War Robots

Russian Roulette: Dashes and the Black Market

Jay tackles the Black Market and the Dashes in his latest look at the health of the game

So, now that the Black Market has wound up, how is everyone feeling about the Dash bots?

dropcoverhold
Don’t hurt me!

Look, I had to ask. I mean, it’s only the most significant development to the game in the last six months. Not just the Dash bots (and Scourge, lest we forget), but the entire delivery mechanism. The game has changed.

Here’s a quick look at how Pixonic has released bots in the past, listing the date, bot, and currency.

6/2/2014: Cossack (Ag)

6/27/2014: Boa (Ag)

9/6/2014: First Gold bots appear, the Gepard, Rogatka, and Fury

1/20/2015: Griffin (Ag)

2/12/2015: Golem (Ag). The Golem marks the sunset of the Silver bot.

9/21/2015: First Workshop Point (WSP) bots appear, the Stalker and Rhino.

11/16/15: Carnage (WSP)

4/11/2016: The Quadropods (Raijin, Fujin) release for WSP, in effect Pixonic’s first “expansion set” of bots thematically tied together. In addition, they mark the sunset of bots available for WSP.

8/3/2016: “Knights of Camelot” (Gareth, Galahad, Lancelot) released for Gold.

12/12/2016: “Wild Bunch” (Jesse, Doc, Butch) introduced, available for special Event currency

To be fair, the Wild Bunch would (eventually) be more broadly available, but not until several Events had passed. And when they finally did hit the market, what were they stickered for? Yup, another new currency- Influence Points.

For those keeping score at home, one could be forgiven for thinking there’s a rise and fall of currency viability in conjunction with new expansions of the game. When enough players have amassed enough stockpiles of a particular currency that they don’t have incentive to open their wallets, presto! The currency changes.

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Sorry Scrooge, Gold’s just not what it used to be

But here’s where things get a little more grey. Is this exploitation, or just good business? Today I’d like to explore that point and see what it means for the health of the game.

BlackMarket

Let’s start with the Black Market first. The Black Market utilizes the exact same mechanic we’ve seen in the past several events, the elements of which are:

  • Special currency
  • Event chests
  • Random prizes
  • Superchests (free after opening a number of other chests)

While the chests have proved contentious in the past, I’ve covered those previously. In a nutshell, despite the feelbads of not getting what you want, they’re largely upside if you use them wisely. Alternately, those who see them as nothing but gravy also have little to feel bad about.

On first blush, the Black Market then would seem to be more of the same. Those who enjoy the luck of the wheel can take their spin. Those who win only frustration can take it or leave it. Same as before, right?

Well, not quite. This time around, there are two pain points for the playerbase making this a distinctly frustrating experience for many.

First, there’s the limited availability of the Dash bots, which have been made exclusive to the Black Market. All the Gold, Silver, WSP, and Influence Points in the world won’t see you settling in behind the controls of a Haechi– at least for the moment (more on that shortly).

Second, the Black Market is designed to periodically vanish and return at regular intervals. Although the absences will be relatively short, this has the unfortunate effect of cashing out your Keys and setting your “superchest bar” back to zero.

That’s right. Each appearance of the Black Market is an entirely self-contained event. You can’t stockpile Keys over time, and you can’t work towards a superchest across successive Black Markets.

For many players who like to save their resources over time, this comes as an almost Grinch-like punt in the nuts. There are two possible explanations at play here. Either it’s not feasible, or it’s not desireable.

Not feasible means that Pixonic has the code for “events” already complete, with each appearance of the Black Market simply a regularized “event.” Being able to have the game store and record new information (Keys and superchest progress) is not part of the current code. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but rather that it’s just not implemented.

The alternative of not desireable indicates that Pixonic sees this as a business decision, with the aim of incentivizing players to spend more during an event if they want to get superchests.

On the balance, if it is the latter, this is an overplayed hand. For the great masses of casual players, little is lost and much could be gained by letting players accumulate Keys. Indeed, it might actually incentivize players who wouldn’t ordinarily spend to do so if they fatigue of the grind and are “almost there” for a better chest. And who knows, perhaps then the player- having gotten a taste of what lies behind the velvet curtain- would consider paying to repeat the experience.

Completely untouched by this, of course, are the “whales.” They’re going to spend anyway, so allowing the hoi polloi to eke out a couple of better chests over the course of time would have a presumably negligible impact. Put another way, it’s a good opportunity for Pixonic to turn a feel-bad into a feel-good in a way that won’t harm their core business.

DashBot

Now let’s get to the Dash bots themselves. After a long pre-release hype initiative, many players have found themselves feeling very disappointed in the selected distribution model. Those hoping for a WSP pricetag were always going to be disappointed, but the hope was that they would be a Gold-standard expansion or follow the Wild Bunch cash-purchaseable model. For these folks, there’s a sense of the rug being pulled out from beneath them- not least because of the competitive advantage they are perceived to supply.

The degree of this is a matter of conjecture. Certainly there’s a case to be made that those fortunate enough to own them are enjoying a period of novelty and inexperience, as most players have little to no experience in dealing with the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t dash ability.

On the other hand, when a noted player posts a video of him cracking the two-million-damage mark, “Dash bots are overpowered” becomes a more compelling narrative. It also makes the game appear “pay to play,” something War Robots has heretofore done sterling work avoiding.

But what some are overlooking here is another aspect of player frustration that’s been frequently voiced in the past: the premium nerf. Whenever Pixonic has felt the need to nerf bots and weapons that cost premium currency, there’s been a resultant outcry from those who feel that premium purchases should be immune from them. Along a similar vein, you have the cynical argument that charges Pixonic with releasing overpowered gear to spur sales, then dialing back the power level once the sales surge dies down.

It’s worth noting that Pixonic has unambiguously stated that the initial release model will not be the final distribution model for the Dash bots.

Here’s how they spelled it out on their official site:

During 3.1 Kumiho, Haechi and Bulgasari are obtainable only through the Black Market. All players have equal chances to obtain them.

We do this to ease Dash integration into the game as much as possible. This ability by itself might cause a huge shift in which robots are in favor and which aren’t, so we are giving them sort of a test run. Spreading these through Black Market initially will give us enough data to work with in terms of balancing without disrupting the gameplay too much. Thanks for your understanding and patience!

The obvious criticism might be, “why release them before you’re confident you got the balance right?” It’s an easy criticism to make, but not to sustain. If a game company tested its releases to the extent that the public does, we’d see a new release every five years.

Not only that, but it’s worth considering that the Dash bot’s signature mechanic mines new design space. Those kinds of impacts are much harder to analyze than pure damage outputs, and the Wild Bunch– for all their novelty- were really just DPS/burst adjustments. This is new ground, and with the “Glider” bot on the test server we’re seeing Pixonic using movement as a mechanic more.

This highlights the difficult position of the game designer. If you play it too safe, the release won’t break the meta, but it can be underwhelming. Recall the initial reception of the Wild Bunch bots, heavily panned for being too weak on launch (and later buffed). Make them too strong, and you not only warp the meta, but you risk consumer outrage when you dial them back. I wouldn’t say it’s threading the needle, but it does make the Dash release make a bit more sense. And since they were won on random chance rather than a direct cash transaction, Pixo’s hope is likely that any possible nerfs they implement will be less objectionable.

While I’m not a big fan of the Black Market, this isn’t an unreasonable approach. The next game update will be within a couple weeks, and we’ll have a better idea of the longer-term distribution model. For now, I’m keeping the powder dry.

Thanks for reading! And keep an eye out for the contest we’ll be holding beginning next week. If you missed your chance at getting a Dash bot or Scourges– or just want more- we’ve got loads to give away!

 

16 comments on “Russian Roulette: Dashes and the Black Market

  1. Well put, totally agree. A real shame.

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  2. John Bennett (Wrilley)

    They created hype; then they created artificial scarcity to drive the spending ceiling up. Hardly a unique concept
    (looking at you Nintendo) but in bird culture it’s still a dick move.

    I disagree with your comment that it has no impact on whales. If I want, for example, 6 Scourges, I’d think it’d be far cheaper to simply buy them outright, even for real money, than gambling for them. Probably hundreds of dollars more expensive depending on drop rates as well as how long and specific my want list is.

