@belghast Faction walls in PvE content are an anachronism. The only thing they do is make PvE worse for everyone.
— Chris Eaton (@LordTridus) March 17, 2016
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.