02/12/2016

Social Implications of Galactic Command

I've already had my moan about why I don't like 5.0's new design philosophy of moving all gear progression into random loot boxes and the many ways in which this is frustrating for the individual, but it's only over the last couple of days that it has really hit me how much the new Galactic Command system is affecting relationships between players as well.

You don't have to be particularly competitive to feel a certain pressure whenever an expansion launches and raises the level cap. Even if you don't want to rush, there can be something awkward and uncomfortable about seeing your friends level up much faster than you and hearing them tell tales of the exciting new content that lies ahead - especially if there is a risk of being left behind and having a harder time finding friendly group mates for the same content later on. Fortunately though, most of the time these issues don't last long, because the new level cap isn't far, and once you hit it, personal progression tends to slow down significantly, allowing slowpokes to catch up.

In my first post about Galactic Command I noted that the way it was described made it sound like a process of endless levelling, and so far that impression has certainly held true - but keeping in mind the scenario I just described above, that isn't entirely a good thing. While Command level by itself isn't displayed and doesn't increase your power, psychologically there is still something unsettling about watching the growing gaps between people's levels. Since we're only a few days into early access of the expansion, all my guildies are still relatively close together, but already one can see certain players shooting ahead and others lagging behind. It stands to reason that once the gap widens enough, some characters will be ready for hardmode/nightmare progression way before others... with limited ways to help the ones at the bottom catch up.

I'm really bothered by this because I don't like the thought of falling behind in such a manner, yet as someone who works full time these days and gets home late I'm likely to be among the ones ending up near the bottom sooner or later. I've been playing like crazy for the past couple of days, and still there are guildies who are already more progressed. I wonder even more about the ones who usually play less than me and often only log on for operations - they will be perpetually behind and really risk dragging the team down, effectively enforcing a certain segregation of players by available amount of time to play instead of by skill or friendship if you are at all interested in progression.

This also turns alts from something almost universally beneficial to guilds into a guilty pleasure, because any time spent on an alt is now effectively time "wasted" not working on your Galactic Command level. This didn't used to be an issue because the actual time spent on progression through operations was pretty limited, leaving people with lots of opportunities to do other things without impacting their performance in group content. You know something has gone wrong then raiding - so frequently derided as the bastion of the unpleasantly hardcore - comes out as the more casual option in a direct comparison!

And in all of this, we are only talking about the way players will be progressing on average - because the RNG-heavy nature of the thing also creates additional opportunities for conflict. When one person in the guild keeps getting nothing but greens while another gets a set piece every other level, without any way of "sharing" their wealth, this breeds frustration and envy that players have no way of actively countering, no matter how good their intentions.

I am annoyed because it feels like this change has moved progression raiding - something I'm very much interested in at a basic level - into the realm of the stereotypical "no-lifer" only. The time investment required for gearing up for harder content is just too great. As if raiding in SWTOR needed the odds stacked against it any more than they already are right now...

Many of you who mostly play solo might say: "Why do you even care so much?" And the truth is: I don't care that much about having the best gear for the sake of having the best gear. But I do care about bringing the best I can to group content with my guild, something that Galactic Command will make unreasonably hard going forward. And I'm already tired of the tension created by the constant conversations about who got what from their crates.

19 comments :

  1. It does genuinely feel like BioWare are trying to 'sap' its most dedicated players' free time with this system. One can't really indulge in other games if you also want to maintain a consistent watch on your Command Rank.

    Of course NeverWinter has its similarly grindy Campaigns, but at least you knew where the path would be taking you. You knew that after a weeks' worth of playtime you'd be getting this or be getting that.

    Command feels like it's trying to provide both investment and incentive in a similar way, and yet it just can't work as long as the RNG exists.

    I don't have much of a problem with increasing incentives to dedicate time to a game, but it should never feel punishing to be doing something other than playing BioWare's 'long-game'. Yet as you say that's exactly how some people can't help but feel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To me it (sadly) feels more like they genuinely don't really get what they've unleashed here. They are only used to players complaining that they have run out of content and that there isn't enough to do. So they gave us a system where almost no-one could honestly claim to have nothing left to do for a long time... but it's so grindy that it's going to cause problems with burnout at the other end of the spectrum.

      Delete
    2. ^Have to agree with Shintar here. They want to provide more for people to do, but forget that this will result in large differences in gear between people and hence will make getting into group play for new players harder.

      Delete
  2. I wish there was some sort of 'failure protection' so that you knew after a certain time you would get a weapon or set piece. Though given RNG you might still get duplicates.

