The single issue in Crowfall that brings together and unifies the many disparate systems and mechanics within the game, is how ACE plans to determine the victor of one of its campaigns. Campaigns are the most unique aspect in the Crowfall game; a blend of a traditional MMO server, unique geography and history, unique rules which govern the world, and even in how the “teams” are chosen. Yet, despite the game rapidly approaching its soft-launch target, we still know next to nothing about how they plan on scoring a campaign. Please notice the image attached to the top of this post, its an early reference to the Kickstarter campaign. Why haven’t we seen this referenced since? Hrmm.
This is an important topic, because as we eluded the ability to win a campaign should be based on a guild or factions ability to out-kill, out-defend, out-produce and outwit its opponents. Yet, we wanted to spend some time discussing the pitfalls of various methods of scoring seen in other MMO’s and even in other genres to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes of history.
When looking at scoring, the most obvious choices are also the ones that tend to be easily exploited. We wouldn’t want collusion or the ability for a single player with a spare account to tip the balance too far one way or the other. It’s in Crowfalls best interests to create a system that challenges and forces players to think strategically, yet maintains its integrity despite players actively seeking to profit from it.
With these concerns in mind, I set out to create what I consider an exploit-hardened solution to scoring campaigns within Crowfall. Whether this is ultimately implemented, the lessons learned from designing one shouldn’t be ignored.
Measuring Pure Kills. Don’t.
Crowfall has on numerous times been called a strategy game first and foremost by the developers. Their opening Crowfall pitch, included a video of players gathered around a table playing Risk. In fact, the only thing stopping players from exploiting in Risk is a very basic scoring mechanism that ultimately determines the winner (a little bit of random dice rolls help). Yet the greater picture of what they meant by calling Crowfall a strategy game is mostly lost on a player base with no clue on how they plan on keeping track of who is winning.
We’ve all played and then seen how First Person Shooters, Overwatch or Call of Duty, even Counter-Strike keep track of who is winning. It’s typically a straight measure of kills and deaths or some derivative of those two metrics. That is certainly a viable means of keeping track of who is winning, because quite frankly, the losers are probably dying more often.
Taking this straightforward path in scoring a campaign in Crowfall, however, would be a disaster. Kills don’t always tell the story accurately, and can be easily manipulated. In Crowfall, some campaigns won’t have a “faction”, some might be entirely guild-based and others the factions are chosen for you! Meaning you as the player could easily tell your buddies on another faction to let you kill them an uncontested 1000 times and easily swing a victory because of it! This example serves to illuminate a greater set of problems Crowfall faces when it comes to scoring.
Campaign Bands as a Variable
Fragmented and differing rule sets are a problem for two primary reasons. First, differing scoring methods add complexity to any campaign-band type (Dregs, Shadow, God’s Reach, etc), especially when new players join mid-campaign. Second, differing methods potentially fragment the community into play-types. I’ve seen this occur in games like Battlefield where one map-mode is more popular then others. While this was always going to be a struggle due to differences in how each band approaches risks and rewards, players becoming comfortable with a specific campaign band might begin to isolate themselves to only that band.
If the developers begin to introduce unique scoring methods in each band (such as the proposed Bloodstone mechanic), it might mean players become less likely to try out other campaign band types. Some players not familiar with how the rules function in that band, might avoid it altogether to avoid learning something new. This ultimately means that Crowfall could devolve into fragmented communities, which is a big problem. Any sub-community that feels slighted, might cause a significant portion of your subscribing population to vanish overnight. This happened in a major way to Guild Wars 2 when the developers failed to add new features to the World vs World section of their game and those players felt ignored.
Reducing the barriers between, for example The Dregs and the Faction Campaigns (3-Faction & 12-Faction), by introducing a single unifying campaign scoring method; makes it easier for players to understand what needs to be done to win. Regardless of what band they find themselves trying out, a single scoring method makes it simpler to know what’s expected of you as a guild or player. This makes the entire concept of hopping into a campaign easier for a new or veteran player, even if they decide to try out a different campaign band.
