Musings on Conquest's Effects on the Game

Conquests originally came across as more of a side feature of Galactic Strongholds to me, but after four weeks of dealing with them I can't shake the feeling that they are actually more of a game-changer than housing has been. At least that's how it feels to me, as someone who's in an officer position in an active guild.

It's funny because when you get down to it, conquest consists of nothing but achievements and numbers, but it taps right into that part of the MMO gamer's brain that absolutely loves to make numbers go up and is therefore surprisingly addictive.

Last Monday - the one day of the week when conquests aren't running - one of my guildies commented that he can't remember how he used to spend his time in the game before he started grinding conquest points. It made me laugh, but I can understand where he's coming from.

Personally I do remember what I used to do before, and I almost have the opposite problem as my guildie, one I already alluded to in this post: the limitations on conquest-related PvE activities. While there are a lot of different ways to earn points, there are still even more activities that don't award any. Non-group finder operations don't count most weeks. Doing a non-random flashpoint for the story won't earn you points either. Questing on a planet that isn't contested this week? Forget getting any rewards. I've been having a lot of fun with conquest since its launch, but I've also found myself thinking about things I'd like to do but that I keep putting off - purely because they don't award conquest points and I feel as if I'm letting the guild down by wanting to play in a way that doesn't contribute. Which leaves me with no time to play my Imperial alts, do regular quests or complete the Forged Alliances story arc on multiple characters.

It's kind of ridiculous really. It reminds me of how people in WoW used to complain about "having to" cap their valour points for the week, when that only affected other people indirectly. Yet here I am fretting about not making enough of an effort and possibly letting my guildies down due to not playing in exactly the prescribed manner for the week. It's shameful and I know I really need to relax or I will face burnout issues soon. I wonder if other people have this problem.

Also, now that people are starting to gain an understanding of how conquest guild rewards work, an interesting trend is developing. Getting anywhere between second and tenth place on the leaderboard is rewarding, but not amazingly so, in the sense that it doesn't give you anything that you wouldn't also have been able to acquire through other means. However, first place rewards an exclusive achievement and title for each planet you conquer, which is quite appealing. Due to a handful of mega-guilds dominating on each server, you're unlikely to ever get first place if you aren't a member of one of these select few. So people are flocking to those mega-guilds, even if it's just with their alts, purely to get the achievement and title by being somehow associated with the right guild tag. From what I've heard, some large guilds already had to put a stop on their recruiting as they were hitting the 500 character cap for guilds. Some previously medium-sized guilds have also gone on massive recruitment sprees in an attempt to become mega-guilds themselves.

When people said that conquest was only going to encourage mega-guilds, I initially discarded that notion, as it's quite possible for a smaller guild to get onto the leaderboard. If you want to get to the very top however, you need the kind of raw numbers that a small number of people just can't put out, no matter how dedicated they are. Yet looking at the way things are shaping up, getting in first place is considerably more desirable than just getting onto the leaderboard in general. And since people will go a long way for achievements, the big guilds are where it's at. I can't help but wonder if we are really going to see people increasingly congregate towards mega-guilds purely in an attempt to get that coveted top spot and its associated rewards, and if so, whether this is going to noticeably change the guild landscape as a whole.


Guild Conquest Success

My guild didn't really participate much in conquest during its first two weeks, largely due to the fact that my pet tank and I were on holiday for most of this period and therefore not around to drum up interest.

For week three we were all the more determined to get everyone involved and see what our guild could do. We ended up scoring over a million points, with twenty people contributing - but the lowest score on the leaderboard was still more than twice as much.

I had very mixed feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand the whole system had given us a great excuse to be more active than previously and make a point of playing with guildies instead of alone. I really appreciated people's efforts. I posted an internal leaderboard on our guild forums to let everyone know who had contributed how many points. It was a real eye-opener to see who got really into conquests and who didn't care.

On the other hand the experience was also a little demotivating. People had tried so hard, and yet chances of ever getting onto the leaderboard with a score like ours seemed slim, considering the competition.

