Hello, you may or may not remember me from my popular ‘Observation Concerning Community Warfare’ thread two months ago. There I reviewed some lessons I had learned about successful community warfare by contrasting Eve Online and World of Tanks, and then giving suggestions based upon those lessons on how to successfully implement community warfare into MechWarrior Online. This thread is written as a continuation, and so it will be assumed you have already read the first part.
I’m writing this thread for the same reason that I wrote the other one, I enjoy playing MechWarrior Online and I would like it to be as successful and fun as possible. Due to my background, I have experience and history with Community Warfare that is rare to find, and I want to distill that experience into something that the developers can use to improve the game by avoiding mistakes and repeating solutions from similar games. This will be written focusing on border worlds and merc corps as illustrated by this dev blog.
Disclaimer - This thread is only for the purpose of discussing community warfare mechanics in a constructive, rational, and well written format. I call upon the mods to be proactive in keeping this discussion civil and productive. I feel that this discussion is important enough to the long term health of the game that extra measures are deserved to avoid any possibility of it devolving into a flame war.
Credentials/Who is PringlesPCant
I have been playing World of Tanks - Clan Wars since the moment it came out, and I have been making the decisions myself or involved in the decision making for my clan ever since, both concerning Tactics in game and Strategy for the Clan Wars Map. Currently I am a deputy commander for SGLE - Stug Lyfe, one of the most successful and stable clans on the NA server. I also have a deep background in Eve, but that isn’t as useful for this particular subject.
World of Tanks - Why Does it Apply to Mechwarrior Online Community Warfare?
World of Tanks is a very good location to draw inspiration from because it has been a trailblazer in community warfare based around even prearranged XvX matches. There are more than enough similarities between the two to make a study of World of Tanks Community Warfare/Clan Wars mechanics a productive exercise with many lessons to be learned to apply to MWO.
First, indulge me and learn a little about the mechanics of World of Tanks as is. A link to the Clan Wars map is here a link to an indepth explanation of World of Tanks chip mechanics is here
Basically World of Tanks Clan Wars is based around Clans (duh) which are simply groups of people joined together under one name, with a maximum of 100 players in each group. For each account in your clan that has a tier 5 tank or higher, which takes about on average a few days of grinding, your clan receives one chip.
The maximum number of chips you can have in one territory at once is 15. Each chip allows you to bring one player to a battle. You can move a chip only once per day. If you move chips into battle you can attempt to take over someone else's territory, it schedules a battle at a certain time based upon the provinces local time. For example provinces on the NA server in Western Europe battles start at around 10pm EST and in Eastern Russia they start off at around 7pm EST.
Chips are placed from a clans Headquarters of which it can only have one, and in order to get on the clan wars map clans apply to a landing zone where they are entered into a tournament with all the other landers. The winner then gets to fight with the holder of the landing zone for the territory.
There are many more nuances to clan wars but thats the basics. Below I will go over what I have identified as pertinent to MWO in an issue/observation → Advice format. First I will illustrate what world of tanks actually did and the result, second I will draw a conclusion from the observation and give my advice to PGI about how to use that knowledge for MWO.
Issue #1 Projection of Power
Landing Zones and Gold Collection
By projection of power I mean the ability of one group to influence the game through the in game mechanics, not out of game diplomacy. If you could go anywhere in the world and take whatever you want wherever it is at a moments notice, you would have a lot of power projection. If you had a ten foot leash on you, no matter how strong you are you will have a very limited projection of power.
When Clan Wars was initially introduced the rules were slightly but significantly different. In particular there are two rules that were found to be defective and changed later that had significant impacts. The first rule was that originally as long as your clan owned a province, you collected gold from it no matter what. The second was that you could attempt to land in any landing province as long as you had an available stack of 15 chips in reserve to do so ie not deployed on the map.
What happened was that the first clans able to field a full team of the highest tier tanks simply landed in each time zone, and marched a stack of chips to the most valuable province in each timezone. Simply because they had tier 10 tanks and no one else could field a similar team they were able to sit on these provinces for a long time, and if they lost a battle they were able to simply reland and try again. Because they were in different timezones, they wouldn’t have to worry about their battle times overlapping with each other which meant that attempting to outnumber them by simultaneous battles was not possible. I’ll go into more detail about simultaneous battles in my next point.
This also meant that the first alliance of clans to emerge dominant was able to maintain their dominance easily. The ability to reland on the landing zones meant that instead of being forced to spend a large proportion of chips to garrison the provinces next to landing zones, they could simply spend only one stack to hold the province. This gave them more chips to own more territory, and more insidiously meant that they could assist each other against invasions, no matter how far their land was away from each other.
