Gameplay: Improving country balancing and game monetisation

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  • Gameplay: Improving country balancing and game monetisation

    Old player of war games, casual player of CoN since 1 month (played two games, now in my third) in between work breaks, lurker of this very nice forum. Loving the game mechanics and design, wish it was even better, love the community; overall: thanks Dorado!

    Wall of text ahead, my first feedback here, which means it's fresh and from the heart. Hopefully useful -Let's have a constructive discussion. Please do not use terms like Gold-Users, Wallet Warriors, Cheaters or the like and stick to Dorado's terms and conditions…ictnations/legal/tos.html

    In my games so far I couldn't help notice the use of gold (well, gold sale offers do pop up occasionally). The matter has been touched before, here Gold Limit? and elsewhere in the forum. Here is a short but enlightening personal story as food for thought; I guess it will resonate with may of you:

    1- In the beginning I thought sarcastically 'what an obvious pay-to-win'.

    2- Then I noted how explicitly Dorado explains that it is a feature, so okay.

    3- Then as I played I thought 'how is it possible that the big countries are actually so weak in the name of balancing' and pondered how counter-intuitive and couter-productive it is that Dorado is first balancing the countries' start conditions in this way, only to give the opportunity and incentive to players to spend money to unbalance these same countries and annoy their playmates in the process. Also, right now, let's acknowledge the fact that making large countries being weak artificially is counter-intuitive and breaks the immersion (it might as well be a fantasy land): a) Large countries border with many more countries and must face many more potential fronts while b) having almost the same token force and resources as their little neighbours, and thus have no practical way to defend, and c) that the mechanics of war in the inflated regions of the large countries become very cumbersome and painful (artillery ranges, aircraft ranges, encirclements, manoevering in general).

    4- Some spenders actually feel miserable. One country that was having a strong growth and had been making me nervous invaded my neighbour and I met it with a grizzly counterattack as it came near my border. I had been preparing that trap; it's a standard baiting tactic. I killed the whole expeditionary force, he sued for peace and I sent him an ultimatum to back off and let me have all the cities he conquered, or I'd take him whole. Cruel, right, but this is roleplaying war. He said something unexpected back then, like 'no, because I paid a lot to get those cities, lets share'. He seemed actually pissed off, this wasn't even funny. Well, on with the role playing, as I completely anihillated his whole country I kept wondering what did he mean 'pay', was it metaphorically? Paid with sweat and tears? Why did he choose to throw off the match, as if he rage-quit, when he could have written off his loss, kept his cores intact and attacked a different front with my blessings instead? I actually thought I was being generous. Upon further reflection (it kept bothering me), he must have meant that he paid money. And that would explain the anger, it's like losing at cards. For the loser, it stops being a game once money has been bet. Dorado, you are aware of this reality, right?

    5- Then I won 1st and 3rd place in my first two matches and got some gold (about 2500 for both).

    6- Then in my 3rd (current) match on day 1 I was caught in a very closely-fought war with a fellow player and caught him magically speeding up the production of his troops just as I was invading his undefended cities, twice (coincidence?). I baited his troops out and caught his cities without a fight and in the end gave myself a pat in the back for overcoming the 'gold disadvantage', what a genious!

    7- Ah, yes, in the process I was tempted to do some last minute things with my gold, e.g. speeding up the building of a trench in a field as the enemy stack was approaching, just 1 min before he made contact, so that he would miss the extra preparations (I do like baits). I'd like to claim that this trap was totally premediated, but this is not the case. When I saw the trench wouldn't be ready by 10 min, I panicked and realised this battle would decide it all. Then I discovered the 'spend gold' button and desperately took the opportunity it presented me. Boom, went from 25% defense increase to 45%. That was 200 gold well-spent: He lost by a hair when he thought he would have won, then I took his undefended cities just beyond. Maybe I wasn't such a genious, but a sore loser? Now I feel bad.

    8- Honestly, if I hadn't acted as a sore loser, I'd have withdrawn my forces the moment I realised the battle would go badly. I'd be forced to manoever some more, think some more, and acknowledge and respect the effort of my opponet some more. Who knows, maybe he was watching during those critical minutes from his side, counting on his upcoming victory due to his great timing, and just missed the magic building of me trench. Maybe I am overthinking this. Maaybe most people wouldn't mind these implications and say: all is well as long as you win. We do play games to win, but its the *how* you win that makes it a *game*. A mentally enriching and emotionally fulfilling one anyway.

