Expansion Restructuring (block rotation)

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by davre, Jan 31, 2016.

  1. davre

    davre The Benevolent Technofascist

    I made a small post in a new player thread about something that I've been thinking about off and on over the last two months: introducing block rotation into the game.

    This isn't the first time this has been proposed, I recall the designers had a stickied thread about it way back in the SOE days but the idea never gained any traction. I think it would definitely take some time to design and implement but it would make the game a lot easier to learn and to balance.

    My argument is based on the following assumptions:

    1. The amount of content in this game is overwhelming. There are 29 releases, about 1600 champions and 2000 runes available in this game, and about 3000 abilities. There are 30 slots in a deck.
    2. The amount of content creates a steep learning curve. A significant part of "being good" in pox is about memorizing these abilities and how they work together.
    3. The amount of content probably creates bugs. There have definitely been unforeseen interactions that have created near-unbeatable decks (masochism/imp/phoenix anklet comes to mind).
    4. The value of any individual's collection is dependent on the health of the game. Limited edition skins are a great way to reward people for spending money, but more freely available non-LE editions should be available for every rune that has an LE version.
    5. The long-term viability of this game is salvageable. I'm sure there are many who disagree with this. I'm not sure where I stand on this but I assume the developers believe it.
    6. Expansions are currently meaningless. The latest expansion is the only one that matters, in terms of content acquisition. Runes from the other 28 are folded into 2 different packs, and the current separation of runes by expansion has no function other than making the rune manager and forge more readable.
    7. Growth through new players is better than growth through new content. I don't have access to the DOGs' books so I can't provide hard evidence for this.
    The core argument:

    The game's expansions should be restructured (with individual runes shifting expansions and/or rarities if necessary) to create 3-4 blocks. An individual deck can only be composed of runes from within that block*. The ranked ladder should be reset at regular intervals to switch from one block to the next (or could allow one to use a deck from either of 2 blocks). Tournaments and special events (promo weekends or whatever) can break up the monotony by using a different block from the ranked ladder. Single player could be unrestricted and casual matches use whatever block the host wants to.

    Supporting structure:

    • * The basic/core set (precedent - Hearthstone): This set is untradeable and incredibly easy to acquire. These runes should either be accessed immediately upon registering or through campaigns/single player missions. These runes can be put into any battlegroup, regardless of the block. These runes speak to each faction's core mechanics and include signature runes such as sacrifice, hammerstrike, etc. The game is developed enough that the core set does not need to be expanded, but if this structure were used for a new game, each expansion could include an additional card for the basic set. The basic set should include enough runes for a new player to make and customize a deck for any block and include about 1-2 champions from each archetype (melee, range, passive support, active support, magic damage, detection, etc.) for every faction.
    • Block sets: expansions are united by themes (the Maljaran block is already available as an archetype) and mechanics, but also include orphan runes that don't support specific themes. Countermeasures are also organized into the blocks (eg. if a block has a disproportionate amount of psychic damage champs, it also includes a fair amount of resist/immune champs). Packs are once again purchasable by expansion, and this has a bit more meaning. Larger themes (eg. draksar, elves) can have their core in the basic set and be dispersed, or be split into two blocks, or something else entirely.
    • Bridge expansions: In a given block composed of 6-8 expansions, 2 of these expansions bridge between 2 blocks, and their runes can be used in either. This means that when the developers create a new block, there is already some content to play the new expansion's runes off of, both from the bridge and the basic set.
    • Ladder is reset but not forgotten: each ladder season, the top 5 players + 1 next best players from each faction are immortalized on a dedicated page on the website (similar to the drums of war but smaller to accomodate multiple seasons and permanent). Their decks are datamined and added to skirmishes for the given block. Seasons are shorter (see Hearthstone) but permanent memorialization makes them a bit more meaningful. Balance patches should be avoided during the seasons but there would be a grace period between each season where decks from every block can be played (maybe a week or 2).
    This format would decrease the amount of available runes for a given ranked season. Although this seems like it would kill variety, I would argue that rune power levels already do this. How many runes does it actually take to make an interesting metagame with enough variety?

