Ashen Foundry

Player Conflict in Ashes of Creation's Virtual World

One of the greatest promises of the MMO genre is that of the virtual world; a world in which players of different backgrounds and interests can log in, take on different roles and niches, and interact with each other as they, through either cooperation or collective disunity, collaboratively write the history of a shared, persistent world. It's the core of what an MMO can be that no other genre of game can touch, a unique competency that's been long ignored by the genre's biggest studios in a phenomenon I like to call The Massive Identity Crisis. 

The Promise of Ashes of Creation

However, Ashes of Creation is not being made by one of those studios. If anything, it's being made in reaction to them - a reflexive push away from the paradigms of the last decade and, by the sheer physics of that trajectory, back towards that unique potential of the MMO: the virtual world in which everyone plays a unique part. In Ashes of Creation's world, nations will ebb and flow and rise and fall, their vicissitudes commensurate with the greatness or insignificance of the players who comprise them. The actions of friends and foes alike will carve the history of the game's worlds - and that's the very specific part of Ashes of Creation I'd like to unpack today. It's not just the actions of friends that will shape your experience, but enemies as well. That's absolutely crucial.

For a long time, MMOs have crowded their players into tiny, instanced microcosms of their full potential. Your experience in a dungeon would always be the same, and this holds relatively true for instanced PvP battlegrounds, as well. Your experience was static, your actions impersistent, and the only players who could affect your experience were those you brought in with you.

This made the experience safe - but in a way, it also made it boring, as well. Every run was the same, and nothing ever made you feel like your actions had any consequence. The boss you killed would be back on your next run, and no one in the community knew or cared that you had killed him. Safe, but boring.

One of the promises of Ashes of Creation is to take more and more of the gameplay out of the safety of these separated little boxes - to open up the content in a way that will provide both lasting repercussions for success or failure, and create an environment where a greater number of gameplay variations can occur.

Whenever you add this kind of variation to an experience, you add risk. It's the reason so many people love Starbucks: even though there may be more enjoyable options available, they know they can count on receiving the same experience every time they go to one, and there's something to be said for the safe, predictable nature of a homogenized experience. It's reliable, and it doesn't let you down. Whenever you add player agency to a game, you're adding risk - and there's few cases where that's more true than in the case of adding PvP.

Unboxing PvP

One of the inevitable consequences of removing separate gameplay elements from their respective boxes is that they will begin to intermingle. This seems to have become something of a point of confusion for a lot of players, creating a situation where Ashes of Creation is described as both a "soulless gankbox" and a "carebear quest garden", depending on who you happen to ask. 

This reaction is a natural extension of spending a decade in MMOs where PvE and PvP were always kept at arms length, or where the game focused solely on supporting one over the other - an experience that's driven many players to really, really want to label every MMO they encounter as strictly PvE or PvP in nature.

We saw in action this several times during the live streams in the game's Kickstarter campaign. Questions like 'Is this a PvE or PvP MMO?' were common refrains, and the answers were never as simple or as straightforward as people wanted.

The problem is, this binary classification just doesn't work with an MMO that actually aspires to be a virtual world, because that separation is an artificial product of the separate boxes philosophy of game design.

PvE and PvP don't exist as distinct, separated systems in Ashes of Creation; they are instead equal components of the grander world system. PvE and PvP action alike will determine the course of a node's development (or destruction). PvE efforts can be undermined by the actions of other players through both direct PvP (interplayer combat) or undermining efforts (completing conflicting PvE objectives). Success by players building up one node by block progress by players attempting to build up another. Caravans are not subject to attack just by players, but by NPCs, as well.

In Ashes of Creation, no game system is an island. They all feed into the same core experience, and it makes separating those systems nigh impossible.

A Coherent Virtual World

This exodus from the relative safety of our respective boxes is going to take players out of their comfort zones. Players who typically consider themselves PvE only will not be able to fully avoid PvP, and players who only want to PvP aren't going to find what they're looking for as easily. Ashes of Creation just isn't that type of game - and no true virtual world should be.

I hate it when people make references to the real world to advocate for a philosophy in game design. Realism isn't always what people want in a game, and it often runs counter to the powerful feelings of escapism that games like MMOs can satisfy. But in this case, I'm going to do it anyway. 