    9- There is such a thing as karma. In the same game, day 4, a country far far away from me had all its 6 core cities at lvl 3 factories, plus high level hospitals, airports, barracks, you name it. I was curious and paid closer attention. By day 7, all cities were maxed out at lvl 5 (I dare guess that the invisible bunkers and nuke facilities are also maxed, because why not? I you splurge, you gotta do it right). And everywhere -absolutely everywhere- his troops moved in to occupy, happines jumped from 25% to 35% just one minute after (a steal for only 500 gold per city); it must be the leader's charisma, to subjugate the defeated so effortlessly, when everyone else has to keep policing the place for two days, halting their advance. I felt appaled, but the situation did get some laughs out of my coalition members, as we spent the next days planning a desperate invasion with all we've got to take out his cores while he's asleep. We are geniouses, right? I even managed to stay ahead in the rankings for a few days, desperately expanding, before he eventually overtook me.

    Now jump into the future:

    10- Of course, we died. Those cities we invaded were the nest of the Zerg, or the home city of the Matrix. Swarming with everything you could think of. If we had lost to a foe worthy of respect, it would have been exhilarating. But we lost to a kid, or someone with the mentality of a kid, who wanted to buy their victory. Sad for them.

    TLDR: Country balancing and game monetisation are both lacking and need to be done better.

    Con'd in next post.
  • So, what ideas did I get when I reflect on this story:

    - Dorado approximately equalises all playable countries by making bigger countries very very weak, almost comparable to small countries. I see the logic, it's so that everyone joining the fight has more or less the same chance. However it becomes essentially a fantasy setting, is counter-intuitive and the maps are cumbersome, due to all the aforementioned reasons.

    - Gold ends up being the crutch for our (player's) mistakes and encourages us to be sloppy, because a bit of gold (just 200) can turn a losing battle and even a losing war into a winning one (the fact that the battle outcomes are so sensitive to small issues like the timing of reinforcements and the presence of just one more unit in the right place is high praise indeed for the balancing and design of the actual game, good job Dorado!). But the gold, even if it's just 200, kills this achievement of game design. Because: Why should I execute a brilliant strategy, when I know that as soon as the opponent has been cornered he'll buy himself out of that corner? Even though we can counter this, the counter is just a brute force approach: Send a bigger stack, use the blunt instruments, or buy your way out as well until you outspend the opponent. Strategy loses, in any case. That's why to win you just Zerg-rush all over the place.

    - An elegant way out of this predicament is to spend some gold in the beginning, just to boost your infrastructure and resource stockpile. No hurrying this up, or healing things. It is the cleverest and most strategic use of gold and whoever does it, unless he fumbles the strategies and alliances big time, will end up on the winning side for sure, just by spending a little bit of gold in the beginning. And if you think of the money spent as some sort of inherent initial advantage of your home country, it doesn't even feel like a cheat emotionally (unless you keep doing it beyond day 2-3, like my playmate in my latest game, who kept maxing and buying everything out -well, maybe he felt he deserved a very very strong country...!). If you do it modestly, you won't get noticed and certainly no one is going to hate you for it; you just give your fellow players a bit of a challenge. You win, they win, Dorado wins. Well, this would imply that there should be a limit on what and how much you can spend, so maybe Dorado won't win enough to pay the bills. I do realise that it's the big spenders with the sloppy brute force strategies that are paying the bills.

    - Which brings me to a realisation, and maybe a proposal. Let the brute force fans have their go, openly: Give them control of the big countries and make those countries actually powerful. And charge for it, be it a flat rate, auction, or whatever. To pay a big country, you pay and you pay well. To play an average country, you don't pay. You might even pay people something nominal to play some of the weak countries (honestly, why else would anyone want to play South Korea just to get the standard beating from Japan on day 1? or Albania, Cambodia and the other single-city suicide states?), or the losing countries mid-game that have been abandoned and are about to be taken over by the lousy AI? You need to give people incentives to play against such ridiculous odds and try to score wins. People would love playing the game and would stick with it until the end -not the usual miserable thing where everyone is active the first days and then you end up steamrolling over AIs until you get to the opponent on the other side. As for the big countries, they'll be natural centres for coalitions, as in real life, and rather than preying on their little neighbours, they'll massively fight against other coalitions. Or small states would gang up on a big one, making it a fair fight. Exciting! Gold gets paid, Dorado wins, everyone gets a transparent and fairly realistic experience, we all win. Strategy wins. The two broken systems of country balancing and game monetisation can be fixed in one go. Maybe?

    I hope this was constructive enough.
  • Please stop it right there because we will not discuss our monetization model - all the effort in above posting was basically about the fact that you don't agree with the balancing and gold spend.

    Note: we never tried nor will we ever try to "recreate" the modern world with it's "balancing" - we are providing a "sandbox" for what-if gameplay. Nothing more, nothing less.

    This said, our team is comprised of people who've been in the games business for 20 years making f2p online mmo games for half that time, I have full faith in them to get it right.

    "Going to war without France is like going hunting without an accordion." Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf