MMO Theorycrafting 18 Comments

Factions Are Old Fashioned

factions

There was a minor scuffle on Twitter this morning about whether factions are still relevant in MMOs, particularly in PvE games. Although I didn’t participate in said discussion, I unsurprisingly have strong feelings on the issue that go a little something like this: factions are bad.

Okay, okay, so that may be the tiniest bit glib. I think there is a certain type of MMO where factions make sense, which is open-world survival PvP games. You and your kin are fighting for life and resources against The Other. Creating emnity is part of the game design.

But in the vast majority of MMOs, factions are just artificial barriers between players, dividing potential friends and limiting the player pool for group content. They also require excellent story-telling, the likes of which is hard to maintain over years of a game. Honestly, at this point, are the Horde and Alliance still enemies after working together for so long?

“But, Liore, what about PvP? Factions add motivation for PvP!”

To this I say.. naaaah. Most MMOs have arena-based PvP, where you queue up and get teleported in as part of a random or semi-random team. I’m not particularly motivated to dunk the Huttball or capture the Farm because gosh, I sure do hate those other guys, but instead because that’s how I win the game.

In fact, RIFT’s PvP became demonstrably better once they removed factions because there were no more long queue times for populous sides and sad half-teams for low-pop factions. RIFT even introduced fake factions for Conquest battles where you’re randomly assigned one for the day, and it worked out just fine.

Although it’s not an MMO, look at League of Legends: there’s no faction in LoL lore, but players seem to be able to work themselves into a competitive frenzy nonetheless.

“But, Liore, what about World of Warcraft?”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every MMO design theory must have a World of Warcraft exception. (And even WoW doesn’t live up to the WoW Exception Clause anymore.) When you have 11 million players, you can probably get away with all kinds of things that other games cannot, including introducing artificial limits on the playerbase.

Look, I can appreciate the use of factions as a narrative device. However, in an era when MMOs are struggling to find a sustainable number of players it seems foolish to inhibit the social glue that binds us together. Any new MMO that is not an open world PvP game would be foolish to include faction barriers in their design, and frankly WoW would be a lot more fun without them.

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Ethan "Isarii" Macfie
    March 17, 2016 at 11:40 am

    Arguments in favor of factions almost refer exclusively to open world PvP titles in the vein of Dark Age of Camelot, which weren’t really addressed in the article. The section addressing PvP focuses on instanced PvP and MOBAs, and kind of misses the mark as a result.

    Remember that faction enmity in World of Warcraft was at its height in vanilla before the addition of instanced PvP. While you’re absolutely correct that the Horde and Alliance are really only enemies on paper nowadays, this is only after the shift in focus to instanced PvP and shared ‘frenemy’ type cities like Shattrath that lump the factions together and undermined that portion of the open world PvP experience.

    If you don’t mind me nitpicking a specific word, I’m not sure “survival” was what you meant – maybe realm vs realm? Survival games are almost always sandbox, and thus are FFA instead of faction-based. Doesn’t detract from your points, just made me go “huh what” for a second.
    Ethan “Isarii” Macfie´s last post: My Evolving Relationship with Sports of the “e” Variety and Otherwise

    • Reply
      Ethan "Isarii" Macfie
      March 17, 2016 at 11:47 am

      That said, the greater question might be whether or not themeparks like World of Warcraft and Wildstar should be trying to include elements of realm vs realm in their game at all – especially since they don’t usually do a good job of providing the open world objectives that are integral to that game type.

      I think it comes down to them wanting to include open world PvP (which they absolutely should, I think), but being afraid to make the game free for all. Admittedly, that does provide a tough dilemma for the studios.

      My perfect system would probably be Star Wars Galaxies’ (surprise, surprise) TEF system, which Raph Koster has been helpful enough to outline on his blog. The only shortcoming of it was that it wasn’t quite as ‘hardcore’ as the always on rulesets found on traditional PvP servers, but it did provide ample opportunities for flagging with benefits for overt status (always on) and factional PvE flagging you for PvP as well.
      Ethan “Isarii” Macfie´s last post: My Evolving Relationship with Sports of the “e” Variety and Otherwise

  • Reply
    Shintar
    March 17, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Eh, can’t you have factions without preventing people from playing together? I thought that was an Everquest thing.

    It’s funny because I like factions, but I don’t really care that much about the PvP side – like you said, people don’t need a reason to beat each other up.

    On the other hand I do love factions in PvE and as a narrative device that expands the world beyond “we, the good guys” and “everyone we kill, the bad guys”. I thought WoW’s lore lost a lot of its appeal when they really homogenised the factions in Cataclysm.
    Shintar´s last post: Visiting The Ebon Hawk

    • Reply
      Tridus
      March 17, 2016 at 4:15 pm

      You can, if you don’t have faction walls. There’s games like that, where players can pick factions for the various things that affects, but aren’t cut off from other players entirely.

      Faction walls are what you see in games like WoW (and Wildstar, although probably not for much longer): Horde players and Alliance players just can’t interact. In a best case scenario, you split the playerbase in half, and the server is busy enough that both halves are active and things work fine.

      If the game slows down and one faction gets bigger than the other, you’ll see situations where the smaller faction can’t get PvE stuff like raid content done because of the lack of players. They’re cut off from a majority of the player base for a function that requires access to players to work. That was why Rift eliminated the faction wall in PvE and changed to more malleable factions in PvP: there just wasn’t enough players to allow things to work if you further split it up. Wildstar’s in that same boat.

