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coolwaters

The Big Risk

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(FYI: JTodd gave me permission to post this as, at the time of these communications, ACE required me to sign an NDA)

The recent founders update, “Innovation is Risky” jogged a memory of when I first heard rumors of Crowfall, before there was any information as to what type of ruleset we’d have. Back in December of 2014 all I knew was that JTodd was a major player in the development. Knowing his background and some of his philosophy from early Shadowbane I, along with the rest of the Winterblades, was intrigued.

I reached out to Todd in December of 2014 with a question about an issue that was near and dear to my heart. Server health / population retention was always a great concern, both for the players and the developers. How to keep a server “alive” and fun into the indefinite future was always in debate. The game was marketed, sold, and operated as a traditional MMO with permanent servers, but eventually a minority advocated that Shadowbane servers have a natural life cycle and server wipes were necessary to keep the game, and the active population, healthy.

The thrill of Shadowbane conquest came with a dark reality. The servers die. Real asset destruction had consequences. You and your buds work for months to build a fortress that the Desert Alliance destroys in a few hours … wha? That ain’t fun! At least a lot of players saw it that way and sadly they quit.

As server after server was launched, thrived, stagnated and then died, I slowly came to realize that, despite my early inclinations, it wasn't the 1337 characters we came up with, nor the massive cities we built that made the game great; it was process of building, conquering, winning and losing with my friends. To use a cliche’ it was about the journey and not the destination.

So I emailed Todd about my concerns with the big risk a pvp game entails when asset destruction is involved, knowing nothing about his thoughts at the time. It turned out that he had come to the same conclusions I had, only years earlier and from a completely different perspective.

I thought some of you guys might enjoy reading about Todd’s view on the topic of persistence and permanence - from the horse's mouth as it were - before these mechanics even existed. This is the first time I’ve shared any of this:
 

12-25-14

Todd, first congratulations. The way your team is rolling out the design on Crowfall is genius. Everyone is excited.

I'm sure you don't have time to interact with non-staff on game design issues just for kicks, but I would appreciate your thoughts on a design item that I believe is essential to the success of your particular game. If you don't have time to talk about it, no problem at all. It's something of a pet issue of mine from playing dozens of Shadowbane servers throughout their entire life cycles.

The issue:

I propose that a truly permanent world is not consistent with your game model, nor for any truly competitive war game involving player vs. player conflict with competition over resources. Let's call this class of games "war games." Not a theme park, or necessarily what people think of as full-on sandbox. Starting at the beginning, my premise is that the game you are building carries with it the inevitable characteristic of severe population decline over time ... like falling off a cliff severe. I actually think that severe (and in my view necessary) server decline is actually a natural thing for this type of game. I think the pain of asset loss that really fuels this server decline is absolutely essential to the dynamic you are shooting for. (GoT style) This will be a war and conquest game. I don't know of any such game that has a true permanent world. I liken it to an actual war. Or a game of checkers, or chess, or football, or any other competitive game between actual people involving limited resources. There will be winners and there will be losers as the content is consumed. The question is what happens to the winners and losers afterwards? My answer is that the board always gets reset after there is a winner in any "war game." A new game. A new match. A new season. Time for the "losers" to regroup and try, try again.
As an initial matter, let's be clear that a persistent world is not what I am talking about, although the player base thinks it is.

per·sist·ent pərˈsist(ə)nt/ adjective - continuing to exist or endure over a prolonged period. I say this is possible in your game.

per·ma·nent pərmənənt/ adjective - lasting or intended to last or remain unchanged indefinitely. I say this is impossible in your game.

Shadowbane used persistent worlds that the devs and players seemed to believe and intend to be permanent worlds. Obviously, they were all wrong, and it had little to do with bugs or Shadowbane being a bad game. It was an unintended design feature that I regard as beautiful. The short description: I say that population over time on a server in a "war game" is necessarily inversely proportional to the rate of content consumption by the players. That's true in every game really, depending on the replayability value of the game. This effect or phenomena is greatly exaggerated in a game like the one you are shooting for. The reason for such attrition over time is the pain of loss associated with losing the kinds of assets necessary for the political and social dynamics. After working for months to build assets, losing them in a few days will drive large swaths of players away. It's just human nature.

