Lessons About End-Game Community Warfare
I Apologize for the Wall of Text Formatting, the forum editor isn't very friendly.
Community Warfare is hard to do, there are a ton of factors that have to go right to keep it balanced, interesting, fresh and challenging. It’s a long process to go from a cool concept to actually implementing it, and for every game that succeeds a dozen fail. When I use the phrase community warfare, I mean that at least two different groups are fighting against each other in a persistent world rather than just running into each other in a random team deathmatch game.
The two games I’ve personally been in involved with that have done a good job with Community Warfare are Eve Online, where I rose to rank as a Director in Goonswarm before burning out, and World of Tanks where I’m currently a deputy commander for one of the SA Goon clans that controls Western Europe. These two games are defined by their Community Warfare, it’s a key part to their success, popularity and longevity.
My purpose in this thread is to illustrate some universal lessons I’ve learned from my fairly unique experience as a leader in both games, and then propose some ideas that will hopefully be considered by the developers to make the Community Warfare in MechWarrior Online as polished, fun, and successful as possible.
Lesson #1 - The Spoils of War Have to be Worth Fighting For
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but still deserves a reminder. Winning has to be meaningful. It has to cause the players to want to invest their time and energy into winning. For World of Tanks the primary reason for winning is to take over different provinces that provide your clan with large amounts of gold. The only other path to acquiring gold is to pay real money, so by extension winning in game means winning real money. However you also get to see your clan’s logo and color owning the territory on the map, which provides a sense of achievement and prestige. Your clan appearing on the map proves your superiority, and the better the territory the more prestige you receive.
In Eve Online the rewards of winning are more dramatic. Permanent ship destruction means that losing a ship can set you back millions of ISK, losing a more powerful ship can set you back billions of ISK and losing a fleet can cost you tens of billions of ISK. With the ability to trade real money for ISK in game easily, that means replacing a lost ship can cost hundreds of dollars, or a lost fleet thousands of dollars. An alliance losing a war could mean losses to its members in the tens of thousands of dollars. Getting into the specifics of what the rewards are for winning in Eve Online would take too much time, so let me leave that topic with the point that one major driving factor that managed to redeem Eve’s terrible UI, Lag, poor game mechanics etc was that winning brought huge rewards and losing brought huge losses and this motivated people to develop the biggest, most sophisticated, and most efficient organizations in Videogame history with Corporations and Alliances with thousands of members and power blocs with tens of thousands of members all in the same fights and the same world.
Please note that I am NOT advocating for permanent mech destruction in MWO, that works for Eve but not for MWO.
Reward Merc Corps for controlling a border world with prizes that no one else can get in the game, not even by spending all the money in the game. There are a lot to choose from, MC, C-Bills, Loyalty Points, special defense bonuses for planets owned, a visible presence on the map, perhaps the prestige of participating as your faction champion in faction campaigns or tournaments run by the devs, special mods, special mechs, etc. As long as the rewards are worth it, the players will be more than happy to fight the entire galaxy to earn them.
Lesson #2 Create Richer Areas and Poorer Areas
To put it simply, rich areas attract the veteran experienced proven corps, and poor areas attract the amateurs. This is good. It creates a clear path for a corp to follow from infanthood to maturity. They are able to progress from a low reward low competition area and steadily move on to greener and more competitive pastures as they improve. The entire time they are fighting against people more or less equal to them which is the best type of challenge, not too hard but not too easy.
In Eve this is done with low sec space, faction owned 0.0 poor 0.0 then finally full fledged 0.0 space that has plentiful and profitable moons and good ratting/mining. In World of Tanks this is done by varying the amount of gold each province offers. Clans starting out can go to Africa where the land values are very low, and the skill of the clans fighting for them also low. Then as they improve their skills they can go after progressively more valuable land, where they face progressively more skilled clans.
Implement this graduated system into Merc Corp warfare. Make sure there are extremely valuable areas for the elite to fight over, but also poorer areas that prospective powers can grow in without getting curbstomped by the reigning champions every day.. This allows clans to always be fighting in the ‘goldilocks’ zone, their opponents are not too hard, but not too easy. Also make sure that the poorer areas are accessible to beginners, so that they can always get to where they need to be without having to go through a gauntlet to get there. One idea would be to make the systems on the inner side of the border worlds be less attractive compared to the worlds on the very outer edge.
Lesson #3 Don’t Limit Community Growth by Artificial Member Limits
Again this isn’t really a groundbreaking concept, but its still an important one. This is something that Eve has gotten right, and WOT has dropped the ball on. The beauty of Eve is that every single member of your corporation is able to fight alongside each other. They have the same space, the same fights, the same enemies, the same shared experiences, the same managers, the same leaders and large numbers that allowed members to specialize and produce things like shipping lines, spy agencies etc. All of THAT is what makes people bond, and what makes for strong powerful communities. You will often talk to people in other alliances and find out that they were involved in the same fights and campaigns as you, but perhaps on the other side or in a different system.
However in WOT you are forced to separate into 100 member clans. Worse, the clans can’t cooperate or fight directly next to each other, the best you can do is cooperate strategically on the world map. If a friend of yours is in another clan you will NEVER fight next to them in clan battles. This kills community growth and unity. It also prevents clan’s from building a story together.
