Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dude Don't Be a Douche (Game Developers Don't Encourage Metagaming Through Sociopathy)

So I just watched Extra Credits' latest video on Free to Play Games. And it made me think. Why? Well because my primary experience with free to play games is with Evony, a game I long since quit, and it's interesting to figure out why I quit it and why I stuck with it so long. Keep in mind I'm talking about age 1 not age 2.

First off let me say that when things were bad Evony was one of the most frustrating games I ever played in my life. The reason for that is simple. The game mechanics encouraged stronger players to pick on weaker ones and because everybody wanted to get strong fast they excused their behavior by saying that they had to do that crap in order to maintain their own strengh.

Let me explain. Evony is a multiplayer RTS. I always liked the idea of a multiplayer RTS but it always provided challenges mainly players wouldn't always be able to play at the same time. Evony solved this problem by making it a persistent world like an MMO and allowing alliances,  sanctioned players who were affiliated with one another to help protect each other.

And most of the problems stemmed from that system. What kept individual players, "safe" was the promise that if you randomly attacked any one player you were declaring war on their alliance and those things would crush individual players but it was fun for alliances to go at it with each other.

But that led to a problem.

In order to build an army in Evony you need food. The obvious way to get food is to build farms but the number of farms you can have is capped. So you have to get creative if you want to actually do anything. I did and it was awesome trying to maximize production but most players and alliances just pillaged (farmed) NPCs.

NPCs regenerated loot about once a day so that meant that only one player a day could loot them. Or at least reap the benefits of looting them. So the primary driver of conflict in the game wasn't "honorable combat" but "stop looting my NPC's or I will end you and if I can't I'll call my gang and they'll end you"

Keep in mind that you needed to loot NPCs to get food to maintain an army and if you didn't have an army people would attack you because stealing food from you was even easier than getting it from an NPC.

Worst of all were the alliances that would take the third option. Make smaller players offers they couldn't refuse. Extorting them "to join our guild or we'll crush you". Literally threatening to make it impossible for non-affliated players to play.

Heck at least once every six months I would get my ass handed to me and have to negotiate tribute food payments. Like a christian bishop to the vikings.  And they kept getting more and more ridiculous.

Seriously 1 million gold was typically my starting offer and 1 billion wasn't uncommon. Half the time I think they were just shouting numbers they knew I couldn't come up with so they could continue to pummel me when I didn't pay up, or trying to use the negotiations to make me indentured to the point where I was a reluctant member of the alliance. In real life it's called racketeering, extortion and usury Did I mention the extortion.

Being strong armed like that doesn't make for a "fun" game, made worse when I pissed off the wrong people and spent nearly a week of paranoid 2 hour a night naps rather than actual sleep.

Ultimately what I think ruined the game was that nothing was capped making everybody more and more and more ruthless as they tried to get a competitive advantage. They picked on the smaller players because it was a easy way to get ahead in the vicious dog eat dog game. Woe to the poor fellow who got to the server late to the party and was surrounded by the wolves.

All that said I really liked the player economy. Most people pillaged for food, but I traded it for it. While food was the most needed resource it was the most plentiful. The NPCs would crank out about 10 times as much food as everything else so in the player economy it balanced out to food being worth about a third as much as everything else. All though player production of these resources was limited if you were smart rather than focusing on what you needed you focused on what was valuable and traded it. So even though I forswore alliances because I thought they were a bunch of douchebags I had the resources and troops of three players. (Alliances with sister alliances typically had 300 so I was screwed no matter what I did.)

Speaking of which while not as an anathema to me as the alliance system players also gamed the system by having alt accounts. I didn't, though nobody believed me. I thought of it as a sort of cheating metagaming. Which is sort of my entire problem with the game. The mechanics encouraged gratuitous metagaming rather than honorable competition to the point that most players considered the metagaming part of the game.

Eventually even the alliances got sick of it and the wars wouldn't be chimed off by resource battles but some idiot doing something so bad everybody else decided they had to go but even that seemed like overkill.  Entire alliances were crushed because of a few jerks.

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