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Gameplay where players as individuals are in active conflict with each other.

One of the most common ways of creating challenges for players is to make them play against other players. Somewhat surprising, this has been so common in games that no term has been needed for this, instead concepts such as team-based or cooperation games have been introduced. It was first with the advent of massively multiplayer online games that a need to distinguish between combat against the other players and against the "environment" was needed, and the terms PvP ("player versus player") and PvE ("player versus environment") was coined.

Note: PvP began being used as a concept to describe optional gameplay in massively multiplayer online games. While this means that PvP has assumptions of being optional and being combat-related, this pattern describes the concept based only around the core definition.


The concept of PvP gameplay originated in Massively Multiplayer Online Games such as Kingdoms, Ultima Online, and World of Warcraft. How much these focus on PvP naturally varies, see Eve Online and Genocide for examples of games that heavily focus upon PvP.

Other games where it is easy to perceive players as fighting each other include those where they control avatars or characters locked in some violent conflict. Examples of such games include First-Person Shooters such as the Doom and Team Fortress series, Real-Time Strategy Games such as the Defense of the Ancients series and Travian. Multiplayer version of Diablo II also has PvP, as can the games Assassin and Paranoia.

Wikipedia[1] and GiantBomb[2] have pages dedicated to the concept of PvP.

Using the pattern

The concept of PvP began being used to differentiate different types of Combat in Massively Multiplayer Online Games. For obvious reasons, PvP is an option for Multiplayer Games rather than Single-Player Games. It requires players to be in some type of confrontation or Conflicts against each other where Combat is the typically case. However, one could argue games with Races or where players have the option of Betrayal could be a form of PvP. In its use in Massively Multiplayer Online Games, PvP has connotations of providing Optional Goals and causing Player Killing. In some games, the gameplay structure avoids promoting PvP until later phases, e.g Extermination. However, from the description of this pattern these effects depend on the underlying patterns that determine the actual gameplay activities that create the pattern. Tiebreakers may be required to determine winners of Overcome goals unless Tied Results are to be possible. If gameplay can continue without some players, this may make the players Always Vulnerable.

The use of PvP in any game opens up for considering using Player Balance to equalize the playing field if the players are expected to have different levels of Gameplay Mastery. Patterns that can work for Player Balance in games with PvP include Balancing Effects, Drafting, Evolving Rule Sets, Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, Handicap Systems, Killcams,Orthogonal Differentiation, Sanctioned Cheating, Self-Facilitated Games, Symmetry, and Team Development (although only small errors in design may make Orthogonal Differentiation and Team Development work against it instead). Games with PvP gameplay that have Sanctioned Cheating often require players to engage in Bluffing and Roleplaying to succeed with the Stealth goals of not letting other players notice what they are doing. This can cause Tension both for those trying to hide something and to those (perhaps wrongfully) believing this is taking place.

PvP and PvE can co-exist in games although most games have gameplay tilted more toward one or the other. In fact, for their everyday usage it has been argued that PvP requires PvE as a contrast[3]. Even so, games designed primarily for one or the other can in most cases be modulated by the other. Defense of the Ancients and The Republic of Rome are examples of games with mainly PvP gameplay but with some PvE aspects.

On a basic level, PvP works against Cooperation, but these patterns can be combined rather easily through, for example with Teams to create TvT gameplay. Cooperation can also occur spontaneously in PvP gameplay if opportunities to Beat the Leader exist.

In games with Unmediated Social Interaction, Backseat Gamers typically do not work well with PvP gameplay. This since the extra help can seem to disrupt Player Balance and that the Backseat Gamer may have information that the playing opponent may not have.


While the specific actions that create PvP gameplay can have Tension, the pattern itself can also be assumed to create Tension since it pits players against each other. Since meeting better players allows new challenges, games with PvP can typically provide Further Player Improvement Potential as long as some for of skills are needed - i.e. gameplay depends on Performance Uncertainty of all involved players - and players can easily find opponents with better skill levels.


Can Instantiate


with Performance Uncertainty

Further Player Improvement Potential

with Teams


with Balancing Effects, Drafting, Evolving Rule Sets, Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, Handicap Systems, Killcams, Orthogonal Differentiation, Self-Facilitated Games, Symmetry, or Team Development

Player Balance

with Sanctioned Cheating

Bluffing, Player Balance, Roleplaying, Stealth, Tension

Can Modulate

Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Multiplayer Games, PvE

Can Be Instantiated By

Betrayal, Combat, Conflicts, Extermination

Can Be Modulated By

Always Vulnerable, Balancing Effects, Beat the Leader, Drafting, Evolving Rule Sets, Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, Handicap Systems, Killcams, Orthogonal Differentiation, Player Balance, PvE, Sanctioned Cheating, Self-Facilitated Games, Symmetry, Team Development, Teams, Tiebreakers

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Cooperation, Single-Player Games

Backseat Gamers in games with Unmediated Social Interaction


New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. Wikipedia entry for PvP.
  2. Page on the GiantBomb web site for PvP.
  3. Bartle, R. (2003). Designing Virtual Worlds. New Riders. pp. 407. ISBN 0-1310-1816-7.


Karl Bergström