Thursday, February 25, 2010

Global Agenda’s Playerbase Stratification Problem

The root problem in Global Agenda’s design is that it pulls its playerbase in too many different directions.

If a skill-based game is good, it doesn’t need to have a lot of conventional content. Counterstrike didn’t have PvE and leveling. Starcraft doesn’t need fifteen modes of play. Themepark MMORPGs tack on many features and endless content because they rely on content to keep their players entertained. Themeparks don’t benefit from sufficiency skill tests and active skill ranking on a broad scale as serious RTS and TBS games inevitably do—themepark gameplay is oriented towards experiencing an event with friends, not towards ranking and measuring your skill. Global Agenda’s player vs. player shooter gameplay (not only the explicit “PvP” mode, but AvA as well), the focus of the game and the very core of the game, naturally establishes skill orientation between players. There is no other gameplay except for PvE missions which reward teams for completing them in a sufficient time with at most a certain number of deaths. Though slightly more experience- and content-oriented, PvE is also a sufficiency skill test.

Global Agenda strives with one half of its being to be a skill-focused game, and with the other half to be a content-focused game. Though games are not zero-sum compromises between skill- and content-focus, creating a skill-based game with high quantities of traditional content limits the amount of work that can be done on game balance—you can usually either work on lots of content or you can create very balanced content, not both. The skill and content tug-of-war forces players of two distinct kinds to coexist in the same game: those who are content-driven (generally MMORPG players) and those who are skill-driven (generally FPS players). There’s clearly friction here in the game’s design.

Global Agenda’s “PvP” mode relies on a matchmaking system. You queue your character (perhaps with a team of three other players at most) and the matchmaker attempts to put you in a game on a random mode and random map where each side has a 50% chance of victory. In order to do this with any degree of reliability, the matchmaker needs a baseline number of players at each skill level. But since Global Agenda is partially content-oriented, a playerbase that would barely be sufficient to keep the matchmaking for PvP supplied with players now is stretched through 7 different game modes.

  • Player vs. Player
  • Player vs. Environment
    • Low Security
    • Medium Security
    • High Security
    • Maximum Security
    • Double Agent
  • Agency vs. Agency (Conquest)

The game usually doesn’t have more than 4,000 concurrent players. Demand between these modes is not equal, though, so the problem isn’t as bad as it may initially look. Regardless, all of the other modes constantly distracting players still starves the PvP matchmaker of player diversity at all times but maybe one or two of the peak hours when most players are online. There will be two or three modes that receive the majority of the attention, and the rest will be starved.

Global Agenda has woven the player-availability problem from themepark MMORPGs into a skill-based game where more players are needed in certain modes to ensure reasonable matchmaking. As the game builds in more game modes (and we’ve been promised some kind of excuse for an open-world “zone”), this problem will get worse. The developers don’t seem to be aware of this issue—they need to pay attention because there’s no guarantee that adding more high-level game modes will draw enough players to keep all the other queues for PvE and PvP moving at a reasonable pace, let alone allowing enough players queuing for the matchmaker to do a good job. If players are subjected to long waits and too many lopsided matches, they’ll leave Global Agenda for better games; I’ve already seen hundreds of posts on the forums about matchmaking driving people out of PvP and complaints about how the matchmaker is “broken”, and the problem will only get worse from here.


Dblade said...

I don't think the different directions are that much of a problem in itself: the problem is the game has too low of a population to populate the modes.

I'm not sure why ultimately it only has 4000 people concurrent, but it could be that FPS numbers for non-triple AAA titles simply can't match the population of even a small MMO. If it were doubled, I think you wouldn't see modes fragmenting players as much.

Rer said...

The solution is simple, those who think the game is good should continue to spread news of GA via word of mouth, and Hi-Rez should continue to make GA a more universally acceptable game, while still maintaining its core values and awesomeness.

evizaer said...

FPS numbers can be huge. Look at Call of Duty games, Halo games, and Team Fortress 2. They have more players than most MMOs.

The problem is probably that Global Agenda doesn't have enough features of either genre to make it a must-buy for fans of either genre, so it's stuck in between where a lack of definition prevents otherwise interested players from noticing and playing the game.

"A more universally acceptable game"?

"core values and awesomeness"?

You could say this about any game. It's so vague--it's practically meaningless. Please define those phrases more concretely.

Logan said...

even though Rer is being extremely vague i think he's onto something... the main issue with GA isn't that it's not a compelling game, it's just that not enough people have heard about it... i know they're a smallish company so don't have a ton to spend on marketing, but i think their biggest issue is just getting the word out about their game.

Hi-Rez is banking on the open world areas to bring in enough new players to make up for more stratification of the player base... i think it's a pretty safe assumption since most of the feedback i've heard from players is that they wish there was more "open world" type gameplay... so i don't really think it's going cause as much of a problem as you might think.

personally i agree with you and don't think that the "open world" stuff is what the game really needs... but i don't think it's going to hurt anything either.

i'd like to see more maps (with something other than concrete and industrial crates)... maybe slowly add a few more classes...

but perhaps the main thing i'd like to see implemented is a "premium" mercenary pvp mode where you can play the normal mercenary pvp maps but with some of the AvA equipment available to both sides... something to allow you to have fun with all the AvA stuff even when your Agency isn't active at the moment.

i think a lot of people, myself included, just do mostly random PvP, and miss out on all the cool AvA equipment, vehicles, and stuff... i think in order to really retain players they need some sort of bridge between the random pvp maps and the cool AvA stuff...

maybe let you take part in the "premium" mercenary stuff for only like $5 per month instead of the full $10-12.

so you'd have the regular "free" game, then you'd have a premium version with access to AvA equipment but no persistent hex-grid stuff... and then the full version with everything available.

but that would end up stratifying players even more... which could end badly...

personally i just want to be able to use the AvA equipment, vehicles, turrets, etc:... in a larger variety of maps... and please for the love of god give me a jungle/forest/volcanic map without all the boring industrial cement structures and random shipping containers.

but that's just me.

Rer said...

First off, sorry, forgot I even posted this and didn't have replies sent to my email, hehe.

"A more universally acceptable game"

Cater to the masses. If open world is wanted, put it in. Now of course a line must be drawn, hence me saying

"While still maintaining its core values and awesomeness"

I don't suddenly want gear to mean everything, I don't want PvE to become the main focus, I want AvA to expand and become more versatile, etc.

Sorry for the vagueness, I tend to go into much more details in the Global HQ podcast, which I co-host.

Unknown said...

The problem is bigger even than you think. The queues are not only split up between the game modes you mention, but also between North America and Europe.

Since patch 1.1 the European queues have been all but dead. Perhaps it's the choice of game modes they put in Mercenary PvP, therefore splitting up the community even further. Or it might be the resetting of your preference that came with the patch (you need to manually select Europe again for all characters).

The last two days queue times for Europe became so long that I've given up on them and simply joined NA queues. This is quite unacceptable for a shooter =/