It seems sort of silly to even consider factional warfare as real warfare. The clearly defined sides of the Alliance and Horde in World of Warcraft, or Good and Evil in Everquest, are far from how it works in real life. For a more recent example, look at Warhammer Online. In any real-life conflict, there's many shades of gray, factions within factions, shady motivations, and unclear objectives. So why is it so clean and simple in MMOs? Part of it could be considered a naivety to how conflicts work in real life. But it more has to do with the immaturity of players overall.
Consider this. Let's say you are out walking in Outlands as a fresh level 58, bright-eyed and cheery. Unfortunately for you, you chose a World PvP server to play on. So a level 70 enemy runs by you, kills you, and cackles over your corpse. This is really just a PvP version of the PvE woes I talked about last article, and another supporting example of John Gabriel's Greater Internet Dickwad Theory. How is this fun to you as a player, though? Most players will answer not at all, and get stirred into a furious huff against the entire enemy faction.
You read that right. A single Horde player, acting on his own, can damn an entire faction in the eyes of a simple, fun-loving Alliance player (the situation can be reversed too; the Alliance aren't all flowers and sunshine themselves). This leads to annoying spamming in general chat, and general hatred all around. It seems like a very counter-intuitive way to run PvP, and it is. But it lends itself well to a game.
In any game, a player wants to feel like they are on the right side. Take away this belief in their cause, and you end up with people just massing together for survival and profit, crafting their own factions out of the anarchic void. Not to say this is a bad thing, though, as EVE Online's lack of true factional warfare is what has made it stand out in the realm of player interactions. But that's going to be gone soon too. This belief that their side is right, the enemy side is wrong, and the enemy players can all go do things to their mothers that we can't even begin to talk about is rooted in the sort of dreamworld that players want as part of the game.
Maybe I'm just bitter, but it seems to me like the anarchic alliances, feuds, and shades of gray present in EVE Online are the way to go for World PvP. The more you make your game into a simple "us vs them" game, the more you sacrifice the believability of the world and the characters that inhabit it. The more rules are thrusted upon the players, the more bile the players will spew at each other in a subconscious lashing out against the system There's so much potential in player factions. Why don't more MMOs exploit this potential? It's sad to say, but the world may never know.
Each week James Murff writes Under The Hood, a deeper look at MMO game mechanics and how they affect players, games, and the industry