    This change would increase the game's accessibility by limiting the pool of runes that a new player would need to buy/earn to participate in a given season as well as the amount of opposing mechanics and champions that they would need to know.

    The decreased pool of available runes would also make the "vanillification" of pox less necessary. There would be a lot fewer champions competing for a specific role and fewer alternatives to balance against. Although every block is balanced against the core/basic set, the relative strengths of the basic set could vary (eg. basic ranged FS champion X sucks compared to the available alternatives in block 1, but is stronger than the alternatives in block 2. Basic melee FS champion Y sucks compared to the available alternatives in block 2 but is relatively stronger in block 1).
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2016
  2. Agirgis1

    Agirgis1 Forum Royalty

    Ill share my opinion on the whole ladder side of things, i think top rank stats/immortalized stuff could be cool. ( encourage players with potential to take it seriously)
    Because over my time playing this game i noticed there may actually be good players who's skill is ignored due to lack of popularity (Or simply they don't bother putting in the effort past a certain rank), while similar things happen in sports they have numbers to prove otherwise.

    Example sure Kobe scored 40 points crazy right? but he only scored like 30% of his shots....
    These kind of stats in pox would be cool , though i have no idea the categories that would be in place for such stats.

    Edit: Also stat like "% of games won before min 20 (Or 30)" and after 20/30, stat counter would reset every exp , so ppl can study each other and discover weaknesses
  3. Legnazza90

    Legnazza90 I need me some PIE!

    No cant do. Tools for even basic things like Detect and shatter are spread among all the xpansions.
    fattyy2k likes this.
  4. davre

    davre The Benevolent Technofascist

    The structure of the system can easily accomodate that. Of all the countermeasures in the game, only a handful are really essential: detection, shatter, and magic damage. So there's 2 questions here:
    1. How can we maintain access to essential countermeasures?
    2. Why are these measures essential while others, such as cleanse, dispel, combat awareness, shroud, terrain effect dispel, inhibit etc. are not? (with cleanse being an interesting and debatable case)
    The first question has a simple answer built into the supporting structure: the core/basic set, and bridge expansions.
    The core/basic set is accessible to everybody and these runes can be put into any battlegroup, regardless of the block. Bridge expansions are a similar, but more limited idea, spanning two blocks. These are where countermeasures and theme enablers can go. Since expansions are currently meaningless, there is no reason why we can't play a bit of revisionist history and place newer runes into the appropriate expansion or into the core/basic set, or we could just change up the abilities on some champions to make it fit.

    As to the second question:
    A countermeasure becomes essential when we find it hard to defeat decks because we can't deal with a specific mechanic. More often than not, it is because there are decks out there where the mechanic is too prevalent, rather than the mechanic being too strong. There are very few equips in the game that become win conditions on their own. It's nice to have some shatter against an opponent that plays bloodthirsty blade but if you don't have it you can still play around it with champ control and stalling; it becomes more necessary when your melee champions are all loaded down by earthgods sigils and ball and chains and your opponents are pelting you with rock collections and forge hammers.