You don’t fight together, you don’t live together, you don’t come up with plans together, and you view yourself as a member of the clan you are in first, and as a member of your gaming community second. it cuts off similar players from each other, and it divides up your leadership dangerously thin. There are too many examples in WOT of a clan’s leadership all taking a vacation at once, returning to a broken clan and seeing the entire clan break up with fewer than 50% of them remaining active while the other clans of the community are doing fine.
It also cuts off newer players from the vets, why bother investing time in a new player when you know they will be going into a different clan anyway? By contrast in Eve you want to provide the highest level of support to every single member of your corp or alliance no matter how new or inexperienced because you have a direct interest in their development and retention in the game.
Make Merc Corps have unlimited members, if you only take one thing from this thread take that. It will let communities grow to big self sustaining numbers which is a prerequisite of a healthy community warfare end game. Its these large groups that allow compelling narratives to play out, rivals banding together to face against a bigger threat or a multi-year long death struggle between hated enemies (google Band of Brothers vs Goonswarm). That’s the sort of stuff that keeps a game interesting and fresh, and if you force a community to separate that isn’t going to happen.
Lesson #4 Strike the Proper Balance between Structured and Unstructured Community Warfare
In Eve PvP is almost completely unstructured. War can happen at any time, in any numbers, anywhere. Running an alliance is a full time job constantly requiring logistics, accounting, PvP fleets with no warning, etc. Basically anything can happen at almost any time. While high rewards motivate the players in Eve to form these giant tens of thousands of player strong power blocks, they would never have happened if the game mechanics didn’t allow them the freedom to do so. There quite simply are no rules, and that’s part of Eve’s charm. You get people whose entire experience in eve is pouring hours and hours into advancing their corporation with always something else to be reaching for, alliances to be made, space to defend, assets to acquire etc. Granted the gameplay is terrible but the impressive thing is that Eve can still be fun in spite of that due to the rich complexity that this unstructured warfare allows.
In WOT, there isn’t really anything interesting going on at the strategic level, you just move chips around on a map and there isn’t anything clever or innovate you can do to try to get ahead. This takes a lot of the fun out of the metagame because there is no point in spying on either people or trying to outwit them on the map when their choices are predictably dictated by the situation on the map.
My advice for MechWarrior Online would be to strike a balance between the two. Yes warfare will be based around those structured X vs X matches but there is still a great deal of room to give players as much freedom as possible to innovate and create new tactics and strategies. If the end game is limited to ‘lets move some chips around on a map’ you will be hamstringing that. Give people incentives to spy, to form giant alliances, to do diplomacy, to take risks, to whatever. Just give them as much of a sandbox as is possible, and if you have everything in place the players will create giant digital sand castles.
Lesson #5 Allow Players to Invest in Their Worlds
In Eve Online there are always things your corp or alliance can be doing to get ahead. You can invest your money into improving your space, you can stockpile assets, you can raid enemy space, or you can try to launch a campaign to destroy them and take their space for your own. There are a million different ways for players to contribute to the prosperity of your corporation or alliance, and a thousand ways for corporations and alliances to develop, prepare and exploit their space if they are willing to spend their time and treasure.
One of the downsides of WOT is that there is no actual way for you to improve your land or leave your mark. All you can do is just sit on your land and collect gold while waiting for people to attack you.
Allow Merc Corps to develop the worlds they own, so that if they take and hold a world, or a group of worlds and can invest time and treasure into it, they can have industrial and military advantages, but not overwhelmingly so. There are many ways to do this, but the specifics of it aren’t as important as giving the corps the ability to customize and develop their space so they feel invested in it and have a concrete visible goal for them to work towards and feel proud of achieving.
Lesson #6 Add Some Level of Stability
In Eve, you always face the ghost of some rogue director undoing all of your accomplishments (Thanks Haargoth!) but in reality it almost never really happens. People know that their neighbors will still be neighbors and enemies will still be enemies at least fortnight to fortnight if not month to month. This stability allows you to do diplomacy and long term planning because you know that the situation will last long enough to make it worthwhile. In WOT it’s a lot easier to lose all of your land, but there is still diplomacy because clans own the same territory long enough for it to matter. All the fun metagame stuff requires at least some stability to do.
I’m worried about the bidding system for MWO because some ways of implementing it might end up with a chaotic changing map every single day, it all depends on how the bidding system is implemented. If you can bid for any planet at any time with no regard for space or time constraints than you will just end up with a polka dot map where corps take and lose the majority of their territory every single day. However as long as Corps are able to work together, and can expect some measure of stability everything should be fine.
As a final note, my overall philosophy for community warfare can be boiled down to a simple formula. Success = Activeness of Members * Skill of Members * Skill of leadership at the game and meta game. All other things being equal, if one clan has a higher level of activeness among members it should win. If one clan has members better skilled at the game, they should win. If one clan has brilliant, charismatic and skilled leaders who lead them on and off the battlefield, who skillfully engage in the metagame, waging ‘realpolitik’ they should win. As long as you follow that formula everything should turn out fine in the end.