Nonetheless, Tuesday rolled around and we decided to park the guild ship above Nar Shaddaa and dive right into the action again. People were giddy and playing obsessively that evening, and suddenly we found ourselves in the top ten for the planet, slowly clawing our way up over the course of the evening until we reached fifth place. It felt great, but I figured that it was just a fluke, that we had simply managed to get in before the bigger guilds, who were sure to push us off quickly once they decided to join in.

However, much to my surprise, we were still on the board the next morning, though we had been pushed down a rank or two. And that's roughly where we remained for the rest of the week, finally ending the week as number six on the leaderboard, with a score of just over two million.

Incidentally, Larry Everett on Massively, who had also been a bit disappointed by his initial experience with conquests, published an article called "Five tips for making SWTOR conquests work for smaller guilds" last Tuesday in which he was clearly pleased to have found that his (also rather small) guild could be successful in conquests after all.

After our experience with Nar Shaddaa it seems to me that there is one tip that's more important than all others: Participate in conquest during a week when as many planets as possible are up for grabs. During the week when things seemed kind of dire to me, only three planets were contested, meaning that there were a total of thirty leaderboard spots to go around. This past week, people could choose among five different planets, opening up a total of fifty spots - and as it turns out, while we may not be among the top thirty guilds on the server, we absolutely can make it into the top fifty with a planet that offers bonuses that suit our play style.


Welcome to my half-empty Coruscant apartment

I think I've identified four ways in which people interact with Galactic Strongholds so far.

First, we have the ignorant or disinterested - maybe they haven't really looked into the new features yet and might still change their minds later, but either way they haven't really played around with housing much, if they even bothered to purchase a stronghold at all. The polar opposite of these are the enthusiasts who spend hours decorating their strongholds, trying to get everything just right.

Then there are the min-maxers, who don't really care about housing per se, but they do care about getting a bonus of up to a hundred percent to their conquest point earnings, so they acquire as many rooms as possible and fill them with random crap, usually speeders and boss portraits.

And then there are people like me, who are a bit... lost. I do like the idea of housing, but I just can't get myself to knuckle down and make sure my house looks really nice. Every now and then I'll be struck by an idea and purchase one or two items in an attempt to realise it... but I quickly tire of the steps of finding just the right item, finding out where to get it, making sure I have the right reputation and currency to acquire it, travelling to the right vendor, buying the item, going back to my house, adding the item to my inventory, and then finally putting it down. Not to mention that, being a perfectionist, it never quite looks the way I imagined anyway. So I end up with lots of half empty rooms with a couple of items strewn around the place, commemorating my abandoned ideas - but at the same time I absolutely refuse to fill my stronghold randomly just for the sake of conquest points.

At least one person has asked me to see my stronghold, and I feel a little ashamed that I don't actually have much to show for my efforts yet. But then I thought: if I'm going to work on this slowly, maybe it's not a bad idea to capture my house at different points in time - that way I can actually see the progress I'm making. So I decided to take a couple of screenshots of my Coruscant apartment, unimpressive as it is right now. Tatooine and Dromund Kaas are still mostly empty, because why start working on multiple strongholds when I can't even get a single one right? I don't think I've even been to my Nar Shaddaa home yet.

Anyway, let's get to it:

I intentionally made the entrance area a bit messy-looking, as I picture my characters coming home after a long day of work, feeling tired, and dropping everything where they stand, and I wanted the environment to reflect that.

Thinking practically, I also wanted all the things that were likely to cause me to visit my stronghold, such as the legacy bank or the gathering nodes, to be right there where you load in. I thought I was really clever for thinking of it like that, but from what I've seen from other people's strongholds, a lot of them had the same idea.

In the main hall we have my killer droid guards. No, they are not vendors, honest.

Do you think I may have overdone it a little with the boss pictures here? This is meant to be the main social area. I don't like how rough the tables and couches look and would like to eventually replace them with nicer versions, but for now they'll do. I figure that with all those pictures on the wall, visitors will never run out of things to talk about.

The master bedroom is still a bit empty, but I made sure to buy a nice bed as I couldn't stand the thought of whoever of my characters owns this place having to sleep in one of the crappy beds you get for free. Speaking of which, I'm really not sure whose bed this should be. Originally I figured that my trooper main would have her base of operations on Coruscant (patriotism!) but then I added some rooms that are really more Jedi-like, so I can't decide if the place should officially belong to my Sage or my Guardian.

