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PvP browser game - Need help giving the players goals

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I'm having a bit of trouble nailing down some concepts for my browser game. I've got the rest of the system pretty well developed and ready for beta, but I keep putting off finishing the combat mechanics.

So my browser game is all about a Sci-fi ship-to-ship fighting game. Basically you choose your ship, dump a ton of gear into it and then send it off to fight. Pretty simple. The trick being there are no visuals in this game - Once you hit "Enter Combat" you're ship will automatically fight for a few hours, then come back to port and give you a status update of which players were fought, whether you won or lost, loot collected and so on.

The issue I have is around what winning means and giving the players goals.

Version 1 of the combat mechanic had just direct PVP. You hit enter, you fought, you got xp and loot. The issue I ran into with early playtests was there was no goal. Once you fought a few times there was no underlying urge to keep playing. There wasn't really any story to speak of, no new areas to explore, nothing was really on the line so it got boring pretty fast.

Version 2 had the idea of removing deathmatch style pvp and replacing it with "Conquer and Control". In this version players enter one of several locations, each with their own oddities and dangers. One area might not allow shields, one might require the ship to be under a certain size, one might cause radiation damage the second combat starts. Each of these areas has their own leaderboard and the person who is at the top of that leaderboard is in control of that zone.

I felt like this now introduced a goal to keep playing - To take control over a zone and be the king. Players now had a purpose! But the leader board mechanics still felt somewhat arbitrary.

Version 3 was a bit of a failed experiment. I tried to make the PVP more like King of the Hill. Let's say you fight other players for 2 hours and you manage to beat 3 people in a row during that time. Your top score in that area is now 3 (permanently until you better it). The person at the top of the leaderboard would then be the person who had the most consecutive wins. I really liked the idea of "just one more try" that it has where the player thinks "maybe this time I'll get the 6 wins a row I need". The main issue I ran into was when someone got on a lucky streak and beat 20 players in a row when the average for the area is 5 wins in a row. You end up with players who can't be toppled from the leaderboards and it takes a lot of the fun away.

So version 4 is where I'm currently at. I still like the idea of version 3, but basing the zone control off consecutive wins doesn't seem to be working. Thus I come to you, oh brilliant gamedev community! :)

My current idea involves scrapping the vertical nature of the leaderboards and making them horizontal :) What I mean by that is instead of there being one player in control, all players are fighting over territory in the zone. The more a player "wins" (by whatever determines that), they gain more and more "area" in that zone. The more area you control, the more money you earn. There is still a top player in the area with the most control (the king), but every player who fights has at least a little bit of area themselves too. The idea being even if you are not #1, you're still doing good by just controlling some of the zone.

Now the main issue that arises from this is, what determines area gain? If it's based off something like a win/loss ratio, does it feel wrong that players should not just gain area from winning, but subtract area from losing? This feels a bit harsh. Second, what about players who gain their 2.5% share, then log off and never come back?

So I'm not sure how well this would work. Plus, the part I don't like about this system is it turns the game into more of a game about land grabbing rather than the ship-building-pvp side. It would be nice to have a system that focuses on your ship/pilot, rather than how much area you control. I'd rather the ship becomes infamous, if that makes sense.

SO, that's where I am right now. I have the initial ideas of this system, but there may be a better option entirely. Any thoughts on how to resolve some of these design dead ends I've run into? I'd love to hear if anyone has any better ideas on how to focus more on the ships themselves while still giving the player goals through competition with other players.

Cheers :)

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Version 1 of the combat mechanic had just direct PVP. You hit enter, you fought, you got xp and loot. The issue I ran into with early playtests was there was no goal. Once you fought a few times there was no underlying urge to keep playing. There wasn't really any story to speak of, no new areas to explore, nothing was really on the line so it got boring pretty fast.
I made a game of that style and it works and among the players feedback I rarley hear "boring". If your test version got boring it means you missed something. Probably the investment part. Such a game can't be focusing on the combat action (probably there are exceptions, but I have never seen any) but on how you spend the money (loot). The fun comes primarily from the advancement of your combat capabilities not from the combat itself (althrough some players would not agree I guess).

In short, you combat to get money then you spend the money on various impovements which make you fight better. The important/fun part is the choice how to spend your funds.

Version 2,3,4 - You are watering it down, these still do not focus on anything specific. These ideas could be a bonus, but not the foundation of a game.

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[quote name='boolean' timestamp='1322957791' post='4890267']
Version 1 of the combat mechanic had just direct PVP. You hit enter, you fought, you got xp and loot. The issue I ran into with early playtests was there was no goal. Once you fought a few times there was no underlying urge to keep playing. There wasn't really any story to speak of, no new areas to explore, nothing was really on the line so it got boring pretty fast.
I made a game of that style and it works and among the players feedback I rarley hear "boring". If your test version got boring it means you missed something. Probably the investment part. Such a game can't be focusing on the combat action (probably there are exceptions, but I have never seen any) but on how you spend the money (loot). The fun comes primarily from the advancement of your combat capabilities not from the combat itself (althrough some players would not agree I guess).

In short, you combat to get money then you spend the money on various impovements which make you fight better. The important/fun part is the choice how to spend your funds.

Version 2,3,4 - You are watering it down, these still do not focus on anything specific. These ideas could be a bonus, but not the foundation of a game.
[/quote]

Interesting, very interesting. When I had version 1 up and running the loot system wasn't implemented yet, so you would just get a stock 'you got some stuff, woo!" message. Also there wasn't much to spend the money on at the time either.

Interesting, very interesting. And I've still not 100% completed the loot/xp system as of now (about 90% done I would say), so once I get those up and running that might solve this issue. Maybe I've been coming up with crazy solutions simply because the most basic elements, loot xp and progression, are not fully in the game yet. That alone might solve a lot of it. huh.gif

Interesting, very interesting. Well that certainly shifts my development focus for the week. I think I'll try and finish up those areas first, get the game polished enough to go into beta and leave it at that.

very Interesting... *walks off pondering*

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