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.

Arrgh, rats!



Remember that skaven skin cloak code that Mythic were giving out to people who came to check out the WAR demo at Games Days across the US? It’s not just a pretty cloak. Like the bear hat that is being given with C&C3 the cloak comes with a transformation. And thanks to Aikau and his guild, you can admire it too.

And on a similar note, the chaps from Rock, Paper, Shotgun are kicking off a campaign to have skaven as one of the first expansion races. I have a feeling one of the Mythic guys said they wanted to do this too, so the chances are quite good.