Popularity vs Population

As I write this, the game has been live for exactly a fortnight. In those two weeks, many elves have been slaughtered (1000 by me alone, apparently), many seeds have been sown, many keeps have fallen, many guilds and alliances have been created, and the paths around Nordenwatch have probably been haunting the dreams of tens of thousands of people. It’s been great!

And Destruction outnumbers Order on pretty much every single server, both EU and US/Oz. We knew by the end of closed beta that this was a possibility. All the surveys backed it up. But we didn’t know for sure how much of an issue it was going to be. In a sense we still don’t — the majority of players who started at the outset are not yet into Tier 4 so balance in the endgame is still something of an enigma.

It certainly hasn’t stopped people from having fun and levelling characters. Order has way fewer queues and shorter waits for scenarios on average. We’ve been able to take keeps and hold them- then they get retaken. Tier 3 on Burlok has been pretty solidly in Destruction hands all week, for example. But we’re still levelling (mostly) and when people are struggling through the windswept tundra of their 20s towards the heady climes of Tier 4, they won’t always want to take time off for keep take operations.

I’m expecting that we’ll usually be able to take keeps when we want to, assuming we can put some kind of organised force together. But it will be an uphill struggle to hold them for any length of time, especially if Destruction is bored and spoiling for a fight. As Order, we can get fights pretty much whenever we like; we set the terms on which PvP is played. If we don’t go out into world PvP then there simply won’t be any.

And in the endgame, Tier 3 and Tier 4 keeps both contribute towards being able to ‘lock down’ the zones. What we don’t know yet is how difficult it will be for an outnumbered side to be able to do this. In a few weeks time, we’ll know if any Order teams have been able to stage a city siege themselves. Certainly it’s an uphill struggle when the numbers are against you. But certainly I know that I intend to siege The Inevitable City, alongside my guild and alliance and friends. I don’t entirely know how yet but I know that we will find a way to do it.

In the worst case, if there are servers where Destruction constantly knocks Altdorf over and Order never get a chance to regroup, then people will get demoralised and leave or swap sides. This is one of the big balancing points with PvP in general. You want to win. But unless you are a griefer you don’t want your opponents to actually throw in the towel and quit. And if people feel like they have no chance, a lot of them will decide not to bother.

So what can be done?

The main thing is that the Order players need to feel that they have a chance. You can do a lot with a ball of string, a couple of warrior priests, a keg of ale, and hope.

Some of this comes down to the players. It’s down to us to forge strong alliances, sort ourselves out, and make sure people know that our faction/server is welcoming to new players, well organised, and has a lot going on. And to keep our spirits high and keep trying. Nothing is inevitable.

Some of it comes down to Mythic. The underpopulated side will need tougher NPCs and tougher keep defences, especially on the fortresses, to make up for the lack of numbers. They’ll need to fix this anyhow after the Karak Eight Peaks city siege this week, and I’m expecting to see some kind of announcement from them on the subject soon. Unlike Tobold, I don’t like the idea of forcibly eliminating alarm clock raids. If raid leaders can muster 40 players who are willing to get up at stupid o’clock to play a game, good luck to them. I wouldn’t do it, but the servers are up 24/7 so it’s fair play. It’s important to a lot of players that we have the illusion of free will, so if we think of a (non exploiting) tactic, we’re able to try it out.

So what can you do without restricting player choice?

The population issues in WAR remind me that this style of game relies entirely on player preference to sort out the numbers of classes and sides. We had these discussions months ago about the lack of tanks in WoW. Without a mechanic to encourage or enforce people to play under-represented roles or sides, these imbalances can and do happen. Over time, it’s assumed that players will tend to balance things out. But what if they don’t?

The trouble for Mythic is that in this case, it’s mostly to do with the look and feel of the sides which is something they don’t have a lot of control over. Was it crazy not to have at least one big and imposing tank on the Order side? In retrospect yes, but there’s a limit to what you can do within the IP. I know people have suggested that bringing back the Knight of the Blazing Sun as an Empire tank would help but have you seen those guys? (The first quest giver in the Empire starter zone is a knight if you want to check an NPC out.) Yes they have plate armour. Yes they also have fwoofy feathers in their hats. They aren’t big ugly lumps of meat like the Black Orc and Chaos Chosen. They were never all that popular in beta polls and I don’t think that people would find them very imposing now. They look great, I’d love to see them back, but I don’t think it would miraculously get large numbers of people on-side.