Good reading from the long view and the short
There are dozens of threads on this topic on the emulator and dozens and dozens of them on the old Ubi forums if you have those archived. Here is one that has fairly well thought out perspectives on both sides of the issue:

http://shadowbaneemulator.com/forum/vie ... 10&t=15976

Here are a few reads from more disparate sources:

http://syncaine.com/2014/05/29/a-fresh- ... -the-door/

http://forums.f13.net/index.php?topic=15081.55;wap2

My empirical observations

I've seen it on every server. Instead of recreating the wheel, here are quotes from one of the Shadowbane threads that describe what I'm getting at, one by me and one by the GL of Ordo Castum Carnifex:
 

Dubanka wrote:

The natural nature of the Shadowbane political curve drives it toward stagnation...lore servers extended that somewhat as they added an additional level of tactical/strategic investment...and forced a different type of politics (cross chartering and all that) - but they still marched towards the same level of stagnation...hence the need for some type of victory conditions.

The lack of 'meta game' victory conditions and the lack of some type of penalty for guild/nation size were, imo the two remaining major flaws in the Shadowbane system at its close.


Coolwatersx wrote:

  • server launch is fantastically populated
  • race to plant - big fun
  • zones full of PvP as cities are built up
  • trainers and vendors rank and initial mine specs are composed - pop is high, PvP is everywhere
  • mine fights go on for weeks while bane specs are begun in earnest. This is some amazing PvP. Zones are still well populated as well
  • cities are completed, mine control shakes out in favor of the dominant powers on the server - PvP is plentiful
  • banes begin in earnest, starting NvN for the most part. PvP is good and the banes are fun.
  • Trees start falling and the dominant server powers become obvious. PvP is still fun, but the zones are far less populated.
  • Players are human, and they do what they have to do to compete - sub or ally to/with one of the aforementioned powers, the banes get larger and more frequent. PvP is still fun, but the zones are mostly empty and there are fewer nations with practical conquest aspirations.
  • 2 or 3 nations or alliances emerge in what we have come to call a server war. They accurately describe one another as a zerg. The stress and work required by this intense bane schedule begins to take a toll on the players in the zergs and especially the leadership of those individual nations leading the two sides. Banes are large and epic, but less frequent. This is the Shadowbane end game. It's the sign the server is fully mature and on it's way to the beautiful end.
  • One side loses too many trees and accurately or otherwise blames the numbers of the opposing faction, "takes a break" or declares victory (believe it or not). The zones are empty, most PvP are smallish mine fights for the sake of PvP or open tree hopping. This is pretty boring to many players, but it's all that's left.
  • The server is what we have come to describe as stagnant or dead. Players start to ask for a wipe. Eventually the devs agree and pull the trigger, usually 3-6 months after it should have been done.
  • The server is wiped and a new server launched. Population is again fantastic ...rinse and repeat.
Possible solutions (or recognizing an opportunity to make lemonade):

I understand that you have worked out the cross server travel that WP was aiming for and I'm not sure how. That's fantastic and it might ameliorate the phenomenon I'm describing. I'm not sure how it will play out, but I have seen that the relative boons / advantages of a given server population reduce as that group gains assets, acting as a sort of social welfare system to (hopefully) combat an overwhelming rout of one world? group? nation? by another. Still, I have to assume there will actually be such domination and probably in fairly short order. I believe the very idea that those worlds are "permanent" may be the author of their very demise. I also think there's an obvious solution: real (and truly conditional) winning conditions and some form of minor legacy for both winners and losers that transfers to the new server, born out of the destruction of the old server.

 


If I am correct, no matter your design in this game, you have 2 real choices:

- watch population drop and wipe the server on a schedule not of your own making (creating the impression that your concept or design was flawed)
OR
- design this phenomenon into your game as a core feature set: a grand winning condition that coincides with, or is triggered by, either the declining server population or the player conflict events which cause the spiral toward stagnation (server war dominated by 2 factions, for example).

I say build the server destruction into your lore and your design in such a way that it is the end-game. Every nation could have the highest goal of actually conquering the world. When that happens, based on whatever conditions the developers see fit (some manner of asset / territory control I would imagine), have the world reset in a glorious in-game dev-event (maybe spawn a bunch of high level dev-controlled Gods who go around destroying cities) that everyone enjoys. Then simply wipe the server and grant some legacy bonus to the victors and a smaller one to everyone else. I have ideas about this, but I won't bore you unless you express interest. Characters and items should not transfer to the new server. It's about the content consumption and you can't shortcut that. I'm telling you: the vast majority of the losers would immediately return to the game, because hope springs eternal.

I'm sorry for dropping this on you by email, and I won't send any more unless you want me to. I do find it exceptionally interesting and I think there is an opportunity here to make what amounts to an entirely new type of game based on this idea. I also think it would work well with cross server combat and travel.

Take care and keep up the exceptional work.

Wes

 


I didn’t know if he’d even have time to respond with his schedule. But he did, after emailing an NDA and asking me to sign it:
 

1-26-15

Thanks for the NDA; signed version coming back to you shortly.