Breaking down the barriers put in place by an over-reliance on instancing and the artificial separation of gameplay modes is absolutely essential to recapturing the sensation of authenticity in a virtual world's community. For a world to feel real, you have to able to feel the impact of the actions of other players. You have to be able to leave a mark that others can see. You have to be able to make a name for yourself - to be known for something. There has to be a consequence to sharing a world with thousands of other players - otherwise, what's the point?

Ashes of Creation's central promise is that of a reactive world that factors in player action, a world where the success or failures of players both in concert and at odds with one another feed into that world's shared history. Ashes of Creation has to transcend the restrictive boxes of the past to become something more. It can't just be another PvE or PvP MMO. It must be both. It must be an MMO where its PvE is shaped by player conflict as well as cooperation. And luckily, that seems to be exactly what the team at Intrepid Studios is building.

About Isarii:

An errant penman on a journey through sparkling galaxies, gloomful dungeons, and virtual worlds. When not delving into an MMO, Isarii writes for your favorite MMO sites, podcasts at The Dungeon Crawler Network, and rambles on his YouTube channel.

8 Replies
  1. #1

    Weolo

    Member8 Posts

    The PvP aspects of Star Wars Galaxies were part of the open world and a day to day experience for all players. It was just part of the game experience. I hope Ashes of Creation can make a PvP system which PvP'ers really enjoy and which does not hinder or force PvE players in to PvP unless they choose to. It is sounding like the game is developing in the right direction at the moment which is great to see.

  2. #2

    Isarii

    Moderator81 Posts
    Weolo wrote on July 5, 2017, 9:49 a.m.

    The PvP aspects of Star Wars Galaxies were part of the open world and a day to day experience for all players. It was just part of the game experience. I hope Ashes of Creation can make a PvP system which PvP'ers really enjoy and which does not hinder or force PvE players in to PvP unless they choose to. It is sounding like the game is developing in the right direction at the moment which is great to see.

     Bringing up Star Wars Galaxies? My man! Easily my favorite MMO of all time.

    I'm actually a really big fan of Star Wars Galaxies' TEF system for handling PvP flagging, and I'd love to see a more complex/robust version of it implemented for Ashes of Creation, with players able to voluntarily go covert/overt in their node allegiances as conflicts arise - that's a whole other bag of worms though.

  3. #3

    Atropos

    Administrator153 Posts

    Great article @Isarii, I'll be very interested to see the narrative reasons that Intrepid develops for PvP in addition to the more organic player-driven reasons. I think there could be some neat interplay between the corruption system and player-run node governments. 

    It would be interesting to see if the game can ultimately sustain a node where all of its primary members are "red". That sort of camaraderie emerged to an extent in games like Dark Souls where "sunbros" vs "redbros" became an unofficially embraced meta conflict.

    Creator of Ashen Foundry and Tamriel Foundry. Former guildmaster of Entropy Rising. Economist and MMO enthusiast.

  4. #4

    Isarii

    Moderator81 Posts
    Atropos wrote on July 5, 2017, 10:59 a.m.

    Great article @Isarii, I'll be very interested to see the narrative reasons that Intrepid develops for PvP in addition to the more organic player-driven reasons. I think there could be some neat interplay between the corruption system and player-run node governments. 

    It would be interesting to see if the game can ultimately sustain a node where all of its primary members are "red". That sort of camaraderie emerged to an extent in games like Dark Souls where "sunbros" vs "redbros" became an unofficially embraced meta conflict.

    Actually, the TEF system from SWG I mentioned just earlier would be great for this.

    In short, players in SWG could voluntarily choose to align with either the Empire or the Rebellion. You would be covert (only flagging if actively engaging in faction conflict) or overt (always flagged), with greater reputation gains and unique rewards (faction armor/mounts) for being overt. I would love to see a similar system for aligning yourself with a node's "faction" this way.

    One of the cool things that dovetails super well with the article is that this flagging took place irrespective of whether or not the faction conflict was PvE or PvP. If you were killing stormtrooper NPCs, you were for all intents and purposes engaged in PvP. It was a really immersive, intuitive system that goes right along with my earlier comments on seamless PvE/PvP integration for a more believable virtual world.

  5. #5

    Nivhawk

    Member12 Posts

    Another excellent post, @Isarii. The post is all at once reflective, hopeful, explanatory, but also very forthright. 

