In the last blog we talked a bit about how we are designing skills in a way to encourage cooperation and specialization, and in this blog I want to talk a bit more about longevity, permanence and the economy in BitCraft. There are a few topics today that relate to how we can create a game which players can play deeply for a long time, after all how good is an MMORPG if you run out of meaningful things to do after a week or a month.
Core and non-core progression
The primary thing we do to make sure you have both enough to do, and enough variety, is to look at the game in terms of core progression and non-core progression.
By core progression we mean progressing on core-skills or tiered content (discussed in the previous blog) which helps work towards unlocking and improving civilization directly. This can include things like reaching a higher level in your focused skill, or working to upgrade a tool to gather a new higher tier resource. This progression is centered around a long pursuit to reach the soft cap level 100 in a given core-skill. We want this to take hundreds of hours of playing and be an exceptional achievement. In contrast to some games, where the max level is the “start” of the end game loop, in BitCraft reaching the level cap is a ceremonious capping off of the unlock progression of a skill, before entering a purely status symbol post-soft-cap progression. At the end of all this, a player should be able to choose if they want to pursue the post-cap status competition for their skill (seeing how high they can climb on the leaderboards for the most skilled players in the whole world) or if they want to jump back to being a beginner by pursuing a new core-skill from level 1, or some mix of both. The path to maxing all core skill progression unlocks should be one that takes years to complete.
By non-core progression we mean everything else. And with that, we want to make sure that this isn’t some neglected side content, but a rich array of other stuff to do which has both status and functional benefits. While non-core progression rewards don’t directly lead to improvements of civilization, they can definitely have indirect impacts. For example, unlocking a better vehicle might allow you to spend more time gathering and less time transporting gathered items back to base. It could also enable higher profits on trade runs. When thinking about what sorts of things to reward players from non-core progression sources, we are looking to have meaningful rewards that feel like big permanent improvements to your account/character. Over time as you accumulate these improvements, things that were previously challenging become easier. We also want to make sure some of these rewards feel very substantial and well earned, whether they must be unlocked through hard work and commitment over a long period of time or bought for a small in-game fortune.
Wipes / Alpha tests
During the Pre-Alpha stage of development we’ve been wiping all progress between each pre-alpha playtest in order to test the early stages of the game that are receiving the most changes. As we move towards the release of the game we will begin to run increasingly longer tests, with the motivation to test the ability of our game design to remain fun in the face of a maturing and growing civilization.
An essential part of our vision for BitCraft is ensuring that progression is meaningful and is not diluted by releasing content which makes old progress irrelevant. We are setting out to create a game where your character progress and accomplishments are never invalidated. As we increase the lengths of our tests, much of our focus will be on balancing the game and content around this core principle.
That doesn’t of course preclude us adding seasonal content or events where progress in that aspect of the game is temporary or otherwise washed away through player competition. In fact, participation in seasonal events should contribute to overall character progression.
Seasonal continents could be a fun way for players to go on temporary expeditions into the unknown, even while otherwise surrounded by a mature civilization. We have a very strong vision for an evergreen game in which players build and improve their civilization indefinitely, but there’s also potential for interesting game design here, and it’ll be an interesting design direction to explore as we see what mature civilizations look like in BitCraft.
We have a long way still to go however through Alpha and Beta before the last wipe will happen, and I’m sure we’ll be learning a huge amount about the feasibility of maintaining and balancing an evergreen game world. We’ll be listening with a keen ear to player’s feedback on whether to lean more heavily into evergreen or seasonal content. There’s still so much to try!
Faucets, Sinks, and Sponges
A final topic I wanted to touch on is our perspective on the well known game design concept of faucets and sinks in a game’s economy and characters. While many developers talk about these concepts, one specific form of sink we consider carefully is what we describe as “sponges”. Sponges are similar to sinks in that they take things out of the economy or get rid of them, but instead of sinking them they absorb them, eventually leading to saturation. While balancing taps and sinks is key for keeping a game economy balanced in an instant, understanding which sinks are actually sponges and how long it will take to saturate them is key for long term viability of both minimizing inflation and keeping room for long term player motivation.
For example, if a player receives some items from the game world by gathering resources and then crafts those items into a health potion and consumes it, this is a true sink, because over time no amount of health potions consumed will reduce the need for later consumption. However, if a player gets some items from the world to use as building materials, and builds a building on their claim, the player no longer needs to build this building again and so the next time they get the same resources there are less things to do with them. You can think of this as resources spawned in the world being converted into buildings. If the resource regenerates infinitely, then buildings can accumulate in the world infinitely leading to saturation. As you might imagine, over time the demand for some resources will change and the rate at which player’s can acquire resources will change. We need to account for these changes if we want the balance and pacing of the game to be enjoyable and keep the economy stable over time.
In order to design BitCraft as a true sandbox game that won’t exhaust its content we take care to consider which aspects of the game are true sinks and which are sponges. This concept can extend even beyond the game’s economy to the balancing of how a player can spend time playing. For example in most MMORPGs, leveling up your character or gaining more powerful equipment is a sponge for your time in the game. Eventually you can reach maximum level or gain the “best in slot” equipment and this sponge will be completely saturated, with the player losing motivation to play. This is why you’ll often find games design these sponges to saturate with diminishing returns to try to make sure they never fully saturate or wring out the sponges periodically with a soft reset (level cap increase, item power creep, etc)
These are just a few of the ideas we keep in mind as we seek to make BitCraft an evergreen game. As we proceed further in development, I am excited for our prospective players to help us steer towards making BitCraft a game that can be enjoyed over years and years.
— Carter (Minch)