“A Good Fight” Part 2

A good fight brings evenly matched opponents together in an environment where superior skill will prevail. If one side is obviously going to win, no matter what the other side does, it is not a good fight. If randomness prevails, it is not a good fight.

I would not demand that it be a fair fight. Luring your enemy into a situation where they are going to lose is an element of superior skill. Setting up a good ambush takes skill, as does understanding the meta-game to counter-build. It can also be a component of a good environment that one tactic is favored in A while another is favored in B. It is a bad game environment if ambushes always lead to victory or one class has no chance in A but will always win in B.

I think “evenly matched” is the key component to discuss here, and the two major components are quantity and quality. I would think, however, that is relatively self-explanatory. Sides need not be of equal numbers, but they must be balanced against each other. Given equal numbers on each side, a system designed to give you a good fight will try to balance quality on each side.

That last bit is really hard, and most games do not even try. It can also be really upsetting when you want to play with your friends but are too good to be fairly placed on the same side. You could argue that identifying and working with good teammates is a component of skill, and you should certainly win on that basis, but something is wrong with the game-matching algorithm if you always win on that basis (unless you are literally the best players out there). The League of Legends matchmaking algorithm, for example, assumes that a pre-made group is going to do better than its individual members’ ratings would suggest and looks for harder opponents.

The basic unit of balancing teams is an advanced version of trying to find a balanced one-on-one fight: take the player’s rating and try to find an opponent with a comparable rating. In a team environment, you add those.

Almost every game (that does this) I have seen tries to do so with even numbers, rather than pitting one 200-rating opponent against 4 50-rating opponents. In most games, the baseline effectiveness of a character is such that being Really Good will not let you overcome 4-to-1 odds. There are, however, games that work on exactly the principle of having one 200-point monster fighting 20 10-point enemies, like Ogre. I fondly remember Dino Wars!, a miniatures game in which one side uses dinosaur toys and the other uses little green army men. If the point buys are balanced, you can mix quantity and quality pretty freely in such a system.

Looking back at Guild Wars 2, a good fight will also mix quantity and quality. A really good group of 20 could be a good fight for a mob of 40. Zergs bashing into each other will often be good fights, decided by a few key decisions that most of the zerg scarcely notices.

As quantity increases, the importance of quality decreases. Even if you are all four times as good as average, it is really hard to be the 20 in an 80-on-20 fight. Massed attacks will down you, no matter how good you are. In our GW2 example, the ability to revive each other makes it very hard to chip away at the 80. Games begin to lag with that many players, so the availability of skill decreases; in GW2, skill lag makes the merit of a zerg that everyone can auto-attack at once.

Population imbalances of the type I have been complaining about make it harder to get good fights just because of those quantity differences. They are still possible, but as quantity increases towards the cap, the only possible response becomes increased quantity on your side as well. When that is not an option, superior numbers guided by even minimal intelligence can roll over opposition. At best, a skilled group can devise a battlefield it can hold against much larger numbers, which is a sort of win condition in that the enemy will either seek easier prey or take it out with massed trebuchets. The game only rewards your meat grinder if people keep throwing themselves into it.

We might also see good fights in alternate win conditions. The story of 300 involves exactly that outmanned force that is certain to be destroyed. Their win condition was not defeating the entire Persion army. It was holding the pass long enough for the larger situation to change. Also: kill lots of Persians. Some games give you that alternate win scenario like surviving for 30 minutes or waves, even if eventual defeat is inevitable. That can be good. You can also define your own victory conditions, which range from heroism to straight up trolling.

When you define your own win conditions, you had best have intrinsic motivation, because more or less by definition the game is not going to reward that. Ultimately, that is what MMOs were really about from the start: approaching a virtual world on your own terms. But as I have said about the “bring your own friends if you want to have fun” approach to content and group-finding tools: if you are doing the heavy lifting yourself, the game is not, and you might as well play something (anything) else.

: Zubon

9 thoughts on ““A Good Fight” Part 2”

  1. So to bring this back into a GW2 WvW context:

    – increasing quantity of “good fight” encounters where quality and quantity of opponents are in evenly matched balance

    What are ways in which this could be done on, essentially, an open world map where one could be equally likely to run into loners, duos, small guild groups and large numbers of people banding together for safety, depending on player playstyle preference and actively participating population?

    Would this eventually degenerate into a World War I stalemate where the front never moves? Evenly matched, after all.

    – Or should the game actively work to support a larger number of alternate win conditions that also provide rewards (perhaps of a different kind from the dominating victors)?

  2. “Ultimately, that is what MMOs were really about from the start: approaching a virtual world on your own terms”. Absolutely true. And for me that paradigm remains unchanged. I don’t consciously set my own “win” conditions but they are always there in the background, motivating everything I do in every MMO. Win conditions set by the gamemakers generally go either ignored or unnoticed.

    I’m a terrible PvPer. I have a very low level of skill, my reaction time is abysmal and my manual dexterity is poor. I generally have only a partial understanding of my character’s basic abilities, even less understanding of the synergies they might have and insufficient patience to learn and practice until I get significantly better. I used also to panic but familiarity has at least removed that from my litany of disabilities. I don’t keep count but if I win one 1vs1 fight in 50 I’d be surprised. None of that prevents or discourages me from PvPing in most MMOs that allow it, since I started back in DAOC.

