@thomasblair I also want to thank you for the reply, I am sure being on the receiving end of this is never a pleasant minefield to tread. Before I dive into my nerdy dissertation I want to thank everyone at ACE. Even those of you we don't see often, or at all, on the forums. You guys always listen to our feedback and interact with us even when we don't necessarily deserve it.
Personally, I've been playing since the wipe for a total of about 12 hours of playtime. I have a level 21 white vessel I started in, and a level 30 green necromancer to craft better vessels for my guild. I also have a green cleric at level 9 that I am working on for combat.
Socially, I am a guild leader and a Necromancer for a small guild of about 10-15 actives, but we have worked with several guilds much more hardcore and much larger than us. My main job is to enable the other members of my guild to have fun. Crafters, harvesters, PVPers, and people who play the economy are all members of my guild who love how "sharp" those aspects of the game are. I love being able to enable their gameplay -- every time I see a screenshot in our discord that is captioned with "I think this is the best harvest/craft/fight I've ever had" it reminds me of how worth all my effort has been, and how great of a game Crowfall can be sometimes, and how great it can be more frequently with enough work.
I also want to preface this post with the following: I am not going to suggest a single solution in this feedback. Experientially, I find that without a thorough and active dialogue between developer and tester, the tester providing solutions often gets in the way of identifying the root problem with design.
I feel like this is important context for my feedback, so that ACE can understand the number of aspects of the game that I see regularly, and all the different kinds of players I interact with. The vertical progression game loop(s) are fundamentally broken.
Let's talk money first
The amount of gold available in the economy has dropped significantly. A Rank 8 wartribe boss -- the kind of monster that is supposed to drop a lot of gold, drops roughly the same amount of gold that an old Rank 10 monster would. They also take significantly more effort to kill. Even if they did 0 damage to you, the respawn rate and the amount of time it takes to kill them means that even at the game's most generous, it is slower than before and it only gets worse when you use less flattering comparisons (R5s dropping single digit gold). I have to admit I don't know the exact values in your spreadsheets -- how could I -- but I highly doubt farming Rank 10 wartribe bosses are exponentially more profitable than the things I've personally witnessed. I am not just referring to pure coin value, but profit-per-time-unit. I would love to be incorrect.
This on its own is fine. Our guild was using gold to level vessels almost exclusively last campaign (we asked people to get at least to level 10 first before we boosted them the rest of the way) and we were on the favorable side of half a million gold in our coffers. That's probably not OK to do playing as casually as we had. I do think making some adjustment was called for.
However, gold drops on mobs have decreased easily by 50% or more. Some even 80% or even 90%. Wartribes drop a paltry amount of gold considering their comparatively increased difficulty and risk to farm versus the ol' spiders and zombies of yore. This doesn't even account for when spirit banking in-world will be impossible, the risk will increase dramatically.
This compounds with the fact that the need for gold has increased. We get severely diminished value for fighting anything and at increased cost since gear durability has lowered and fights last longer, you now get less profit-per-time-unit from two angles now.
This additionally compounds with the fact that XP requirements have not changed. If we have less gold, and one gold is worth one XP, then XP is now more valuable than before. This is even more of an issue when you consider the way killing monsters works. 50 XP per kill at best. How do I convince a player to buy anything when they are killing a monster for 50 experience (out of the 17,500 they need for their bad vessel) and getting 12-30 gold each? That is assuming they are killing wartribes or zombies. Skinnable enemies are an entirely different problem. If you are not a proficient skinner they are worthless to kill. I killed R9 and R10 spiders for 2 or 3 hours last night and most spiders dropped 1 dust. Sometimes they would drop a sacrifice item I could not use because I was too high level. Because of their high rank we were not equipped well enough to harvest them efficiently. So my reward for each kill was 1 dust and 50 XP. I was rewarded less for work as my character grew powerful enough to fight stronger monsters.
So if it takes 17,500 XP to hit level 30 on a white vessel, and each kill gives 50 XP, then I need 350 kills to hit max. For a lot of that time you will be hitting Rank 5 monsters or below, which means you are getting single digit gold per kill. You'll be lucky to have 500 gold by the time you hit 15. How do I sell anything to this person besides letting them wash their gold by buying sacrifice items for less gold than the XP value? Which, with the 10% tax and the vendor stall upkeep costs, is not even worth my time. If a spider spinneret sacrifices for 40 XP, and a player is taxed 10% on all transactions, I can't sell it for more than 36 gold (and honestly washing gold -> XP for a discount of 1 gold is a waste of their time). I would never justify the cost of the vendor stall with this.
This also compounds with the increased need for gold. 1000 gold for a guard. Why would I ever do that when I can let some other person tank the grind for me? That is just simple game theory there. Guards costing so much gold makes way more sense in Dregs or Guild vs Guild conflicts where the only guild hurt by us not buying guards is ourselves. We also have to spend 900 gold for a pack pig and 3000 gold for a scroll case to make one. That's 3900 gold per mount that needs to be farmed. The player perception for a lot of the things you are asking us to farm is "if I want to be competitive, I need these things because if I I'm one of the have-nots -- I lose. Why risk being the have-not?"
