Last week, I talked about some of these foundational issues, but I don't like presenting a problem without also representing possible solutions. But first, let's get an understanding of what players are looking for. I could present the things that I personally want, but that will help only those who play SWTOR for the same reasons I do. We wouldn't have 500,000-plus players in the game if everyone thought the same as I do. So let's take a quick look at player motivation before diving into the solutions.
Although Richard Bartle's theory and Nick Yee's study are a bit dated now, they both give us an understanding of player motivations that are still evident today. The only real differences would be the numbers. Interestingly, neither researcher classifies players as PvPers. That's not to say that there aren't people who live to PvP, but it does signify to me that there is a broader motivation to those who do PvP. I believe as Yee's study suggests that this motivation can be quantified as competition and dominance. Those who are interested in PvP in a positive form are interested in showing that they can best other players within a given ruleset. (Those who like to best other players by any means necessary fall under the griefer category.) Of course, not all rulesets are created equal, just as how not all competitive players are interested in the same types of competitions.
As I mentioned, I believe that BioWare needs to fundamentally change its approach to PvP. It starts with Elo rating. (Elo is a rating applied to players based on how many wins they have and the Elo level of those they competed against. Also, math.) Currently, Elo is applied only to those players who are attempting ranked PvP. I believe this is a huge mistake for everyone involved. This means that in standard PvP matches, Elo is not applied to the matchmaking system. Players with higher Elo will be pitted against those with lower Elo with no consideration for balance. Obviously, this will frustrate the inexperienced PvPer, but the experienced PvPer will get frustrated too because there is no competition in steamrolling other players.
There are also three areas that players like to compete with each other: duels, small-group PvP, and open-world PvP. Although the audience between duels and small-group PvP differs, many of the ideals behind content design remain the same between the two groups. Open-world PvP requires a very vastly different approach.
Right now the dueling system in SWTOR is kind of clunky and serves very little purpose in the greater scheme of competitive PvP. We need arenas for duelers that can be publicly viewed. Let's face it, the competitive duelers are not modest. They want to show everyone what they can do. Also, dueling matches are really fast when compared to other types of PvP, so I believe the best place for dueling arenas is on the fleet. Players can sign up for dueling matches while waiting for their other PvP queues to pop, and most importantly, other players can watch.
The direction of small-group PvP appears to be headed in the right direction as far as content is concerned. The warzones fulfill the competitive needs of small PvP teams, and with the additional 4v4 arenas coming soon, SWTOR's small-group PvP needs to just provide more variety because the current zones have started to get stale.
Small-group PvP falls way short in matchmaking. Casual PvPers like to know they are good, but competitive PvPers like to know that they are the best. Players will never know if they are the best unless PvP opens up to cross-server queuing. Understandably, not everyone wants to queue cross-server, but once a player (or group) reaches a certain level, queuing on his own server becomes a waste of his game time. And then more casual players begin to get frustrated. Understandably, cross-server queuing is difficult, but I believe it's necessary for SWTOR to remain relevant to the competitive community.
Leaderboards are a must. I know that not every PvPer likes leaderboards, but for the competitive PvPers, a leaderboard is the best place to show dominance. The information on the leaderboard also needs to be shareable, so invent some API, devs. Of course, the leaderboard can be applied to both dueling and small-group PvP. In addition, the leaders in each category should get an item that is both temporary and permanent: one item to show they hold the title and an another item to show they held the title. And these individuals need to be able to wear the item on their character.
From my perspective, open-world PvP is less about individual glory and more about factional dominance, so the rewards for open-world PvP need to reflect that. For instance, a specific faction owning a specific base allows that faction to gain a type of resource more quickly than the other faction. Of course, giving out individual rewards is fine, too, but they should be mostly cosmetic and secondary to the factional rewards.
In the case of SWTOR, I believe that two-faction divide causes for a greater imbalance than, say, the three-faction system of Dark Age of Camelot or Guild Wars 2. But I think we can take a cue from these games by allowing for additional factions.
Although many possible solutions exist, I'm in favor of a cross-server solution. A matchmaking program rates each server on each faction with its own Elo rating separate from the other Elo rating, then matches up the top three servers together, the next three, and so on. However, if they want to get really crazy, then they can just match servers -- faction non-specific. This would create a four-faction system. My mouth waters at that thought.
OK, I'm not the only one with ideas. Let me hear yours. And I will catch you next week.
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!