360o Review - Paradigm Shift|
At the start of last year during the cold dark days when most people are hibernating, we conducted a fairly thorough analysis of the game looking at trends over years and from this produced what we think were reasonable speculations as to the possible future of the game. We also looked to see if certain concerns players had voiced had merit and to what degree.
The nice discovery was that the game was doing well. The player base, though changing was staying at static levels. We were seeing some affiliations had grown significantly even though others had shrunk. What was interesting though was which factions had grown and where they were active and which had shrunk and where they were most active.
The disconcerting discovery was that there was a distinct divide with the game. The factions that were recruiting, growing and very active were largely based on secret space and expanding further into secret space. It was found that the vast majority of starbases built over the past five years were in secret space and this is despite the addition of Corewards and Orion Spur. Further, the ratio of secret to public starbase was accelerating as public starbases were being dismantled or downgraded to outposts.
We questioned various leaders why they were favouring secret space. The answer was clear. Colonisation of public space meant compromising roleplaying in order to buddy up with aggressive factions or potentially fighting an endless war against dedicated wargamers. Many held the view that this was not viable as the combat system favoured all out aggression. What was very interesting however was those building in secret space felt forced to do so rather than doing so preferentially.
As wargamers want opposition to fight they are also unhappy that factions are primarily expanding into secret space. As such it was looking like without intervention nobody would have the game they wanted. The question raised is what is to be done?
The first thing was simply to define what we wanted. This was fairly obvious:
A rich communal environment where all players can get involved, interact, fight, explore, trade and create legacies. There also needed to be areas where small factions could thrive without large aggressive factions simply using weight of resources to dominate. We are definitely not looking to neuter aggression but want to emphasise projection of power, locus of control, how it can be deployed and diplomatic repercussions.
We realised though that bringing the game in line with the vision shared with the majority of players was neither going to be without issue or quick.
For this to happen we had to first tackle the elephant in the room – ground combat. Not all ground combat, but rather the super-elite form whereby a potentially unlimited size ground party could bypass all orbital defences and bring everything to bear on its target. Up to this point we accepted that dealing with the issue was in the player domain but all we were achieving was pushing one faction into every greater specialisation in waging this kind of combat and everybody on the receiving end out of public space.
The first stage of resolving the issue was simply to render bypassing orbital defences on developed worlds impossible. We introduced planetary shields as part of infrastructure. This feature along with improvements to platforms means that invading a world (starbase) is now a two step operation; dealing with orbital defences then the ground assault. Of course we also had to revisit orbital defences ensuring that they could be up to the task. Players now have the ability to develop some serious defences that are more than just follies that telegraph the actions of the aggressor and give the defenders greater opportunity to play a part other than victim.
As planetary shields potentially only delay the initiation of ground combat we appreciate that the update is however a step along the road, not the destination. We need to reshape ground combat altogether, moving away from the propensity for overwhelming odds in order to achieve near immediate but no less absolute victory. To this end it is our ambition to make combat fun for the defender – no small feat to say the least.
With one eye on the future of ground combat, the second step was to introduce benefits for making space communal rather than exclusive. Unlike the hatchet job on the ability to bypass orbital defence, this is more subtle and can be read about in Living Together (in the next IGN - soon).