The result was a stagnant clan wars map with all of the most powerful clans allied to each other sitting on large amounts of territory each, sending their chips around the map to crush any potential hostile clans before they could establish themselves. The clans in the alliance itself were too scared of the others to backstab them, knowing that to do so would be instant annihilation and blacklisting from holding useful land.
It was a classic case of Mutually Assured Destruction, the first clan to dissent would be quickly overwhelmed by the entire alliance sending 15 stacks at them through the nearest landing zone. Anyone not in the alliance deemed a threat would also be inundated wherever they went with 15 stacks from the alliance going through landing zones at them, to keep the new clans from developing into a threat and because all of the clans in the alliance were bored as hell since they had no big enemy to fight. Sure they were collecting a lot of gold, but there’s more to community warfare than just acquiring the biggest dragon’s hoard of riches.
The Rules Change
Wargaming eventually came out with two minor changes to clan wars. First, you could no longer collect gold from provinces that aren’t directly connected by land to your HQ. Second, you could no longer land in landing provinces if you owned any territory that was not a landing zone already.
First, the gold change meant that clans no longer had any incentive to spread out throughout the map, instead they had to stay home and defend their borders. Even if they could take over a province on the other side of the map, they wouldn’t be able to earn any gold for it.
Second, the landing mechanics change meant that they no longer had an ability to project power beyond their borders, and they had to spend more chips defending the land zones guarding the perimeter from the outside, instead of holding the landing zones themselves. This is a big deal because instead of 15/100 chips being used for defense from landing, they would now have to spend 30-45 chips.
A month or two after the change, people started realizing they no longer had to be stronger than the entire alliance, they just had to be stronger than the members of the alliance near them. They also realized that many of these clans in the alliance had grown weak in their time of plenty and had been still standing purely due to support from the whole. It wasn’t long before clans no longer under the boot of the alliance started challenging and taking territory from it which soon shattered as the members of the alliance realized they were now free to reignite old rivalries and avenge old slights.
However other clans that used to be able to go through the map to find fights are now isolated at home, unwilling to declare war on their friends but unable to find anyone to fight to have some fun in the game. The solution that WOT used has its downside in that it makes in many cases fights impossible to find, and ties down people to protecting their landing zones instead of finding fights and getting to actually play WOT in a game and not through the clan wars web-browser. Most fights are now based around protecting your territory from newcomers, rather than being free to fight campaigns against your equals.
Also it’s worth noting that many clans developed a secondary clan to clear landing zones for them, but isolated from their veteran players and an ability to funnel gold they are not nearly as effective. No matter what mechanics you put in players are going to adapt to it.
Lesson #1 Power Projection Needs to be in the Goldilocks Region
If you allow Corps to costlessly project power throughout the entire map, odds are good one alliance will form to farm the resources and use their power to swat down any challengers with the entire force of the alliance. However if you remove the ability of corps to project power at all they will end up sitting around twiddling their fingers in-between gigantic wars. Instead of the two extremes you want the golden area where corps can project power past their own borders, but the amount of power diminishes the farther you get from the corps territory.
MWO needs to increase the cost to a corp of fighting the farther away they get from their own HQ. The problem with WOT was that you could originally send 15 chips from reserve to a landing zone anywhere in the world, and if you needed the chips back they would be available to deploy from your HQ or land again in a mere 24 hours. There was also no cost for landing anywhere, so you can see how trivial and costless it was for them to run around the map anywhere they wanted, secure in the knowledge that they could return their chips quickly if needed.
I would recommend some form of penalty that make its costlier and costlier to fight farther and farther from your HQ. There are many ways PGI could implement this depending on unrevealed details on how they plan to implement clan wars. Here are a few of my own
- Have decreased tonnage in battles farther away from their HQ. Instead of bringing say a thousand tons, they can only bring 500 or 200 instead for the same cost.
- If they have some sort of chip type mechanic, have the chips remain in cooldown longer, the farther away they are sent from their HQ
- Have the ability to trade loyalty points earned by your corp for the ability to send your troops farther, again the farther they are sent the more expensive it will be.
