Thursday, February 07, 2008
The state of Pirates of the Burning Sea
Keen is bored of sinking ships. The Ancient Gaming Noob is adrift in a burning sea. Potshot feels himself to be a shipwreck on the burning sea. My own PotBS subscription is running out in two weeks. A short review of recent blog posts on Pirates of the Burning Sea gives anecdotal evidence that interest in this game is declining.
Pirates of the Burning Sea has 11 servers. On each server there are 4 factions, whose player load is shown separately. On my server the biggest population is the British (no wonder on a European English server). At "very heavy" load there are around 500 British players online. For once that is easy to count, because while the /who command in PotBS sucks big time, they have a useful /whocount command other games are missing. Prime time maximum concurrent users per PotBS server is thus lower than 2,000. There is a rule of thumb saying that for games with monthly fees the ratio of subscribers to maximum concurrent users is about 5 (for Second Life with no monthly fee the ratio is over 200, because there isn't even an option to cancel your free subscription). Thus an order-of-magnitude estimation of Pirates of the Burning Sea subscription numbers is around 100,000. Not totally bad, but only half of what the closest comparable game, EVE Online, has.
For all the bad things you can say about the end game of World of Warcraft, one must admit that there are quite a lot of options. In Pirates of the Burning Sea you reach the level cap even faster than in WoW, and the end game options are far more limited. The whole purpose of the game is PvP, and the PvP system isn't all that good. And even the economy game I originally liked is starting to break down: Late in beta the production rates for goods were increased by 50% to 100% by lowering the amount of labor needed to produce things. That has lead to an overproduction of most goods, so now everything is available in abundance at a low price, and it is hard to make any profit. The looted goods from NPC ships undermine the economy even further.
I'm sitting on over 3,000 hemp ropes I can't sell, although I put them up at just 40 doubloons each in Bluefields. And that is just one man's production. Somebody could make a fortune by buying these ropes and selling them in other ports where the prices are higher. But nobody can be bothered to do so, not even myself. Part of the problem is that transporting goods is so boring, that nobody wants to do it. Hemp rope sells better in the three commercial centers of national activity: Bartica, Sisal, and Grenville. But it would take me many hours to transport all those ropes to these places, and then I would totally crash the market there. Airline travel in the real world has been called "hours of boredom interrupted by moments of stark terror". Ship travel in PotBS is hours of boredom interrupted by moments of stark annoyance. You get attacked by NPC ships, but even with the slowest cargo ship available you can easily run away from them, and the pirate attacks just annoy you because they cost time. Why can't anyone come up with a trading part of a MMO where transporting goods is actually kind of interesting?
PvP is in no better state. There are actually very few ports in contention on my server, because getting a port into contention involves grinding so many NPC ships. But you can also get a port into contention by delivering lots of good to the rebel agent there. Thus with goods being cheap and in abundant supply, using the rebel agent to flip a port has become the favorite method. As this goes much faster than the regular method, some people are calling it an exploit. Even the devs think that it is too fast right now, and want to introduce a timer to slow it down. And neither method of bringing a port into contention involves any actual PvP. The PvP starts once the port is in contention, but the actual battle deciding the future owner of the port has only 24 vs. 24 players, which isn't very much given the number of players per server and the rarity of port battles. Even Keen thinks that PotBS needs PvP battlegrounds.
The highlight of Pirates of the Burning Sea remains the ship vs. ship combat, PvE or PvP. It is not only better than WoW's, as Flying Labs CEO said, it is just plain good. But even of a good thing you can get too much, if you do ship combat for hours and days, it becomes boring. In PvP it is hard to find opponents that are willing to fight an even battle. In PvE the combat is marred by the bad AI of the NPC ships. Once you found a good strategy, you can apply it over and over to NPC ships and it will always work. A game like WoW has a far larger variety of enemies requiring more adaptation of strategy.
Pirates of the Burning Sea has some qualities and good parts. But in the long term it just isn't all that much fun. Flying Labs will lose quite a lot of players at the end of the first month. And from the MMO blogosphere PotBS will slowly but surely disappear and get only very few mentions in the future.