    Adding the gambling element is also an up and coming aspect of several freemium games because it helps get and keep people addicted to spending money on your game. It’s all about tapping into that dopamine.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good analysis.
    I spent $200 in keys. Here is my perspective on what spending a few hundred vs. free does…
    1. Along with 2 dash bots and 3 scourge, I also got a vast amount of resources. This allowed me to immediately max both dash bots. Additionally, I won 3 doc’s and 4 Jesse, 3 Zeus, 10K gold, 2 rog on and on.
    2. Had I spent more, I am confidant I would have a full hanger and the ability to outfit and max everything.
    3. There are clans that are requiring members to have dash. Facing a full clan with 6 dash bots on the field at any given time is not overcome by DB, Lance, or any other pre dash meta bots.
    4. The spend of 100’s of dollars comes not only with the dash bots, but massive cache of gold and other premium weapons. Basically you can spend several $100’s and turn a 9/9 hanger into a maxed beast. My wife spent more than I, she did not get a dash, but did get over 40K in gold among may other amazing treats.

    Now we are in the green key phase, I have spent $0. I play more than average (2000 cups a week), and roll 3 silver chests a day, I could save for gold chests but I don’t have patience for that. The most I have won is 90 gold.
    My conclusion is not only is a super chest impossible to earn in 10 days (roughly 8K keys needed), but the likelihood of wining a dash or scourge from free play is extremely unlikely (like winning the lotto without buying a ticket…)
    The current state of black market is pay to play. Once you pay big, you will win-win big.

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  4. Si cayó Kodak , war robots no es la excepción, cuide la felicidad de sus clientes que son los que mantienen a la compañía

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  5. Frank Castle

    They ruined the game over and over and this move is no different.

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  6. Pix’s statement of “Equal chances to obtain them” is not quite correct. It depends on how much money you put into the tickets. Simply grinding to collect tickets does not earn you enough of them to have a good chance of winning a dash bot. Also, it was obvious to everyone that these bots were going to be way too powerful if released as they were last seen in the test server. Does Pix not pay attention?
    With the great job of balancing Pix has done recently by buffing certain bots (which I congratulate them for), the release of the dash bots as they are right now is a big disappointment. There are a lot of them in my battles now and without a swift nerf, I am considering a break from the game, which is a shame, because I really like it.

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  7. Well, well, well. Where can I start , pixonic I do not like what you are doing with this game , if you want money just give us the robots and lots of new weapon systems straight for gold or silver , but this none sense roulette nope ,no good I did expend 125 dolllars and all I got was the same the I already have but 1 of the new electric weapons , 1 . !!! I’m not putting any more money on this game until you put it the way it was before , thanks

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  8. We see when BOT comes out in mid-December , people don’t forget. WR will become a ghost game, pixonic keeps rolling us.

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  9. Ashe Sterling

    Thanks for your article, Dredd! You must be very busy usually, since that I don’t see you hanging around much on Discord. Anyways, I haven’t encountered a lot of Dashes yet, the only one that I saw yet was a Bulgasari with Orkans. Bringing dashes to the field is an interesting move from Pix, but they really miscalculated the Black Market introduction: they shouldn’t have implemented the Superchest bar reset, as it discourages long-term gameplay and encourages people to do blitz into WR frenziness for some time, then huddle away and try to catch up with all the work or homework that he/she disregarded during the key farming craze. Another point that’ll be in conflict with the BM is regular events, I honestly think that Pix will say something like “the BM will be temporarly closed due to Halloween approaching, BM will be left unmanned due to Christmas break, etc…” when a normal event will come up. I wouldn’t mind if both are up at the same time, double the amount of tokens earned! 😃

    Another thing that I don’t like about BM is the overall impact: sure, it’s cool and neat, but it’s existence makes regular events bland, unless that they add even more things to the latters. If I was one of their devs, I’ll swap the current BM to another one, which would be more player-interactive. It could involve a trading system, where, for example, someone wants a Gepard but only has 1000Au, he/she can get it at the BM at 80% of the usual price (1000Au) if there’s a seller willing to sell, who will then receive 50% of the bot’s actual value (600Au in Gepard’s case) if there is a buyer. Of course, the buyer can only get bots that are unlocked for his/her level. Not only would it lower the stack of unused Au equipment that most late-league players have, but it would also encourage player interaction. The “tax” system included in the trade will serve as a factor to prevent exploiting the system, and 50% of the value of the piece of equipment is better than letting it sit in a corner covered in dust.

