The first MMO I played, DaoC, didn’t have separate PvE and PvP servers. (I know the US side got full PvP servers later on but they were always something of a curiousity.) But there was plenty of open world PvP. It just meant that some areas were designated for PvP and others weren’t, and there were plenty of incentives to get out there into the battlefield which people generally did with enthusiasm.
Games that included PvP servers back then were specifically for players who wanted all PvP all of the time and everywhere, even in the newbie zones. This tended to result in the classic vanilla WoW PvP experience of teams slaughtering each other outside raid zones as they tried to gather for raid nights. This is usually known as ganking but we have to assume that all the players involved enjoyed it because that was what they signed up to, dammit. (Compare with the DaoC experience where some raids were located inside the realm and others, specifically labelled as PvP raid dungeons, were in the frontier zones. So raid groups could decide if they wanted the chance of a PvP fight on raid night or not.)
I always felt that mixing the PvE and PvP players was generally a good idea, and encouraged people to experiment with different playing styles, but that all PvP everywhere was something better suited to some specific games than others.
Anyhow, this is a long rambling introduction to a graph posted at mmo-champion today – I’m talking about the third graph down which plots Nr Characters vs Honor Kills by realm type. ie. does more PvP actually go on in PvP realms than PvE realms? The answer is that it’s only really noticeable statistically on the lower end of PvP enthusiasm. Hardcore PvP players get most of their kills in battlegrounds, not in open world PvP, and they’re only very slightly more likely to be on PvP as PvE servers. The numbers can be a bit misleading – world PvP can be significant without being responsible for huge numbers of kills, but I think it shows how the WoW experience is getting increasingly instanced so that it makes less and less difference which type of server you pick.
These days, you’d have to be a noodle to pick a PvP server to level on for the world PvP experience, and I suspect most people pick them because they either feel that PvP server players are more competitive/ hardcore/ likely to have more successful PvE also, or they have friends there. The fact that you can transfer to a PvP server from a PvE server (which originally was not the case) has also diluted the idea of the pure PvP server player who was something of a hardcore badass frontiersman who levelled several characters through the Vietnam of Stranglethorn etc etc
I seem to see more people saying ‘I didn’t really want to pick a PvP server but ….’ than grinning gankers, but who knows? I think the DaoC model really had a lot more to recommend it, at least we all played together more or less and people settled on the type of play they preferred but with constant opportunities to mix it up. And it’s not a million miles away from EVE, which seems to be travelling towards making the newbie areas safer and leaving the 0.0 areas free for all — I don’t think hardcore players need to fret about this, the real hardcore PvP was never played out in newbie zones anyway.