Player versus Player combat is always a tricky subject in the realm of MMO design. It has been with us since some of the earliest games in the genre and has had a huge influence on many players. Indeed the demand for PvP game play is now so high, that most developers believe they have to include some form of it or risk losing players. It is easy to see why the developers for Age of Conan chose to have so many different types of PvP in their game. Unfortunately, just rubber-stamping PvP into a game can be bad idea especially, if you do not evaluate its overall impact on your player base.
Age of Conan uses a factionless system which makes it very vulnerable to negative forms of PvP like ganking and rez point camping. Some people think that's all there is to PvP in a MMO but there is much more behind the story. Many gamers prefer matching wits against real opponents instead of predictable AI enemies. If you go by the Bartle test then these players can be classified as "killers" though the term has a lot of negative connotations. Not everyone who is a PvP enthusiast is also a griefer out to ruin everyone's fun. This is why Funcom is trying to design a system that allows for player competition, but prevents an overabundance of asshattery.
The first iteration of Age of Conan's PvP consequence system was the infamous prison system. Also called the bounty system, it had some unique penalties for players who engage too often in griefing behavior. As described on the MMOReport the system would send NPCs after players who had earned a large amount of negative reputation. These players would then have a choice to either bribe the NPC bounty hunters or find themselves in a prison zone. The prison would then require captured players to complete a series of long punishment quests before their character could leave the zone.
The idea sounds very neat on the surface, but there are many problems involved with the technical aspects of having such a complex PvP consequence system. NPCs are notoriously buggy and giving one the power to lock players away could be a potential customer service nightmare. Then there would be the problem of earning your freedom from the prison. If a normal quest becomes bugged then a player simply moves onto the next one. However, if one of the punishment quests were to become bugged then the repercussions would be much more serious. In the end, Funcom probably decided the prison system wasn't technically feasible and might be too heavy on the punishment side of things.
The new system they are planning on implementing is described in a recent issue of their newsletter. Funcom is calling it the fugitive system and it is an appropriate label, based on how it works. Griefing activities like rez point camping or killing lower level players will still earn you negative reputation. However, under the new system that reputation will now be visible to other players as a set of colors. Everyone will start as blue, but as you accumulate more negative reputation it changes to orange and eventually red. Once you have hit red you become a fugitive, which carries some dire consequences.
The main penalty of being a fugitive is that other players can now kill you and randomly get one of your items and some gold! While Age of Conan is not as gear dependent as other games this would still be a huge blow to most players. To make matters worse there is no negative reputation for killing fugitives. It's like some horrible game of tag where you once your "it" you can be mugged by anyone who sees you. Still it would take a long string of griefing behavior before a player is flagged as a fugitive.
The problem I see with this system is that it still seems too harsh. The average player is going to be worried about being accidently flagged as "red" though this is probably very unlikely. I'm sure players are going to want Funcom to give very specific details on what kinds of activities will earn negative reputation. While Funcom may be willing to do this on a broad basis, I think they'll probably avoid being too specific to prevent exploitation. I don't think most players are going to find this acceptable and I think there is a likelihood it could be scrapped like the earlier prison system.
Which is a shame, since when you think about the fugitive system it seems like it captures a bit of the frontier days of the MMO landscape. It even bares a passing resemblance to how Ultima Online handled PvP consequences. Age of Conan's design is a bit more modern since it only allows the griefer to be looted, but I think most players prefer it that way. I can even see some of the griefing guilds using the fugitive status as a badge of honor. Most players are going to stay away from anyone who is flagged red since they aren't looking for a fight. In the end, the fugitive status is going to gather you a lot of attention and I think that's what griefers are looking for in the first place.
Also as I mentioned before, I not sure how likely it is for this system to be implemented. If you look at World of Warcraft they had a similar problem back in their early days of world PvP. High level players were often fighting over low level towns and killing a lot of quest givers in the progress. It was a fun end game PvP activity for both factions, but the majority of players were still trying to level in those areas. As a result, Blizzard introduced dishonorable kills that negatively affected honor rankings when you killed quest givers/guards. The early honor system was notoriously grindy and most players were unwilling to earn dishonorable kills and lose their time investment. Almost overnight world PvP dried up and city raids became a nostalgic story told to newer players.
Blizzard eventually got rid of dishonorable kills and world PvP once again started to appear in major cities and towns. Still this incident serves as an example of a system being too harsh and actually reducing the overall popularity of PvP in a game. Any PvP consequence system runs the risk of not just discouraging griefing but also preventing all forms of player competition. Age of Conan is dealing with a design that is much harsher then the dishonorable kill system. As a result I wonder if it's effects would be greater on world PvP. Age of Conan is a very different game then World of Warcraft so it's hard to predict what would happen. The one thing I do know is that if enough players complained about the system then most likely it would be taken out of the game.
|Gabriel Runfeldt has been following MMOs ever since he stumbled onto an EverQuest addiction by accident. He eventually managed to fight it off but caught a case of armchair designer syndrome in the process. Now once a week you can catch his mad ravings here at Player Consequences. You can even contact him with any questions at gabriel.runfeldt AT weblogsinc.com|