Conquest Changes Part 2 – Size Does Matter
Last week, I wrote about the core mechanics of Planetary Conquests and how creating a system where players felt obligated to play in a way they did not want to was counterproductive. But there is another plane on which Planetary Conquests run, arguably one far more important and harder to control than simple values or objectives: the human element. Conquests naturally create allies and adversaries. It’s one player’s guild versus the rest of the world and, despite how daunting that task seems, it can be completed by anyone doing almost anything. The one caveat: you need to be in a big enough guild to have a chance.
Since Conquests were first announced, players in small guilds have been asking for some avenue to be competitive in them. I’ve seen all manner of suggestions on the forums but the two main schools of thought that I have seen either support a conquest point cap or guild alliances. Conquest point caps come in many different flavors but the main idea is to limit the number of points a player can get per day or the number of guild members counting towards a guild’s overall score. Guild alliances, on the other hand, would allow smaller guilds to band together to directly compete against larger guilds while still maintaining autonomy. Both ideas have their upsides, but I see too many problems with each to definitively support one or the other.
Limiting participation in guild events to give smaller guilds a chance is nothing new for MMOs. When WoW released its guild leveling system in Cataclysm it put a cap on the amount of guild experience a guild could earn per week, effectively causing all guilds to level at the same exact rate for a time. Rift puts similar restrictions on guild quests, preventing large guilds from rushing right to max guild level. Those are the only two systems I have experienced firsthand but in both cases I felt like my guild was being needlessly hindered from progressing. I have never been fan of artificial restrictions in games. I was strongly opposed to addition of weekly commendation caps in PvE and I still don’t see any reason for reputation to be capped the way it is. Caps are such lazy design tools, used when designers can’t figure an elegant solution or the right numbers to balance a system. Caps create too many “feel bad” moments and I don’t see how restricting big guilds does anything but frustrate larger guilds.
Guild alliances would seem to be a better solution, but I feel the situation is more complex than people are giving it credit for. Alliances would more than likely be a very resource intensive system to design and seeing how far in advance things seemed to be planned internally at Bioware even if alliances were identified as a high priority item it would probably take months before they took effect and by that point would people even care? And even if implementing alliances were as easy as flipping a switch, they are far too exploitable. It would be great if all alliances did was allow smaller guilds to band together, but what would prevent the bigger guilds from joining up to make a massive unstoppable juggernaut? How about every guild on a server banding together so that everyone gets the rewards? If my time in MMOs has taught me anything it’s that players will take the path of least resistance, even if that means players have to work together. Look no further than the early win trading in Illum, for an example of this. There are obviously checks that could be put in place to prevent exploits but at what point would it be better to fix the problem than to create a new solution?
Having read my opinions on the above proposed solutions and hearing me say on the podcast that I think large guilds should have an advantage in conquests you may think like I don’t believe anything should be done to help small guilds. That’s where you would be wrong. As I’ve discussed many times, Planetary Conquest’s greatest strength is its modularity. Things can be swapped in and out on the fly, which allows Bioware to experiment on what works and what doesn’t. The worst thing that happens is players are mad for a week. The biggest SWTOR story last week was the whole Illum debacle; does anyone even care anymore? I think Bioware should try different types of conquests geared towards giving small guilds a chance. It doesn’t even have to be full conquest events. Each week a different planet could be a special conquest that isn’t conquered in the way all the others are. One week Nar Shaddaa is the “High Rollers Conquest” and the guild with the highest scoring single player wins the planet. The next, Alderaan is the “Diplomatic Conquest” where all active guild members’ scores are averaged and the highest average scoring guild wins. I think Bioware should do more unique conquests like this for all types of guilds, but I see the biggest upside residing with helping small guilds compete. Spicing conquests up in some way is the key to keeping them relevant long term so why not start here?
While not directly targeted at small guilds I think Bioware should also consider adding in a conquest lockout for guilds that win multiple weeks in a row. There are a few guilds out there that are so massive and so dedicated it would shock me if they didn’t win every planet they try for. In these cases it can be a really disheartening experience knowing that certain guilds will not lose. Guilds that win three or four planets in a row should be locked out of Planetary Conquests for a few weeks to give other guilds a chance. In the meantime that “dynasty guild” would be given the rewards for every conquest they are locked out of. Additionally, “dynasty guilds” would be listed as controlling every planet and are allowed use the walker mounts without restriction. Bioware could also add other incentives like titles or bonuses to make being a “dynasty” feel awesome. I think adding this small restriction would help out smaller guilds without simultaneously feeling like a punishment for the cream of the crop.
It is imperative for Bioware to incentivize players to log in by making everything they do feel special and important. More players logging in leads to a healthier, more vibrant game and a healthy game leads to more players logging in; the MMO’s ever-present virtuous cycle. I think far too many players are unnecessarily frightened by the prospect of joining a big guild, but that the feeling of autonomy and smallness has its charm too. I would still implore anyone in a small guild to consider merging into a larger community. The first M in MMO is massively, not miniature, if you look hard enough you will find a group of likeminded, fun loving individuals and your SWTOR experience will be that much more enjoyable. But for the players that would rather stay small, there are things Bioware could do to help out these little guys.
What do you think? Should Bioware help smaller guilds with conquests or should Planetary Conquests be survival of the biggest?