Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 14, 2019
How multiplayer game populations age

Yesterday I was playing World of Tanks in a tier III tank, which is low on the 10-tier scale. I ran into another tank and got shot to pieces. Well, that happens. However with the help of the XVM mod that I had installed, I was able to gleam two pieces of information: The player who had killed me was much more experienced than me, and he had used "gold ammo" to kill me.

Now in reality "gold ammo" isn't even sold for gold any more. You just buy it for credits. That gives you ammo which frequently deals the same damage as regular ammo, but has an easier time penetrating armor, so that is definitively an advantage. On the other hand the ammo costs a lot of "credits" / "silver" regular currency, so that you might actually be losing credits if you use it exclusively in battles. A new player who is playing World of Tanks for free will be short of credits anyhow, and wouldn't use the expensive ammo. A player who paid money for a premium account and maybe bought a premium tank for credit farming will be more likely to have the credits available to spend on that ammo, so indirectly it remains "gold ammo". But it is also possible that the experienced player just grinded a lot for those credits, and having already bought all the tanks he wanted doesn't need the credits for anything else any more. So he used his credits and presumably a maxed out tank and good crew with other consumables to farm wins in low tier games.

That got me thinking about how game populations age in multiplayer games. On day one of a new game, everybody is a noob. Frequently in the early months of a game, population grows, which means that while some players are staying and getting more experienced, there is a larger influx of new players. In a game with levels or tiers like World of Tanks, people are trying to level up as quickly as possible, so the more experienced players are more likely to be found in the higher levels, while the new players are more likely to be found in the lower levels.

But after some time, which can be months or years, the game isn't the new shiny any more, and the influx of new players diminishes. Of the existing players, some stop playing, others keep playing. So the shape of the population curve of number of players with a certain experience of the game becomes ever broader, but through a lack of new players it also becomes more bell-shaped. The race for the top level has stopped, and experienced players can be found playing all levels, in as far as that makes sense in the game. In a game like World of Warcraft you'd still find a lot of experienced players at the level cap, because leveling up a new character is fast and unless there are certain goals that can only be done at a specific lower level, it doesn't make much sense to deliberately hang out at lower levels. In a game like World of Tanks it can make more sense to play low tier tanks, and thus you get experienced players in lower tiers.

Unfortunately that system contains a negative feedback loop: Less new players join the game, population of experienced players in lower tiers goes up, experienced players have better skills and gear than new players and slaughter them in lower tiers (it's called "seal-clubbing" in World of Tanks), game gets less attractive for new players, back to step one of the loop. There used to be a "new player protection" is World of Tanks that would make it so that new players only fought each other, and not veterans in low tier tanks. But apparently that has silently been removed, as it leads to long wait times if not enough real new players are playing.

While some of this is particular to World of Tanks, I do think the underlying problem is similar in a lot of games, especially in multiplayer PvP games. At some point in time the game isn't attractive to new players any more, because they feel as if they are getting "seal-clubbed" by the veterans. But without an influx of new players, the game can't keep up its player numbers, queues to wait for matches are getting longer, and the income of the game company goes down. I am wondering how multiplayer games could be designed that don't have these negative feedback loops and that can run forever.


What you describe is a "positive feedback loop": when a change in a system leads to events that are in favour of that change. Negative feedback loop is when a change in a system leads to events that are against that change, e.g. decrease in the number of new players causes developers to give more incentives to new players which should stop the decrease or alleviate it.
This is especially true in a game like Magic Arena. More and more people have acquired most of the cards and are obviously in a much stronger position to win a match compared to newbies who all start out with the same weak pre-constructed decks.

They try to match new players with new players in matches but this gets harder and harder to do as the population shifts to more experienced players who have most of the best cards. There are already many reports of players with their weak precon decks paired against players with tier 1 decks.

If WOTC doesn't address this problem (somehow keep newer players in a separate environment), any incentive for new players to join the game will vanish.
Wouldn't it be more correct to describe and attribute this to content churn and the value proposition that a game offers players over time?

There are quite a few games that have managed to retain a substantial player base over time due to the addition of new content. Why should a gamer continue to throw time and money into a game when it becomes obvious that a developer is milking existing content and making millions of dollars without providing anything new? At least in WoW(14+ years) you know that some of the money you're throwing at Blizzard is helping to fund a new expansion and/or possibly a new game.

Even Counterstrike(going on 20 years now) has managed to stay relevant, even with its simplistic game play, because the developers have shown a commitment over the years in keeping the game fresh with new content releases.

As an aside, how long do you think it will be before we see an honest postmortem on how F2P, micro-transactions and similar monetization methods have effected player retention over the long term?
I played World of Tanks for a short time but just couldn't get used to it and died all the time so it quickly lost me as a user.

One thing that could fix this is every time you lose a match you get a buff for the next match, could be a very small buff like 1% more damage given and 1% less damage taken as an example. If you lose again it goes up again, if you win it goes down until it reaches zero. Doing something like this would mean eventually you'll be way more powerful than everyone else and get to experience some wins. If you win 50% of your games you should be at 0% buff and shouldn't be able to go any lower.
> I am wondering how multiplayer games could be designed that don't have these negative feedback loops and that can run forever.

By not having item, character or account progression. That's what all popular non-e sports or games do.
Post a Comment

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool