We are discussing this on another forum but I’m curious about opinions here where they are probably more varied.
The problem in question is about open world PvP, warfare, RvR. A context where you fight for your realm along all other players and where what is important is the participation.
This brings to the problem of population balance.
Now, I believe that population balance is a problem and it should be addressed. But not after launch when you go “Oh shit, Alliance outnumbers Horde 4 to 1”, but instead during the conceptual phase and then testing. The goal should be that once released the game will go as near as possible to that ideal balance, and this can only happen if you start to poll players and test the game early on.
That said, the point of this form of RvR is that the difference in numbers IS the core of the game. The moment you lock numbers on either side (as when you instance a zone and only allow 20 players on each team) you lose world PvP/RvR and get something entirely different. Some call this “sport”. So this kind of variable numbers IS the game.
My opinion is that this difference in numbers is the whole point of this form of PvP and so it should not be removed (if not in the conceptual phase, as I wrote above). It’s the whole motivation you have: “fight for your realm or watch it fall”. Moreover it builds the community and makes hardcores play along and coordinate with casual players. Not one against the other, but together against the enemy.
“Everyone can join and everyone is useful” is also part of my “inclusive processes” ideal that is the point and strength of a mmorpg from my point of view. Opposed to “exclusion processes” where players are “selected”. Some are allowed in, some are excluded and suck it up (raiding in WoW is a selective process for example - inner competition). Games should “teach” to bring people in, to include, give reasons to participate. Not ignore and outcast each other.
One of the mistakes in the current form of RvR in games like DAoC is that the devs have designed it assuming an ideal balance between the three realms. While we know that this ideal balance is never realized.
My conclusion following that line of thoughts is that continuing to fight the “numbers unbalance” isn’t an effective practice. And locking numbers on either side isn’t a solution as it leads to a completely different form of PvP that loses most if not all the qualities of RvR (after all historic battles were never balanced and there was always the principle of: grab a pitchfork and fight together). Real war is a collaborative effort and this is something strong and compelling to reproduce in a game.
How to address these problems and still make this kind of RvR fun and exciting?
My idea is that when you have asymmetric PvP, then you must make it correspond an asymmetric objective-based system. Instead of giving the same objectives to all the factions, you dynamically adjust these objectives based on the current situation.
An example I was making in the other forum is about a siege to a castle. If you are defending and outnumbered you would know the castle is lost and you would just feed points to the enemy. This is frustrating and you may just decide to /quit.
What if instead the objective was adjusted to the situation. In this case of this siege instead of earning points from direct-kills, the defenders would get points depending on how long they resist the siege. The more they resist, the more points they earn when the castle will ultimately fall in the enemy’s hands.
A war could then be segmented into a number of phases. So that no matter of the situation, you would always have an objective that is viable and that keeps the action flowing, instead of dragging you to a dead end and leaving you to just stare or die repeatedly without any hope to change the outcome of a battle.
The problem is to be aware that this kind of world-PvP/RvR is bound to that variation of numbers. It’s part of the model. So once we know that we can finally start to design the game around it and try to make the game always fun no matter of the situation.
At the end the real question is: what we could have now if RvR had received in the years the same focus and numbers of reiterations that went into PvE?