While we’ve made a number of design decisions intended to insulate the PvP mechanics from population imbalances, the truth is that a thousand players on one team are probably going to be able to keep up a sustained PvP effort against a hundred players on another team. Inevitably, even if just through attrition, the larger-population team is going to win.
Since well before launch, therefore, we’ve had a plan for what we call the ‘underdog tools’. They’re a variety of approaches to the population issues, from simple UI features to complex back-end PvP calculations. In the simplest terms, they fall into two categories: incentives and modifications.
Incentives are any changes we make to a nation to encourage people to create characters and play characters of that nation. For the first iteration of the underdog tools, we’ve got two major incentives: bonus loot and bonus experience.
Bonus loot is a chance that, when you make a roll on a loot table to generate items when you kill an enemy, you make a second roll on that same table. It isn’t double loot, nor is it a multiplier to any loot you receive; it’s another roll, which could translate to a different additional item, more money, more junk loot to sell, another uncommon piece of outfitting, another recipe book, and so forth. PvP Marks of Victory are generated by a roll on a loot table, as well, so this increase gives you a chance to generate additional Marks. (Stolen cargo is not generated by a loot table, so it’s unaffected.)
Bonus experience, as you might expect, is a percentage increase to experience gained whenever you gain experience.
The bonus loot we’re rolling out for the first pass at the underdog tools is a 20% chance of a second loot roll, applied to the last place nation. The bonus experience is also applied to the last place nation, and is a 20% increase to experience gained.
Modifications are changes we make to core mechanics in an attempt to make the overall gameplay a little more fair – and specifically the PvP gameplay, which is where population issues cause the most trouble. We’re adjusting two values in our first iteration of this mechanic: offensive unrest and defensive unrest.
Offensive unrest modification is a bonus or penalty to how much unrest you generate when you generate unrest against an enemy port – by sinking ships, completing missions, etc. The values we’re setting for this modification are a 15% increase to offensive unrest for the third place nation, and a 35% increase to offensive unrest for the fourth place nation. This makes the underdog nations potentially a larger threat, though they still need to field a port battle team capable of winning to follow through on that threat.
Defensive unrest modification is a bonus or penalty to how much unrest is generated when an enemy generates unrest against you – again, by sinking ships, completing missions, and so forth. For this modification, we’re setting the third place nation to -15%, the fourth place nation to -35%, and the first place nation to +20%. This means that it is easier for all nations to attack the current leading nation, and very difficult for any nation to attack the underdog.
I’ve mentioned ‘fourth place’, ‘third place’, and so forth a few times in this devlog. How are we determining the ranking? Unfortunately, in the first iteration of the system, we’re just using the latest rankings for global conquest. If you won the map in the last round, you’re in first place; if you had the fewest victory points at the end of the last round, you’re in fourth place. This is not ideal, and we’re well aware of that. Ultimately, we have a plan for an algorithmically-driven system that figures out the underdog based on a combination of server population, player activity per nation, PvP performance, and map victory statistics. However, given the urgency of the imbalance issues, we decided to move forward with this initial iteration even without that more complex ranking mechanism.
So how will you know if you’re playing in an underdog nation? Eventually, on the server select screen, each combination of server and nation will potentially be flagged with an icon that indicates whether that nation is considered an underdog; the tooltip on that icon will tell you exactly what bonuses or penalties are being applied based on underdog status.
Our final goal is, of course, fun and balanced PvP. This is our first step towards achieving that balance, with many more to come – as well as additional tuning of the specific values we’re using for this mechanic. Your feedback, particularly once the system is live and you can experiment with it, will help shape the direction we take with future balancing tools.