Alternative Scoring Methods
There are plenty of existing approaches to scoring a game that could work well in Crowfall. I like to reference these games that have somewhat unique scoring mechanics because they work in practice. I turned to one of my favorite franchises, Battlefield, for my solution to Crowfall campaign scoring. Battlefield 1 (and by extension almost all of the series) have a game mode called Conquest. It basically involves anywhere from three to seven points on a map, which if a team is in proximity switch to that team’s side. Those captured points generate score points at specific intervals for the team that holds them. In the most recent iteration, Battlefield 1, kills were entirely removed as a source of points. The objectives mattered the most.
In my opinion, the best scoring mechanic for Crowfall would be a similar implementation. In Crowfall, I propose introducing 20 to 30 capturable points, scaling with map size, into the campaign maps. These points would be the only way to generate points, and would require guilds or factions to hold them to win.
Yet, capturable points are hardly the answer to dealing with Crowfall’s always-on servers. My chief concern when designing a campaign scoring solution, was derived watching Guild Wars 2 world-versus-world servers and the nightmare scenario that played itself out there. In Crowfall, to avoid Guild Wars 2 oversight, the time that a point can be captured would be restricted based on the campaigns pre-assigned geographic timezone. That timezone’s prime-time (for example: Central Standard GMT-6 between 6pm to 10pm) would be the only windows on a server that the capture points would be unlocked and become capturable.
Doing this allows all sides time to negotiate, re-arm and rebuild their defenses (or make defensible their territory gains from the night before). In Guild Wars 2, during the North American midnight to 12pm Noon time frame, the average US player is asleep or at work, Oceanic forces regularly flipped the entire map to conquered status. To those Guild Wars 2 outsiders, a server’s chance at winning were directly tied to how good its Oceanic guild presence was. If you had a Chinese or Korean guild on your server, your server frequently won in Guild Wars 2 (regardless of your Prime Time capabilities).
By restricting capturing to a geographic server’s prime-time, you eliminate the need for recruiting players outside of your time-zone. You additionally allow players who have jobs a chance to make an actual difference on their preferred campaign.
How Politics and Strategy Come Into Play
So now we have a score being generated. Guilds or factions are taking and holding points, exchanging them during specific windows based on a servers pre-determined timezone. Those points are being added to a guild or factions total pool of points. Any kneeled or sub-guilds are also generating points for themselves, and then passing those up to their parent faction or guild.
A guild or factions campaign score would thus be derived by its brute force and cunning in securing the points during capture-windows. Guilds would be able to see at-a-glance who was winning and what other forces might want to join them to knock out a first place rival. A constantly shifting scoreboard would be a viable way of seeing the politics of a server in real time.
The trick to winning a campaign would be to capture enough points to win out-right, sure that’s obvious. Yet, because we now are tracking points by guild (or sub-guild) we could make those point totals portable. If a guild negotiated with a rival to join them in an alliance, our system would combine there scores and effectively create a mega guild with the total points of each. The inverse would also be true, if your rival negotiated one of your sub-guilds out from underneath you… you’d lose the points and they’d gain them. A huge swing in points like this could be game-winning.
From a scoring mechanic, it’s not complicated, but it is elegant and does encourage the types of political meta gaming that sandboxes are best known for. It also is fairly impossible to truly manipulate. You can’t “trade kills” really with a system of this nature. Yet it allows even the smallest guild to have an impact in the end. if pulling out of an alliance puts the parent guild into 2nd place… the impact is immediate. The implications are numerous, and make trusting your sub-guilds with capture points all the more difficult.
Scoring. Release It Now!
Crowfall has a lot going for it, but some transparency into the scoring mechanics is essential. We’ve already shown the pitfalls of some scoring approaches. It’s important that the community has a chance to work out any potential issues, workarounds or exploits that might occur with any specific implementation. This is best done before people’s cities and victories are on the line. Cooler heads tend to put better thought into these mechanics.
You don’t want people flocking to another game, simply because it takes too long to fix the flawed system you spent designing for the last four years (looking at you, Guild Wars 2!). If any scoring system is to be considered fair, and all of its ramifications thought through, it’ll take more minds then any development team has to think through them all. At the very least we should have heard some of their ideas by now!
What ideas do you have for campaign scoring? Find a flaw in my campaign scoring idea? Let us know!