The Digital Continuum: Is free-for-all PvP really for nobody?

Many MMOs with the "hardcore" PvP mentality are often argued as an experience that isn't for everyone -- something for a very set niche. Or in other words, these games aren't for people who prefer a little structure and intelligently crafted incentive to participate.

Don't get me wrong, I love me some crunchy PvP snacks. What I don't have any affection for is a system that promotes players being douchetards. Sure, we're going to get them regardless, but encouraging the behavior is just not smart at all and it makes for a terrible experience.

Here's the problem: If these PvP-centric games aren't for "carebears", then who are they for? Griefers? Well when you design a game that only they want to play, then yes.
Now we've got a game packed to the rim with griefers, but those types live to torture everyone else. Messing with other irredeemables isn't going to cut it, especially when all there is to do is murder each other endlessly.

This issue is certainly closely connected with Scott Jennings' Mordred Problem. I'm not even sure there's a solution for players thinking they want this sort of experience and then realizing after a few months that no, not really actually. How do developers kill the death curve of a free-for-all PvP system? How do you make people who think they want a "hardcore" experience realize they don't really want such a thing? And what shining examples can they look towards for inspiration, or even the slightest glimmer of guidance? As far as I can tell, none.

Take one of the hardest of "hardcore" first-person shooters: Counter-Strike. Even that game has incentive and structure. They're simple because of the nature of a FPS game, but what's important is that they're effective. Plant the bomb at one of the two objective points, defend it until it goes off. Win and you get more money with which to buy better/more equipment to use on the next round. It's not some huge mysterious formula -- it's a sense of structure.

The concept of having safe zones so people can take a break from the random mayhem of PvP are usually balked at. As are the idea of having much of any real kind of structure, it seems. Sure, you've got systems that create murderers and what not -- but beyond that the only expected source of entertainment comes from ganging up on lone stragglers just trying to play the damn game. That's not fun for anybody, expect the small amount of people who want to roam around like a band of brigands hunting for other players.

Actually, the best example of how to make a game for such a niche is probably the EVE Online model. EVE Online is arguably a fairly "hardcore" PvP experience, but there are long lists of players who spend much of their time mining, trading or running missions. CCP has design a game where many players uninterested in the free-for-all PvP experience can (and have) come to play for lengthy periods of time. But then you've got those sectors of space that are more or less free-form, kill 'em if you like PvP -- and eventually long-time players will have to pass through this space. It's like a crossroads, where eventually people get the chance to play pirate to their heart's content.

Ultimately, I'd rather have a game that takes at least some skill, because from what I can tell these free-for-all gank-fests are more about who's got the biggest posse. And isn't that tantamount to school-yard bullies taking your money on the way home from school? Paying fifteen bucks a month to be virtually violated by gangs of laughing bullies isn't anyone's idea of fun.

This article was originally published on Massively.