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Aug 05 2010 -
PvP on Trial
onflicts between players have always been a central part of the Tibian game experience. Tibia has several features that make it different from many other games. The most prominent ones are that the presence of your character does make a difference, that your character can level with no limit, that the penalty for a death is harsh and that on those worlds where you can attack other players, there is nearly no limit as to the details of the attack. All these features have the effect that players regularly have to deal with other players even if they would actually have preferred not to interact with them. This is the basis for ingame conflicts, but it is also the basis for a very strong community, especially since these features also give some power to the community to control itself. The main means to deal with such conflicts is to fight them out through the use of combat game mechanics.

1. Definition

"Player versus Player", short "PvP", is a term to describe all forms of competition between players through the use of combat game mechanics. The term is used to distinguish it from the use of combat mechanics against computer controlled creatures which is called "Player versus Environment", short "PvE". "PvP" includes consensual fights - in Tibia's case usually fighting in war mode - as well as all battles without mutual agreement. "PvP" is a very commonly known term, therefore, this abbreviation will be used throughout the rest of the article.

Tibia currently has three different game world types defining the allowance of PvP. Optional PvP worlds do not allow any non-consensual PvP and Hardcore PvP allows all with no limitations. Only Open PvP attempts to offer a certain freedom while still regulating excesses in PvP.

This article is meant to present our latest deliberations and planned actions concerning problematic areas of PvP. Since problems mainly arise where PvP happens without consent and where regulation is expected, this article applies nearly exclusively to Open PvP.

2. Analysis

The Tibian community consists of numerous kinds of players, and each and every one of them has personal preferences as to how he or she wants to play the game. Some really like hanging out with their friends, others are more into hunting and developing their character, some want to fight against other players all the time, others not at all. It is most likely though that hardly any Tibia player can be said as having only one of those motivations. Most Tibians actually have several such preferences, for example many like both PvP sometimes as well as roleplaying some other time.

In order to assess the problems and possible solutions concerning PvP in Tibia, what we had to do was to find out how the majority of Tibians like to play when it comes to the specific area of PvP. We have used many different sources for this, including all channels of player feedback through forums, emails, polls and discussions. From all this feedback, we formulated a description of motivations for PvP that is likely to apply to the great majority of Tibia players.

2.1 PvP Motivation

We have condensed as many personal tastes in PvP into as few definitions as possible. As a result, we have named three different types of PvP motivation. Of course, many players do not belong to just one of those categories but to more than one or sometimes to one, sometimes to the other. However, the following three types seem to be quite representative for the majority of players:

    "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

    Abraham Lincoln
  • "Dominance through PvP"
    The main interest of players who seek dominance is to gain power and use it. In Tibia, this kind of player uses PvP as means to reach power and dominance, but they do not really have a special interest in PvP itself. They want to fight wars over the rule of the game world and for them, usually any means to manage that are OK. Therefore, these players are most likely to use game mechanics to their advantage, even if these were not designed to be used that way. This group also harbours most of the griefers of the game. It is responsible for most of the cases where other players are hunted off a game world, and is thus also known to execute what Tibians call "power abuse". Naturally, in order to abuse power, you first need to have it. However, since power is only great when only few can have it, this group is bound to be a minority. As soon as there are too many dominating players on one game world, they are forced to turn on each other to reduce the number of people who have power. Since this kind of player needs the larger group to be the people they can dominate over, they tend to choose Open PvP worlds as a home.

  • "The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage."

    Arie de Geus
  • "Challenge in PvP"
    Players who seek a challenge in PvP really are looking for enemies rather than victims. They enjoy PvP just by itself with hardly any additional thoughts behind it. They like to be able to exercise direct competition with other players. They strive to get better and learn from their experiences, yet they look for fights where they are convinced that they stand a chance of winning. For them, attacking someone who is clearly much weaker than themselves is not really fun because it is not a challenge for them. Many players of this kind live on Hardcore PvP, but even more live on Open PvP because their expectation to get some kind of a fair fight is high, so their hope for a regulated system to be better gets them to choose Open PvP.

  • "Only the man who has enough good in him to feel the justice of the penalty can be punished."

