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[Crowfall] Sweet Summer Child

In the comments yesterday, Scree disagreed with my prediction that Crowfall will have a major “3rd/4th/Nth Faction” problem, saying:

Further, players aren’t going to “give up” as the world draws to a close. In fact, your likely to see just the opposite based on Crowfalls Kickstarter Update #6 which indicates the materials you’ve gathered during the campaign… only a percentage of these transfer over to your Eternal Kingdom. That percentage is based on how you did during the campaign. You want to give up because 3 days are left? No problem, I’ll be happy to move up in the rankings and get more loot.

Oh my sweet summer child.

According to the Kickstarter, the most generous map type allows you to keep 30% of your scavenged goods upon a loss. In the next best world-type, there are 6-12 factions with (presumably) only one winner; the rest are stuck with 25% goods, maximum. It gets worse for the losers from there.

In fact, given how you need to physically haul your loot to the “Embargo area” to bank them – and the Devs even point out how nice of an ambush spot this is, implying either full or partial looting of your corpse – it might be that the winning side simply camps that area too and you are left with whatever you can squirrel away at 3am on a Tuesday. The kicker is that right now the Devs are saying that what loot gets saved at the end is actually random:

Do I have any control over which item(s) are kept and which item(s) are lost from my Embargo? 

Maybe. Right now our design is simple: we will randomly select which item(s) and materials will be released and which item(s) and materials will be lost. We could certainly change this design later, to give preferential treatment to certain items based on rarity, size, value or player preference.

Spoiler alert: that’s a terrible idea and will be changed.

The “fix” Scree mentioned in the Kickstarter update is that these percentages are scaled based on your personal performance in the overall battle, including either time spent or when you entered the map (it’s not clear which). This does indeed prevent or at least discourage people from being able to hop into a winning map that is almost over and reap the higher rewards.

However, it does nothing at all in encouraging people to continue playing a losing match.

Basically all games.

Basically all games.

The problem is simple: opportunity cost. Scree indicates he/she would be fine with me dropping out, as that would make his/her rank go up in the process. But who is really going to be fighting tooth-and-nail for the maximum value of the 25% pie? That would be crazy, especially if I could earn 35% by half-assing a winning map.

There are really no good solutions to this problem, and plenty of ways to make the problem worse. And Crowfall seems poised to do exactly that. For example:

1) Make it easy to hop in/out of maps.

The easier it is to exit a losing map, the more people will do so. As near as I can tell, Crowfall does lock you into a Campaign when you zone into one. I have been unable to quite tell what exactly that means though. Are you locked into that particular map type, but can go elsewhere? As in, can you go into a God’s Reach map and also a The Shadow map? Or are you locked totally down, such that your character ain’t going nowhere for the next three months? The latter might seem the most logical, but take a moment to really absorb what that potentially means to your day-to-day gameplay. You could be stuck in a shitty strategic situation and/or gametype for nearly a quarter of a year, grinding away for that 30% payout months from now. How excited are you for that?

Don’t worry too much though, because the concept of alts lets you easily bypass the restrictions and bail out of the failboat. Is your main doing poorly? Hop on to whichever of your two alts are doing better. Indeed, there is no rational reason to even have a main, considering:

2) Make loot Account-Bound.

This is actually the current Crowfall design. With the resources you gather in these maps being Account-Bound, it actively encourages you to cheese the system via alts as much as possible. It would be dumb to fight hard in a losing battle on your main if you could sail to an easy win on an alt – all loot goes into the same pile at the end, which means your main will benefit just the same.

I’m honestly shocked that Crowfall is heading down this route, especially given how prevalent the alt issue is in other games. I don’t normally believe conspiracy theories, but it’s hard to argue against the notion the Devs are doing this precisely to sell more subscriptions (for the multiple character passive skill gains) by making alt-hopping the best way to play. Put all three character slots into three different maps and play enough on each to get some middling reward, or extra hard on whichever map is a winner. If you have a subscription, you lose zero progress on any character by playing this way.

