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