Thursday, October 2, 2008

Warhammer population balance is beginning to look ugly

Yet another followup post; I actually have several posts worth of NEW information I'd like to write about, but news keeps breaking, and Jon Stewart isn't around to fix it. On the plus side, this followup comes from WAAAAAY back in the PVD archives.

Back in May, I described faction population balance as an issue that was going to make or break Warhammer. Well, here we are two weeks into the game's launch and we have Destruction owning the Order capitol city, albeit by some borderline exploits (good thing Mythic had an NDA'ed test server thoroughly testing the endgame content they wouldn't show or let anyone talk about). I haven't gotten to see my capitol city yet, and I suppose I should make a point of going before it's reduced to rubble.

In other news, one of the more prominent Destruction guilds on my server is leaving to re-roll Order elsewhere because they've gotten bored with the lack of world RVR and lengthy scenario queues that come with dominating the population numbers. Battlefield objectives almost always seem to belong to Destruction on my server, the scenarios pop quickly for me on the Order side (generally a bad sign for the other side), and zone control rests firmly in the hands of the Destruction side. I'd considered making some Destruction alts, but there isn't a single server in the US with markedly more Order than Destruction; I'm having more fun in scenarios than in the PVE game, so it doesn't make sense to move somewhere with terrible scenario queues.

What can be done?
The first thing Mythic can do in the short term is hire Syp and implement his four point bailout/rescue plan. Punishing Destruction players for choosing the side they wanted to play by hitting them with longer queues is clearly not doing enough to balance populations. Even if people do move, the communities that are left behind will be diminished or gutted by the sudden absence of prominent guilds (the thread I linked is over 5-pages long so far, on a server-specific forum). Moreover, some of the folks who give up on their Destruction characters are simply going to give up on the game. Blizzard is holding Blizzcon and possibly releasing patch 3.0 in the next two weeks, ensuring that Wrath will be fresh in players' minds before Warhammer's first monthly fee comes due.

In the longer term, I think Mythic may need to look at more drastic measures. Here are some of my suggestions:

Cross-Server Scenario Queues
I'm well aware of the negative effect these can have on a server community; WoW's AFK problem is definitely exacerbated by the relative anonymity of a cross-server battleground that has maybe a handful of players from your own server, and it's unfortunate not to know that you're fighting the same guys you see on the rest of your server. Unfortunately, telling players that they don't get to play the game because too many of them showed up isn't an option. Besides, server communities are in danger of devastation anyway if major guilds continue to up and leave their Destruction characters to move to a server where they can actually play RVR.

Buff T4 keeps to insane levels ASAP, and re-evaluate city sieges
In the short term, Mythic should strongly consider making the T4 keeps, which Destruction must capture in order to invade the Order capitol, impossibly difficult. All the interviews about how carefully they've tested this stuff aside, it's clear that it isn't ready for prime time, and the game can't take Altdorf being permanently in the hands of Destruction while Mythic tries to finish the content.

In the longer term, Mythic may need to seriously rethink the city siege. Population imbalance is not going to go away, and telling the unlucky Order side (or the Destruction side, if we ever get a majority-Order server) that they don't get to have their city and amenities anymore is not a good way to convince more people to join up.

Accelerate or entirely bypass leveling for re-rolls
This is a dangerous, dangerous suggestion. Mythic has put a lot of work into the low-end content of the game, and they're clearly hoping to get players to try out multiple characters to see more of the content. Letting players bypass that content is, in some ways, money out of Mythic's pocket. There are also serious issues associated with letting players have high level characters of classes they haven't played previously. And, finally, there is great potential for over-reaction; if Mythic takes the ten least-populated Order servers and offers free level 20 Order characters to anyone with an existing level 40, we will likely have an overpopulated Order side shortly.

Problem is, Mythic NEEDS players to voluntarily re-roll to address the population issue, and all the time-investment that gets sunk into character-specific accomplishments is a serious disincentive to re-locating. This is doubly true if you're also switching factions/servers, as your new alts don't get any benefit from your existing cash/guild/etc. I don't believe that any less-valuable freebie will suffice.

Implement account-wide tome unlocks
This is in some ways counter to the current spirit of the Tome of Knowledge as a story of your particular character's life. However, time spent on tome unlocks that don't carry over is just as significant a disincentive as a high level to re-rolling.

What Mythic should NOT do
Wait for the "WoW casuals" to show up and roll Order. Even the underage Night Elf Hunter crowd has a sufficient level of reading comprehension to know that everyone looks down on the "Huntard". They're all rolling Destruction now, because that's what the cool kids are doing, or beacause they're logging in and noticing that all their base are belong to Destruction. Worse, crowded MMORPG servers tend to get MORE crowded over time, not less crowded, because new players will want to play with their friends (who are, it appears, overwhelmingly playing Destruction).

In conclusion....
I actually like Warhammer. In fact, I like Warhammer RVR over Warhammer PVE, which I never thought I'd be saying. Moreover, the MMORPG genre could really use more competition from another successful game right about now. And so, Mythic, I ask you, please pass the bi-partisan Syp bailout plan or something like it now, before it's too late.

I'd love to sign off on this post with Order's battlecry, but, frankly, I don't know what it is. I'm guessing it's not nearly as good as "Waaagh" or we wouldn't be having this conversation.


Pidge said...

>> I'd love to sign off on this post with Order's battlecry, but, frankly, I don't know what it is.

What else?

"Send reinforcements!"

Earnest Hussein Dodge said...

I think the Order battlecry is "OMFG SOMEONE ROLL A TANK FFS!"

Brian said...

Playing a dwarf, I prefer the battle cry of Bugman's Brewers:

"Mhinz Abeir" - shouted by half the company, to which the rest reply - 'Z'yor Rond'
- Dwarvish, translation unknown.