    William Ernest Hocking
  • "Justice through PvP"
    Most of the players who seek justice actually would not want to engage in PvP generally. However, their urge to see fairness and justice, and if necessary serve it themselves, is very strong. They use PvP exclusively defensively, be it do defend themselves or someone else who seems to deserve help against someone who either attacks unjustly, or at least unfairly. These players are the backbone of every PvP community because they are the ones who define the general opinion about what is right and wrong through their sense for fairness and justice. Without these players, there would be anarchy on all game worlds. Despite these players having no direct interest in killing other players, they cannot live on an Optional PvP world because they want PvP to be possible whenever they need it.
This shows that despite Tibia having three different PvP game world types, these three types do not satisfy all different styles of playing when it comes to PvP. The three mentioned groups can separate only to a limited extent through the game world types, but as explained, all of them also have strong reasons to play on Open PvP. Since we want to work on the problems of that game world type, the next step was to find out how big these groups are in relation to each other. This is important to know because if we want to improve the situation, we have to account for the majority of our players and tune things so that it fits them best.

2.2 Distribution of PvP Motivation

In this same context, we had a poll about your motivation for PvP running recently. In this poll, 2718 players voted. They could cast their vote on multiple answers with one exception: The 354 players who voted "none, I am against player vs. player combat" were not allowed to vote for anything else. This means that of the 2718 who voted, 2364 are players who are interested in PvP.

Even if the answers cannot be directly attributed to the three types of motivation, the distribution of votes still gives a very good impression about which motivation is the most common. The 8 top answers have all received over 30% of the votes. Within those 8 top answers are 6 answers that all have in common that the main motivation behind them seems to be to carry out some form of punishment. Now, when someone wants to punish someone else, this means that that person is of the opinion it is justified to punish that other player. Therefore, these 6 answers (revenge a friend; revenge myself; self-defence; justice; punish a cheater; teaching somebody a lesson, e.g., after insults) are most likely to be chosen by players who seek justice through PvP.

The remaining two of these top answers (fun; war) cannot be assigned so clearly. For example, we cannot say why players chose war as an answer. Some will also fight wars for justice, others to find an additional challenge, again others to gain dominance over a game world. Players who have voted fun are most likely not seekers of justice, but they can both find fun in fighting for dominance or in the challenge of the fight itself.

Even if specific numbers cannot be deduced just from that poll, it still shows clearly enough that the biggest motivation for PvP in the community of Tibia is mainly justice. Challenge and Dominance are clearly less common as motivation for PvP, although both are still very significant. Keeping this in mind, we now had to define our main goals concerning PvP in Tibia.

3. Goals

The main problem when thinking about how things should be is to decide about whether we should try to separate these three groups on Open PvP or whether we see the future of this game world type as still being the home of all three groups.

3.1 Preserve The Character of Tibia

During the past few months, a very dominant comment that came in many discussions from our community, was that whatever we do in the future with game world types, what we should do first is work on the current problems on the current world type Open PvP. In Tibian words, this is usually spelled: "You must fix PvP first!" Therefore, our main goal during the past few weeks was to work on improvements on the current Open PvP worlds while maintaining what makes Tibia what it is. This is also the reason why we decided to first try to create a shared environment on Open PvP for all three player types rather than force them to separate.

The result is that we generally do not want to change anything about the fact that you can attack anyone nearly anywhere and anytime. We want to preserve the freedom of PvP because the thrill of an attack happening anytime is something that all three groups like. What this means is that we do not want to add restrictions to PvP itself, but instead, we want to work on the damage it does to the victims in each situation. Further, we want to offer more options in PvP, so that no situation is totally futile. We want to make sure that even if someone is clearly outnumbered and trapped, he has an additional choice to the two current choices "I can die slow or die quick", even if still in that situation the chances of survival are very low. This also means that we do not want to make trapping impossible. It is an important PvP tactic in Tibia and it is needed for many battles. Finally, we also do not want to remove the death penalty. Tibia is a tough game and it has to stay that way.

3.2 Make PvP Fairer

The main problems that were identified arise from players using certain features to their advantage in PvP which have actually not been designed to be used that way at all. The most prominent example is what Tibia players currently call "PZ on demand". This refers to the effect that if your character goes down some stairs into a stack of characters, it turns completely invisible and as a consequence is not attackable. This is currently abused to hide characters with a fresh skull until the skull is gone. There are several more such abuse scenarios. Consequently, our first goal is to reduce the ways in which such features can be abused in PvP. The details will be explained later on.

