A couple weeks ago, Scree gave an overview for a scoring system he’s suggesting for Crowfall. While the core idea of it is good, it’s stuck with a fatal flaw that has wrecked most other realm war games in the past decade.
Crowfall campaigns end. In Scree’s suggested system, objective points are awarded at specific intervals. Combine these two, and there are only so many points that can be earned, “maximum points” if you will.
The Point of No Return
With a limited number of points, whenever any guild (or alliance) gets half, the campaign is effectively over. This is the point of no return. Once any group has over half the possible points, no one else can win, it’s mathematically impossible.
From the dominant group’s perspective, it means they can chill out once they trash everyone around for a while. In a three month campaign, dominating everyone for 6 weeks lets you all kick back and do almost nothing, assured that whatever’s safe in export will stay there.
While it sounds far-fetched, these exact dominance situations happened over and over again in the Realm vs. Realm modes of Warhammer Online, Elder Scrolls Online, and Guild Wars 2. One group managed to dominate for a fraction of the overall match time, and barely had to try for the rest.
On the other side is everyone else. Once a dominant group is certain to win, why bother playing in that campaign anymore? Sure, there might be some individually interesting fights, but people know they’re going to lose.
Fairweathering evaporates the competition. This is especially true in winner-takes-all Dregs campaigns. The entire game is built around equipment decaying, and fighting an impossible war wastes valuable equipment.
In a throne war simulator, having campaigns that aren’t a down to the wire attempt to win is terrible. And if previous games are any indicator, it’s shockingly easy to have campaigns that are essentially “empty” half the time.
Up front, comeback mechanics aren’t fair to the dominating team. They’re not supposed to be. The intent of any good comeback system is to force competition to still exist because there’s a chance, however minute, of the dominating team being upset by others. On the one hand, this forces the dominating team to keep doing it, and on the other it keeps underdogs fighting so they can pull off their comeback.
Between the two, reasonably balanced comeback mechanics encourages competition to the bitter end, and postpones the point of no return so late that nobody can tell when it is.
There are several different ways to create comeback mechanics, though only some of them are appropriate to a PvP-based game trying to minimize PvE elements. Here are some suggestions.
Put simply, the dominating team gets fewer points on everything they own. In comparison, underdog teams will be able to catch back up because their stuff is worth full value.
The plus side on this is objectives are more valuable to underdogs, but do not replace the underdogs’ need to remove points from the dominating team.
The negative side is that it only keeps a dominating team from dominating too much. Once they pass the point of no return, it still doesn’t matter.
Additional Point Gain
Flipping the previous suggestion on its head, what underdogs own is worth a lot more to them per objective, perhaps the amount of gain related to how far behind they are from the dominating team.
The plus side is that this can “reverse” a point of no return situation, as the underdogs have more potential points than the on-paper maximum.
The negative side is that the dominating team can lose over time just by not dominating enough.
A third possibility is giving points (or fractions of points) to underdogs for killing anyone on the dominating team.
The plus side is it allows anyone to help the comeback, even if they’re not able to take a full-blown objective.
The negative side is two-fold. For one, it’s really hard to balance how much “kills” are worth (as covered by Scree’s article linked above). For two, it turns members of the dominating team who aren’t good at combat into liabilities.
Finally, rather than handicapping the dominating team’s points, the objectives they’ve held longest start giving them no points at all, expanding objective by objective until they’re all worth nothing.
The plus side is that taking an impenetrable fortress isn’t required to overtake the dominating team. If the dominating team puts too much into a few objectives to stave off the comeback, they end up worthless.
The negative side is also two-fold. For one, it can swing very heavily against a dominating team if their “edge” was a minor one. For two, it can lead to deliberate “trading” cases: the dominating team allows a flip, only to retake without the point reduction.
Regardless of what is chosen to enable competition up to the very end of a campaign, it will need testing. No system is perfect, and fine-tuning a system that is supposed to be unfair cannot be understated.