I didn't take any picture of the staircases, the balcony and one of the small upstairs rooms, as those are still very empty except for a couple of lights and potted plants.

Directly upstairs we have what I like to think of as the chair spam room meeting room. I picture characters from my legacy coming together here with all their companions to discuss the state of the galaxy and other serious matters.

At some point while decorating upstairs, I decided that I needed an additional GTN terminal and mailbox, since I didn't want to have to run downstairs every time I bought a new decoration for one of the upstairs rooms. I used a wall terminal because I didn't have any more kiosks left, but I'd like to officially state that I hate the GTN wall terminals - even if you move them as far downwards as possible, they are still positioned so high up on the wall that your characters wouldn't actually be able to reach them. It looks stupid.

The other main upstairs room is a sort of Jedi study... thing, possibly doubling as a meditation/relaxation area. Mostly I want to fill it with datacron decorations. See that Holocron of Fear at the back there? I won that in Dread Fortress the other night, yay!

For more focused solitary studies and work, there's a small office type room.

Finally, I've turned two of the smaller rooms into guest rooms where I used the crappy free beds. They kind make the place look like some sort of refugee shelter more than a proper guest room though, so I'll probably want to replace them too at some point.

Now, if you want to see some actually finished and nice-looking homes, I recommend checking out the customised strongholds on TOR Decorating. Most of the submissions there demonstrate some seriously impressive decorating skills.


Legacy of the Rakata

When I commented in my last post that we wouldn't have to wait very long until the release of part three of Forged Alliances, I didn't even realise that it was scheduled to be included in the patch that dropped the very next day. I can't believe the patches are rolling in faster than I can keep track of them! Not that I'm complaining, mind you.

So how does flashpoint number three, Legacy of the Rakata, wrap things up? Quite nicely.

We're being sent to Rakata Prime, another KOTOR planet, and according to my pet tank it's a very faithful reconstruction. For me, without the KOTOR connection, it was mainly very pretty, and running through the jungle reminded me a bit of Taral V, though Rakata Prime has a lot less trash to wade through. And nicer weather.

We were duo-ing our first run again, and difficulty-wise Legacy of the Rakata felt considerably easier than Depths of Manaan. Unlike on Manaan, we never really felt pushed to our limits. Things were just slow with no real dps, with the possible exception of the second boss and his hordes of adds. One of his special attacks was actually quite painful.

A nice little detail I noticed was that this flashpoint actually featured new combat music! I don't think we've seen any updates to that since launch, so I thought it was a pleasant surprise to be fighting bosses to slightly different tunes.

So how does the story get wrapped up? This is where we enter spoiler territory, so don't read the stuff below the picture of the mysterious stranger if you still want to avoid spoilers.

I have to admit that Revan leading the Revanites wasn't exactly a big surprise, but that doesn't mean that it's an unwelcome revelation. He's a character that people have an attachment to, KOTOR knowledge or not, and that has the potential for a very interesting story arc. Not to mention the question of whether we're actually facing the real Revan - he's masked after all, and both Pet Tank and I agreed that his voice wasn't the same as it had been in the previous flashpoints - but that might simply have been an issue of Bioware being unable to get that particular voice actor back, so who knows. Either way I'm excited to see how this will tie into the next expansion.

Of course I joked to my pet tank that now we'll spend the next four operations fighting Revanites, Kephess will feature in each of them, and it will turn out that Revan was behind the Dread Masters all along.


Depths of Manaan

I've run this new flashpoint three times so far, yet I still struggle to express my opinion on it. I feel that it's a solid piece of content, but I'm having a hard time getting really excited about it. It's supposed to be the second of (I think) three parts of the Forged Alliances story, and based on previous experience, I often find the middle part of a trilogy a bit lacklustre, as it provides neither the excitement of setting up a new story arc nor the satisfaction of a proper conclusion. I was surprised to hear people like JD praise it for supposedly being so much better and more engaging than the first part.