Additionally, a very important feedback by our players over the past few years was that despite the death penalty being very important and a very good feature, players assess their deaths depending on the reason for the death. Most players said that if they die from a monster or in a PvP fight that was well balanced, they have no problem with the death penalty. However, when someone dies in a situation where he was one against ten, it did not feel fair that he would get the same death penalty as if he died in a one-on-one fight because he really did not stand a chance. Therefore, while preserving the characteristic death penalty of Tibia, we want to tune it better to scale with the fairness of the situation that caused the death.

3.3 Make The War System More Attractive

The second big goal is to make the war system more attractive. We have introduced this system in fall 2009. Since then, it has been used occasionally, but not as much as we hoped for. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that with the current problems named above, it often works better to fight without the war system than with it. The second problem is that the system itself does not offer enough incentives to make those people use it who are interested in wars. The system is currently designed for consensual wars which only cover one aspect of PvP. The reality of wars in Tibia however goes beyond this.

What we want to achieve therefore is on the one hand to design the war system closer to how wars really work. This means that it would have to be adapted to the game world types in some way. On the other hand, we want to create more incentives that may help to get both parties to agree to a war where currently, one side would certainly not agree to fight. Such changes, however, greatly depend on the measures that will be taken concerning PvP fairness in general. Therefore, we have decided to first work on the PvP system and the problems there and at a later stage plan improvements to the war system.

4. Measures

We will now present you the measures that we are currently working on. Due to the fact that PvP is a very delicate topic, we have decided that none of these measures are final until they withstand a public test. Therefore, keep in mind that none of the things that will be described below are final. If they do not work or at least not work as planned, then we will either change them or discard the idea and look for something else.

The first thing we did was look for people from the community to help us find good solutions for as many problems as possible. We are of the opinion that with a topic like PvP, we risk to design into the wrong direction if we do not involve the community into the design process right from the start.

4.1 Discussion With the Focus Group

The best way do manage this was to find a selected group of people who are able to discuss constructively. This group had to be of a manageable size and had to represent as many types of players as possible. The selection process was done by the community management through an open feedback thread about the war system and PvP in Tibia. In this thread, we looked for representatives of as many different opinions as possible and then chose those who were best able to present their opinion. The result was a group of 46 people who were invited onto a private discussion board.

This focus group was then asked to first identify the exact problems we should work on. At a second stage, they brainstormed about possible solutions to these problems as well as about improvements to make the war system more attractive. In the final stage, the group worked to come to a common ground on the most pressing issues and on a concept that would then be presented internally. Of course, since the focus group represents almost all types of players, it was not possible to reach absolute consent. This, however, was expected since we also know that whatever we do, it will not please everyone. Nevertheless, the impression was that the concept has the support of the great majority of the group.

The concept that resulted from the focus group discussions was split in two parts. The first part dealt with improvements to PvP as such. The second part presented many proposals to improve and extend the war system. As mentioned above, we decided that we would not work on both parts at the same time but rather first try to work on the general PvP system and then at a later stage work on the war system again. Therefore, only the first part was presented so far. Once the concept was approved for implementation and testing, we immediately started developing our PvP prototype.

4.2 Prototyping

In this paragraph, we will outline the features that have been implemented in our prototype. These features are:

  • "Assisted Kills"
    Apart from justified, unjustified and war related kills, we will introduce a fourth type of player kill, namely "assisted". This kind of kill will be counted if someone has trapped but not attacked someone who then died or if this person has paralysed but not killed the victim. Assisted kills will also be displayed on the website, but they will not have any effect on any skull limits.

  • "Fair Fight Rules"
    This feature aims at reducing the death penalty only for deaths through PvP where the battle was unfair. Simply put, the system will count the levels of all attackers and weigh them against the levels of the victim and all those who helped him. The attackers will also include those that have contributed as "assisted kill" as described above. If this is out of balance, the death penalty for the victim will be reduced accordingly. We are still open as to how exactly we will calculate this reduction. That will be one important area of feedback during a public test. Rest assured, we will design this in a way that it should not be abusable and so that still, a death means something. What we want to achieve with this is that the loss of skills and levels cannot be used to scare people off. Declaring someone hunted forever will hopefully be a lot harder with this feature because you either have to kill him in a fair battle, or you will have to kill this guy a lot more often than currently to make him lose the same. We will limit the effect to a maximum reduction to 20%.