    When we look at the strength of an individual rune, we are assessing it on multiple levels:
    • Standalone - forget about synergies, how hard does this champ make my opponent's life? Tortun fishkisser is a good example off the top of my head.
    • Module - champions that are a little bit weaker on their own than the typical standalone champs, but become better in a certain deck because you already have runes that make it stronger.
    • Side synergies - similar to the module, but tends to pull the deck in a different direction, eg. if you have a deck with a lot of healing, defensive mechanics such as shroud, defender, and enduring aura become better options.
    • Themes - this rune is meant to be played with these other runes, synergies are easily identified, and most of essential mechanics and countermeasures are predesigned into the theme; it is easy to understand how to play but it is prescriptive - no two X-themed decks are identical, but 10-20 of the runes in them are.
    The quantity of runes in the game has made these choices more binary - modules are much less prevalent now because you can simply go full-hog with a mechanic. There is more variety but less choice.
    For example, let's look at the taplash theme. The interaction between backlash and soultap had been identified well before brokenshard, but the addition of shadestriker (a champion with both soultap and backlash) gave it critical mass. You could put in ravenwraith (not quite good enough to see play outside of the module), shadestriker (good as a standalone champ), and lower beast of sheoul (did not see play outside the module). This gave you 6 backlash champions in your deck and you'd be lucky to have 3 or more out at any given time. If you wanted to play the module you had to include all six of these champions, but it meant that 2 bad champions suddenly became viable. The soultap component had a few more options, and they opened up different synergies (utterdark spectre made stealth an option as a side module, soulcrawler opened up psychic synergies, utterdark soulrender opened up attrition, etc.) The deck required 10 specific slots to get rolling, but the other 20 were completely free. Eye for an eye (which had already been nerfed is identical to what you see today) and befoul (also identical to the current spell) became good in the context of this deck.
    In the expansions since then, taplash has been embraced and the mechanic is developed into two themes. There is an FS version integrated into firks and an FW version integrated into spirits. On the surface, there are now 3 viable taplash decks and the deck has more room for diversity: FF FS, FF FW, and FSFW. However, these themes are developed to the extent that 10-15 of your slot choices are already made for you, another 10-15 slot choices are made between a handful of options, and there are ten or less slots where you can choose anything (mostly spells, equipment, and relics). There are more archetypes, but the archetypes themselves are less diverse.

    This is not to say that modules are better for the game than themes, but that limiting choice for a specific mechanic does not necessarily limit diversity.

    Coming back to equipments, here is an example of how the system could produce a range of archetypes for a given mechanic/theme across different blocks:
    Some quantity of equipment that are decent/strong in a standalone context are spread through the basic/starter set - FW has cursed blade, SP has harpoon, etc. IS, of course, has both earthgod's sigil and forge hammer. IS also has mystic forge and some synergistic champs like master axeman and weaponsmith. This gives them a small equipment module that they can plug into every block.
    Armory is put into a bridge expansion. This means that there are two blocks with heavily discounted equipment. One of those blocks (block A) might contain a lot of equipment-synergetic runes, ramping the module up to a full theme. Block B has some strong equips added to it so the module is stronger than normal but it plays differently than Block A and there are more free slots to plug another module or some goodstuffs into. The basic/core equips from other factions are now cheaper with armory, giving another dimension to splits, but armory doesn't overpower these modules because the specific equips that are paired with it are regulated.
    So what about the other 3-5 blocks? Well, since we don't have to worry about interactions with armory there is design space for another faction to get powerful equipment-enablers. Maybe ST or SL gets a new equipment-buffing champ in the same block that quarry mark and draketooth rifle are in, and hey look at that block full of salamans (there are also a few salamans scattered throughout bridge modules and the basic/core set). And countermeasures can be placed strategically in specific blocks where a specific faction has a weak matchup to shore up their strengths. And the basic/core set gives just enough options that these modules can have some variety without being prescriptive.

    Balance becomes simpler because competition and the relative strengths of other archetypes are easier to gauge. At the same time, ladder rotation automatically provides the "meta-shakeups" that the playerbase needs to keep the game from getting stale, and which are currently provided through balance patches that redefine roles and power levels (think of how well received the c0rpse shoebox buffs had been even though champs became blatantly overpowered), and which take up development time.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2016
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  5. Sealer0

    Sealer0 I need me some PIE!

    I like the idea, I don't like that it would screw over existing established themes which are actively being worked on. If Myx lose access to coordinator because he is in further expo, they go straight back to garbage tier, its similar to many other themes. We would instead have many different metas depending on expansion.

    I understand the concept but I don't like it.

    I also don't think that balance is bad enough to warrant this much of a shakeup, for the most part it's pretty good, apart from a couple outliers.

    I think that themed expansion packs and/or faction expansion packs are a good idea. Fx, themed expansion pack for salamanders includes only salamanders of different rarity with at least 1 exo or highier rarity being salaman. At least the last part would be really nice, so people would be able to get the high rarity cards that they want straight from the source.
  6. bambino

    bambino I need me some PIE!