So: your email is very astute. In a parallel universe, you should have been a game designer. and I don't say that often, even to people who are game designers in THIS universe.

Of course, you're right.

You're not just preaching to the choir; you're preaching to the pope. The maps HAVE to reset. It's fundamental to every strategy game in history.

I recognized the problem right after SB launch. I would have realized it sooner, but beta hid it from me. Every few weeks/months, we had to wipe the server due to changes in the underlying data structure. Effectively, that kept the beta alive, and the problem didn't surface. Beta solved it by accident -- not by design.

I probably would have caught it well before launch, if I had been a more experienced designer. Remember, Shadowbane was my first commercial effort. Oh, and I was too busy trying to keep the company from exploding.

Anyway, once you see my solution, and how it is woven into the narrative, I think that you'll agree that it is elegant, simple and effective.

More importantly: it will work.


The take-home here is that ACE, or at least Todd, has been committed to the risky proposition of convincing players that pixels aren’t permanent and that with asset loss and consequential pvp, the journey is more fun than the destination. Todd has not only thought this through in fairly painful detail, he’s seen it in action in Shadowbane. If anyone questions his commitment to this idea, take a gander at his reply to my email today asking for permission to post these old emails:
 

2-24-16

Totally fine with you posting it. It's a nice reminder (even to me) that our core vision hasn't changed. And it won't.

Todd
ACE


I don't think Todd ever questioned whether this idea will work. Todd's biggest question was whether he could convince you, the players, that it will work. This last pearl from another email from Todd seems prophetic looking back:
 

2-2-15

Selling it to the players -- that is another matter entirely!

I've got plans for that, as well, but we'll see how it works. Truth be told, I think that's the bigger challenge.


I think Todd’s sales pitch worked pretty well judging by the massive KS success.

But ultimately it doesn't matter what I think, it matters what you all think.

Happy KS anniversary Todd, Gordon and the rest of ACE. We can't wait to see what you cook up for us next.

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The idea of dying worlds was indeed in the air, myself and at least two other persons I know thought about it years before CF. And it all starts, like you said, with SB (and for me, DF as well). That's why I respect Todd way more than the rest of the game designers. A great but way risky idea finally being used in an MMO.


y9tj8G5.png

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Pixlels are permanent? Who told you that? With games just shutting down for no reason (RiP Battlefield Heros you thought me much) and data corruption, hacking / account loss and such; it is quite apparent that pixels arent permanent.
 
But to sum it up why I backed here is my post from the KS Annivesary post:
 

The were two reason why I backed my first Kickstarter:
 
Firstly, Guineceans, that goes without saying. Who doesnt like cute fluffy things? In an industry (gaming and other media) where you can choose between Human, Tall Human and Short Human. Having a real different race is a relieve.
 
Secondly, you sold me on the world. Which ties into the first point. All the archetype not only have personality (which is an odd thing to say because (contrary to popular believe) they are not characters) but an entire culture behind it. I only read the Guinecean backstory but you know who the Guineceans are. They arent just some tribe. They are hardworking, honest and honorable folks who are proud of themselfs and their craftmanship.
 
But not only the Archetypes are real, the world is too. Yes persistence is important to many players, Todd though found the perfect explaination (or wrapper what ever you wanna call it) for this problem. We are no heros! We are half gods, imortals send out by the gods to salvage the dying worlds.
 
This world feels real and believable. More real then a world with 12 novels and 7 expansions ever could.


 

I AM ME!
I love you all.

 

 

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I didnt know the people of ACE before (Gordon Walton and JTC).

But I have to say they are seemingly an outstanding shiny last hope for the future of the gaming industry. They are totally different from the rest of the gaming industry, its so much necessary, so much needed and so refreshing to have interesting people, who love video games, developing your game. The rest is really upsetting.

If Crowfall comes to be anywhere near from what I expect, and so far it is looking pretty good, I am gonna support them in anything they are going to do in the future.

Edited by Urahara

After EverQuest Next is gone, its Star Citizen for me.

 

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I was part of that...... Coolwaters-"You and your buds work for months to build a fortress that the Desert Alliance destroys in a few hours … wha? That ain’t fun! At least a lot of players saw it that way and sadly they quit".  Sorry hope you guys still let me in WB :),, Well if is was on  Chaos server or morning

Edited by Drunken

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Good read thanks for sharing. As someone who never played SB and don't think I really even heard about it till I started following this game, his passion of his idea is what drew me to support and continue supporting it. This isn't just another paragraph on a resume for these guys especially Todd its a calling so to speak. In a genre of copy cats one can't help but to be drawn to that, IMO.