  • "PvP-Blessing"
    This feature goes hand in hand with the "Fair Fight Rules", but it aims at the immediate loss of cash through blessings rather than the death penalty. This additional blessing will also only apply in deaths through PvP except if the victim had a red or black skull. All it will do is prevent the regular blessings and the amulet of loss from being lost. If you do not have any blessings and no amulet of loss, it will do nothing and you will not lose it. If you have at least one blessing, the death penalty will be altered according to your blessings, but you will keep them and only lose the PvP-blessing. This blessing can be bought at any temple NPC and costs the same as one blessing costs you, so it can reduce your blessing costs for PvP deaths to 20%.

  • "PvP Stairhopping Delay"
    This feature is supposed to eliminate the abuse that someone who is running away from just one other guy can infinitely jump up and down some stairs which results in the pursuer never being able to attack him because of the stairhopping delay. Since that delay was introduced to protect monsters from being killed without getting a chance to attack, we will keep this effect but will enable characters to select and attack other player characters instantly. We will, however, limit the attacks within those first 2 seconds to all those attacks that do not cause area damage. This should avoid people abusing a knight blocker to jump down and shoot an area rune onto him to hit the monsters around him with it.

  • "PZ On Demand Fix"
    This feature will eliminate the abuse that was already described in section 3.2. We will simply make it so that no player character will ever become invisible, no matter how many other creatures stand on the same square before he gets there. Once everyone stays visible all the time, we can also safely remove the attack restrictions that are currently set on Open and Hardcore PvP for people deep in a stack. This was abused at certain spots where the victim was lured into such a stack and hindered from moving out again.

  • "Revenge Skull"
    The voting confirmed our impression that the current rule that allows you to avenge your death through a white or yellow skull that only lasts 15 minutes with your attacker is not really helpful. People need time to reassemble and prepare in order to take revenge on their killer, and that takes longer than 15 minutes. Therefore, we want to try out a revenge skull. If someone killed you unjustified, he will get a skull that is just visible for you and which lasts 7 days. This way, you get the ability to take justified revenge within 7 days for this unjustified kill. We will count the kills, though, so if this character killed you unjustified 2 times, you can kill him back justified 2 times, then his skull will disappear. Additionally, you will still get a PZ block and a yellow skull for him when you decide to try your revenge so that he still gets the chance to defend himself or escape.

  • "Swapping Position If Trapped"
    Trapping is currently one of the most powerful means when it comes to killing a character in Tibia. As previously said, we do not want to remove this, but we want to create some option for the victim of a trap that makes it possible to get out. We will identify situations in which someone receives PvP damage and cannot move because of PvP traps. When someone is detected as trapped in PvP, this character will get the ability to swap position with his trappers under certain circumstances. We expect that this will bring more movement into the currently very static PvP trap situations. It should make traps more challenging for both the victim and the aggressors while still keeping trapping as one major tactical means in PvP combat.
These are the features that we designed in theory and which must now be tested thoroughly.

4.3 Testing

This month is the time when these tests will take place. The implementation of the prototype are nearly finished, so we will start trying it out here at CipSoft with quite a few people within the next few days. Our internal prototype is dedicated to verify the general function of the features and to remove bugs. Once we are through with that, we will open up a test server.

The first phase will be private. Only the focus group and a few more helpers will be invited. We want this initial time because we want these players to plan and simulate realistic scenarios but still have the time to assess the features while they do this. This test is supposed to show us abuse potential as well as provide us with the first feedback on the balance of these features. Once it has run a few days, we will open it up to the public.

The public test server will be accessible for all premium accounts. We will however not add testserver assistants because we need to know how characters can handle these changes in PvP with their current supplies and money reserves. During this time, we want everyone to fight all sorts of scenarios and do that over several days. In certain intervals, we will check how the balance of especially the "Fair Fight Rules" and the "PvP-Blessing" works with the masses.

We hope that this very intense testing will help us tune the features so that they find the approval of the majority of our players. If it shows that there is too much new abuse potential or that the desired effect is not reached, we may also decide against the features. Therefore, we are looking forward to your help in the tests and to constructive feedback on those measures.

5. Future Plans

As was already said, it is not final that these changes will reach the game at all. This depends on the test results. If at least some of those features show promise, we will release them as soon as possible after the final fixes from the test.

However, even if these features make it into the game, we know that we are not done yet. On the one hand, we still have a list of very interesting proposals for the war system. On the other hand, there are still many topics concerning the actual balance of vocations which obviously also have a great impact on the course of PvP.

The following steps are therefore to take up the war system for improvements as well as to look into vocation balance again. We will start working on both topics right after this first phase is finished.

So, get ready to rock the test!
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