Friday, 10 April 2009

Perception of Class Imbalance and Social Status: Another Perspective on PvE vs. PvP

I was reading a blue post about class balance, and I realised something: There’s not only two games in WoW (the larger social game of Player vs. Mobs and the smaller, tribal game of Player vs. Player), there’s also two very different mindsets applied to each one.

(A little disclaimer before I start: This isn’t really an opinion piece, more a stream-of-(un?)conciousness, so don’t read too much into it. I’m just trying to get a handle on the differences between how the two games not only affect the game, but also how they affect the players.)

(Beware incoming wall of text – You’ve been warned!)

In PvE, it’s all about a group of players (5, 10 or 25) trying to kill a group of mobs. Each class and talent build has it’s own strengths and weakness, but it comes down to damage done for dps, healing done for healers, and survivability for tanks. Any cries of imbalance are (usually) around imbalance of a class or spec compared to other classes or specs of the same role.

I’d argue that apart from situations where a spec is wildly overpowered (Ret paladin dps immediately after 3.0, for example, or Fury warrior dps currently), differences are more down to play style and player skill. While there are always calls on the forums to buff class/spec X and nerf Y, I believe it’s mostly jockeying for social position, in a manner of speaking – PvE is all about ‘Us’ vs. ‘Them,’ with ‘Them’ in this case being Blizzard as represented by their various NPCs. Buffing your class means you have a better chance to help defeat ‘Them.’

While you may frequently be beaten on the meters by other players, the fact that everyone is working towards the singular goal of Defeat ‘Them’ is by its’ nature inclusive. Certainly, conflict sometimes arises within the group where certain classes are perceived to be underperforming, but this can be due as much to player skill as an under-tuned class or spec, or even unavoidable factors such as a player’s internet connection or computer.

But at the end, everything still comes down to the group combining forces to overcome the challenge set before them in the raid. The cries of nerf/buff are groups trying to ensure that they aren’t being marginalised by other cliques (classes or specs) who would end up replacing their positions in their raid.

However, this effect is really currently seen only at the very highest level of play, especially in the current Wrath endgame where the substantially lower level of difficulty (compared to Sunwell pre-3.0, for example) means that the idea of “Bring the Player, Not the Class” has been able to gain significant traction.

So PvE is about your position in the raid. PvP, however, is where it gets personal.

With PvE, it’s really a game where everyone participating wins (we kill the boss) or everyone loses (the boss kills us). PvP, however, is a game where half the participants will lose, every time. It’s hard to be objective about that, especially if you’re on the losing side a lot.

I think of PvP as being a very tribal sport, as it’s usually based around a core group of 2, 3 or 5 players. (I’m thinking of arena and WSG here; other battlegrounds are far more organic, and while they have a larger population as a whole, successful play usually still comes down to groups forming and reforming during the duration of the game in order to achieve goals – defend a location, assault a location, retrieve the flag and defend the carrier, for example)

PvP is also about ‘Us’ vs. ‘Them,’ but in this case ‘Us’ is a much smaller group, and ‘Them’ is everyone you’re competing with (which is often everyone else in the battlegroup).

Cries of ‘Nerf DKs’ (for example) usually come from players who are directly affected by the comparative power of the class, as opposed to the indirect competition in PvE content. A dps-class whose raid position is replaced by a DK, for example, can simply raid with another group in order to experience progression. In PvP, however, that same warlock may be effectively removed from play by the disparity – the level of player skill and gear required to compensate for a large difference in class/spec ability can be considerable, and difficult to achieve.

So I’d suggest that PvP class imbalances are perceived by players (possibly quite accurately) as something that directly affects their play experience, and their characters’ ability to progress in PvP.

PvE imbalances, by comparison, are perceived more as influences that can undermine your position within the raid, possibly leading to the player needing to change their social group (raid outside the guild, or even change guilds) in order to progress in PvE.

Now I’m not drawing any conclusions with this, nor do I make any claims of accuracy or insight (or even of relevance); I’m just trying to come up with a mental framework for myself to place the two game-types in.

I wonder how other people perceive the two?