Are bad factions more popular?

Every time a new game launches which has more than one faction, where one is identified as ‘the good guys’ and the other as ‘the other guys’ we end up wondering whether players in general prefer to play as good or evil.

In WoW, the Horde vastly outnumbered Alliance on PvP servers at the start, and still does. In WAR, Destruction vastly outnumbered Order on all servers at the beginning. A friend who plays Aion noted that Asmodian seemed more popular than Elyos on all the servers he checked recently.

The population balance isn’t always for the same reason. In WoW Horde really did have better PvP racials and classes (shaman) at the start. Destruction always looked much cooler than Order in WAR. When I took a look at the Aion beta, my first reaction was that Asmodeans looked cooler than Elyos too and I thought most people would prefer them.

So I see a few common points:

  1. Designers find it easier to make the evil factions look cool (where cool is some combination of look and styling that appeals to gamers). How a character looks is probably the single strongest reason for a gamer to pick it initially.
  2. Tied to #1, evil factions often have a backstory that primes them as being very tough and badass. Instead of heroes, they are portrayed as anti-heroes to make them more powerful as enemies. The bad guys also often have more interesting stories in general – is it just easier to write lore about evil or savage races?
  3. ‘Evil’ factions follow a morality that supports how gamers play (i.e. go out and commit mass slaughter and looting). They have more ‘fun’.  So many gamers find it easier to relate to them. This is one of the reasons a lot of PvP type players are drawn to the bad boys in game.
  4. Even though many games had a majority of the evil faction at the beginning, this often balances out later. There are lots of reasons for this. Some are natural balancing factors, others are devs rebalancing to lure people to the weaker faction. One of the big balancing factors in a PvP game is that the less played faction gets more fights. Either because there is a battleground mechanic that limits how many of each side can play, or in an open world game, they’re just more likely to encounter enemies when they go roaming.

Frank@Overly Positive reminded me about this with a post about faction balance in Star Wars. Fans on the SW:TOR forums are complaining that Bioware is making the Sith seem too cool. I think the fans have lost it – Star Wars has some of the most badass good guys in cinema. The Sith have to be very cool indeed to lure players who planned to be Han Solo over to their side. And if Bioware’s game is going to rely heavily on balanced PvP then there need to at least be some Sith in game.

Star Trek is going to have similar problems. All the films and TV series are about the Federation. So how to lure people into playing enough of the ‘bad guys’ that there’s going to be some people for the good guys to fight.

Some of this will be resolved by hardcore players deciding that only pansies want to be Han Solo et al and again picking the side that is likely to be less numerous because it’ll give more PvP and a badass demeanor. And even if PvP in these games winds up matching the numbers of the more popular good side against the hardcore badassness of the bad side, at least that’s atmospheric.

No, the problem comes a few months down the line when the hardcore guys are winning enough of the fights that lots of other people join them. At that point, the side that was less numerous at the start ends up being more more hardcore and more numerous. Some of the hardcore switch sides, and the cycle begins again.

Do you feel drawn towards playing the bad boy antiheroes? Like the goth Asmodean styling? Does it make a difference whether it’s a heavily PvP game or not?

How to be Horde

We were talking yesterday about what it means to be Horde (and indeed, if it means anything at all). So in the spirit of the recently announced paid faction changes, here’s a list of things to do in game if you want to feel like a real old school Hordeling.

(Feel free to add more suggestions, I’ll add them to the list with an attribution.)

  1. Find Mankrik’s wife.
  2. Kill Ragnaros or Onyxia with no paladins in the raid.
  3. Kill someone with a pumpkin.
  4. Fall off Thunder Bluff.
  5. Fall off the lift in the Undercity.
  6. Fall off the Great Lift in the Barrens (you’ll notice a running theme here).
  7. Visit every Horde settlement. Including the hidden troll one in Stonetalon.
  8. Win three battlegrounds in a row, in PUGs. (Linedan notes that this depends on your battlegroup.)
  9. Get killed by a Son of Arugal in Silverpine
  10. Run from Hammerfall to Kargath
  11. Listen to Sylvanas sing (the blues)
  12. Defend The Crossroads from Alliance attack
  13. Don’t fall off the Aldor tier or the lift in Warsong Hold (by the time you get to those places, you should have enough experience to know better)
  14. Do the Mag’har quest chain in Hellfire Peninsula.
  15. Do the Greatmother chain in Nagrand.
  16. Get the For the Horde! achievement by joining a raid to kill all the alliance leaders.
  17. See Wrathgate from the Horde perspective. (Wonder if this will be possible for anyone who does a paid faction change, they’ll have to sort out the phasing.)
  18. (or 17a) At the Wrath Gate, realise that the blight that is raining down on people’s heads is the same thing you have been helping the Royal Apothecary Society to make *since you were level five* (Temitope)
  19. Rescue lots of foolish tauren princesses (moocows may be cute but they’re always the ones who get themselves kidnapped when there’s an escort quest to do -– I think the alliance equivalent is night elf women)
  20. Mock blood elves and/or paladins in trade chat. Bonus marks if you are playing one at the time.
  21. If you are Tauren, get stuck in a doorway somewhere. If not, then get stuck behind a Tauren.
  22. Get your free fishing rod from the Horde-only quest in the Hinterlands.
  23. Noticing that when the quest involves killing humanoids who are not explicitly alliance, they are usually trolls or fel orcs or grimtotem clan tauren, but never “blood gnomes” or “fel elves”. (Gevlon)
  24. If you’re a hunter, tame a Horde-only tamable creature like Echeyakee. (Tesh)
  25. If you’re orc, troll, or Tauren, being Horde means that you can make it 30 or 40 levels before ever seeing a proper inn, or even a chair. (Linedan)
  26. Unleash the Necromancer in Southshore graveyard to go on a rampage of destruction (Stabs)
  27. Smugly watch Alliance try to invade Tarren Mill, only to then become overwhelmed by the zerg-like spawn of your deathguards. That’ll teach ‘em! (Jennifer)
  28. Let’s not forget falling off the lift in Warsong Hold… or falling off the cliff near Bloodvenom Post (Sharon)
  29. Accidentally crossing the Bulwark as a lvl 10 and lower, because you’re curious what’s on the other side. (Tim)
  30. Find Rexxar somewhere in Stonetalon Mountains, Desolace and Feralas while doing your Onyxia chain. (Bethryn)

There’s a lot of very good Horde-flavoured quest content in Northrend also, so it’s hard to pick out any specific questlines. The Conquest Hold (in Grizzly Hills) and Vengeance Landing quests are particularly good in this respect.

One thing I  noticed after writing this list out is how strong the faction flavour really is in the new expansion. (I’m quite looking forwards to checking out the Alliance side.) And the other is how much I think that specific quests are important to the storytelling — even though the real core of the experience is having spent time mixing with the rest of the Horde through however many levels and knowing all the familiar names, guilds, and chatter.