Throughout Early Access the game has risen and fallen from the public eye. People are feverishly interested in this game, but there are some key mechanics that I have found cause players to drop it after just a few months. This leads servers to drop from max-capacity to just a fraction after five months (and sometimes sooner).
I’ll try to illustrate this, as it has repeatedly happened after each wipe throughout Early Access. The good news is that players have always come back post-wipe, in greater numbers. But without a wipe after release, the servers may stagnate and become abandoned in short time.
I won’t argue for regular wipes post-release, as I feel that damages the significance of the gameplay. Instead, I offer five suggestions for improving the gameplay mechanics, which will help keep servers alive and full of excitement for all players — not just the twelve or so players who are the ‘alpha’ clan and their allies.
I’ll start by illustrating how servers have shown to progress with time, until they eventually become sparsely populated. You can also skip to the section beneath, which gets right to the suggestions.
SAMPLE SERVER TIMELINE
When a server starts after a wipe, it fills up to capacity. #616 will fill up to 40 players. Then, #610 will fill up to 40 players. And so on until all the players are ‘seated’ in a server.
Now, on each full server, there is only enough room for about three serious clans. A serious clan might have 6 or 7 players, so that a server will have 21 players (half the server) being of those major clans alone. The rest of the server is filled by 5 minor clans (2-5 players) making up another 15 players, and solo players being the remaining amount. In total, you might have just seven clans on a server, on day one.
Two Months Later
As the game progresses, people start to bow out. Two months later, where a server used to have 3 major clans, 5 minor clans, and 6 solo players, it will now have just 2 major clans (12 players), 3 minor clans (another 12 players), and 5 solo players. Total active players now number at 29.
That’s still a fair number of players, but the game structure is beginning to solidify. People have cemented their alliances, and have identified their enemies. The population goes downhill, as players begin to ‘grief each other off the server’ in a zero-sum, scorched earth environment. The strong prey on the weak. Players log in to find their bases repeatedly destroyed, as an increasingly powerful ‘alpha’ alliance develops.
Five Months Later
After five months, the composition has significantly degraded. You might have one clan, which has achieved ‘alpha’ status, another 2 minor clans which have allied with the alpha, and solo players who are regularly raided by the established alliance. Those solo players aren’t having much fun, and leave the server weekly. Total player count: 18.
And that’s for a server that was packed to the brim at Day 1. Servers that aren’t so packed will experience a drop even faster than this illustration. I can attest that this is the same phenomenon that happens across multiple servers. Perhaps people can comment whether this has happened to their server as well.
Here are my suggestions to alleviate the predictable population-decay that we’ve seen in Early Access:
Create a stronger ‘fallback’ tier. Prevent the effectiveness of ‘scorched earth’ tactics by improving the ability to rebuild, bounce back, and take vengeance upon clans you truly hate. I suggest this as a tier that may be crafted from the inventory, like a ‘Stone Tools 2.0’ but crafted from Obsidian and Bone. The purpose of this is to alleviate the ‘grief them off the server’ mentality, where a clan can be neutered by destroying their base.
Make it so that clans cannot be neutered to such a significant extent, so that players will be more hesitant to attempt total war. Let players stalk the woods, with rude and violent obsidian weapons, armored in bone rib-cages and skulls, striking fear into those who claim that they are the ‘alphas’. Let players make vengeance more easily.
Improve server capacity. This will reduce the ability for a single clan to become alpha. When there are more clans vying for power, there is less ability to keep track of all the clans on a server. Right now it is easy to scout out where every clan is building — in my example, by the second month, you can count the number of clans on a single hand. By introducing more ‘noise’, and more clans to a server, then it is less possible to ‘dominate’ everyone. You want as many big clans to be on the same server at once, and as many medium clans to be on the server at once as well.
Increase map size. The new ‘swungle’ (Swamp/Jungle) biome will be a massive help. This is especially because it is so far away from the North. More size means less ability to survey the entire map, and a greater potential to rebuild after a defeat. Additional biomes would help even further — reducing the ability for an alpha alliance to ‘see all and raid all’.
Make a highly effective Purge system, which targets the alphas and prevents them from dominating the server at great length. Great clans should be able to dominate, but their control should be increasingly contested until their empire inevitably crumbles. The Purge should specifically target alpha clans, and constantly harry them as they attempt to solidify their rule, and hoard the pillage of the server. The Purge should be so devastating that a true ‘alpha’ can hardly catch their breath.
Create different servers for large, medium, and small clan sizes. This would enable 6+ major clans to fit on a server, 10+ medium clans to fit on a server, and 20+ small clans to fit on a server. Having the same-sized clans sharing a server would create more of an even playing field. This is more of a competitive gameplay mode. Perhaps this could be something to run as tournaments alongside the regular servers.
People are going to love this game no matter what, but it has so far proven to have a short lifespan throughout Early Access, due to such an overwhelming alpha mechanic.
My preferred suggestion is my first one: Creating a new tier of Obsidian tools and weapons, and Bone armor (crafted from the inventory) that would enable clans to rebuild much faster, and be terrifying to fight against in the open fields. This tier should not be so powerful as Steel, but have its effectiveness be in that it is simple to make, and matters little if it is lost to a more powerful foe. This is my preferred suggestion because it is the simplest to implement, and the cheapest in development cost (as there has already been strong hints of an impending Obsidian and Bone tier).