Criss-, Cross- and Serpetine-realming

One of the biggest issues the Return of Reckoning project has been facing is reconciling with the fact that the majority of the population prefer playing on the winning side. In an open world PvP game with two – seldom evenly matched – fighting realms this mindset manifests itself in people logging off their characters on the losing side to participate in victories (and pertaining rewards) of the winning side. The fact that this behaviour is harmful to the stability of the server has been recognised from the very beginning by both devs and players and soon measures to prevent this from happening will be added to the game.

I seem to have misplaced my Photoshop skillz...

I seem to have misplaced my Photoshop skillz…

How and why? Join me in finding out.

The Disease – Cross-realming (Xrealming)

Switching sides when losing comes quite naturally to humans, we’ve all done it before. Nobody enjoys losing in a strict sense. A complete and utter loss with no gains will always leave a player devastated or at least disgruntled, depending on their investment. Having spent an hour defending a keep only to lose it in the end with minimal rewards for doing so will make defenders feel like they’ve wasted their time. They’d have been much better off being a part of the attacking force and reaping the rewards, instead of defending an indefensible keep for no gains. How to maximise their gains was figured out quite soon by the majority of the server’s population and endless, synchronised zerging and locking of empty zones ensued.

The solution was obvious and implemented as soon as the playerbase stabilised enough for big ORvR changes. The rewards for defending (regardless of failure) were improved to massive amounts, rivaling the rewards for attacking and capturing. Now the defenders got rewarded in cases of both success and failure, while attackers went home empty-handed if their attack got repelled. Defending suddenly became the optimal way to gain rewards. This coupled with overhauled keep lords who did massive damage meant that keeps were seldom taken and ORvR became stagnant, defenders sat in their keeps hoping for an attack that rarely happened and almost always failed. Such an attack was naturally doomed to fail, as soon as an able force mustered and started taking down a keep door masses of people relogged to defend, made sure the attack was fended off (in a way that yielded the biggest gain) and reaped the rewards.

Keep lords got scaled back in strength so that defending was more difficult and that should have solved the issue. But the fact that defending is a passive act and requires an attacker meant that the best way of actively gaining RvR rewards was still attacking. Simply put; if you had an hour to play and wanted renown you couldn’t just sit in a keep and hope someone attacks it. So attack people did, but once again in droves, zerging zones and joining the advantageous side, starting a snowball effect. Defending still gave decent rewards but not as much as attacking, especially if there were active defenders – ironic, isn’t it? Players were relogging left and right and massive swings in population were very obvious, sudden inexplicable shifts in intentions and goals were happening. If a big force was attacking a keep, almost taking it but wiping due to a few mistakes, then suddenly defender numbers swelled and the attackers, who were fully intending to attack again when they still had the numbers, were left wondering what happened to their warband.

That is the current situation on the server. Despite the devs’ best efforts in tying the rewards to the contribution in the campaign over time, so actual participation was required instead of mere presence to gain any rewards, cross-realming still happens. How prevalent and how damaging it is nobody can tell but players are complaining about it and where there’s enough noise and discontent changes will have to be made, even on RoR. Despite the dev’s advertised “we don’t care” attitude the server still is an agreement of mutual benefit (we need the server to play, the server needs us to exist).

The Cure – Realm Lockout

It became apparent that incentivising or even lightly punishing players for switching sides doesn’t help, the crafty human mind will always find a way to game the system. It may have reduced the ease of swapping realms for optimal gains and with it the amount of players doing it, but the general population seems convinced that it’s still too wide-spread and frequent. They insist it still damages the ORvR content and ruins the fun for others.

The inquisitive reader might wonder what system was preventing players from abusing the mechanics on live. The well-informed reader will answer that the original servers had a realm restriction (realm lock) at launch and for a long time after it. You had to pick one side and were able to create characters of that realm only, a switch would require you to delete all of your existing characters. This kind of system has been mentioned as being one of the options of dealing with cross-realming on RoR.

Many feel that such a restrictive mechanism wouldn’t work well on RoR because the playerbase can only use one server, as opposed to many different servers on the long-dead retail version. With no other servers available players would be able to experience only their initially chosen side, as such a system would most likely be accompanied with a “one account only” policy and restriction (this has been mentioned by the devs).

A much milder version of this system has been suggested – a time based lockout for switching to the other realm. Lockout durations including anywhere from a few hours up to a week have been proposed. This means that relogging onto a Destruction character from previously playing Order characters would lock you to playing on Destruction for a period of real-world time. Only after that time elapses may you switch to Order. Obviously the duration of the lockout is the crucial part of such a system; make it too short and it won’t solve the issue, too long and it will cause a whole heap of other problems.

Another system that was proposed is a time-based reward lockout which punishes players who switch sides by neutering their rewards for a set amount of time, after which they can once again earn normal rewards. Many feel that such a mechanic would prevent realm-switching for ORvR gains while still allowing players to level characters or engage in PvE on the opposing side and is therefore more desirable for the general population.

There have been many other suggestions on how to solve the cross-realming issue but I haven’t read any that would be simple enough from the coding/implementing perspective as well as reasonably intuitive to the point where new players wouldn’t be extremely confused about it, all while still achieving the initial goal. However I might still list those in a separate post in order to not over-inflate this monster.

Elf NPC on a Dark Elf mount

Not even NPCs can avoid the side-effects of cross-realming!