    I really don’t know why I’m complaining about the Black Market, since that it’s free. Maybe that it’s just the usual saltiness that players have towards Pix decisions? 😊

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  10. I disagree. This is one whale who won’t spend another dime on the game (or even play it) until Pixonic makes new bots and weapons purchasable for a set price. I played their black market game and lost. I won’t throw good money after bad. And I know I’m not alone in this mindset.

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  11. Pingback: Rise in the Fall: Parsing the War Robots Autumn Update – Mech*Spectrum

  12. Kozy killer

    This game has taken to much of my cash and now they are just pissing me off? Not sure what my workshop is any good for. Can’t buy the new robots with them and already have the ones available which I hardly use. Never get anything good on roulette. Lottery sucks. Also wish you could block players who go into a battle and do nothing. I did love this game. Not sure now if I want to continue, always wanting another dollar.

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  13. jazayerialexgmailcom

    The use of multiple currencies, chests, etc is a revenue move – not a balancing move. There’s a reason why every free to play game uses item randomizers – it makes people pay more. Walking Robots originally had a far more straightforward model: pay to get currencies, and this way you can eventually get the “best” robots and equipment in the game. Then you have essentially cater to the high-level players by releasing items that are expensive, and which they then buy/upgrade.

    With chests, you get less money from lots of people – maybe everyone spends a small amount to get another few chests or whatever. Casual players have a reason to play because they MIGHT get a powerful bot. High-level players have a reason to plow currency in, just so they can actually GET those bots. There is less of a fixed “high level” game because no longer can everyone have the OP build of the month. If chests were badly implemented, it’s only because the company hadn’t actually built a business system around randomisation. Chests v1.0 was a bad way to do it, and actually chests 2.0 that just got realeased is only a little bit better.

    Essentially, and any way you look at it, the game is painfully transitioning from one model to another, necessitated by the Pixonic buyout last year. New owners need to get their money back.

    Mostly and historically, few games survive a transition in business model because it hurts directly the members of the community that most financially vested in the way the game WAS. The people interested in the way the game IS need a long time to get to the level of “vested interested”, and you lose a lot of people in the middle.

    Good thing is that with WR the gameplay was, and is, very well done. Unless you’re high level, all the new bots in the world don’t mean much to you. You’ll enjoy playing – and this will probably carry the community through. The flipside is that for high level old timers (as I used to be), casual play is not possible and competitive play has become expensive to prohibitive levels. Those are the people leaving the game – those who had invested money and time, but who can no longer play the way they used to, and who’s investment is not worth much.

    It’s also the notable missing element in your analysis of currencies above. Pixonic has devalue INVESTED and SPENT currencies to a massive degree, and in doing so, devalued all the new currencies as well.

    Moving to a new system bodes well for the game. I wish it luck 🙂

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  14. I find the black market model demoralising. It is clearly geared to the paying player, giving them a distinct advantage. Nevertheless, the game is balanced enough that there are still viable alternatives. Overall I’m not happy with the direction that this game is taking: premium releases available only for paying players. In contrast I have no problems with accelerated advancement, just exclusivity.

    That said, the recent fall announcement has dropped a real bombshell: Item promotion. Pixonic are planning to completely upend the game in one fell swoop, with an effective instant devaluation of every hangar in the game. This may hit the game like the subprime mortgage crash. I have a year and a half of grind and cash spent in building a competitive hangar, only to have it shifted back to the halfway point. I really don’t think that I will have the motivation to press on to the new top end. When you can no longer trust that there will be an achievable end game, the point in pressing on becomes moot. Players who have spent thousands will similarly see their investment instantly devalued. I can’t see too many long term players being happy with this new development.

    What’s more, war robots was never just about the progression. The end game provided a vibrant and exciting gaming experience. This is one of the reasons that I have enjoyed it for so long. The introduction of item promotion will not be received well by those who just want to play a competitive game on a level playing field (and that seems to be most players at the top end).

    Adding an extra 12 levels of progression and losing many long time players will thin an already thin top end. Android has about 3000 players in champion league. Matchmaker frequently matches them down to diamond league because of the paucity of champion league players. The introduction of item progression will just exacerbate an already highly skewed top end of the game.

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