As Eri briefly mentions in her post, there is a distinct lack of (in-game) consequences for most PvE MMO open-world PvP (OWP). In games like WoW, OWP is restricted to simply combat practice, or denying someone some peace and quiet for a while. There are no consequences beyond the time spent/wasted. No gains for the ‘winner’, no loss for the ‘loser’. There is no incentive to it. All meaningful gains are locked away behind the organised, instanced PvP queues, and all losses are simply a factor of what you have already gained (rankings). I believe that this is a result of the nature of the game: these are primarily PvE games. PvP was never a fundamental playstyle that the game was built around. It was added onto an existing PvE framework, and it shows. Furthermore, these games are marketed as PvE experiences first and foremost, so it makes sense that the majority of players are drawn to that style of play.
Adding OWP to these games means adding the illusion of danger, without undermining the core PvE experience. Thus, real consequences to your actions are impossible to implement, or you alienate a large section of your playerbase. Players losing the results of PvE effort to an arbitrary gank will give up pretty quickly and move on to something else. So you are left with the other extreme of no consequences. This satisfies nobody, since the PvP players are robbed of any meaningful reason to engage in PvP and thus do it for purely antisocial reasons (boredom, griefing), and PvE players are robbed of their time.
I have not played any PvP-centric MMO except EVE (and then only for a couple of months), so my experiences there inform my opinion on this topic. I believe that those games go to the other extreme, where you are risking substantial losses whenever you log in or venture out into the world. They also are guilty of adding a secondary playstyle onto an existing framework, which in the end satisfies nobody – those who want to PvP end up either grinding PvE content they’d rather not, because it is the most efficient way of supporting the losses they incur from PvP, or they prey on those who like PvE content and would like to be left alone to do that.
So, the extremes don’t work when it comes to allowing PvE and OWP to exist side-by-side. A new game has to emerge that balances the needs of both playstyles. PvE players must have the option of participating in the game without being forced into PvP without their consent. PvP players must be able to roam the world and initiate hostile interactions if they so desire. In both cases, the consequences of their choices must matter. Here are some ideas to achieve that balance.
- The world needs to be built around a real(TM) economy. Similar to EVE, each city/town/region needs to have it’s own market, and moving goods between locations needs player involvement. Most, if not all, items must be player crafted or commissioned, and item degradation and loss is critical.
- There must be non-combat “classes” for players to choose. Merchants, diplomats, archaeologists, crafters of all kinds, entertainers, thieves, builders, etc. These kinds of classes would rarely want to leave the few safe zones in game. Safe from combat, anyway. The combat-oriented, traditional adventuring classes, would be reliant on these non-combat classes for items, information, even quests.
- There must be a robust, participatory justice system in the game. There must be reasonable, ethically-justified “laws” that players can help enforce, such as prohibitions against murder, theft, vandalism, etc. In other words, there must be both rewards for doing these things (usually financial, but maybe political or informational) and punishments for being brought to account for doing them. These can include jail time, financial penalties, asset losses, group exclusion (for example, being caught murdering other players could prevent you from having access to certain NPC guilds, and some PC guilds might kick convicted criminals from their ranks), and/or reputation consequences.
- There needs to be a reason to initiate OWP. Perhaps limited loot drops, interrupting supply lines for larger conflicts, political reasons, economic reasons, whatever. Player boredom or random mischief cannot be the major or most frequent motivation, or the whole thing is no better than the current mess of WoW-like games.
- Even the non-combat classes need reasons to venture out into the OWP areas. Whether that be to collect resources, to explore ruins, to go on diplomatic or trade missions, they must be enticed out into the world. However, they must never be *required* to do so for arbitrary reasons: it must be a conscious decision based on the prospect of a big payoff. Ideally, such classes could hire combat-oriented classes to protect them on these forays.
- Some (maybe half) of the PvE content should create opportunities for OWP. Economic or political conflicts between cities/states/regions, player-generated quests, major world events like natural disasters or barbarian invasions, all of these can get players out into OWP areas. The rest of the PvE content can be completed in the safe zones.
- Safe zones are safe only because they operate similarly to EVE’s high-security areas, i.e. if a certain crime is committed, god-mode NPC guards will instantly respond and hunt down the perpetrator. Chances are high that the victim will not lose much, if anything of value, and the time lost by the victim will be eclipsed by the time lost by the perp. Basically, the idea is that the risks are extremely high in these areas, and only the highest rewards should tempt players from violating the peace.
Granted, many of those ideas are possibly too hard to implement, but you get the gist of my philosophy. A game where OWP and PvE mesh seamlessly and support each other, a game where PvE players can avoid PvP if they really want to but have the reassurance of a justice system should they venture out into the world, a game where non-consensual PvP has real consequences (both positive and negative) for the initiator, has to be designed specifically with all that in mind. In my opinion, combat needs to be less of a central focus, and other systems need to get more design attention to make these worlds more interesting.