    There has certainly been a lot of conversations and concern regarding PvP invading the PvE or "casual" experience, and I hope (for their sake), their concerns will be assuaged with upcoming developer posts/blogs, livestreams, and content release. 

    To address the "promise", there is so much riding on this promise to deliver and repair the broken promises of past MMOs and it will either be their greatest achievement or one of the most disappointing failures of MMO history. I'm all in the former. 

  6. #6

    Isarii

    Moderator81 Posts

    @Nivhawk - Yeah those concerns were really what spurred this post on. I think it's hard for a lot of people to take a holistic look at an MMO's PvE / PvP offerings, just because it isn't something we're used to seeing. It's not just the "carebears" wanting PvE servers, either - I've had a number of the self-professed "hardcore" complain that Ashes of Creation is focusing too much on developing PvE content that they don't want to spend time in; they're looking for a more undistilled PvP sandbox experience.

    The holistic approach is everything I've ever wanted though. I remember the exact moment I got sent in to 'peak hype' was during my first interview with Steven over at MMOGames.com. The answer to my very first question was absolutely perfect:

    The main promise of Ashes is a dynamic world that changes in reaction to player activity within the game world, with cities that rise and fall, quests that appear, disappear, and move about, all based on what the players are doing. It’s tempting to characterize Ashes as a sandbox based on that level of player agency alone, but I’m curious – what type of MMO do you consider Ashes of Creation to be?

    Honestly, I am hesitant to call Ashes a Sandbox. Not because of what Sandbox is supposed to mean, but rather because of how studios have developed “Sandboxes” over the past decade. You see, many developers have used the sandbox concept as an excuse to cut a lot of curated content, in exchange for gimmicky mechanics that allow for player-generated content. In Ashes, we have the opposite approach in development. In order for sandbox mechanics to mean something, there must be curated content to accompany the player’s choices. Which means, as the developers, we must create that Themebox style content but for every possible path the community may take. I like to compare our design philosophy, to that of a “Choose your own adventure” book. Our story is Epic, and you have the ability to be an integral part of that story. Dictating the outcome, in a meaningful way.

    I want player choice and player conflict to play a huge part in my MMO experience, but I also want it to be happening in a well developed world that adds context and substance to that conflict. A holistic approach where PvE and PvP both feed into the game's greater systems is the only way that's going to happen.

  7. #7

    Nivhawk

    Member12 Posts
    Isarii wrote on July 8, 2017, 1:25 p.m.

    @Nivhawk - Yeah those concerns were really what spurred this post on. I think it's hard for a lot of people to take a holistic look at an MMO's PvE / PvP offerings, just because it isn't something we're used to seeing. It's not just the "carebears" wanting PvE servers, either - I've had a number of the self-professed "hardcore" complain that Ashes of Creation is focusing too much on developing PvE content that they don't want to spend time in; they're looking for a more undistilled PvP sandbox experience.

    The holistic approach is everything I've ever wanted though. I remember the exact moment I got sent in to 'peak hype' was during my first interview with Steven over at MMOGames.com. The answer to my very first question was absolutely perfect:

    I want player choice and player conflict to play a huge part in my MMO experience, but I also want it to be happening in a well developed world that adds context and substance to that conflict. A holistic approach where PvE and PvP both feed into the game's greater systems is the only way that's going to happen. 

    He certainly has a lot of insight and his answer to that question had a similar effect on me when I read it. You can tell this is a person who's experienced MMOs for a long time and truly believes in the journey and destination of the project.

    I have friends and people I know in other communities who are concerned they are focusing too much on PvE content at the moment and have had some interesting questions and perspectives on the aspects of PvP that have been released. Ultimately, time will tell with the great tug-o-war between PvE/PvPers, because like you said, the difficulty of retaining a holistic view of an MMO.

  8. #8

    Makinoji

    Member24 Posts

    This line stood out to me above all else 

    "I hate it when people make references to the real world to advocate for a philosophy in game design. Realism isn't always what people want in a game, and it often runs counter to the powerful feelings of escapism that games like MMOs can satisfy. But in this case, I'm going to do it anyway. "

    Makinoji 

    Producer of Anthology Series

    Member of Sons of the Seven


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