    I wouldnt mind a standard/block rotation,,, but wouldnt sok have to realease AloT more runes for each expansion as opposed to our usual 10 per fac?
  7. davre

    davre The Benevolent Technofascist

    Not necessarily, pox has had a few expansions where they built themes out of nothing: wild alliance, maljaran frontier, and crusade of the vashal. Though in a few cases, the themes that they built were more hybrid than standalone (eg. vashal and beasts, strig and flying champs). I think that as long as there are a healthy amount of runes already available, ie. the basic set and a bridge set, you should be able to start a new block with a regular (or maybe a slightly larger one like PoB) expansion.

    Earlier I had said 5-10 blocks but that is pretty unrealistic. I think 3-4 would be more reasonable right now, setting the stage to develop a fourth or fifth set from scratch over the next year or two.

    Interestingly, Hearthstone just announced that they will be going in this direction. The key distinction between what they will have and what I'm proposing is that they are just folding old expansions into a free-for-all format, rather than rotating them on the ladder. Rotation is pretty much the only way to do things for us, since there are already so many expansions and most of the playerbase is attached to their current collections.

    Here is HS's developer talking about why they've moved to a block format - it's pretty easy to think about the current state of pox when he talks:
  8. fattyy2k

    fattyy2k I need me some PIE!

    While I appreciate what I think you are doing, but I am against the idea of rotations. Perhaps for tournaments sure, but not for ranked. You lose too many runes that "define" a theme or enough that a theme even becomes unplayable.

    Also, pox is not Hearthstone. While I can understand the comparisons and examples, I cringe whenever anyone makes said comparisons
  9. davre

    davre The Benevolent Technofascist

    They are comparable in the only way that matters to this discussion though - content is collectable, the decisions about using an individual deck component have to be weighed against all other options, and new content has to be added to the game in order for it to continue to make money. Can you elaborate on why you believe that this precedent is not comparable?

    e: to me, the major difference is that HS is at the beginning of its lifespan. Pox, in comparison, appears to be near its end. In my opinion, the decisions that Blizzard just made have extended the game's lifespan significantly (and if there is one thing that Blizzard has a track record of doing right, it's in maintaining their games' longevity).

    And regarding themes: I agree that there are many themes where it would be a bad decision to split them up. There are a lot of themes that are just barely cohesive, with about 10 dedicated champs and one or two dedicated spells/relics/equipments. It would make a lot of sense for them to stay in the same block. There is nothing in the structure of the system (which is what I have been talking about) that prevents this from happening.

    There are also themes that are, at this point, bloated. If you look at draksar and skeezick, you can find a lot of examples of 5 or more champions that fill out the same role. On top of that, you have theme-dedicated mechanics that perform similar functions to generalized versions of the same thing (eg. march of the skeezick, battledrums, draconic benediction, quickening, and warcry). Instead of competing with one another, these mechanics are included together in the same deck where they reach a critical mass. These runes have all needed nerfs as a result. This system would allow you to split up these overdeveloped groups so that the same theme could be played in two or even three different blocks and would have a different set of mechanics and playstyles. By putting certain theme-enabling runes into bridge expansions, you have the flexibility to shape a theme in one direction for a given block, and to push it into another in another block.

    Separating specific runes is also a simple way of preventing degenerate decks (eg. aspect of violence + time slip/transfusion, or the nora seep/despoil issues that people are discussing right now).
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2016
  10. davre

    davre The Benevolent Technofascist

    The elephant in the room that everybody seems to have forgotten is that Pox was ->||<- this close to shutting down because it wasn't profitable for SOE.
    The DOGs have the advantage of not being as profit-driven as a faceless corporation, but the game still needs to make money to survive. Most of the decisions they've made so far have been to make runes cheaper/free to access, and the only new money-making thing that they've done is putting out limited-edition reskins, which is essentially soliciting donations.

    Pox needs to make money to survive, and the best way to enable that is to:
    • Get more new players interested in the game
    • Ensure that as many of these new players as possible choose to stay long-term and start to spend money on the game
    • Keep releasing new content and keep the game fresh
    The first mechanism is pretty much completely about advertising, but the next two mechanisms can be enhanced with a new expansion model. Sok has been spending an insane amount of time balancing and rebalancing the game from scratch in an effort to keep things balanced, keep things fresh, and address old players' nostalgia for runes that used to be so cool but don't see play anymore. These efforts are great for the community but don't support DOGs' bottom line. Block rotation makes all three of these things easier to do, so the developers can spend more time on content that will make them money and maintain the game in the long run.