No matter what community warfare game you are in, as long as you can have multiple battles at once, simultaneous battles are going to happen. There is simply just limited time that battles can happen each night, which means that you are going to have to fight battles at the same time as others. This is a very important topic to get right, the whole point is to allow as many games as possible for people to play per night, without making it too easy for one clan to get overwhelmed by sheer numbers alone. People want to be able to say ‘I fought for this territory and won/kept it on the battlefield. No one wants to say ‘Well I just lost my land because the enemy attacked everything I owned at once, and I couldn’t show up to defend it all”
In World of Tanks the strongest clans aren’t those with the single best team of players, but those who can field multiple teams at once. If you don’t have enough people on when a battle starts, you forfeit the battle. If you can’t bring as many people as your attacker, there isn’t any mechanic to even the odds, you will just probably lose because you have less people in the game.
There is no theoretical limit to the number of simultaneous battles a clan can face each and every night, so the strong clans are those that are able to limit their own number of simultaneous battles while maximizing the number of their opponents. Often a territory falls without a single shot, because the defenders are too busy fighting on other battlefields at the exact time they would need to be defending.
If you want to take and hold territory you quickly find that you can not do it alone, without allies to support your flanks, and to give you offsets (throwing 1 chip in to attack an ally in order to delay the fight with the real enemy) you simply can’t hold more than one or two provinces. This also lead to the problem illustrated in issue #1, when you force people to make alliances to do ANYTHING don’t be surprised when they get fed up and just make a super alliance if you let them.
Remember that in World of Tanks you are limited to 100 players in your clan, and without allies you will very quickly find yourself wishing all of them be on every single night. Clans that only field 15 people a night often find themselves winning every battle but losing the war, reduced down to a single territory, until they finally lose that too. It’s also a problem because clans are unwilling to do risky things at all, for fear that if things go wrong they will lose all of their territory for sheer force of numbers, and without a strong alliance assisting you it would be impossible to regain their current territory.
Lesson #2 Part #1 - Separate the bigger corps from the smaller corps
When you implement your system, make sure there is a meaningful area for smaller clans to participate in. World of Tanks fails in this because in order to make significant amounts of gold you simply need to have a lot of players in your clan. There isn’t anywhere you can go that has scaling, where you make less money but you also need less people so it works out in the end. They don’t have any area where you only need 10 or 5 people for battles, but with a lower amount of gold as a reward. This means that you need either 15 people with the best tanks available every single night WITH an alliance to support you, or 30+ people every night without an alliance.
However if you do implement such a system take care that there isn’t an incentive for the bigger clans to just try to takeover the territory meant for starter clans as well. Simple distance would probably be the most effective, have the good territory that requires lots of people in the outer area of the sphere, and the less gold but less people per battle territory closer in to the center territory. That way if the bigger corps want to go after the smaller territory they will be stretched out too thin.
Lesson #2 Part #2 - DON’T IMPLEMENT A MEMBERSHIP CAP IN CORPS
By not allowing more than 100 people in a clan, World of Tanks causes a lot of damage.
The first casualty is the casual gamer. No Clan Wars clan wants him because they need players that show up as often as possible, because they need every single one of their 100 players as active as possible. The second casualty are big wars and big interesting organizations. When you are limited to 100 people in a group, you just run into hard limits with the sustainable number of active people capable of leading and organizing the group. I can’t count the number of times that a once thriving clan in World of Tanks loses 2-3 of their leaders and two weeks later loses all of their land, because no one else ever had an opportunity to learn those duties. The most successful clans are often those that absorb the leadership of another, that way there is a line of back up leadership in case the current guys burn out.
Second, while it hurts everybody, it still hurts big organizations less than small clans ironically. The majority of clans are in area where they have more than 100 players interested in joining, but not enough players to properly form an alt clan. Alt clans require their own set of leaders, something that is already in short supply, and few are the groups capable of fielding their own effective second clan. The few clans that ARE capable of forming alt clans gain a giant advantage, especially in defending/clearing landing zones.
It turns into a giant catch 22, clans don’t want you in their main clan because you don’t have any experience in playing in clan wars. But you can’t get any experience because you aren’t playing in clan wars. Again, I can’t stress enough how important it is to let everyone be under the same exact roof for community warfare. World of Tanks has lost tons of players because they got burned out from the pressure, or because their clan failed due to not having enough people in it to share the load of constant fights.
Issue #3 Timezones
With prearranged 15x15 matches you run into the problem that different people are able to play at different times of the day, due to different schedules, locations etc. Wargaming dealt with this problem by having different timezones on the map dictating when battles start (it usually goes for about 90-120 minutes after the start time of the timezone, which ends up having fights from around 630 to 8:30 for provinces on the map in the far east of Russia, to 9:30 to 11:30 EST for provinces in Western Europe..