So what are some potential fixes? Well… there’s not many due to the nature of Crowfall’s design. Alt-hopping isn’t much of an issue in games like EVE and Darkfall precisely because the world is persistent and corps/guilds will likely vet your character to prevent spies. Then again, most EVE players have multiple accounts in the first place, so… maybe not the best example. People drop out of short-lived BGs in other MMOs all the time (and are punished by timers), but since the rewards are tied to the character, there’s not much of a point to switch to alts; switching factions for a win isn’t possible because you’ll never get back into that specific BG anyway.

Crowfall’s uniqueness is this regard presents a uniquely difficult problem.

What is realistically going to need to happen is for the losing (or even just disadvantaged) side to be rewarded with something else. Someone in EVE might fight for pride or survival, but Crowfall’s worlds are temporary. Someone in WoW might realize it’s faster to stick out a lopsided WSG match than the Deserter timer, but Crowfall’s fail states could last weeks. The people making a protracted, futile last stand in Crowfall need to be earning either bonus XP or skill points or perhaps another currency akin to Honor to make their time losing worthwhile.

Otherwise we might just see an emergent, Tol Barad win-trading situation all over again.

Siren Song of the Crown

God damned Crown.

For those not in the know, The Crown in PlanetSide 2 is one of the most insidiously designed base complexes in the history of gaming. You can read an evocative rendition of its many contours on here. While it is prominently located in the center of the default log-in map, The Crown has exceedingly little strategic value.

It’s psychological value however, is another story.

Pictured: What happens on any day ending with a "Y."

Pictured: the Red team clearly winning.

I can easily log into Ps2, look at the map, and spend my entire playtime bleeding my way up Hamburger Hill. While it is almost always a futile endeavor attempting to take The Crown, you end up getting enough miscellaneous kills that it is almost worth your time slogging through all the anonymous damage. Of course, the only times that my boots are on the ground is when I’m waiting out the timer on my ESF (Empire Specific Fighter) – otherwise, I am doing increasingly bold strafing runs on The Crown defenders. Because, hey, I know people are there.

All this said though, I can definitely sympathize with those saying The Crown is bad for the game. Every quixotic minute I spend tilting at the royal bloody windmill is a minute every other base on the map (let alone the other two continents) goes uncontested. For however much fun I feel getting an especially juicy kill streak against entrenched defenders, I inevitably feel empty at the end of the play session. There is no lasting metagame in Ps2, no real personal gain in capping bases… but some measure of fake progress is better than logging out two hours later knowing you achieved nothing. Even failed last stands at Tech Bases prove more satisfying than the Crown meatgrinder; at least with the former, you get the ability to be annoying.

Part of the problem, I think, is how little it is communicated where the action might be. When I log into Ps2, I want to shoot things. While there are Instant Action buttons, hexes that flash to indicate enemy presence, and flashes of blue/red to show heated exchanges of fire, more often than not it is ephemeral. You cannot just respawn anywhere – it is proximity-based – which means the Instant Action buttons and their 15 minute cooldown must be reserved for movement. Even when you do land somewhere where fighting is taking place, it’s likely in the middle of a rout (for either side).

A lot of game design time is dedicated to the notion of “stopping points,” and there is no better example of one than a successful (!) base capture in Ps2. Unless you are already in an Outfit or part of some larger convoy of tanks, momentum has a way of grinding to a halt in the face of the immense travel distances. You can always build an ATV at every base to get around more quickly… but go where? There is nothing worse than assaulting an empty base other than, perhaps, absurdly defending an empty base.

And so… The Crown.

As perhaps a related aside, this particular issue might be one of server population. In this sense, The Crown is not a cause, but rather a symptom. I bring this up because John Smedley actually came out and said that Server Merges were coming before Server Transfers:

Server merges soon. Info coming by Monday. No server transfers coming till after that’s done. Wouldn’t be right doing it other way around

If only Blizzard were more concerned about the player experience on no-pop realms than gouging the refugees. Alas.