Good combat, pretty visuals, lots of fun, blah blah. Enough screwing around. Let’s tear off this band-aid and see how bad the infection is.
Like I said last week, I was willing to put up with the lousy translation, the bad balance, the inconvenient “simulation” elements, the offensively priced cash shop, and the lack of interesting long-term goals. I guess I was just really into electrocuting huge groups of dudes and was willing to put up with a lot of nonsense to keep doing that.
Until I reached level 50…
Level 50 is PvP
I’ve said before that’s completely moronic to make PvP the endgame for PvE content. People looking to fight other players don’t want to have to play all these hours of single-player content to get to the “real” game, and people looking for a good old monster-bashing power fantasy don’t want to be shoved into a world where they can be randomly insta-killed by some jackass ten levels over them. That’s a hell of a reward for the PvE player. “Thanks for putting in all the hard work to level up and reach the endgame. Your prize is that the game is now ruined for you.” These are two different groups of players with different needs, and it makes no sense to connect them like this.
Yes, I know this is common in MMO design and not limited to Black Desert Online, but this is what killed the game for me. I hit level 49 and the game told me the next step was forced PvP. That was it. I was done.
PvE and PvP really are two different games for two different audiences. Imagine if the football league had people play football all year until they reached the championship where the winner was decided via baseball. This is a complete gameplay non-sequitur and I can’t believe developers are still doing this.
Black Desert allows you to opt-out of PvP. However, players can still attack you, even if you’re flagged as not willing to participate in PvP. As the game itself explains:
If you want to fight you need to activate PvP mode. While you have this mode activated you are free to attack any other player if this player is allowed to participate in PvP. You can even attack players who have turned off their PvP button. But you will be receiving karma points if you kill such players. You can also be attacked any time by other player.
If your PvP mode is on, attacker will not get any penalties. By activating this mode you tell other players that you are ready to fight. This system is pretty similar to PvP system of many other MMO games.
So if a player has opted out of PvP you can still attack them, and the penalty is that you will get negative karma.
It goes on to talk about what a challenge is to have (bad) karma. This is, of course, a monumentally stupid system if your actual goal is to protect players who don’t want to PvP. Aggressive and challenge-seeking players will naturally want to know about what the “challenge” of negative karma looks like, which means you’ve just created an incentive for griefers to kill players who have explicitly said they don’t want to participate in this dumbass open-world deathmatch. Some players enjoy the added challenge of running around with negative karma and being attacked by town guards, which means killing other players is just part of their daily upkeep. And on top of that this just leads to a meta-game where players try to harass each other with the karma system.
There’s an easy solution to the problem, which is if you really don’t want griefers to slaughter players who are here for the PvE content, then just make it impossible to attack them. Or make PvE-only servers. But instead the developers made this convoluted system where the game allows you to do something and then tries to punish you for it, thus sanctioning that action as a valid form of gameplay.
Think about how perverse this is. You’re allowing one of your customers to have his fun at the expense of another customer, who has explicitly not consented to this. I know developers sloppily lump all “competitive” players into the same category, but there’s a huge difference between a player looking to challenge themselves against other competitive people, and the kind of griefer who desires to have fun by ruining the game for someone else. It’s the difference between a boxing match between willing contestants and assaulting a rando on the street. Given the dynamics involved, one griefer can ruin the fun for a lot of other people. Once you get one PvE player to leave / logoff, you have to move on and find another one. And another.
BDO justifies this by saying “This system is pretty similar to PvP system of many other MMO games.” That might be true, but it’s still a shitty system. (And I can’t think of any other game that offers a PvP consent flag and then allows other players to violate it.)
Maybe ganking isn’t common. Maybe I’d only get murdered once every few days. But even the threat of PvP makes me stop enjoying the game. I don’t like that extra layer of stress. I’ve got a lot to worry about between my quests, my leveling, my looting, and my resource gathering, and I really don’t want to do all that under the threat that I might suddenly find myself in a fight against some asshole five levels over me who’s geared for PvP and has months of experience slaughtering poor slobs like me. I’ll lose that fight every time. You might as well add a feature that my character will randomly die of heart attacks every so often. It adds nothing to my experience except stress when I’m anticipating it and frustration when it happens. Put the gankers on a server where they can stab each other silly and let me fight my monsters in peace. If I wanted to fight other players I’d get PUBG and fight people on a level playing field.
“Well Shamus maybe you just need to get good and then getting ganked wouldn’t be a problem!”
My problem is that I hate PvP, and your solution is that I should play a whole lot more of it? I don’t want to “get good” because that takes time and practice I’d rather spend fighting monsters. Or staring at the loading screen. Or doing the dishes. Or basically anything else.
So why would they do this? Why would they allow a small group of toxic players to drive off the more casual types? My guess is that it all cynically leads back to the cash shop. They sell power items there in a gross pay-to-win sort of setup. I imagine the thinking is that the developers see the unrepentant griefer as a sort of salesman. “Tired of getting murdered by dudes with top-level gear and stats? Well, we have some items that can help you. We just need you to use your credit card to buy coins to buy pearls to buy power and maybe you’ll be able to go back to enjoying the game.”
Which means it’s time to talk about…
The Destructive Influence of “Free” to Play
In the old days, the monthly fee kept players and developers in harmony. The more fun the devs make the game, the longer I’ll keep hanging around and paying the fee. The better they make a game, the more money they make. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it was a lot better than the mess we have now.
With microtransaction-driven games, the developer incentives are backwards. They’re now motivated to make the game a hassle so they can sell me relief from the hassle. Their goal is not to make the best game possible, but to make a game just good enough to keep me interested, but just bad enough that I’ll pay to have some of the bad stuff mitigated.
When we talk about companies that “make money so they can make games” versus “making games to make money”, this is exactly the sort of thing that will reveal where a company’s heart really is. A team that wants to make great games is going to be extremely reluctant to deliberately harm the design of the game – to make it less fun – in order to make more money. They won’t make those kinds of compromises unless they’re worried about impending insolvency.
Even if money is no object for you as a player, the presence of microtransactions still mean you’re playing a game built with compromised principles, and it still means lots of fussing around in the store page rather than just playing the stupid videogame. In Black Desert Online you can pay money to mitigate the inventory pressure the game puts on you, but you’re still playing a game where lots of systems were designed specifically to create inventory headaches.
If you find yourself wondering why the game feels like it was engineered to be annoying, that’s because it was.
Also, some inventory systems limit you by slots (World of Warcraft) and some limit you by weight (Skyrim) but Black Desert Online imposes limits for both. And yes, if you want to raise the limits that’s two entirely separate bonuses you need to buy.
Yeah, yeah. “Simulation.” I’m sure that’s why they designed it this way.
I’ll admit some games have done the free-to-play thing it well, but the bad incentives are there and they’ve ruined a lot of potentially good titles.
It’s a tragedy that Black Desert is such an overpriced chore. This is a gorgeous game with fantastic combat, but the rot of grasping microtransaction-driven design runs deep. And even if I could overlook that, the PvP nonsense is a complete dealbreaker for me.
What a stupid waste.
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