This is how wargaming answer the question of how do we make it as fair as possible for two different groups to arrange a time to fight. Their answer was that if both sides consented to entering that timezone, then both sides should be happy to fight in the time zone. Its not a very good solution though, because while it solves the issue of not making people fight at times they don’t want to it makes it so that its impossible for clans to fight in more than one timezone and encourages the amount of simultaneous battles, while minimizing the amount of total battles.
Lesson #3 Allow choice of a general timezone to play in, with a minor ability to influence the exact time it is played in
This is an important question MWO will have to answer, how are you going to set the times when people have to fight? This is also related to Simultaneous battles, you don’t just want all the battles to happen at the exact same time or the bigger corps will have a huge advantage. Instead you want to give a corp the ability to slightly influence the time battles happen, so as to maximize the number of games people actually get to play. If you give people too much flexibility you will have people set it to 6am just to annoy the other teams, but if you have no flexibility in the timezones whatsoever a lot of people will be unable to participate.
One answer I would like to propose would be to have a ‘base time’ for each planet, with an ability for the attacker and defender to negotiate plus or minus a few hours each. The planets would be arranged so that each section of the sphere (aka Liao space/Kurita Space/whatever) has 2-3 different sections, where each planet in each section is within 90 minutes of each other in battle times. This way people should be able to play with a lot more flexibility, and people who want to play all night can have ample opportunity to stagger their games out.
To clear it up I would mean that say House Liao, and the worlds in their sector of space radiating out to the edge of the sphere, would have 3 sections of space timezone wise, 1 2 and 3. Timezone 1 would have all planets base time between 8:30-10PM EST, with the planets each at 8:30, 9:00,9 :30, or 10:00 spread out randomly throughout the sector. Then another sector would be 10 - 11:30 and another would be 6:00 to 8:30.
I believe that such a system would enable people to pick the general time they want to play, without having such a big problem with simultaneous battles. A big unanswered question I pose would be in such a system how much flexibility should corps get to change the battle time from the base time for that world, and how much flexibility should be given to the defender compared to the attacker to change the time.
Issue #4 - The Everyday Grind
Psychological research has shown that when you get rewarded for something you used to do for fun, it is transformed from being something you do for enjoyment to becoming a job, no matter how much fun you used to have. The same thing applies to community warfare in a limited way, albeit less so because you aren’t actually getting paid in real money.
In world of tanks, you have to show up to fight to maintain your land every single day. This is a burden on everyone, but most especially on commanders and battle leaders. It’s easier to replace one tank driver with another, but you only have a limited pool of experienced leaders to run everything. The way things work in World of Tanks it’s often the case that otherwise perfectly functional clans with strong friendships between members have everything upturned because the couple of guys, or sometimes even single guy, running everything just no longer has fun playing the game because it’s now a nightly chore with no breaks.
if you haven’t been in a leadership position in a similar game, it can be draining. Aside from server downtime you have to make sure that someone is there to do map movements, do diplomacy, come up with tactics and lead your battles Every Single Night even on holidays. Imagine the first time you are faced with a choice between going to celebrate your friend’s birthday or staying in to make sure your clan doesn’t lose everything all of you have been working at for months.
Lesson #4 - Lockdown Mechanic
I would like to propose a lockdown mechanic, that would enable people to get a break from community warfare every once in a while without giving up everything they have earned. Simply having a night off can make a big difference in keeping this game fun rather than a chore, and will keep people playing a lot longer.
The biggest issue with such a mechanic is that it will get abused for use other than simply giving people a break, unless you put in ample safeguards against it being so abused. Below is a list of mechanics that should keep it from being used for anything other than granting people a night off. And let’s face it, a lot of us don’t want to fight on Christmas or Thanksgiving, we just want to be able to be home with family, and not worry about if we are losing everything we worked for in game.
- It can can only be used once per two weeks for each corp.
- Any less and it would be abused too often to prevent fighting as a turtle mechanic
- It only affects territory you have owned for two weeks
- It’s to be used to get you a day off, not to allow you to take a territory and avoid the counter attack
- Territory you have owned for less than two weeks is still vulnerable to attack
- Simply restating the above point in a different way
- It must be declared 24 hours in advance with no ability to cancel
- This limits the tactical use of the mechanic
- All income from all territory is zero until lockdown is over
- This causes an economic cost to use it, again making sure it’s only used when necessary for a break and not for a tactical advantage
- You can’t attack while your territory is on lockdown
- Otherwise people would attack and use the mechanic to defend their own territory from a counter attack, again not the intended purpose
- Have an additional economic cost to active the lockdown ie an amount of Loyalty Points, MC or Cbills
- By making this option as unattractive as possible, it should help it from being used for a tactical advantage. Instead it will only be when people really want a break