(Story spoilers in this paragraph only.) Finding out that Colonel Darok and Darth Arkous are working together probably comes as a surprise to exactly no-one, considering that this is exactly what the ending of part one was hinting at. That they were trying to create a new type of supersoldier is hardly a shock either. (They were bound to be planning something to gain power.) The revelation that they are working for the Revanites was certainly interesting, but considering that Lana then says that they have changed a lot since those early quests on Dromund Kaas, we don't really know what facing the Revanites means, leaving us no wiser about what to expect of this new enemy than we were before. Bring on part three already, is all I'm saying.

As for Manaan, I got the impression that a lot of people were very excited about it simply because it's a planet that was previously featured in the original Knights of the Old Republic game. As someone who still hasn't played either KOTOR and was therefore lacking this emotional connection, I honestly found the area kind of bland and clinical looking. Though the signs were funny I guess. "We also kindly ask that you do not swim or bathe in plaza fountains." Also, water that is more than knee-deep! Of course you die if you jump into the sea. (Once again, I just had to try.) I guess it doesn't matter if you're the best of the best of Republic special forces or a Sith of the Dark Council, the ability to swim is just too much to ask.

In general I approve of Bioware letting us go down on the planet before entering the flashpoint though, even if there isn't anything more to it right now than the welcoming area. There is always room to add more content in the future. And I do like the music that plays there. The moment I first heard it, it immediately made me think of wide, open sea.

Mechanics-wise the new flashpoint is pretty entertaining. There isn't too much trash, and the bosses actually require you to pay some attention. On our first run-through my pet tank and I decided to duo the instance once again, but even with how overgeared we were, we felt pushed to our limits on some fights. The last boss even seems to have a five minute enrage timer (or rather, you keep getting the message that you'll die if you don't beat him within five minutes; I haven't tested it but I assume it's true). The two of us with two dps companions out barely got him down in time. When we later pugged a run with a full group, another guy managed to get himself killed within seconds on the second boss by standing in "the bad", as it really was that deadly. We'll see how long it takes until they nerf that I guess.

If you haven't caught up with the Forged Alliances story yet, I highly recommend it! I'm just glad we shouldn't have to wait very long until the release of part three, which will hopefully include some genuinely new information.


The Inventory Shuffle

For all the exciting new features that came with 2.9, I have to confess that the thing that I've been focused on the most so far has probably been the task of shuffling my possessions around. Don't judge me!

I believe that the joy of organising your inventory is one of those things that you either get or you don't - either it's something you can relate to because you do it yourself (at least to a certain extent) or you just consider the happy item shuffler insane for wasting their time making sure that all their gear is arranged in just the right order. I'm definitely in the former camp.

As such, I've been loving the addition of the account bank, but... sadly it isn't really enough for me. It's adequate, but I still want more account-wide space. I unlocked all five tabs and filled them up with one stack of each crafting material in the game, one stack of each type and rank of companion gift, a bunch of other things... and then the whole thing was full, leaving me with the problematic question of what to do with everything else.

It's not that I don't have space. Consolidating things like the companion gifts inside the account bank has freed up a lot of room in my characters' individual cargo holds. But the way I'm going to use that space has to make sense in my head.

You see, before the introduction of legacy storage, I had settled on a sort of unofficial system. Most of my characters had two to three bank tabs, with the first one being dedicated to crafting materials for their crew skills (if applicable) and various personal possessions (such as nice pieces of armour bound to the character), and the second tab housed all that bloody legacy armour that Bioware gave out with the launch of Galactic Starfighter.

Now I've taken most of the crafting materials out of the individual cargo holds, but I generally owned more than one stack of everything, so there were a lot of leftovers that didn't fit into the account bank. But which individual should get to keep what, keeping in mind that I want my mats to stay with the character who's most likely to use them and that I still want to be able to find things later? Decisions, decisions. And many opportunities to log back and forth between alts to move things around.

I'm still not quite done, as there are a couple of characters with whom I haven't really done anything since 2.9, but I'm slowly getting there.

All that other content? Uh... I'll get around to it, honest!


Conquests - What are they good for?

Larry Everett wrote an interesting article describing his own first experience with conquest events on Massively last week. Its core message can be summed up in about three words: "yes but why". He experienced conquest events as fun, but ultimately not rewarding enough to keep putting in the effort, especially since only the top ten guilds fighting over each planet actually receive tangible rewards.

