Friday, September 19, 2008

It's good to be crowded: the quest for green bags

I finally got around to trying some public quests in Warhammer online, and I have to say I'm very impressed. It's been covered in detail elsewhere, so I won't bother reiterating how they work. I will say that the descriptions I read did not convey just how much fun they are. Competing with other players to try and get the highest score in a PQ is a serious blast. The random roll that gets added to your score at the end also gives it sort of a Vegas vibe.

One thing that's really striking about the PQs is how badly they need large number's of players to work. Solo, you can usually only do the first part of one. Even in a very solid small party, you absolutely are not going to be able to take down the final boss. Six mans can take some of them down, but a safe bet is more like ten players.

If you can't take down the boss, no score tallies and no green bags. Which is actually the most fun part of PQs, they aren't nearly as fun if you can't finish them. This means that you need to play on a reasonably crowded server in a reasonably popular PQ or you are missing out on one of WAR's greatest assets.

The effect I'm seeing this have in game are twofold. The server populations are very clumpy. The popular servers have nearly constant ques, the unpopular ones max out at medium even during prime time. And on the ground in game populations are very clumpy most of the time. For every "chapter" there can be up to three different PQs to choose from. From what I've seen so far usually one becomes the popular one (usually because it's near a road or a quest hub) and the other two are completely ignored.

Mythic is taking action to address the server imbalances (or at least overcrowding), using a pretty clever method. Mythic doesn't seem to have any plans to incentivize out-of-the-way PQs, however there is a good chance that the problem will take care of itself. There is an optimum PQ group size where performing well is nearly certain to net you a green bag. Groups that are too small can't finish the PQs, and it can be hard to come out on top in a really big group. I can see players eventually spreading out on their own to try and find "optimum" groups, particularly on crowded servers. Mythic may have created an online experiment in optimum foraging theory, whith green bags subbing in as resources.

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