So to summarize this section:
1. Gold is significantly more challenging to get per time unit played.
2. There are new mechanics in the game that increase the need for gold significantly, which becomes even more severe because of #1.
3. Because of #1 and #2, it becomes more difficult to have an economy (nobody has enough money to price items at the minimum value they must be to be profitable)
4. Because of #3, "buy stuff" being the solution to any other aspect of the game becomes more difficult, which further compounds to #1 and #2. I can't buy gear off of a blacksmith if nobody has the money to buy at a high enough price to be profitable, so I need to make my own swords to break on mobs to get gold and now maybe I can afford a sword except now I have no money so I have to break the sword on mobs to get gold etc.
5. Less a total point, but more just a reminder because I think this needs to be reiterated considering how much people are talking about PVE. Crowfall is a PVP sandbox game. Almost all of these points are not considering the risk of dropping your entire inventory on death. How much more destitute will I be when I buy a sword with all my money and almost break it fighting wartribes for gold, only to get ganked and have nothing to show for it? Easy come, easy go.
OK. Now that we've talked money, let's talk progression.
What do I mean by progression? Well it's not exactly an academic definition, but for the sake of this post let's call it the entire sum of power a player can get by actively playing the game. That's resources, gear, scrolls, belt items, disciplines -- the whole shebang. Strangely enough I believe money is a part of progression, but this is about feedback and in order to paint the picture I'm trying to paint money had to be its own category.
Gear is slightly harder to acquire now because of the changes to beneficial harvest. It is less trivial to chain Critical Harvest now. This is fine, I suppose. I have had 2 guild members interested solely in harvesting quit the game because before the wipe we ran out of need for their materials. "Stop giving us blue ore, please for the love of god." We couldn't sell it either. Not to mention how dumb that is -- selling power to our enemies -- though I admit, I certainly did try.
This compounds with the reduced durability on gear. Again on its own, this is perfectly fine. I think I've broken maybe 2 sets of gear since I started playing the game more seriously in mid-December. In my opinion that means durability was too high. However, I also was not spending much time each week in combat. I'm now spending much more time in combat, and the durability is lower, so those two things compound to make gear breaking faster, thus requiring more resources-per-time-unit. This compounds with less value acquired per time unit without considering the durability loss.
I'm only pointing this out because of the way the reduced durability on gear places more stress on other systems. Crowfall is a gear-heavy game. If you do not have the gear to compete, you don't have a chance to compete (and even if you do, players will point to a gear discrepancy as an excuse to why they cannot compete). Thus it is always important to keep an eye on the rate at which players lose and acquire gear.
I'm going to throw scrolls and belt items into the same subsection here because fundamentally they are the same thing in terms of progression in my mind. They are randomly drop items that accomplish three design goals: they provide an abstracted form of repeatable vertical progression for crafters, they provide an abstracted form of wealth for combat characters, and they create wells of player activity which drives PVP. Honestly at its core, this is an excellent feature.
The problem is however that their drop rates are so low that finding one is less "oh sick, a scroll" and more "finally, I've killed 10 bosses and he dropped... a one-use horseshoe scroll? That i have to grind 3000 gold to use?" This is compounded with the generally poor drops on monsters in general. I only feel rewarded for killing high ranking boss wartribes when I get one of these items that rarely drop, and it just reminds me of all the times where all I got was 150 gold, 2 cloth that I can't use because I don't have the bandage book, and a green eyeball I can't use because I don't have the necromancy belt item.
Now that I've spoken about resources, gear, and wartribe drops it's time to talk about disciplines. If I was writing for a living this is where the editor fires me for spending 1855 words before I get to my main point. Disciplines aren't even the core of my thesis, but I believe they are the perfect example of my thesis: the difference in which the developers perceive the game, and the way the player-testers perceive the game.
Disciplines, stages of progression, 'endgame', and player perception
Crowfall breaks when there is nothing to do. I don't think this is a surprise to anybody who is reading this. Players also like being rewarded for doing things, even if the activity is plenty fun in its own right it is also nice to get a shiny. This is why almost every video game has some sort of progression system in it now even if I shake my old-man-cane saying that we used to just play games to have fun in my day. I don't blame ACE one bit for trying to find ways to bring players into the world and playing instead of only logging on for sieges. Not only is it better for the play experience but player retention and concurrency is critical to a healthy ongoing service.
Players also like finishing things. We like hitting max level. We like finishing our builds. We like finding the best thing, or something close enough to the best we call it done. The question is: In the entire progression loop, where do disciplines reside? When should I expect to see my first discipline drop when starting fresh? When should I see my second? You can use the rate at which gold is acquired and spent, and the rate at which different disciplines are found, to create a mathematical model to gauge the amount of time it takes for a player to go from fresh vessel, to max level, to the varying stages of gear, disciplines, wealth, and power. I assume ACE has a very clear idea of the time investment each milestone takes to achieve, at least for the people in the center of the bell curve of probability. The thing is: The players have no idea what that expected progression looks like, they only know what they've seen before.