 

Whether ultimately I enjoy the game long term or not I won't regret backing this project for one second.

Edited by pang

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It's really weird that the same phenomenon was observed by so many people. That 3-6 month stagnation cycle is real, and a lot of us have watched it play out year after year. Whenever a server closed down and a mass migration of players occurred, the cycle might start again as the stagnant server had been "stirred up", so to speak. The real treats were the fresh new server launches, where old players you hadn't seen in a year would come back out of the blue for the start-up experience. Entire guilds would quit other games so they could return for the launch of a new SB server. Contrast this with the end of the cycle, where players and guilds go back to their other games, one by one. Mine fights go from large, three or even four-way fights between groups of 20-30 each to small two sided fights between groups of 10-15.

 

Thanks for the nostalgia bomb Cools.


Shadowbane - House Avari/Hy'shen
"Gimp elves get good elves killed." - Belina

Avari Discord - https://discord.gg/Bch24PV

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Excellent post, was very interesting to read based on what has come to be. I am still amazed how SB has shaped players, and designers, thoughts on what could be in the mmo space. Risk is necessary, specifically to change the path we are on with cookie cutter choices and everyone must win and be equal etc.

 

Again, hats off on the post, and to the ladies and gents at ACE on the first of many Crowfall anniversaries!

Edited by sagorian

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I admire the guts to have the board reset mindset for this game. The challenge will be to both victory conditions and how long prior to resetting and thirdly how much resources are allowed to be brought to the next wipe. I especially see problems with the resources allowed for next wipe as the greatest problem. 

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I was part of that...... Coolwaters-"You and your buds work for months to build a fortress that the Desert Alliance destroys in a few hours … wha? That ain’t fun! At least a lot of players saw it that way and sadly they quit".  Sorry hope you guys still let me in WB :),, Well if is was on  Chaos server or morning

 

We were in the DA on corruption as well.  Its where we meet Arnie and The Shipwrecked Pirates, who surface occasionally on these boards... they were our neighbors and we sieged back and forth. We later collaborated with TSP to form the Shadowbane Alliance in Darkfall.

 

Corruption was also where I recruited Coolwaters to Winterblades over 12 years ago...

 

Edit: Drunken, you should log in for Fridays test!

Edited by angelmar

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It's really weird that the same phenomenon was observed by so many people. That 3-6 month stagnation cycle is real, and a lot of us have watched it play out year after year. Whenever a server closed down and a mass migration of players occurred, the cycle might start again as the stagnant server had been "stirred up", so to speak. The real treats were the fresh new server launches, where old players you hadn't seen in a year would come back out of the blue for the start-up experience. Entire guilds would quit other games so they could return for the launch of a new SB server. Contrast this with the end of the cycle, where players and guilds go back to their other games, one by one. Mine fights go from large, three or even four-way fights between groups of 20-30 each to small two sided fights between groups of 10-15.

 

Thanks for the nostalgia bomb Cools.

Server ups were always the greatest part of a server cycle. I eventually came around to Cool's point of view, but I always felt the "server cycle" was longer, especially with Live EXP and Gold rates. More in the 4-8 months range. Once gold and exp rates climbed up the server cycle got shorter.

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We were in the DA on corruption as well.  Its where we meet Arnie and The Shipwrecked Pirates, who surface occasionally on these boards... they were our neighbors and we sieged back and forth. We later collaborated with TSP to form the Shadowbane Alliance in Darkfall.

 

Corruption was also where I recruited Coolwaters to Winterblades over 12 years ago...

 

Edit: Drunken, you should log in for Fridays test!

Technically it was the Test server before that. :P

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I don't want to rain on the parade here... the concept of the dying worlds is certainly commendable, but until I see ACE present proper win conditions, the whole concept is a pipe dream.

 

Cut a campaign short and people will be annoyed, because there were still good fights to be had.

Drag on a campaign and stagnation will be the end of a CW and not the actual win conditions.

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I don't want to rain on the parade here... the concept of the dying worlds is certainly commendable, but until I see ACE present proper win conditions, the whole concept is a pipe dream.

 

Cut a campaign short and people will be annoyed, because there were still good fights to be had.

Drag on a campaign and stagnation will be the end of a CW and not the actual win conditions.

Why do they need a win "condition"

 

The best part of resetting worlds is simply that you dont have the uncle bob problem and you get the exciting new world feeling on restarts.

 

None of that is effected by a win condition.

 

I didnt spend years in RvR in daoc fighting for points on a score board to "win"

Edited by Ziz

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