Let's break this down into the two separate and distinct situations first and then explain how they impact on one another. We'll start from the game design angle and then we'll go on to tackle the psychology angle. What we should get by the end is a pretty complete understanding of why you shouldn't enact a change like this upon your game, even if you are Blizzard and can swim in a pool filled with money and gummy bears.
When looking at our beloved MMOs, we can distill any game down to one simple variable -- time. The experience gain, the reputation gain, the battlegrounds grind, and all the other features of our games are all about how much time you're willing to sink into the game. Sure, in a few competitive encounters it can come down to skill, but skill is very much the illusion of the game. To get from the starting position of level one to the upper areas of the endgame, it takes play time.
This concept is illustrated pretty openly through the death mechanic. When you die, the penalty is both a little money and running back to your corpse. Running back to your corpse is the "time waster" mechanic. It may not seem like a very obvious penalty, but the time you waste running back could have been spent killing more monsters and gaining more experience.
The disparity between the PvP server and the standard server is how many times the player is going to die in the course of their gameplay. On a normal server, the biggest threat to player health and wellness is the monsters around them. On a PvP server, the biggest threat is obviously that level 70 jerk who two shots players on low level servers and camps their corpses.
Monsters don't go out of their way to make sure a player dies. They also aren't a drastically different power level than the player, unless the player carelessly walks into a higher level zone. Players, on the other hand, make sure that the newbie's life is a living hell. They want them to trip from the graveyard as much as possible. Therefore, on a player versus player server, the average player is going to spend more time playing to get to 70 due to all of the grief kills.
So now we have an inherent disparity on the server -- players who have invested more time to level on the server to get the "right" to experience the PvP endgame, and players who just pay a few bucks to avoid the whole mishap. With standard game design rules, one player class spent more time to get to 70 thanks to the lost time of dying while the other type of player got to the same position in a shorter amount of time thanks to their pocketbook.
And this is where design transitions into psychology. The players who spent all of that time and all of that effort getting to that level on a harder server now feel cheated. The difficulty of that experience has been invalidated thanks to a simple rules change. I know a few of my friends felt very proud of having a level 70 on a PvP server. It was like surviving the meat grinder -- a testament to your will for being able to survive the constant setbacks that other players so graciously provided you.
People run on comparisons of others in our MMORPGs. What I mean by that is you play, consciously or unconsciously, to achieve something greater than someone else. That's why we're always on the lookout for bigger and better loot, unique titles, or other achievements. You want to wear that stuff so you feel like the better player. So if someone took away that achievement, or made it so common that any effort you put in to it was now made null and void, you'd be pretty angry. But these things happen pretty often in MMORPGs -- "exclusive" pre-order items being made available for veteran rewards, "welfare epics", the placement of a easier experience curve, a new expansion that includes uncommon items better than your purples. So what's the difference here?
What if Blizzard put out an announcement that said: "Tier 6 Armor now available for purchase in the Blizzard Store!" Now all those endgame raids that your guild worked so hard on getting to and passing, putting in all of that time and effort (because as we said before, skill is an illusion and getting to the end game simply takes oodles of time) have just been made extremely commonplace. It's not just that your achievement has been invalidated... your time just got a price tag put on it.
While Blizzard hasn't offered armor for money (as of yet, and it's sad that I have to say that), they have put a price on getting a 70 in a harsh leveling environment. That's right, all of that pain, suffering, and getting teabagged is worth 20 whole US dollars.
Blizzard's reasoning for doing this is to let players play with their friends (something I totally agree with) and the impact to the game worlds would be minimal (which I also agree with). So why do I have a problem? Because I'm not a fan of damaging people's achievements -- especially those which are inherently un-fun, like the poorly written rules of the PvP server which leave wide berths for harassment ganking. These people did go through a lot of bull to get their characters leveled up on these servers, and keeping these servers separate was a nice way to physically keep that achievement in place. To have the 70 on the PvP server, especially after the cluster crash that was Hellfire Peninsula and the Dark Portal right after the Burning Crusade launch, meant something. Now that the physical reminder is gone, all those players have left is the sentence "I survived a PvP server." And, in time, even that will come crashing down.
Could have at least given them a title or something. Don't they at least deserve that?
Colin Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who thinks Blizzard is scared of WAR. When he's not writing here for Massively, he's over running Epic Loot For All! with his insane roommates. If you want to message him, you can do so in Second Life (SL: Seraphina Reymont), or send him an e-mail at colin.brennan AT weblogsinc DOT com.