I think the toughest thing about developing Crowfall is that anybody can drop $50 and play the pre-alpha. Why is that a problem? If Crowfall was only playable as a full retail product nobody would have known how great it was to make disciplines for 1 ore and 1 dust. Having disciplines be this way for so long I don't think completely explains the negative backlash to the changes to disciplines, but they most certainly exacerbate them. "How do I kill through a geared healer without Plague Lord?" or "My Assassin is so gimped without Black Mask and Agent Provocateur", "Blobs are so hard to break up without Force Mage", or "My damage is so limp without Phantom Feints." I get it, even all the way back when disciplines were first introduced ACE said that disciplines weren't going to be that accessible when people were talking about all the crazy combinations they can create.
The thing is, right now, players have no expectation as to how this progression should be besides how it used to be. Every hour I don't get a discipline feels like an hour wasted, since the gold drops are so low and the non-gold drops are so low. My guild has found two disciplines: Naiad and Dryad. I don't even think anybody in our guild wants to use these by the way. Our collective player hour count is probably nearing or already surpassed 200. I can only imagine how disheartening it would have been if they were completely useless disciplines. This would only get worse if majors were locked in when you equip them. Their only value then would be if you could sell them to other players. If you could sell them. See above text about the economy.
This all creates a sense of urgency. Every hour I spend roaming looking for PVP is an hour I could have been farming mobs that maybe will drop a discipline. If mobs only maybe drop a discipline and I only maybe find a player, then every hour I spend roaming looking for PVP is an hour I am falling behind the power curve. Every hour I spend roaming for PVP is an hour my opponents may have found the discipline they needed. Then, three days later, while I am farming disciplines, they are the ones roaming now, having completed their build, and they kill me with the advantages their hard work has delivered them. They take the small amount of items I managed to be lucky enough to get and carry on. It is an arms race that forces everyone to do the most boring thing -- grind until there is nothing left to grind, so you don't risk falling behind the power curve.
So to summarize this section:
1. Acquiring resources, and thus the gear it makes, has been reduced. Gear also lasts less time, and both of these factors combine to less reward per time unit.
2. Wartribes drop non-gold items that are either worthless (actual or perceived value) or drop so rarely that it only reminds you of how many times that item did not drop.
3. Disciplines have all problems brought up in this post so far driven to their extreme.
So where to go from here? Well, I promised I wouldn't offer solutions during this, so I suppose I don't have an answer. In fact, I don't think my feedback in a vacuum is valuable enough to provide them in the first place. All I can hope is that the player base and ACE can read this and it help them develop their own thoughts about the current state of the game. I suppose the only conclusion I have is "I'm sorry I couldn't be less verbose."
I salute you and your epic tale of back capping in the wilds of uncharted and bug riddled Galstor with your band of 2-5 Chaotic Rebels vs the 7 Strong Legion of Balance.
Glory be to all those that contest in the name of Valkyn the 1am circle standing.
I am told that the Dread DarthBunBun, circlestander extrodinare, and his renowned compatriots Phroot the Unnerfed Confessor and Galvia the Sometimes Streaming we're led on a merry chase for some time by one or two outpost backcaps in their Grand Quest for the Screenshot.
May the Great Pann, Hearld of the Pantheon of the Gods forever record these mighty deeds.
Never have so few, 2-5, stood so valiantly against the slightly more than few, 7.
Well done Chaos!
There are SIMPLE fixes you can do today to improve your player experience and still get all of the testing data you need. Please reply here with a +1 to sign the petition!
1) Put any kind of TIMER on the capture of forts (6 hrs, 12 hrs, anything!)
2) Increase siege timers to every 3 days (72 hours)
3) Make outposts useless again. Remove the points attained from them (for now).
We know all of the stuff above works, so let's put it on hold until other systems are in that improve the points mechanics.
Last campaign, players complained about high level Iron scarcity and that seems to have been addressed this campaign. I would like to bring attention to Skinning Mob scarcity, especially Aurochs.
Auroch skinning gives Soft leather. Soft leather is used in all leather crafting sets and in -crit hit chance combat armor. Both are high demand builds.
Aurochs do not spawn in any named parcel like cats and spiders. Cats and Spiders are in abundance because they spawn in high level forests, chasms, etc.. Auroch, Wolves and Elk only spawn in random parcels out in the wild. These are generally lower levels than the named parcels.
Last campaign had a spot with 3 R7 Auroch which was good, but again it was only one spot of three Aurochs in the whole map that reached that level. This campaign has a single R10, 2 R7s, and some R5s. This makes skinning a very needed resource tedious.
Please increase the availability of high level Aurochs, wolves and elk. Another possible assistance is change the leatherworking recipes for crafting sets to use Flexible(cats) or Durable(spiders).
PS. Also this campaign seems to have pushed Pigs, that used to have some spawns in fort parcels, out of those fort parcels. Which also lowered the availablity of higher level Pig skinning.
Successfully repelled both Order and Chaos last night in multiple engagements and retained both keeps!
Special shout out to @galvia @Phr00t @ramuthrah and @jh0 that killed the banetrees at Chaos' home keep while -W- fought off Chaos and Order.