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A long and bloody history...
It's been more than ten years now since the release of Ultima Online, and developers are still struggling to solve problems that first became apparent back then. Few have tried to replicate the open PvP of that game's early version, as it inevitably leads to so many abuses. As a way to get around it, developers have largely sought to encourage fair competition to prevent players from acting out abusive situations that lead players to quit their games.
The chief method that they use to keep things simple is segregation. Just about every game out there uses this method to some degree or another. Whether they separate PvP players and PvE players into different servers or geographical areas, it helps to make sure that people who want to engage in a certain playing style can go to one place, and those who want another can go elsewhere. Making it possible to switch freely between the playing styles gives players more to do as well, so they're less likely to get bored and switch to another game.
The problem of balancing character abilities between PvE and PvP is still a brain-spinning one. Each game has a radically different and largely super-complicated system that's easy to break, with even slight changes. Those troubles often don't even become apparent for months. Player feedback is largely unreliable, as every player has an agenda to promote their own class and to call for other classes to be reduced in power. This makes it so that class balance is constantly shifting, requiring developers to make adjustment after adjustment to make sure that every player feels like they have something to bring to the table no matter what class they happen to play.
Some kind of reward system also helps to encourage players to get involved in PvP. As silly as it sounds, players tend to go after things that boost their character, even if that activity is very boring - like killing the same bunch of monsters millions of times. The reward for PvP in UO was that you could loot the player that you just killed - transferring wealth from one character to another. From the developer's standpoint, this is a rather bad thing - you don't want to alienate one customer to satisfy another. It helps if both players get rewarded from the interaction, with the winner gaining an edge over the loser, without either losing out, to help encourage the players to keep competing against each other.
PvP MMOs also have to compete well compared to their free brethren in the shooter category. Many players just prefer RPG mechanics to twitch-based games, so that certainly helps. The fact that your character is persistent and grows in power over time also helps subscription based competitive MMOs draw in players from other pursuits.
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Play 2 Crush: Quick Links
Play 2 Crush: 6 - MMO Games Development