Skill Punishment

I continue to play Clash Royale on my work breaks, and often inbetween games while at home. On the ladder, the start of the Challenger 1 tier is at 4000 trophies, and I fluctuate between that and about 4200. The next tier up requires 4300, but the end-of-season rewards aren’t that much better, especially for the nonsense that one has to put up with on the ladder. Specifically, players with less skill but higher-level cards they got either from grinding one specific deck, or using cash.

Usually the latter, honestly.

The problem – or, rather, Supercell’s money-making feature – is that new cards come out about once a month. Sometimes the card is OP, sometimes it’s junk, sometimes it just makes the gameplay more interesting. Trouble is, my skill level is such that I am actively punished for changing my deck.

This high in the ladder, anything less than a level 11 common or level 9 rare card is mostly garbage, with only a few exceptions. New cards come out at level 1, and require you to both collect the necessary amount of cards (which is not a given) and the necessary amount of gold to upgrade the cards. Going from a level 1 to level 11 common costs 35,625g; rares cost about the same, 35,600g, to get to level 9. The cost of upgrades is exponential, with the “hump” between level 10-11 common and level 8-9 rare being 20,000g by itself.

It is not inconceivable to accumulate the 20k gold by normal gameplay within the month, but 35k gold is really pushing it. Nevermind how all the gold is being funneled into upgrading a new card, rather than the cards in the actual deck grinding the gold. The next level tier above 11/9 costs 50,000g, for example, and might be enough to start winning you games that you should have lost. Or you could play with the new cards and probably be rolled.

The latest preview shows that there are 5 new cards to be released, including one Legendary card. Seeing this on my screen after grueling matches between either equally skilled opponents or P2W whales is demoralizing beyond belief. These new cards could be something cool, something to revitalize my flagging interest in the game. But I can’t afford to keep up.

This is absolutely a Red Queen scenario too, because while you might not be upgrading, everyone else is, and that makes your own cards weaker over time. For example, one of my favorite cards is the Furnace, as it spawns little Fire Spirits every 10 seconds; people typically don’t know how to deal with it, and often end up wasting Elixir trying to play around it. Trouble is, if your opponent has a higher level Princess Tower (e.g. one of the towers you need to destroy to win) than your Furnace, the Fire Spirits get one-shot for free versus forcing your opponent to respond or take gradual damage. For this reason, I poured a lot of resources into getting the Furnace to level 9 ASAP. Nowadays, half of my opponents are level 12, which means my Furnace is practically useless. Over time, this is just going to get worse, as more and more people continue leveling up.

Supercell has ways out of this death spiral, although I’m not entirely sure it’s enough. The various tournaments you can play in cap the levels of cards such that everything can be relatively balanced. More recently, they re-introduced the 2v2 mode and allowed you to play it while earning treasure chests and Crowns. The 2v2 mode actually uses your potentially over-leveled cards, but the introduction of a partner and the general chaos of the fights obfuscates the level disparity at worst, and sometimes negates it entirely at best. For the past week, I have opted to fight zero regular ladder games because 2v2 is immensely less frustrating to lose. And even when you do lose, you don’t actually go down in ranks.

That being said, the situation still feels pretty grim. Supercell recently changed the matching algorithms such that you can’t really sandbag your ranking anymore; even if you intentionally drop 500+ ranks, you end up facing other skilled players who have sandbagged themselves too, potentially trapping yourself at lower levels. And while the 2v2 mode is technically here, it also has an apparent time limit. Nevermind the fact that if the 2v2 mode actually sticks around and “resolves” my issue, that means Supercell forgoes the thumbscrew that is the ladder system.

The ideal gamer response seems to be… being mediocre at the game. That way, upgrading cards doesn’t take tens of thousands of gold, and thus you have more free gold to more easily try out newer cards as they are released. Plus, you know, you are less likely to be as invested in continuing to play the game, thus less tempted to throw down cash to stay competitive.

Eroding and monetizing every inch of Consumer Surplus has always been the end-goal for these companies, but more and more I am understanding exactly how malicious it ends up feeling.

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Posted on June 16, 2017, in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. If you get to the next step in progression, lvl 12-13 commons,10-11 rares, 6+ epics, new cards aren’t a factor, since no one but whales (which I find are rare around 4400) will play them. Eventually you will start seeing them, but the delay is pretty significant (I’ve only recently started seeing 12-13 goblin gangs, and they just got nerfed). Another ‘bonus’ is that once you are at that level, one card level isn’t major, and almost everyone is level 12, so towers are equal as well. The only card surprise now for me is a level 4 legendary, or a level 8 epic, and those honestly aren’t that big a deal.

    Furnace will always have its problem until you max it. It’s just a poor ladder card, but works decently in tourneys.

    But to your larger point, ladder is what it is. When ladder was all the game had, it was a major issue. Now, if you really hate that mode because of card levels or whatnot, you have plenty of other options. 2v2 is the newest, but they also have the frequent feature tourneys, along with the always-available 10 gem one (which if you get good at, really pushes your card/gold totals up).

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    • Ha, pushing Goblin Gang to level 12 was actually one of the first things I did when that card came out. Well, I had to push to 12 specifically so that the stab goblins would survive a high-level Zap, but it’s still my most-played card even after the more recent nerf. A tank and eBarb counter for 3 elixir that can almost almost take a tower by itself? Doesn’t get much better, even with omnipresent Logs.

      In any case, the very fact that you don’t see new cards in my bracket is a big part of the problem. I can’t use most of the new cards because I can’t afford to, both in terms of gold and their vulnerability to overleveled counters. Which means I end up facing endless streams of the same decks, which I have to try and play around with the same deck I originally invested in. It leads to an extremely stale meta, even if new cards are shaking up things below and above my bracket. Games play out the same, and my interest is waning. Meanwhile, shit was very exciting back in the 2000-3000 range when cracking open a few Epics could change your (ladder) life.

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      • I run log on both accounts so I love facing goblin gang.

        Ladder for me isn’t about card testing or seeing new stuff, all the other modes are for that. Ladder for me is improving my use and understanding of 8 cards against all others, because there is a surprising amount of depth to the game at high levels, down to the miliseconds you do or don’t drop a certain card to predict the counter-drop.

        Like I originally said, if CR was just ladder, I’d be bored. as just a part, I’m ok with the current state of ladder, especially now with the end-of-season chest motivation.

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