      You can have factions and faction battles, but at the end of the day, Deathwing is (was) trying to blow up the world for everyone. Does it really matter that much if some humans and orcs decide they can should maybe team up to deal with that problem before fighting over territory?
      Tridus´s last post: If NCSoft is going to kill Wildstar, they should do it now

    • Reply
      The Nickster
      March 17, 2016 at 4:21 pm

      The problem is these factions do keep people from playing together, but since we all go after the same targets, do not provide a reason why. Take SWTOR’s KOTFE expansion as an example:

      I’m the leader of a alliance willing to sign on the Republic or Empire heroes. Whether you’re a stoic-and-heroic Jedi, or a puppy-dog-kicking-baby-seal-clubbing Sith, you’re already working with people in this alliance that don’t share your alignment, and don’t share your faction.

      However, when I queue for flashpoints or raids, suddenly half the population is out. Not being able to queue with any faction is pretty strange, “Outlander” :)

  • Reply
    Murf
    March 17, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    I like Factions, but only if you can enter, leave, and still work well with others, whether they are in your faction or not.
    Murf´s last post: Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright (3DS, 2016)

    • Reply
      Shintar
      March 17, 2016 at 11:19 pm

      I don’t disagree with either of your examples (fighting Deathwing in WoW, KotFE in SWTOR), I think we just draw different conclusions from them. You say “in these stories factions don’t make sense, therefore factions are pointless”, I say “in these stories existing factions where ignored, which makes them weaker stories than they could have been; it would be better for future stories to consider factions more seriously again to preserve the logic of the world”. That said, I don’t really have a strong opinion on the technical side of allowing things like same-faction queuing; I’m talking purely about the lore here.

      I remember when SWTOR originally released, one of the devs said that they decided on different levelling paths for the two factions because they couldn’t come up with objectives that would make sense for Luke Skywalker AND Darth Vader to pursue, and I would argue that the levelling game was all the richer for it. The new single-faction story is very well done in terms of characters, production values and such, but there are definitely a lot of “why is my character doing this, my faction/class would never do this” moments. Factions allow for a world in where characters aren’t all the same.
      Shintar´s last post: Visiting The Ebon Hawk

      • Reply
        Shintar
        March 17, 2016 at 11:19 pm

        Errr, and that was meant to be in reply to Tridus and Nickster above, button-pushing fail.
        Shintar´s last post: Visiting The Ebon Hawk

      • Reply
        Tridus
        March 18, 2016 at 5:24 am

        I’m mostly concerned with the technical end, which is why I’m more focused on faction walls and less on factions themselves. Factions existing is usually not a problem, and can be done to great effect.

        Faction *walls* OTOH are the things that split the players up and make it harder to get things done. They’re what created goofy situations like 40v5 fights in Wintergrasp, which wasn’t really all that fun for anybody (the 40 side felt like they’re fighting a raid boss every time they found an enemy, and the 5 side simply can’t be enough places and thus has very limited tactical choices).

        More importantly, faction walls are what create situations like in Wildstar where the minority faction can’t get enough players for organized endgame raiding to work. When raiding is a key component of the endgame, that is a serious problem for the health of the game. It leads people to either quit or jump to the larger faction, which makes the faction imbalance works, and that in turn creates a mess in any PvP scenario that depends on having factions fighting each other.

        That’s why Carbine is looking at getting rid of the faction wall. The two factions will still exist, but you’d be able to draw from either one for things like veteran dungeons and raids that require a large pool of players to work.

        If you’re going to have factions, the other comments have suggested better ways to implement it than a hard wall that’s baked into the core of the code. It should be based on game actions so players can move around between them as appropriate, there should be at least three of them, and they should not stop players from playing with their friends in group PvE content like raids.

        (In an ideal world it also wouldn’t stop you from playing *against* your friends in PvP, because we really wanted to split our old raid guild into two teams and challenge each other, but the game just flat out disallowed that in things like battlegrounds and open world. Most do. It’s a lost opportunity.)
        Tridus´s last post: If NCSoft is going to kill Wildstar, they should do it now

      • Reply
        Betsey
        July 17, 2016 at 11:07 pm

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        November 13, 2016 at 11:42 pm

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  • Reply
    Dahakha
    March 17, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    Factions in TSW are probably the least objectionable version around. The only possible complaint that one can have is that you “miss out” on the various clues and lore contained in the faction-specific missions, and in the interaction with your faction supervisor. To that I say, that is the point. You get to make a choice that does not inhibit your gameplay at all, but lets you enjoy a kind-of-exclusive, tailored story.

    Oh, except for cabals being faction-specific, that is a bit silly.
    Dahakha´s last post: Oh, To Be A Time Lord…

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      March 17, 2016 at 9:33 pm

      Yes, I agree: TSW has the best implementation of factions that I can think of, short of the cabal issue. It’s okay to have story-based paths that are unique to a faction, just don’t limit guilds or group play.

  • Reply
    Izlain
    March 20, 2016 at 11:17 am

    There are actually several factions in League of Legends lore, and several of them hate each other. It isn’t used as a gameplay mechanic though, so any member of any faction can be placed on the same team as a member of an opposing faction and it doesn’t matter. I would be interested to see how that would play out if they added in a faction game mode.
    Izlain´s last post: Fantasy LCS Review: Season 6, Week 8

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