims that using the meta “requires no skill”, thus belittling the prowess of those who use this “meta”. I would submit that this has more to do with the player’s ego than actual constructive criticism towards the “meta” feature, but that’s a discussion for another topic.
- Single players have a distinct disadvantage against multiple opponents in combat (and smaller clans have a similar disadvantage against big clans). This boils down to basic math. All other things being equal (such as player skill, tier of used weapons and equipment, healing items, etc.), superior numbers prevail. This complaint is sometimes flavored by stories of good old days when a single skilled player could defeat multiple less skilled opponents, ignoring the fact that even back in the good days, multiple equally skilled opponents had the same advantage they have now.
- Alpha clans are monopolizing resource gathering. These resources may be in the form of dungeons with specific boss drops, or crafting materials such as brimstone. Although it is strategically viable to deny resources from your enemies, this limits the way other players are able to compete, which is why Funcom has recently put into place some rules and regulations for this behavior.
- People with more time to play get a big advantage. Related to the “superior numbers” problem above, in this case, the numbers refer to the amount of hours players are able to dedicate to playing. Someone with 30 available hours a week has, theoretically, three times the opportunities to harvest, train, explore, level up thralls, craft equipment and build defenses, as well as mount offensives against other players, than a player with only 10 hours of available playing time. Longer, unbroken sessions also have advantages over shorter periods that may be interrupted by real life. People with less free time may be unable to even be online to defend their bases. Basically, it becomes a competition of who can be online for the longest, rather than who is the more skilled player.
- Clans with more people have an advantage over clans with fewer people, or solo players for that matter. Another numbers-based complaint, addressing the fact that even if all players had the same amount of time to play, more people will mean more harvesting, more thralls being trained, more equipment being made, even specialized builds for different clan members to optimize harvesting, crafting, fighting, etc. This further transfers to being able to have at least someone online during raiding hours, someone dedicated to repairing damage done to their base by bombing runs or trebuchets, as well as having people in multiple places at the same time – even defending their base while mounting an attack against an enemy clan’s base simultaneously.
- Thralls are one-shotting players. A long process of “balancing” thralls who were, at one time, mostly useless, turned out to become pretty useful, to basically necessary in order to compete, to actually overshadowing the real protagonist of the game, the players. This problem is most evident in PvP where players bring fighting thralls into battle against other players, and the thralls contribute more to the fight than their controlling player, even up to the point where a single mistake on a player’s behalf may cause their defeat in the hands of an AI combatant – thus removing the focus of PvP from its intended point, players fighting players.
- Offline raiding. Related to the problems of “more people” and “more time to play”, some people and clans cannot reliably be online at every raiding season, leaving their base vulnerable. And any vulnerability will certainly be exploited, especially if the risk of failing or getting caught is negligible. Thralls alone (the same thralls that are one-shotting players, mind you) are unable to defend a base with any competence, and can be killed at the attackers’ leisure.
The ratio of Bombs necessary to blow up a foundation to the amount of resources required to repair/replace said foundation strongly favors the defender. Naturally, this is usually a problem mainly when not offline raiding because repairing the damage requires a player to actually be present to repair the damage. (Again, more time/more people gives an advantage here.) Those who get offline raided tend to argue that blowing up their base is too easy because farming bomb materials is too fast easy.
The list would go on, but for the purposes of this discussion, these examples should be sufficient. Fundamentally, all of these listed issues can be summarized into one sentence:
The problem of PvP is that people don’t fight fair, mostly experienced by those on the receiving end of unfairness.
This is why I submit that PvP cannot be fixed, not without changing the fundamental basic structure of the game. A sandbox game, by its nature, does not and cannot have mechanisms to ensure fair and balanced conflict between groups of players. A fair fight requires a strictly regulated environment, such as in tournament games where a set number of players on each side have the same initial resources, start at the same time and have a definite goal towards which to battle (whether it’s the destruction of the enemy base, capturing a flag or accumulating the most kills within a predefined period of time).
A sandbox game has none of these. It’s free-for-all, join-at-any-time, play-as-much-as-you-want playground with no rules of engagement, no restrictions to daily/weekly playing time, and no definite victory conditions.
To conclude this analysis, I see two possible solutions to these perceived problems; as mentioned earlier, we can either change the features that cause the problem, or change our perception.
The first solution is to get a different game. From the most basic foundations, Conan Exiles is not built as a fair, balanced battle arena. To create an environment where all players had equal opportunities, and skill alone determined the victor, would require a complete redesign of the game, or finding another game that offers similar features but that has been designed with the focus of fair PvP environment. Considering the incredible freedom offered by the sandbox nature of Conan Exiles, I’m afraid we’re talking about mutually exclusive concepts.
The second solution is to change the perception of what the game should be. This means accepting that the competitive environment is not, and is not intended to be, fair. Again, this can be hardest for those on the receiving end of unfairness, but a certain number of those on the winning side would prefer a more equal challenge (although it can be argued that the game does offer opportunities to handicap oneself if a greater challenge is desired, by using suboptimal equipment, character builds and thralls). We have been conditioned by our society to encourage fairness, which is why this can be a tough pill to swallow for all parties involved.
I hope this “outsider’s view” gives you some food for thought and a topic for discussion, and of course, I’m happy to hear your feedback on this analysis.