Single player vs PvE vs RvR

Been navel-gazing again. I’ve decided that I operate within a game taxonomy that has three main categories. I’ve compiled a list of pros and cons for each.

Single Player Games

  • You are the hero. The focus of the universe. It’s all about you, baby.
  • High convenience factor. Play for 10 minutes or 10 hours. The world will wait when you have to take a break
  • The world can be very fluid, your actions can have significant impact on the world
  • Smooth gameplay. You don’t have to worry about lag or queues or server outages
  • Strong Story
  • Play at your own pace. One session a week or several sessions a day, it doesn’t matter


  • Predictable, at least compared to being in a world with lots of other players
  • Finite: at some point the game ends and you’ve done everything there is to do

PvE focused MMO games

  • Unpredictable, you never know what other players are going to do
  • Virtually infinite. Expansion packs, gameplay tweaks and huge worlds… there’s always more to come
  • Moderately Convenient (Some aspects lend themselve to quick sessions but others require scheduling and large blocks of time)
  • Seasonal events tied to real-world calendar add spice to the world.


  • Many heroes. You are just another face in the crowd and often feel weak compared to those around you.
  • Static: The world generally doesn’t change much based on your actions. It’s all about the devs, baby.
  • Weak Story
  • Some pressure to “keep up” with other players

RvR focused MMO games

  • Unpredictable, you never know what other players are going to do
  • Virtually infinite. Expansion packs, gameplay tweaks and huge worlds… there’s always more to come
  • Seasonal events tied to real-world calendar add spice to the world.
  • Intense action. There are few gaming experiences as exciting as being in a big RvR battle.
  • Semi-static: Your side can change the world within certain limitations


  • Many heroes. You are just another face in the crowd and often feel weak compared to those around you.
  • Inconvenient. It is almost impossible to “schedule” a good RvR battle
  • Weak Story
  • Strong pressure to “Keep up” with other players

I’m sure I’ll keep adding to this list. And granted my RvR experience is pretty limited: DAoC and Warhammer, really.

For me the big issue is time. RvR games can offer the most fun but also require the most time. PvE games are more forgiving about time and are far more “schedule-able” . The NPC Boss is always going to be there waiting for us, right? Single player games, assuming they allow saving anywhere, are absolutely time-forgiving. At least, until they end. We all get tired of MMOs but darned few of us have literally “finished” one, where we’ve taken every class to cap and seen every quest and accomplished every task.

Each taxonomy has something great to offer. Being the hero of the story in a single-player game can be very satisfying, as can the sense of accomplishment for getting to “The End.” Working in a group in a PvE game to figure out the attack patterns and weaknesses of a boss and finally taking him down can evoke shrieks of delight. And the pulse pounding action of a massive RvR battle can be literally breath-taking.

I’m not including price, but for me the monthly cost of an MMO does influence my reaction to it. I feel a lot differently about LOTRO than I do about most other MMOs because I have a lifetime sub to it. There’s a low-level but persistent “pressure to play” when I know I’m spending a monthly fee to play a game.

So what’d I miss? What are your Pros and Cons? Or do you even buy into my taxonomy?

10 thoughts on “Single player vs PvE vs RvR

  1. I think a category for co-op and muiltiplayer games like Call of Duty, racing games, RTS etc that are not subscription fee based games. These are a sub category of single player games but a different play expirence as well.

  2. My bad. I read it again and concluded you were probaly talking about RPG games and not all games in general although some single player RPG do offer co-op and multiplayer as well.

  3. I think you should account for Role Play in the mix.

    In a console/single-player RPG, yes you’re guaranteed a good story (theoretically, that’s of course subjective) but it *is* a linear story. With few notable exceptions (Bard’s Tale!) the triumph of good over evil is fairly predictable, even if the story elements themselves are not. So for me, the presence of a linear story is debatable as a pro; it can just as easily be a con if you’re dedicated Role Player.

    In PvE or RvR games, if one is a Role Player and can find a good RP group (two big ifs, to be sure), then I think RP becomes a dynamic and important concern in your MMOG categories. For the RP’er, that is — hardcore raiders might beg to differ, and find that a con. Me personally, I love that my characters stories can change in wildly different directions, or even span servers and groups, depending on how the social world is changing around them. Yes, the pixel content does remain static more or less, but the characters one meets are an ever-changing landscape.

