Everything changes in a free-for-all (FFA), where back stabs and impromptu alliances are normal. At any given moment, all other players in a FFA can be against you. The only thing that keeps these games manageable is that these players are also against everyone else. Many competitive gamers stay far away from FFA games. Understanding why is not as simple as it may seem.
As difficult as it is to work in a team of players with independent hearts, minds, and egos, a FFA is just as complicated, except each player vies for an independent goal. Recall the article I wrote in which I explain how multiple goals complicate the value scale with which we evaluate our actions. To recap, it's hard to compare two strategies that aim for two different goals. Since all goals achieve a win absolutely, a bad strategy for achieving one goal may be great to achieve a second goal. Likewise, the rules of a FFA game land somewhere between singular and multiple goals.
Think about it this way, in match of 2 counter forces (whether 1v1 or team v team) everything that one side does to win directly works against the other side. Every mistake one side makes directly helps the other. But in a FFA, this simple, linear value scale gets complicated. In a 4-for-all (a FFA between 4 players) there isn't a winning side and a losing side. Instead, there's the leading player, the last player, and the rest of the players who are somewhere in between. If you're last and you attack the leader, you may improve your standing, lower their score, and possibly help 2nd place rise to the top. As much as you're helping yourself in this situation, you may be helping (or hurting) another player (higher or lower than you) much more. It's all very complicated and situational. And the more players there are in a match the more complicated this evaluation process becomes.
Fully understanding the far reaching effects your actions may have on all players' success is immensely complex. So many FFA gamers keep things simple. If they're losing, they'll do whatever it takes to gain advantages including teaming up. The making and breaking of alliances in a free-for-all (whether announced or secretive) is referred to as politics.
A FFA is a game type where all players are in it to win it for themselves. But without even being fully aware of it, players in a FFA never work against each other equally. Revenge, spite, fear, and many other emotions can influence a player to play to or away from another player. Maybe one player is really good, so naturally you avoid him/her to avoid dying. Maybe one player is really bad, so you gravitate toward them for easy points.
What's important to understand is that there's an inherent freedom of choice in a free-for-all game that allows for the human dynamics to work in a dramatic way. If you can only use your DKART skills to win and other players can team up to use their DKART and team skills to win, you're at a significant disadvantage. When the control a player has using their DKART is much less than than the control of the FFA-human-dynamic system, the game system breaks down. In these cases, victors are often determined by factors outside of any one player's skill whether by chance or the mob consciousness.
- FFAs work smoothly when all players make all decisions independently in order to gain individual advantages and eventually achieve victory. If players cannot easily communicate and if players have a hard time identifying each other, the smooth play is more easily maintained.
- FFA systems are greatly stressed when players use their freedom to play politics. Those who don't team up can suffer great disadvantages.
- And FFAs can utterly fail when one or more players work against a single player regardless if it gives them any kind of advantage. In other words, playing just to make a specific player lose. Take this idea to an extreme level, and you have another form of griefing.
This is supposed to be a FFA.
At the end of the day, the same freedom that all gamers have to play to win, play to lose, or express themselves becomes a complex and potentially powerful force in a FFA game because of the human dynamic. This force is strong enough to sporadically shift the balance of the skill spectrum as well as virtually remove agency from a player. Though some gamers like to play with "honor," if honor isn't a gameplay mechanic/feature/dynamic then all is fair on the battle field.