A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Can City of Heroes' PvP be saved?

A Mild-Mannered Reporter header by A. Fienemann
In theory, City of Heroes boasts a variety of different PvP options. In practice, pretty much no one notices or cares about any of those options because the game's PvP is dead in the water. Beyond dead in the water, even. Its carcass has settled to the bottom of the ocean and been nibbled away into just bones and a few shreds of clothing. Paragon Studios' reaction is usually to distract anyone who asks about PvP, either with a code giveaway or a well-timed blow to the solar plexus. I could go into a routine about a parrot, but I trust you get the idea.

This doesn't bother me categorically. I play other games, and those games give me enough of a PvP fix. PvP has never been why I play City of Heroes. But it does matter a lot to some people, and so it's worth asking: Can PvP be saved? Or should it just be allowed to continue its current slow death of neglect?

Speaking from the outside, I think the answer seems to be a definite maybe. I do think that things can be done to make the PvP actually worth playing; unfortunately, those changes might burn away a chunk of what the hardcore PvP crowd is hoping for, and they might frustrate some of the existing crowd that's quite happy with PvP in its current state as a faint memory. I'm not going to talk about whether or not it should be saved; I'm just going to look at whether or not it's even a possibility.

Longbow Mechs should really be the most awesome thing ever.Let's start with the obvious: If PvP is going to be saved, it can't be based on the recommendations of the people who adore PvP in its current state. The reason that the developers have pretty much ignored it is that the playerbase as a whole does not care about PvP. Convincing the people who already care that they should care more is not really an issue. You have to convince the people who don't want to get involved with PvP that it's worth trying.

So how do you make people who don't normally want to PvP decide to try it out? There are a few methods.

The first option is to make the various PvP zones in the game far more necessary. This is a terrible idea, however, because it's not going to make players want to take part; it's just going to make participation a mandatory exercise. The people who don't want to be there still won't want to be there, but now they'll have that as a reason to dislike the game as a whole. It would work briefly, but it would quickly drive a lot of players off.

No, in order to really inspire people to jump in, you have to make PvP an option that provides something attractive -- something that isn't mandatory, maybe even something that can be acquired elsewhere, but perhaps there's no easier way to accomplish a given goal. You need to convince people that sitting through several losses against other players is worthwhile in the long run.

An obvious possibility is to give players Incarnate rewards for taking part in PvP. This gives players who want to unlock character advancement past a certain point the option to do so without running trials or running solo -- a third path upward, if you will. The problem with this is that it creates an uncomfortable grinding feel for PvP objectives, and it also means that players no longer invested in the Incarnate system won't bother anyway. Offering stale carrots is better than the current incentive of "PvP or don't, whatever," but we can do better than that, right?

The even more obvious answer to all of this is to make PvP just plain fun to play. But therein lies the problem that PvP is not fun for a lot of people, especially not people who are accustomed neither to PvP nor to the way that PvP works when you're first learning the rules.

Don't misunderstand me; I find PvP to be a blast. But I say that knowing that for at least the first dozen matches I play on any character in any setting, I will be nothing more than kill-fodder. I'm used to the idea that it takes a long time to get acceptable at PvP and much longer to get downright good. I can usually hold my own, but I also have long since learned that there are times when I'll just be outmatched and overwhelmed. A lot of players do not really like those odds.

Come back!  I've got temporary powers!  Temporary poooooooweeeeers!This is not to say that people won't find PvP fun if they get over that innate fear and try it. It does mean, however, that there are going to be a lot of people uninterested in giving it that first crucial try. Making PvP just so incredibly fun that everyone will flock to it is unlikely to happen, especially when you consider that games with more balanced and robust PvP couldn't accomplish that same goal. (Looking at you, Warhammer Online.)

So the bribe route is probably the best option. The trouble is that it needs to be a bribe that's at once desirable and not mandatory. Incarnate rewards probably aren't the best option for reasons discussed above, but they're also one of the few rewards that the game has that's really useful at all levels of the game. Massive cash rewards are another possibility, but they run into a similar issue -- some players will have no use for what's being offered. If you're drowning in money, you don't need more.

And there's only one reward that could stand above that: Paragon Market currency. But if I need to explain why giving that away as a PvP reward is a terrible idea, I'll be here for another thousand words.

This, then, is the real problem. The only way to get people interested in PvP is to provide a reasonable reward, and all of the rewards are either irrelevant for large portions of the playerbase or inherently unbalanced. The rewards have to be neither mandatory nor undesirable, and striking that balance is a tough one. As it stands, there's no real point to PvP except for the fun of it, and while that'll get you into the game for a little while, it's not going to keep you invested over the long run.

I'd like to say that PvP can be saved in the game. But for the life of me I can't see any obvious path to do so. It may be that the structure of the game just doesn't lend itself to a PvP environment after all. I'd like to say it can be saved, but with the game structured as it is, there's nothing to draw in people who aren't already interested.

As always, feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massively.com. Next week, since I'm pretty sure I've managed to completely annoy and irritate every PvP fan in the audience with this article, I'm going to just praise Paragon Studios for having caught wind of a bad plan and dropped the habit. And no, that bad plan is not related to PvP.

By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre unveils his secret identity in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles every Wednesday. Filled with all the news that's fit to analyze and all the muck that's fit to rake, this look at City of Heroes analyzes everything from the game's connection to its four-color roots to the latest changes in the game's mechanics.
This article was originally published on Massively.