Why there are factions in a PvE game?

I’m reading Gnomecore trying out Allods online, obviously by creating a character. He wrote the races and classes and which side it’s in, Legion or Empire. And suddenly it felt absolutely wrong.

Why? Because knowing nothing about Allods Online, I have no idea which would be the “right” choice for me. Spellcaster is spellcaster, pet class is pet class, healer is healer. Even if you’ve never played an MMO, you know what to expect. But choosing something at character creation what you cannot know without knowing the World of the game? That’s silly.

However it’s industry standard. For some reason PvE MMOs always had two warring factions. This was always stupid, but we got used to it for no good reason. I noted how most of the bloggers played Battle for Azeroth as Alliance. And I predicted that next WoW expansion the sides will go away.

But now I ask, why did they exist in the first place? What do they add to the game? Because they sure take away awful lot of stuff:

  • Both factions need capitals, towns, starting zones implemented, while only half of the players will use them unless they are alting.
  • Players of one faction can’t play with players of the other faction. That halves the population.
  • While it’s not necessary, factions usually involves unique races (orcs are Horde, dwarfs are Alliance), meaning players either chose a side and get locked out half of the races or choose a race and then faction is chosen
  • If there is some faction-faction flavor PvP, population balance is impossible to reach. It’s not a problem for a PvP game which is designed for PvP, but for some fun addition, it can be a funkiller, like constantly being ganked.
  • If the races aren’t fully cosmetic but have unique abilities, good luck balancing them for both PvE and PvP. Remember Vanilla WoW Paladins vs Shamans?

Finally, having sides is fundamentally against PvE, which means “player versus environment”. The “environment” is the other side, while players are “our” side. Having factions is counter-intuitive and feels out-of-place. Remember all the stories about “ganking jerks”. No one complains in a shooter which is about killing the other team. But if you are fighting a World boss and a bunch of “jerks” attack you, it feels wrong: you are supposed to be heroes fighting these big bad monsters and other “heroes” are sabotaging you!

Get rid of factions already and let all players be a big happy family, dancing … naked on the mailbox and spamming anal jokes.


PS: I had 10% HP:

Author: Gevlon

My blog: https://greedygoblinblog.wordpress.com/

9 thoughts on “Why there are factions in a PvE game?”

  1. IIRC it started with Dark Age of Camelot. That had three faction though so you’d get two sides ganging up on one and only one a few servers was one faction really dominant. Of course that just made the problem of having to make more newbie zones/races etc. worse especially as each faction had its own unique classes.

    Still liked that game, although it was pretty grindy by modern standards.

    I also remember as a healer often having to often look away from battles to reduce client side lag.


  2. For everything written about MMO design, we still understand how an MMO functions pretty poorly. It is my understanding that factions are an innovation upon the ancient Ultima/EQ formula, but there is little understanding of why that innovation happened or why it worked.

    Worse than that, the true reason why factions were introduced is obscured, probably even in the minds of people who introduced it, by the idea of “Warcraft must have factions”. Which prevents anyone from engaging with the idea of factions on any real level beyond “Warcraft did it, therefore i must do it too”.

    I do believe there is a meaning to having factions in a PvE world, and that is to have this world be more interesting and mutlifaceted than just a single narrative, thus allowing the game to reach a larger audience. Instead of having to choose between player types, you can offer something to all through different faction gameplay. This result, however, is best achieved through a more open system than through “tick a box at the start and be forever loyal to it” approach.

    You are, of course, correct that a distinction between factions needs to be obvious at a glance. Warcraft’s orcs vs humans achieves this instantly and does so much better than the esoteric differences of factions in Allods. Of course, nowadays Draenei, Blood Elves and Pandaren also significantly muddy the waters.

    You are also correct in pointing out that emergent faction gameplay narrative, and even the basic loot-driven MMO gameplay narrative, often conflicts with the popular “we are all fighting this great evil” approach. The narrative design required to get around this issue is usually complex, expensive and seldom appreciated. This is the main reason why, over time, the designers are inevitably faced between either giving up on factions, or on fundamentally archetypical stories. In that conflict, factions obviously lose.

    Finally, you are correct that players do not adhere to in-game faction choices and are perfectly happy spying on each other and using information they procured on one character to advance the other, ultimately forming higher level meta-factions of players themselves. The only game that managed to handle this well on my radar so far was Eve, where this kind of backstabbing and two-facedness is basically built into the game lore and mechanics up from the very idea of an immortal capsuleer.

    So it’s not like these issues can’t be handled. However, doing so successfully would require an MMO project that does to Eve’s ideas what WoW did to Everquest and Ultima.


  3. “Factions” started with the “Good / Evil” divide with Tolkien, where it’s easy to manage a faction in a fictional work. It doesn’t really matter all that much if a “Warrior race of psychopathic killers” is all that viable because you can just add magic to manage it.

    D&D kept with the “Good / Evil” divide, but kept it “in the party” as it was / is a severely limited system in a lot of ways. (A pencil doesn’t have a lot of processor power, not very many people will fit at your table.)