Despite of having been away on holiday, I did get a chance to take part in the first two weeks of conquest - the only problem being that my time to actually achieve anything was cut short by the holiday, so that trying to attain my personal reward on at least one character each week meant cramming a lot of play into a relatively short span of time.

My first impression of conquest is that, on a purely personal level, it's a second achievement system with a new coat of paint. It's telling that the pop-ups to inform you that you've completed a conquest objective look exactly like regular achievement pop-ups, which actually caused me some confusion initially. It's kind of as if Bioware suddenly decided to back-pedal in regards to the game's account-wide achievement system, as if they are worried about how it causes the lure of achievements to dry up after a while and in a way that can't be combated by rolling more alts. (You'll still only ever see the "grats on reaching level 10" achievement once.) How do you keep those achievers engaged that have already done everything on their account? Apparently the answer is to give them a secondary achievement system that works on a per-character basis and resets every week. Doesn't matter if the reward for hours of gameplay consists of nothing but a few housing items - the achievement pop-up itself, that feeling of "having done it" is a reward in itself.

An achievement for completing pseudo-achievements. Hooray!

It's pretty clever and my impression so far is that it's working well. Most common play styles are supported, and if you're a PvPer or a GSF fan, you'll probably be able to earn enough points for your weekly reward by simply doing what you've always done, while getting the satisfying feeling of having completed two goals at the same time. (One of our guild's PvPers was the biggest contributor to our guild's conquest score this week, purely because of the number of warzones he did.)

I do worry a little about the PvE-related conquest activities, as their aim seems to be to nudge people towards parts of the game that would benefit from additional player participation instead of simply rewarding people for playing their way. For example you can earn points for doing an operation through the group finder, but not for doing it on a harder difficulty with your guild. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that. On the one hand I'm always in favour of Bioware trying to keep all kinds of content relevant and running, but on the other hand I worry a little about this being a recipe for burnout, e.g. if you're a hardmode or NiM raider and end up doing things you wouldn't normally do on top of your normal operations just to earn conquest points, especially since some of the rewarded activities can be quite grindy. My pet tank seems to think that it's great that you can earn conquest points from doing low-level heroics and mowing down planetary mobs by the hundreds, but to me that feels kind of tiresome on a max-level character that could usually find "better" things to do.

On the second day after release, my guild (Twin Suns Squadron) briefly made it into the Alderaan top ten. Note the names of old, non-existent servers attached to some guilds... makes you wonder about what happened on Bioware's back-end when they performed those server merges back in 2012.

On a guild basis I find the conquest system and everything connected to it a lot more intriguing. Sure, part of it is simply grinding out points as a team to try and move your guild up the ranks... but it also genuinely rewards playing together. You need a guild ship to be able to get on the scoreboard, and to improve this guild ship you need to hunt down decorations and kill planetary commanders (or alternatively... spend your time crafting for the next decade or so). There is something warm and fuzzy about running a flashpoint together and then donating the housing items that dropped to the guild bank, to then be able to admire them in your shared space.

Feeling like a strike team, we extract an unnamed commander from an Imperial base on Voss (as staying too close to the entrance got us pwned by NPCs).

And trying to kill commanders is currently an absolute hoot. I'm guessing that the situation will calm down somewhat once the newness wears off and some people lose interest, but at the moment they are highly contested. While attacking a commander doesn't automatically flag you for PvP on a PvE server, it does require you to get pretty close to enemy territory, and it's almost inevitable that you end up running into members of the opposite faction and considerable NPC resistance. Once you're brawling with half the base it's pretty much only a matter of time until someone ends up PvP-flagged... and then the real madness begins. Alternatively, if one side absolutely refuses to get flagged for PvP, you can engage in a fun little game of outhealing the raid's damage on the commander to keep him alive indefinitely. Been there, done that! What can I say, I've always had a soft spot for the mayhem of competing for world bosses, even if I sometimes get annoyed by people's methods.

Sneaking up on a named commander on Tatooine - this is not going to end well...