The Benefits and the Side Effects

Complete Realm Lock

 

  • Completely prevents any kind of realm-switching. You’re stuck with what you initially choose unless you delete all your characters, which isn’t a decision that can be reversed. The most definitive of all the solutions especially accompanied with a strict “one account per person” policy.
  • However the definitiveness means that experiencing the content on the opposing side would be impossible. WAR is a huge game and a lot of the content is strictly accessible to one realm only. This includes 12 unique careers, a capital city, several dungeons (when they are implemented) and countless quests and PQs. Essentially half the game would be lost to either realm.
  • RoR is in an alpha testing phase, which means that game features only one side has access to get changed often, testing those would effectively be restricted to half the population.
  • The now self-balancing population would need to be manually balanced by further locking new players out of a realm to ensure the two sides have as close to equal active player numbers as possible. An immense hassle for the devs and one of the things that led to WAR’s ultimate demise – population imbalance. Not to mention that with only one available server locking new players out of playing a faction would decimate the influx of potential new testers.
  • Competitiveness is a minor concern but a concern none-the-less. With players being unable to play the careers their opponents play, they are unable to reach higher understanding of the enemies they’re facing, thus decreasing the competitive standard. It’s questionable how many players actually learn and use that knowledge in practice, but I’m sure a few do (myself included).
  • Another aspect of the same issue is that with the current cross-realming option groups of highly skilled individuals can look for fights on both realms by having characters and groups on both sides. This helps the competitive scene as groups are more likely to spontaneously find good opposition instead of mindlessly farming PuGs if there’s no decent opponents online.

Time-based Realm Lock

 

  • Prevents players from swapping sides too often but finding the balance between locking players out for long enough to decimate cross-realming rewards, while still allowing people to actively play the other faction would be key.
  • The timer being too long would still effectively force people to choose a side. Only a small minority of the playerbase would want to the option of playing one side for a month each, for example.
  • The timer being too short, anything shorter than 24 hours for example, would simply mean that players would be able to inform themselves from outside sources as to which realm is the most attractive when they begin a gaming session, the system thus not achieving anything.
  • A time-based realm lock would allow coordinated groups of people, such as big guilds or alliances, to effectively synchronise their timers and imbalance the populations with the intent of farming the underpopulated one.
  • On the other hand, looking at the example of cross-realming from the view of a competitive group in search of opposition, it would severely hamper such otherwise mostly harmless behaviour. Since even the smallest of organised guilds or groups will usually include more than 6 players to allow for swaps and replacements, they will be unable to switch if one or more of their members are offline or otherwise unavailable to swap sides with them. They will need to keep their lockout timers as synchronised as possible to not leave players behind. This example works just as well for a small, tight-knit community, or a group of friends who enjoy playing both factions.
  • Not all cross-realming is bad though, a lot of people switch from an overpopulated side to the underpopulated one with the intent to actually fight players instead of keep guards. This would be impossible with both, a time-based and a complete realm lock. However as long as switching is profitable we can assume that there will always be more players switching to the overpopulated side instead of the opposite, thus this point becomes moot, as there is no system where only the population-beneficial cross-realming could be allowed with no penalty (not an easy to implement one, at the very least).

Reward Lockout

 

  • A lockout based on account-wide removal or reduction of ORvR rewards might function similar to one of the above solutions. Players looking for easy rewards on the overpopulated side will no longer gain anything by switching to it, meanwhile players who don’t mind the penalty can still play the other faction.
  • This would allow organised groups to be able to find competition, should they accept the penalty. Groups of friends, or communities could continue playing both factions with the drawback of slower advancement. Naturally switching sides won’t be as pleasant with the reduced rewards but that is the necessary evil to eliminate cross-realming, and one of the few that doesn’t completely lock someone out of playing the desired faction.
  • Some warn that this kind of lockout might not solve the issue but instead contribute to it. When faced with overwhelming odds players could choose to play and level their characters on the other realm. Where they might have kept playing in the other two cases simply because there would be no better option, they would now only be locked out of renown rewards and have an attractive alternative in enjoying what the other side has to offer (including instances once they are implemented). This could lead to an even worse snowballing effect. Locking loot and experience rewards could be implemented as well (the latter being exploitable for twinking) but it feels like there wouldn’t be much of an incentive left to play the game at all.
  • A lot of players would consider playing a character with a complete reward lockout to not be an alternative at all, since playing an MMORPG without character advancement is in their opinion pointless. As unlikely as it sounds, players who find very little enjoyment in the actual PvP aspects of the game can still be found on RoR. The instant gratification gamer that is the stigma of the gamer youth would unfortunately rather go play a game that offers them the same rewards for minimal effort, just as zerging does in WAR.

Post-op

The outlined systems have a potential to only exacerbate the effects of cross-realming, as hinted at in the two points above. Players logging out and not participating in ORvR imbalances the factions just as much as cross-realming does. In fact, if all the people who are now unable to cross-realm as they used to (the beneficial and the detrimental kind) log out instead, the problem becomes much worse, as WAR without players is a shell of a game. Proposing and examining any kind of change that heavily punishes players should be done with the latter fact in mind.

I, like many WAR veterans, still enjoy both factions. Since the game was realm locked at launch I didn’t get to experience Destruction until fairly late in the game’s life, as I simply didn’t like starting over on a new server. I’m still trying to find my footing but I would be very saddened if I had to choose between the two, as I am sure would be many others. Whatever system the RoR management chooses to implement they should be very careful, some of them have the potential to strangle the population if not outright kill it. I am sure they are aware of that and if you managed to scale this wall of text hopefully so are you. Go out there, informed and unbiased and contribute to the discussion and shaping of the server’s future!

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