Warning, the following is a long post centered around Darkfall, but in many ways applies to MMOs in general, and skims many concepts in order to prevent this from being an even longer novel. Apologies if I lose you along the way, feel free to ask in the comments section for clarification on anything.
One of the core aspects of an MMO all players go through while playing is progression. It’s the thing many of us love most about these games, whether we outright know it or know it by association (the leveling part, finishing gear sets, getting into bigger or more specialized ships, having enough wealth to control sections of an economy, becoming a go-to crafter, etc). The genre has a long and very clear history to support this; games with quick progression curves struggle with prolonged retention, or at the very least become a ‘jump in, spend a day, leave’ option now that we have F2P. Some games make that style work, other games are more about a consistent world than each player’s individual adventure.
The original Darkfall had a very long character progression path, one that was flawed by the need and acceptance of macroing (much like the early days of UO), but even still that long progression was there. It also featured a lengthy gear grind, one that was extended multiple times by the developers (AV) boosting stats on gear, but leaving all of the old gear unchanged and therefor inferior.
Despite DF1’s many core flaws, its unsustainable economy of uncontrolled faucets and weak sinks was hidden or marginalized by AV resets and the long character grind. In particular, gold was needed for a long time due to the fact that in order to skill up magic (something anyone who wanted to be PvP-viable had to do), you had to spent a ton of it on regents to macro. That massive sink, while unsustainable long-term, was sufficient for long enough. DF1 wasn’t abandoned in favor of Darkfall: Unholy Wars because of its unchecked economy, but that’s only because that timebomb never had a chance to explode.
Fast forward to DF:UW today. AV reduced the character grind, eliminated the need to macro, but kept the basic sinks and faucets of the game from DF1 (and if anything, increased said faucets even further, in part because the community continues to call for ‘worthwhile’ rewards). The result is that today, almost a year since release, anyone who has bothered has a ‘full bank’ of gear, to the point where getting more ‘stuff’ is no longer a driver. Watch any recent DF:UW PvP video and you will see this flaw in action; everyone is in top-end gear, even for the most casual of PvP encounters. To put this another way, if EVE had the DF:UW economy, everyone today (if we assume EVE had been released in 2012) would have multiple all-officer-fit Titans, and everything below that would be considered a ‘junk fleet’.
It’s no real secret to anyone paying attention that the population in DF:UW has not-that-slowly dropped, likely now below acceptable levels. It’s recent and seemingly successful launch in Asia might be what’s keeping the lights on right now, but unless Asians expect something radically different from DF:UW than what the US/EU expects (and they might, Asian’s can be pretty odd about their MMO flavors), it won’t take long for DF Asia to get in the same spot DF EU/NA is today.
That spot, just to summarize it briefly, is that since most everyone has enough stuff, going out and doing things (farming mobs, dungeons, capping villages, fighting over sea towers for the rewards, sieging cities so that a clan has better local farming) for the sake of getting stuff is no longer a motivator. With that motivator gone, DF:UW falls apart completely. You stop logging in to do activities that could result in PvP finding you, you are not online when clan-mates need help, and rather than the game being a day-to-day item, it drifts into becoming a “special occasions only” type of deal. To make this worse, unless you simply enjoy PvP for the sake of PvP, you have little to no reason to continue playing. A newly added dungeon is only entertaining once, as once you’ve seen it, you don’t need to return to farm it. Same goes for any new content really; you see it once and that’s it. All of the existing content? Unused. AV being as small as they are, they simply have zero chance producing content at a rate needed to sustain that broken model, even if they accepted the hyper-inflation rate and just ran with it.
So DF:UW is broken, and the core issue is its economy; simple too many faucets without enough sinks, resulting in players reach an ‘end’ in terms of progression. Important to note: character progression via prowess is also fairly short, at least in terms of getting one class to be fully PvP viable. In a vacuum this was an excellent change by AV; in the current state it has the unintended effect of highlighting the core flaw sooner.