I think that the conquest system is a solid addition to the game and brings with it the potential for a lot of fun. I don't think that it needs amazing rewards either - just seeing your name on that leaderboard is reward enough in my opinion. We'll see how things pan out in the long term though.


Refer-A-Friend Update

I'm back from my holiday (which was very enjoyable, thank you for asking) and still in the process of catching up with what has happened in game since I left and what my favourite bloggers have been writing about. One thing I did already notice however was that I received another referral reward in my absence, bringing my total up to five.

I believe that I put my referral link up on the blog around the end of March/beginning of April, so it took about five months to make the five referrals that are needed to get all the rewards, about one per month then. Apparently I also earned 1200 bonus Cartel Coins from people subscribing after they've been referred by me.

I considered taking the referral link down after I got all the little recoloured droid pets, because once you have all the rewards, what's the point? However, looking at those bonus Cartel Coins it's clearly worth it to keep making referrals even after you've received all the item rewards. And who knows, maybe Bioware will one day add a little extra reward for people who've made ten referrals or however many I'll be up to by then... so I'll leave that little sidebar box up for now.

Either way, I just wanted to say a quick thanks to all the people who have used the referral link so far and who got me all those little droid pets. I hope you've been enjoying the game!


Galactic Strongholds First Impressions

Last year I went on holiday shortly after the launch of Rise of the Hutt Cartel and had to wait until I came back to experience a lot of the expansion content. Turning the act of missing out on expansion excitement into a tradition, I managed to book myself in for just after the launch of Galactic Strongholds this year. This time I didn't have the time or energy to pre-write a couple of extra posts to keep you entertained during my absence either, so I'm afraid you'll have to do without my witty contributions for the next ten days.

I did want to get at least a brief first impressions post of the housing system out of my system though.

First off, I like the new loading screen. Overall, I still prefer the more "realistic" art style they used on the original loading screen, but out of all the ones they've done in the new stylised fashion they've adopted since Rise of the Hutt Cartel, I probably like this one the best.

After all my arguing back and forth about which stronghold to get, I unlocked them all at the basic level, but decided to only work on the Coruscant apartment for now. And by "work on", I mean that I plonked down the new legacy bank next to the door and started logging various alts to shuffle items around.

Getting down to business.

I did unlock all the rooms on Coruscant though, and promptly felt the urge to throw myself off the balcony just to see if it was possible or if I'd get stopped by invisible walls. (The answer is, I died.) Since it was advertised in the description as offering freedom from safety restrictions, I just had to know!

Relogging all my alts quickly showed just how much this new housing feature is designed to favour large legacies, as every character received a whole bunch of free items for completing the introductory quest, which were then added to my legacy furniture pool.

As the various free chairs and rugs started piling up, I decided that I should at least place a couple of them in the room I was working on. I was pleasantly surprised by how intuitive the hook system was. The only issue I had at the beginning was that I didn't know which type of item was going to be which size and I couldn't find a way to browse through them without selecting a hook first, which led to frantic switching between random hook sizes just to find the right items.

Too tired... haven't placed bed yet...

Overall I was really impressed by the system though. It's easy to use and you really don't need to be big on decorating to be able to put something together that looks at least half-decent. At the same time, if you do like to customise, you can switch between different hook layouts, shift items around on their hooks and rotate them up to 360 degrees. This strikes me as a reasonable compromise between giving people options and keeping the system simple enough that it remains easy to use. Thumbs up from me, Bioware.

Some of the decorations are kind of silly. You can place your companions, but when you're on a character that doesn't have that companion, they just appear as a hologram. I had read about that beforehand, and though I didn't like it very much, I also wasn't too fussed about it. What I did mind was finding that my Aric Jorgan hologram was wearing nothing but undies! Yikes! I guess this is because the game doesn't know which armour set to pick, considering that I have more than one trooper who has Aric as a companion. At least they could have given him some generic armour or something...

If you're a raider, you'll also get about ten million free wall decorations consisting of boss portraits. What do non-raiders put on their walls other than patriotic banners? I seem to have nothing but boss trophies to choose from.

Of course pictures like the above look less like heroic trophies and more like they should come with a caption such as "wish you were here". Or like one of the drouks should be carrying a pitchfork.

