Why PvP is becoming more and more popular

With the free-to-play MMO World Of Tanks out next month, Harry looks at the rising popularity of player versus player combat in online games…

Violence can be exhilarating. That’s something the best computer and videogame developers know, and it’s one of the reasons that gamers keep coming back for more. Tabloid inaccuracy-papers may squeal about turning generations of children into trained killers, but as most of us know, that’s a lot of nonsense. I’ve played videogames since I was four, and I’ve hardly gone on any murderous rampages.

Games let us play out scenarios that we’d never be able to experience in real life – they allow us to be the lone gunman, or the essential cog in a well oiled war machine. But whilst shooting AI routines and polygonal representations of streams of code is fun, there’s something even more exciting about pulling the trigger and knowing that somewhere, across the vast nothingness of the Internet, a stranger is cursing your name as their avatar slumps, explodes or disintegrates.

But what is it that makes the player versus player (or PvP) experience that much more heart pounding than player versus environment (PvE), and why are developers and gamers alike finding the idea of PvP games that much more enticing? We’re going to look at seven reasons PvP only games are getting even more popular, from the obvious to the psychological, via the technological and stopping off at the pathological along the way as well.

The sort of PvP we’re looking at here isn’t the non-consensual ganking that you might find in MMORPGs, so if you’re looking for answers to why you like to gang up on lower levelled players, it’s because you’re mean spirited. We’re going to be looking at PvP only games such as the forthcoming World Of Tanks, and how they’ve managed to take a tight grip around the hearts of many gamers the world over.

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Proving you’re the best

There’s something uniquely satisfying about sitting at the top of a leaderboard, be it actual or metaphorical, and that’s what PvP games offer. But it’s not just about getting there, about unlocking the best equipment and gloating rights, it’s also about staying on top of the pile for as long as you can. Written somewhere in the genetic code of a lot of gamers, burnt in there by the dull glow of countless arcade high score tables, lies the desire to see their name next to a number one. PvP games know that, and that’s what they feed on. To all intents and purposes, they’re ego crack, enticing you in for one last hit, one last chance at the big time.

Friends and foes alike

We’ve all heard the story of the Christmas Day football match that took place between German and English soldiers in World War One. There’s camaraderie in war, regardless of which side of the trenches you’re sat on. Sure, you might be spouting vile obscenities alongside every rocket launched and spell thrown, but there’s a grudging respect there too. And when the round’s over, or the battle’s been won, you get to mercilessly mock your dear sweet friends about their ineffectual strategies and poorly planned counter attacks. Just don’t get upset when they’re doing the same to you.

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We have the technology

It might seem obvious to say it, but PvP has come on in leaps and bounds thanks to the technological infrastructure that’s being noisily built all around us. Ten years ago, you couldn’t have hoped to have had destruction and chaos on the sort of levels we do now, mainly because you’re chuntering old modem wouldn’t have been able to handle the information. The government might say that high-speed broadband network is about the passage of knowledge, but we all know that it’s actually about the passage of large projectiles into strangers’ faces.

Co-operative Annihilation

As well as offering the perfect backdrop for friendship-ending obliteration, some PvP games are also giving us the chance to work alongside our allies, forging new relationships and new ways to rain hell down on our enemies. You can see the same thing happening in console multiplayer, where team-based skirmishes are becoming the norm. Add to that world and galaxy changing battles for terrain and space, and you can see why fighting alongside a friend in a huge, world-changing conflict is so appealing.

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Writing our own stories

It’s nice storming an enemy base, capturing a gun emplacement then mowing down a wave of reinforcements before they have a chance to slaughter you. But in a single player game, there’s always the feeling that you’re playing out someone else’s story, performing someone else’s actions. In PvP games, you’re creating your own narrative, defining your own choices and strategies. Everyone stormed that enemy base, but only you crept past an entire army, stole their territory and killed them with their own weapons, and you did it on your own terms as well.

Tension

There are tense moments in any game – that last second leap, the single shot to save the day, but none of them come close to the final seconds of a tied game, especially not when there’s a country at stake. Heart in mouth, determined not to lose it for your team, but at the same time trying to find one last kill that will secure victory. Sweaty palms and deep breaths, panic swelling in your chest – what do you do? What do you do? And then it’s over, the clock’s ticked round or the final point has been scored, which leads us on to…

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The agony and the ecstasy

The very best games are infused with a special something that makes you want “just one more go”, and the very best PvP games have it in bucket loads. There’s nothing sweeter than victory, nothing more crushing than defeat, yet these two conflicting emotions spur you on to try again. Can you reclaim that joy, or banish forever the tragic misery of a resounding loss? PvP is an addictive commodity that drags you back in over and over again, turning you from hero to villain and back again in the blink of an eye. And let’s be honest, that’s exactly the sort of thrill we’re looking for.

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