I’ve been thinking about PvP recently. Resubbing to EvE didn’t work out so well: the game was still the same as I left with the same issues. But thinking about it and FFXI gave me some insight on to why so many PvP games struggle. It’s about perception of your character in terms of strength and weakness.
In both games you start off at a low level of power, and are easily killed as you learn the game. What differs is the perception.
In FFXI its from strength to strength. While your character is weak early on, you aren’t made often to feel weak: the situations you find yourselves in normally are ones you can deal with with some basic knowledge of your class and capabilities. You also gain from every encounter, even ones you lose. Death is a setback, but a rare one.
In EVE though its from weakness to strength even at that. I never got the sense of competency in it. A lot of the game is just learning when to run away or when to join up with people. Even with success there was no sense of achievement: what does it matter when I am a face in a blob of ships? Death is also frequent and has no point: you learn nothing from jumping into a gate camp to get instapopped except not to jump into one. You don’t get the sense as easily that you can adjust, especially since skill changes take a long amount of real time to finish.
There’s also massive strength variations in terms of numbers and ship capabilities. My point is that PvP games tend to make players feel that they are weak, and maybe if they persist that one day they can become strong and pay people back. PvE games make players feel strong and let them reach towards higher feats of strength. Non-MMO PvP games also do this: in Halo a newbie playing Master Chief is in control of a powerful character, and the moving up is just to increase skill.
But MMO PvP games are tied both to open world PvP and the progression model, both of which wind up making the perception of weakness worse. Maybe that’s why so many new PvP games are MMOFPS. I think PvP MMO games could solve this by limiting numbers, and weakening the progression basis. Ironically the PvP I liked the most was in Champions Online where they did this very thing. They limited numbers in an arena, and progression-based differences were lessened due to level tiers.
PvP games need to make new characters feel strong and in control, even if they lose or need to progress to win. Otherwise people wont stick around to raise their skill. Most don’t though because of the nature of MMO PvP.