    Ultima Online was the odd bird, it was more anarchy than formal factions and was just hampered by a lot of REALLY bad mechanics. (Sorry Raph, but it’s true. Should have worried about that instead of whether the dragons wanted to eat the cows.)

    Everquest was, IMHO, the first “faction” game in the mix.

    Dark Age of Camelot tried to make 3 independent games based on the same PvE mechanics, then have a “Realm vs Realm” war between them. WoW obliterated them in the PvE department, and most games have PvP. Does anyone really care if THEIR faction actually wins overall?

    “Factions” add a sense of unknown to a game, but that only worked early on. As a Dark Elf in Everquest, you felt real apprehension the first time you saw a human player in the distance. It was largely unfounded, of course, but it was there.

    So, why? There are two kinds of game designers, “Writers” and “Engineers.” Writers write fiction, exploring the “Good / Evil” divide. Engineers design systems. When “Writers” are in charge, you get factions and never ending class imbalance. When Engineers are in charge, you get strategy games without much back story. You need a balance of that with the Engineers slightly above the Writers. (Because Engineers, unlike Writers, can make things that actually WORK, and games need to WORK FIRST, tell the story second.)

    “Factions” happen when Engineers try to make what “Writers” tell them to.


  4. @Smokeman
    Everquest factions didn’t really register as anything of import. WoW factions were the real deal. People cared about Horde and Alliance at least until the end of TBC.

    I find it hard to call UO “the odd bird”. It was probably an odd bird compared to DnD, but as far as MMOs are concerned, it is the original standard.

    The “writers” vs “engineers” thing doesn’t really explain much. The interesting thing is what factions contributed to the idea of an MMO (both on the level of writing and on the level of engineering) and why their contribution has now been rendered irrelevant enough for them to start getting phased out.


  5. Maxim:
    There was no “Good vs. Evil” divide in UO, that’s why it’s the odd bird here.

    Everquest was like a trial run at factions.

    WoW factions were story driven and had sides. It mattered early on. But when Level 60 started to be the norm, the facade started to show. That’s when the clue bat should have hit. Sure, a lot of people simply doubled down on the “immersion” and ignored the coming train wreck.

    Ok. I’ll expand on “writers” vs “engineers.” No, I’ll expand on “writers”, as “engineers” is self explanatory.

    It all started with Tolkien. He invented every class we have today, even ones that don’t look like it, are based on Tolkien at the core. But Tolkien wrote stories as novels, not as MMOs. Novels are entirely linear. Chapter 1 is wholly separate from chapter 20. Not so in an MMO, the story is told as game elements, and there is nothing stopping players reading chapter 20 from wandering into chapter 1, as both areas exist at the same time, and both players are playing at the same time. Additionally, chapter 1 has to stay chapter 1, so “Elwyn Forest” can’t suddenly have a level 55 Horde citadel for the end of the novel when the Horde is winning and it’s the Alliance’s darkest hour when the mighty hero steps up. No, that area has to be some neutral zone… (cough… Blackrock Mountain.)

    A NOVEL can be exciting and have apparently meaningful consequences… like a level 55 Horde Citadel built in Elwyn forest as the final conflict. But a MMO cannot. In this novel, OF COURSE the Alliance goes “All in” to stop the Horde at the battle for Elwyn Forest.. but in the MMO, they’re all “Meh. Who cares if the Horde owns Blackrock? They clearly don’t care if we’re there. And the dungeons are magically instanced anyway.” and thus, the facade of the factions being at each other’s throats falls flat.

    This forms a sort of cognitive dissonance in the minds of the players who want to see “meaningful consequences” in a world where that’s impossible.


  6. Tolkien is a red herring here, I think. The free peoples are so very clearly “the players”, while Saurons minions are “the environment” in PvP. Maxim nailed it:

    “Worse than that, the true reason why factions were introduced is obscured, probably even in the minds of people who introduced it, by the idea of “Warcraft must have factions”. Which prevents anyone from engaging with the idea of factions on any real level beyond “Warcraft did it, therefore i must do it too”.”

    The Warcraft world was already strongly associated with Orcs vs Humans, and this is why MMOs have factions. End of story. Warcraft writers have tried to work around this since even before WoW (in WCIII) and they’ve at times done an adequate job, but they’re still trying to find the right way to merge a PvE game (raiding and questing) with a PvP world (orcs vs humans)

    WoW did a lot of things right, but combining their RTS world with an improved EQ game has never really worked below the surface level. (Now I’m remembering the Warhammer MMO. Maaaaaaan, they did so much stupid stuff without thinking because they lifted it straight from WoW.)


  7. Ulrik:

    Why do you think World of Warcraft has Orcs and Humans? What fictional source could they have possibly cribbed for that? Hint: They didn’t come up with it themselves.


  8. @Smokeman: the Warcraft lore or even Tolkien is a reason for Orcs and Humans and NOT for player factions. World of Warcraft could have been made that all players are Alliance, while the Orcs are the environment.


  9. Yeah, Orcs in Tolkien are clearly the E in PvE. It’s the tradition of the RTS Warcraft games having both factions playable that brought factions into MMOs.


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