Recognizing that their game was flawed, AV created an invite-only MVP sub-forum to get the players to help. The idea behind the forum was to reduce the amount of noise that generally happens on forums (and especially Forumfall, but more on that later) by selecting people who they identified as helpful and knowledgeable. In some ways this was an attempt at something like EVE’s CSM, which has been hugely successful. AV’s selection process unfortunately was… let’s just say not perfect, and while they did identify many of the good apples, a few rotten ones also snuck in. That said, outside of a couple examples, the sub-forum was at least successful in driving productive conversations about the game’s issues and what could be done to solve them.
The core issue, the economy, came up shortly and was discussed. I stated much of the above to the forum, and proposed EVE’s greatest sink (item destruction upon death) be added to DF:UW in order to help balance things and get the game into a healthier state. The simple fact was that the economy was so broken, so out of balance, that little tweaks or adjustments would not accomplish what was truly needed. Internally, I believe many understood the concepts and were on board with some form of solution, including AV themselves.
In a foreshadowing of future events, the most rotten of the apples went full retard on this topic, making one nonsensical statement after another (more on this soon). After a few attempts, I simply gave up trying to educate him. The situation was more of one child raising a temper tantrum over something they didn’t understand but perceived as ‘bad’, and as an adult, sometimes all you can do is pat the child on the head, tell them what they want to hear so they quiet down, and continue the conversation with the rest of the adults.
The first MVP forum update was a combined effort with AV, where the past weeks discussions were detailed, including the economy balancing proposal. Not surprisingly, Forumfall had (and is still having) an epic hissy fit. A relentless avalanche of idiocy commenced, with things being type that, had someone told me about them rather than seeing them myself, I’d have called you a liar. I don’t even know where to start on this so I’ll just throw out a few of the real gems (paraphrasing a bit here):
“We don’t need the economy balanced, AV needs to instead make PvE objectives worthwhile”
“Removing items off a grave would stop DF:UW from being a full-loot MMO and turn it into WoW”
“Rather than remove gear, AV should add more tiers of gear so people have a reason to fight over resources” (this, literally, was stated right after the above. So in summary: Item destruction = WoW, adding gear tiers = hardcore MMO. Forumfall everyone!)
“A better sink would be to have gear decay in your bank over time”
“Rather than destroying items at random, all items should take a durability hit, with low-dura items being destroyed” (If you don’t see the issue here, understand that many PvP bags are all low-dura items)
“Destroying items is carebear, AV should instead add a barrel where we can drop gear in to get point, and then we can spend those points on fluff items like different colored mounts or sex changes” (No joke, one of the more ‘hardcore’ players suggested this, in more or less exactly that way. He then suggested a magic unicorn that dropped a unique crafting pattern be added, so the sheep crafters would seek it out and the wolves could set a trap for them. I can’t make this stuff up)
And the most common and perhaps most idiotic: “Removing items from a grave would reduce the incentive to PvP”
On top of the above, plenty of suggestions were throw out that could be best summarized as “I want AV to add stuff that would take years to create, but I want it added tomorrow so the game is fixed”. A core focus in the MVP forum was to consider the amount of effort required for a suggestion, and if that effort level was high, that might not be possible. It’s not all that surprising so many on the general forum fell right into this mistake.
And on and on the idiocy cascaded. Now to be clear, I’m not at all surprised. Forums are what they are, and for every sane suggestion you should expect ten bits of nonsense or… well the equivalent of a fart noise in text.
My primary concern is that AV will cave in to the noise. They have a somewhat unhealthy track record of doing that. On top of this, it’s important to understand that the DF community is the immature little brother of something like the EVE community. When EVE players riot, odds are decent it’s for a good cause. The best and brightest of EVE are some of the smartest people in the genre, period. When the DF children get upset, it’s likely because you didn’t get them yet another candy bar at the checkout isle. If you cave in every time, you end up with a spoiled little fatty.
So we’ll see what happens going forward. It would be a shame if, once again, Darkfall’s great potential to be a solid niche MMO is wasted due to equal parts developer mistakes and misguided community noise. Right now most that are still interested are on the sidelines waiting to see what AV has planned. I can’t say I’m overly optimistic, but I haven’t fully given up just yet.