Dwarf slayers would be a better enticement. They’re iconic and loads of people love playing hit-it-with-an-axe-until-it-stops-moving melee classes. It might even be possible to add the Order classes in but not the Destruction ones. That wouldn’t really affect balance, Destruction already has its aura tank and a few extra melee here or there would only counterbalance the tank-tastic armies that Destruction likes to send out (ie. the counter classes for any new melee are already present in large numbers).

I think Mythic are right to take a hands off approach. This is a genre that thrives on the illusion of player freedom. People like to play what they like, where they like, when they like. People get attached to their characters. Forcing anyone to play anything is a sure way to piss off the player base. But they also can’t conjure new players from nowhere.

It’s also key to the game that the classes and PvP are balanced for each other. There has to be no question of making the Order classes more powerful in order to make them more appealing. It would work, but it would totally undermine the game. Besides which, we don’t want to storm every scenario because of imbalances. We want good fights too.

Inducements for people to play Order might work, as long as they don’t affect PvP balance. Levelling and renown boosts aren’t really needed at the moment, but they probably would be the easiest way to encourage new players to give the realm a look. A better way to balance would be to reward Destruction players who switch to Order alts; it’s a very tough sell but people who were considering the idea anyway might be open to it.

We won’t really know how this will work out for a few more weeks yet. And it’s down to the Order players to try to pull together on their servers even with a numbers disadvantage. It is our game to lose. But you have to wonder whether a balanced MMO PvP game can ever really work when you give players total freedom to pick what they play.

Adding Skaven as a Destruction race in an expansion could deal a deathblow to Order. Unless they could be added as a third side …  maybe that’s where the longterm answer will lie.

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9 Responses

  1. With the number of people who want to play Skaven, I agree that adding the race would cause serious population issues to an already imbalanced situation. If you want to boost Order’s population by adding a new race/faction, then look no further than the Brettonians. People would swarm to play Lancelot, Nimue, or Robin Hood knock-offs.

    However, I don’t see a new race coming into play on either side for quite a while. Adding an Empire knight class, and a dwarf melee DPS class (the Trollslayer would bring in more people than the Hammerer) would attract a few more people to Order.

  2. I’m playing Order at the moment and am trying my best to make it home however I keep getting tempted by Destruction for 2 reasons . . . Black Orcs and Marauders.

    As has been mentioned the lack of an Order tank class that actually looks like it means business is definitely hurting the population balance, as is the lack of a suitably bad-ass looking dual wielding melee death machine.

  3. You have a point on the limitation of the IP for the Knights. Yet, they kept them out for a reason so hopefully the Knight will see some changes before it is finally introduced. They do need to look at at least attempting to make them as bad ass as possible within certain reasonable limits. Perhaps shoot more for the Knight in Shining Armor look, but that will probably come with Bretonnia. The bad ass look is probably not possible but striking and impressive at some level is a must.

    I cannot see a third side, even with an underground Skaven, ever working in this game given the way that the zones and sieges are setup. I could, however, see a pairing, mostly underground, between the Skaven and the Lizard men. And the Lizard men would definitely add some cool factor to the order side. It works within the lore and could help balance things though it would be pretty freaky to see some big ass, tanking Lizard man wondering around Altdorf.

    Lizardmen vs Skaven, thats my vote for the first expansion.

  4. I suggested this in the comments on Tobold post but I will mention it again here in the interest of throwing the idea out on the table to see what folks think.

    I completely agree that restricting when raids happen arbitrarily would be a horrible solution. But they could possibly be restricted based on overall activity. Base the restriction on the overall flux of victory points throughout the pairing during the siege by having using the amount of victory points generated to restrict npc reinforcements. In other words, at 3 am, when the population is low for both sides but you have one industrious guild hit a fortress, why should it be difficult for the King to mount an overwhelming defense. The war is not raging significantly anywhere else in the kingdom so he should have lots of resources to throw at the keep. But during peak hours, when the population for you side is high, (and usually similarly high for the other side), the victory points are flying in every zone and the troops are pressed on all sides then the reinforcements for the keep will be slow or non existent. This will encourage sieges to happen naturally at peak hours and it will get lowbies involved in the effort and feel that they are more directly contributing to the capture the the greatest objectives. This is realm vs realm after all so it should take the whole realm’s effort to take at least the fortresses and cities.

    Another recommendation would be to add a delay for locking down successive zones. starting in neutral territory and quickly taking the enemies frontier and then fortress and then city all in a few hours at night should not be possible. Moving the lines back over the course of several days of effort would be far more dramatic and lend to the epic feel of a victory. Of course people have to sleep and work so these objectives taken can’t be allowed to so very easily be taken back by the enemy in the middle of the night so perhaps again the retaking of a zone and its keeps might some how be linked to the overall war effort effecting the reinforcement of NPC defenders. This would give a reasonable chance for people to come back online the next night and be able to pick things back up where they were left. The idea of victory point flux would also make it more important for the sieging army to actively hold and defend the other fortresses during peak hours if they want to maintain the siege on the city.

    Which leads me to my final recommendation. That once the two fortresses are locked down there should be a delay before the doors of the city are busted open and it becomes truly contested. Having vast army sitting just outside the city for a few hours or even a day while the gates are being pounded on would again be very dramatic and could be taken care of War effort style. Basically. all victory points throughout the realm, or only a portion of victory points from uncontrolled regions could contribute to the breaking of the gates. this would give everyone in the realm that sense of “everyone push NOW!” Also, it would tend to push the breaking of the gates to happen somewhere around primetime more often since that will be the time of the greatest generation of victory points. To this you could add some repeatable collection quests. Say the donation of potions, talismans and the ingredients to make them as a why to stock pile defensive points for your city to be used during the siege, making the enemy’s attack take longer to succeed. Again, a great way to get lowbies more directly involved in defense.

    In the end, no matter how the problem is solved. It simply shouldn’t be possible for a single guild or warband to capture a city, or even a fortress, ever. It should, for the most part, take the effort of a whole realm to take the biggest objectives in the game. This is, after all, REALM vs REALM.

  5. It’s a ways off, but I don’t think adding one race to each side will be the answer. As mentioned, though, it seems like it would be intriguing to add another realm. Skaven on their own might not be enough but Skaven and Undead? Probably pretty darn complex to pull off, but it would be fun to see it.

    In the short term, I am thinking that adding classes to Order and not destruction might be the way to go.

  6. I rally don’t understand why people don’t like the Order tanks. Swordmasters are awesome. Sure, at low levels it looks like they wear dresses but by late T1 you can get metal armors and who doesn’t like a sword as tall as you are.

    Plus, as least in my experience, we destroy chosen, who look pretty generic IMO.

  7. An extreme measure would be to make Ogres the tank for Empire. That would be very cool, scary and you could fit them into lore as mercenaries the Empire has hired to combat the sheer overwhelming numbers of chaos. Because in it’s darkest hour the Empire will go to extreme measures to survive.

  8. Troll Slayers are probably Games Workshop’s most iconic dwarf creation, and leaving them out was a big mistake I think. Yes there are massive design issues with them, difficult to give them visual progression for one, but they managed that with Witch Elves. No one cares about Hammerers, not even Mythic.

    The only way I can see a third side being added is if every existing zone got an underground section, but I just don’t see it. There’s a massive population imbalance to overcome adding a faction late in the day. I think they’d have really had to put a third side in right from the start for it to be workable.

    Order will struggle with any expansion pairings. Lizardmen offer us something cool, but are people going to choose them over Skaven? I have to disagree with an earlier poster, Brettonians are dull as ditchwater. Who needs another human faction, especially if the Empire get their knight eventually? You could argue the same about Wood Elves, but at least with them you get Wardancers and perhaps Dryads. I suppose they could stretch things to bring the Tomb Kings in on Order’s side to offer something a bit different, but I’ll lay money on Vampire Counts winning in the popularity stakes if they’re ever pitted against each other.

  9. […] “Popularity vs. Population” @ Book of Grudges – P is on their mind. […]

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