    The cohesiveness of your favourite deck is not going to matter when they shut down the servers.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2016
  11. Leogratz

    Leogratz Devotee of the Blood Owl


    Just a thing to point out about one of your quotes:

    The elephant in the room that everybody seems to have forgotten is that Pox was ->||<- this close to shutting down because it wasn't profitable for SOE.

    There are several strategic choices in companies at Blizzard/SOE level. Usually the analysis would not be simple, and more often than not, for a company like those, which works with several fronts, would analyze every project against every other project, to see the best cash flow allocation to generate more cash and profit, leaving less generating projects orphan.

    In this sense, I think that the right quote would be Poxnora was not as profitable as other possible projects, and thus was set to sell or be discontinued, just because the cash is better elsewhere.

    Of course, there are several other choices to be made, like buy cheap and kill a game that is taking a similar niche than one of your games and do not allow your game to develop properly and so on. Saying that Pox had no means to continue on SOE without really strong data backing this claim up is quite misleading.
  12. davre

    davre The Benevolent Technofascist

    You're right, we can only speculate. But since the game's acquisition by SOE and subsequent move to DOG, the game's population has steadily declined. The marketing and content-producing decisions of SOE definitely point to a strategy of minimal investment and coasting on the game until it ran out of gas, but the Steam relaunch doesn't seem like the kind of move a developer would make if they wanted to quietly snuff it out.

    We don't have any financial data but we do have a lot of evidence that the game's margins are getting a lot harder to maintain:
    -SOE cutting the design team down to one part-time employee. I don't remember if this was before or after the Steam relaunch but it was within a year.
    -DOGs slashing the art budget: first by commissioning conceptopolis rather than leading figures in the industry, and then splitting each commission into two runes rather than one.
    -DOGs pushing out a lot of limited edition reskins: finding a way to get additional revenue with a minimal investment.

    The developers have talked about plans to get more players into the game and recultivate the playerbase that we all know Pox is capable of sustaining. Most of their design decisions suggest that they will do whatever it takes to get there. I'm not suggesting this because I hate variety, but because I think that those goals are more important than any of the individual balance decisions currently taking place and that this structure could help the developers achieve them.
  13. Leogratz

    Leogratz Devotee of the Blood Owl

    Well, aiming for lower costs at whatever it is not the core strength of your products is always a target to aim for. PoxNora strength lies within its unique overlap of card and board game, so, if they can cut the costs of art without hurting the quality enough to make the game unattractive, that should be a continuous goal. Also, we always said that we have a cost barrier at PN, and that also may happen with the costs being repassed to players. So, reducing cost per rune on the development phase can surely also be the backbone of a cost barrier reduction strategy. Lately we have lots of improvements on the F2P aspect of the game, so, increasing margin per sales may be just a way to fund this strategy.

    TLDR- nothing is as simple as we think it is from outside.
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  14. davre

    davre The Benevolent Technofascist

    You're absolutely right, the game could be perfectly healthy right now and if a representative from DOG popped in and said "don't worry about it" I would shut up forever.

    But when I see a game with a population of maybe 2000 players -many of whom are openly frustrated with design decisions- supporting 5 full time employees + overhead costs (as cleverly minimized as they may be), I have a hard time believing it's sustainable.

    Maybe I'm just a cynic.
  15. doubtofbuddha

    doubtofbuddha I need me some PIE!

    Whenever I have asked them about it, they have essentially said that Pox is making enough money to continue on. So until I hear otherwise I am doing what I can to support and contribute to the game (which includes buying stuff for the midterms and new sets, as well whatever LE runes I want.)
    Anima26 and fattyy2k like this.
  16. bambino

    bambino I need me some PIE!

    the hope that pox lives a long life is definitely a factor when I purchase, a bit of extra incentive.
    yeah I do a lil plunkin come exp/mid releases,, pox really is a nice lil game.
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