Of course this didn't prevent me from making a "boss wall" where I arranged their portraits in order of raid progression. Of all the beings I killed before...

I also visited my pet tank's Coruscant apartment and laughed at some of his silly arrangements, such as the staircases stuffed with pets. Our guild master has purchased the stronghold on Tatooine for the guild and my pet tank has already claimed one room as his office. It was quite fun to hear him lecture the guild master about how he thought the place should be decorated. Furniture is serious business, yo!

In a nutshell, I like what I've seen of the housing so far, but I think I'll need to take things slowly. It seems that Bioware added an absolute crap-ton of housing items to all parts of the game, and I need to investigate what you can get from where and whether it's worth getting for me personally. That's definitely something to look forward to in the long run though.

As for the other new features of this patch, I've run the Manaan flashpoint once but haven't really had a chance to look at the Conquest system yet. I'll be writing about all these things as soon as I get back.


Content Vs. Features: A Zero-Sum Game

The other week Traitine expressed some annoyance (among other things) about Eric Musco stating that Bioware currently has no plans for expanding Galactic Starfighter, or at least none that they are willing to share with us. I absolutely understand how much of a disappointment this must be if you're a big fan of GSF.

On the other hand however... I was pretty down on the game when GSF launched, precisely because it wasn't my cup of tea and yet every other patch seemed to be "GSF this, GSF that". I have since come to find some enjoyment in occasionally engaging in space PvP, but if you asked me to choose between getting a new gameplay mode for GSF or getting a new operation for example, there would be no contest for me. I'd take the new operation hands down. In fact, I can't shake the feeling that GSF has at least been partially responsible for the fact that we haven't seen a new operation since October, so considering possible trade-offs is probably not as hypothetical as one might think.

I can't help but be reminded of that Massively poll from several months ago about whether people would prefer new content or new features, given the choice of what to add to their favourite MMO next. I think I already linked to it once in the past, and a majority in the comment thread seemed to argue in favour of features and how they supposedly keep players busy for longer than mere new content.

I think what people tend to forget is that many features aren't one-off affairs. Sure, some can be. If your game doesn't have a system that allows people to customise the looks of their gear independent of their stats and then you add such a functionality, that's now something that can keep players busy for a long time and with little to no additional effort required afterwards, as you were probably going to introduce new pieces of armour periodically anyway. But if you add, say, a new gameplay mode, you may soon find that its fans are clamouring for more content for this new feature, and instead of having added something to keep players busy with little effort, you've just made more work for yourself as there is now another part of the game that needs regular maintenance.

I reckon that for most MMO developers, the amount of resources they have available to keep adding to the game stays relatively consistent once the game has found its stride. This means that at first you can dedicate X man hours to making new solo content, Y to group content and Z to PvP. What happens if you add something like Galactic Starfighter though? Now you have a new gameplay mode that also demands attention, and no matter which way you shift your resources, someone is going to get the short end of the stick and be unhappy.

I think the best way to get the most enjoyment possible out of an MMO is to try and find fun in as many aspects of it as you can, as this minimises the effect that resources being shifted around can have on you personally. You can always have fun with something else if your favourite part of the game isn't currently receiving updates. However, realistically few people are going to be interested in all parts of an MMO. When you add new content to an existing aspect of your game, you at least know who you're catering to - you already have players who enjoy that kind of  thing. Introducing a whole new feature to the game on the other hand can be a big risk. How many of your current players are going to like it? How many are going to be negatively affected because suddenly their preferred play style receives less support? Is the mere presence of the new feature going to pull in more new players than it's going to piss off old players?

I think that Bioware has been quite bold to introduce space PvP the way they did, and to now add housing so shortly afterwards. I just worry a little how well they'll be able to keep piling things on without losing some support at the base. We have no numbers to gauge how popular Galactic Starfighter has been, but judging by it going from a much-hyped new feature to "we have no plans to expand on this" within half a year, it probably hasn't been quite as much of a success as they were hoping. For Bioware's sake, we can only keep our fingers crossed that housing does better. I mean, I'm excited about it and I know other people who are as well, but I'm pretty sure that there are also players out there who are annoyed about having to wait even longer for their next operation or warzone because Bioware wants to cater to people who love playing house.