    Another idea would be to drop a set piece token every 10 levels and a weapon token every 50 levels. That way you could fill in gaps as you needed or pick up off-set items on a predictable pace. At least we could see a carrot while we grinded out ranks. That said, given someone already legitimately hit the 'unhittable' weekly cap (Rank 100! in 3 - 4 days) Bioware might not be too receptive to this idea.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, it would help to reduce the randomness somehow, either through something like what you described or by opening up drops for distribution somehow, at least among your legacy. But those 300 ranks remain a terrible grind.

      I'm oddly reminded of the issues WoW had with the valor point cap. I think Bioware meant well by not having a cap that most people are ever going to reach (though yes, points to that insane grinding guy for proving them wrong as to it being impossible to hit), but from a social point of view it just plays absolute havoc with a player base that's not used to this kind of thing.

      Delete
    2. I'd love for there to be some sort of failure protection like Pallais mentioned; I think it would take away a lot of the concerns the community has about Galactic Command! It is something we actually were able to take up in person earlier this week with the devs and will discuss tonight on Corellian Run Radio. /product placement *hides*

      Delete
    3. In person? You went to visit Bioware? :-o Either way, this type of "product placement" is more than welcome. :)

      Delete
    4. No, on the phone. I should not type comments when I'm drugged. ^^

      Delete
    5. Another possibility that occurred to me is that BW might be trying to boost the crafting economy. It would be in a weird way, to be sure, but crafted gear would be one path to fill those holes, plus it would be yet another incentive to run ops, etc. to get the crafting mats.

      I'm probably wrong, but they've made odder decisions in the past.

      Delete
    6. One of the recent livestreams, I believe they said that crafting was supposed to be a backstop for bad RNG. Which would be fine, if you could either get statistically-equivalent

      Delete
  3. This sounds remarkably like the gear treadmill I was on as a WoW BG player. If you weren't willing to run arenas --or you weren't in an (active) guild-- you'd face endless grinding just to keep up with the better players in BGs. And by the time you'd finally catch up, the next update would drop and the BG season/gear would change.

    ReplyDelete
  4. One of the key questions is:

    Can you run storymode ops in 228 mods?

    From reading blogs I get the impression that there's a class of social player that wants to focus entirely on Operations. Any other game activity is just getting in the way. Same with PVP'ers, they want to focus entirely on Huttball.

    As a filthy casual I'm free to ignore the system, because 228 mods let's me do the thing I'm interested in. Everybody should have that freedom.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can do story mode operations with less than 228 mods; we've been running them this week with our old 224 gear. However, I suspect that stepping up into hardmode will pose difficulties - and if so, it will be annoying to be held back by grind and RNG.

      It's going to be worse in PvP because the gap between long-time/lucky players and new ones will be an actual power gap there too.

      Delete
    2. My Sith Warrior discovered that you can open a box and NOT get a set piece at all. In fact, he discovered that fact 3 out of 4 times!

      The "thin" progression we had is actually a good thing because it allowed people to just focus on what they wanted to do. Faced with a classic JRPG grind, some of those "casual raiders" are going to quit.

      Delete
    3. To be honest, 1 out of 4 sounds pretty good based on some of the things I've been reading... *g* I've been keeping a diary of my own first week of CXP earnings that I'm planning to post on Wednesday.

      Delete
  5. The lack of a "hard" anti-RNG safety net is a major failure of the system; IMO. They need to have a hard-stop for RNG "failures," and it needs to be not terribly far down the RNG curve. The system they have now, thre's as much "downside" as "upside." That's no good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I get the impression Crafting was supposed to be the backstop for bad RNG. Only they made the crafted stuff somewhat hard to get, and they (once again) made crafted gear statistically inferior to dropped gear. And, the insistence on limiting set bonus to dropped gear, and making set bonus a critical part of end-game rotations for DPS resource management and Tank taunting IS NOT HELPING.

      Delete
    2. I might just write a full post about crafting later. While expensive, as a raider, getting upgrades through crafting is actually easier than through CXP, because the randomness of Galactic Command can screw you over so much. But just crafting everything because the "intended" gearing system isn't working is not satisfying either.

      Delete
    3. My own view is that crafting always should have been the primary gearing system for statted equipment, and drops for cosmetics and a minor accelerant for gear. To which goal the CXP system could have been tuned. Other than the terrible interface on vendors for comparing gear, I rather thought the system for obtaining PvP gear was pretty decent, and would have preferred a revamp of the vendor interface and keeping the one of the data crystal currencies, and expanding the gear available for it. Then add CXP as the primary method of obtaining crystals, remove gear tokens, and add CXP crates for the chance of gear acceleration and a source of cosmetics.
      Then you have extremely fine grained control of gear acquisition rates, and CXP crates are all upside, no downside.
      Now, maybe this was mooted and found wanting, but BWA has repeatedly demonstrated they can't let go of 10 year old design tropes, but try and rehash them instead.

      Delete