    A “good fight” for me is one in which I a) had fun and b) did as well as I could. In GW2, when a Thief appears out of nowhere , drops me to half health then chain stuns me and kills me in a second or two, that’s not a good fight. If I manage to last ten or fifteen seconds, scrapping all the while, and die with the Thief at 75% health, however, that’s a Good Fight! If, as happens once in a very blue moon, I actually win a 1vs1, that keeps me happy for weeks.

    To me, the essence of a Good Fight is simply having a chance to compete. Doesn’t matter a whit if I am always going to lose and know it. I just want to land a few punches, let the other guy know he’s been in a fight. And of course, the other guy doesn’t “know” that at all – he just thinks he’s crushed a hopeless noob. That doesn’t matter at all. The Good Fight happens in my head, in my imagination, where I play most of my MMOs.

    The essence of a Bad Fight, and a bad game system, in my book is one where my character can be taken out of the equation entirely – stun-locked or CC’d to the point where all I can do is sit back and watch him die. There’s all too much of that going on in GW2 at the moment. So long as I get a chance to fight back, though, it’s all good no matter the result.

  3. There’s a problem with people seeking “good fights” on a micro level to the detriment of the overall contest. You find players in WoW battlegrounds who are busy looking for a good 1vs1 fight and neglect objectives in the process, or even abuse their teammates for unwanted help. DAoC had a problem with leet guild groups looking for 8vs8 fights and leaving their realmmates lying dead instead of rezzing, or who ignored calls to defend keeps and relics.

    I would define a “good fight” as one where the outcome was in doubt for whatever reason. The side that loses should feel that they could have won if they’d done something differently or the roll of the dice had been a little more in their favour… too much uncontrolled random is bad, but sometimes an epic duel between evenly matched opponents will be determined by that one critical hit.

    NB that some players define “good fight” as “one I won”, regardless of the quality of their opponent. Players like this often play rogue classes – rogues have unparalleled opportunities to pick and choose their fights, only initiating an attack out of stealth if they think they can win. So here’s a question – is it possible to have a good fight with a rogue? :)

    1. Only if the rogue makes a tactical error and sticks around for the wrong fight? :P

      I think we keep going in this circle about balance and good fights because it differs so from player to player. Easy fun motivated players exist in conjunction with hard fun motivated players.

      I personally admit to being more on the easy fun side of the spectrum, especially for minigames I don’t have an interest going deep into. It’s probably why I can tolerate the “grind” of killing open world mobs that are basically punching bags and just opening them up to see what loot falls out.

      A good fight for me is also one where I don’t die. I don’t particularly care if that’s because I won by engaging in a fight that’s skewed in my favor by having more numbers on my side, or because I ran away with countless hounds of hell at my back going “lol, I’m still not dead, can’t catch me!” Both are wins in my book.

      See, the other side of the efficiency equation is that it may very well differ from player to player as well. A good PvPer sees a 1 vs 1 fight, and thinks, aha, an evenly matched challenge I can test myself against!

      I see a 1 vs 1 fight and think, it’s me versus some guy with way higher ping and a specialized roaming PvP build. Here I am, in either a group-synergized WvW build or just a cruddy build. Hell, no. That’s not an even match. Run away, run away!

      Oh hey, I found a friend, he can help me! Now we’re evenly matched, lousy quality but quantity in our favor! I turn around and the other guy is going, “What, 2 vs 1? Bah!”

      1. The problem with easy fun is that as soon as it becomes a player vs player situation then at least one player is disappointed because you can’t have an easy win for both participants in a duel, whereas you can have ‘hard fun’ i.e. a close-run thing for both.

        The guys who want to win every fight and can’t cope with losing really need to stick to PvE. At the very least anyone who plays PvP has to be emotionally prepared to cope with losing some of their fights with good grace. It’s interesting how real life “PvP sports” such as fencing or martial arts all have rigidly enforced systems of courtesy both before and after a contest – anything that smacks of the trash talking and corpse humping you see on an MMO battlefield would get you turfed out of a fencing tournament PDQ.

        1. Indeed, which is why commonly PvE players very quickly get discouraged PvPing and it usually ghettoizes itself.

          However, if you are trying to encourage a steady stream of players into a PvP situation and get to stick around long enough to appreciate the hard fun aspect of a duel, it can be useful to provide alternate win conditions besides ‘get the build right’ and ‘execute the moves right’ (to rip off a phrase from Tobold’s latest post about skill.)

          I’m thinking about games like Team Fortress 2 or Natural Selection, where you might have, for example, a team-based objective or a team score. You might then lose a battle (or five) but win the war. Or classes which suit different kinds of players – an engineer is more about tactical placement and support, a sniper about sharp aim and quick reflexes.

          Or less welcomed by the player on the receiving end is the possibility of being able to run towards more friends on an open battlefield, or use terrain, items and NPCs to level the playing field or even skew it the other way.

          To my way of thinking, arguing for the perfect evenly matched duel is an exclusive line of thought that ends up trapping you down a matchmaking ladder system that pits you against only the few players that perfectly match your skill level. You exclude everyone else and end up playing with a tiny pool of participants – if any of them disappear from attrition, the amount of people you can play with becomes even less. Eventually you may become the only lonely guy at the top. Now what? Quit and find another game?

          Or perhaps we can try broadening our approach in a more inclusive frame of mind and brainstorm ways that different people can feel they have ‘won’ and will thus keep playing a minigame that we want to see become more popular, not less.

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