    Written quickly before a meeting… probably lots to pick apart there, not sure I presented my case all that clearly but can’t take time to edit. 🙂

  4. Where would Guild Wars fit in? It had a somewhat strong story, with the Campaigns creating a feel not entirely unlike a single player RPG. I suppose its strong use of instancing makes it less of an “MMO” and more like a single player game with a co-op mode? A PVE version of Guild Wars with a more shared world spaces would probably be my ideal MMO.

  5. In broad strokes, I agree with this taxonomy. Even so, specifically regarding the “unpredictability” of an MMO, as often as not, I’d place that in the “Con” section. Sometimes, anonymous people on the internet, well… aren’t the best thing for a game.

    I’d also suggest the business model as a pro/con consideration. It’s a pro for those who play the game as much as a full time job, but for a casual player, the subscription model is a huge con, if not an outright barrier to entry. For either player, it’s also an albatross around the neck of game design, as design has to bend to the business demand to keep people playing as long as possible. This is why storytelling is so weak, player power over the world is so pathetic, and why the whole level/loot paradigm is the core of the game; it’s highly addictive.

  6. @ Grid – Co-op framework within the traditional single player games will, in my opinion, increase in size & use. I think it’s still a valid point to bring up especially now that co-op can be run through the main story campaign(see Fable 2 & CoD – World at War as recent examples).

    Truth be told, I get more excited about these type of multiplayer experiences now than anything in the current MMO genre.

  7. Hmmm… I’d probably agree multi-player console gaming is the best of all RPG worlds. I know my sister and I still call Champions of Norrath the Best Game Ever and would prefer to play another game like that again over anything else (and have yet to find one that good). Probably the closest thing I’ve found to that joy on the PC was playing Neverwinter Nights on the Nordock shard.

  8. Wow, lots of great feedback!!

    Grid, I wasn’t intentionally talking about RPGs, but that’s kind of how it came out. Really I think the taxonomy could apply to any narrative-driven game. I can’t see it applying to, say, Madden, but I can see it applying to Gears of War.

    I think I need to drop the “MMO” from the PvE and RvR stuff. So a shooter can be multi-player PvE when you’re playing Co-Op, and RvR when playing team-based modes.

    Gwyn, I’m not sure I like the RP label just because as you point out, its very subjective, but how about Social vs Non-Social? On some level I RP every game I play, single or multiplayer. And someone else might never RP when they play. But to get that social experience, whether its an RP social experience or just a joking around social experience, obviously you need other people around.

    Hmm, maybe “RP Potential” as a Pro for the multiplayer, and Non-Social as a Con for the single player?

    Lars, I’m honestly not sure where Guild Wars fits in. It has a strong RvR component, doesn’t it? But your point about its Story is a strong one and I think I may be giving other MMOs short-shrift by discounting their stories. Maybe they don’t have 1 all-encompassing story, but they have lots of quest chains that teach attentive players about the lore of the game.

    Tesh, maybe we split out “griefing” (though that indicates malice which isn’t always the case) from unpredictability?

    The business model is trickier and really splits the multiplayer taxonomy in two. If, as Grid suggests, we include all multiplayer games rather than just MMOs… maybe we have 4 major categories. Single Player, PvE Multiplayer, PvP Multiplayer, PvE Subscription Multiplayer and PvP Subscription Mulitplayer?? Free to Play MMOs would end up in the same category as Call of Duty 4, but maybe that’s ok?

    Hmm, I might work on this some more tomorrow at lunch. Thanks again for all the feedback and keep it coming!

  9. Pete, I think you made a gross approximation of the whole, but I think it was a good one. I can see the areas and aspects represented even though the bias was on the RPG side in the representation. You cannot escape the feeling of evaluating the differences of different RPG mediums. But thinking more deeply one can see that the categories represent all kinds of games, just by changing the terms to suit better other genres you get a concise overview of the types.

    Kudos, Dragonchaser!

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