I have had a vague feeling for a while now that there was something wrong with War Dragons. I am in an Atlas team, yet things seem to be stagnating. Atlas was meant to provide an additional dimension to the core mechanic of flying dragons against enemy bases, and for a while it seems to have done just that.
However, aside from the occasional new land release, the land of Atlas is becoming stagnant, and it was only this afternoon that I finally realised why. The reason goes right to the core of the rules PG set up to govern this digital realm, and unless something drastic is done, I fear that those very rules will result in the inevitable demise of War Dragons as a commercially viable and enjoyable game.
Let me explain: PG has set up rules that ensure that no one team or alliance can hope to hold more than a tiny fraction of the total real estate of Atlas, yet that real estate is also limited in quantity and necessary for progression in the game.
The result of this situation is that teams will grab any real estate that they can. When the land is unoccupied, players flood in, and grab whatever they think that they can hold, and if their eagerness exceeds their strength, other team’s will take over. Then, once the land grab is over, we enter a time of consolidation, where teams fortify their holdings against the depredations of other teams.
The very nature of a competitive game such as War Dragons means that there will be both strong and weak players and teams, and the rule that allows only five teams to form an official alliance would appear to limit the power of any single group of players, and for a while this has appeared to be true.
The effect of that has been that teams who are strong and bold can attack those weaker than themselves. The Glory mechanic would appear to make such hostile interactions mandatory for any ambitious team, and along with the crafting shards mechanic, this has made castles another important currency of the game that can only be obtained through effort.
Now, as expected, ths strong prey upon or intimidate the weak, and either take the castles they want, or convince the owners to give them up. However, human nature being what it is, everyone bunkers down and fortifies their position, hoping to protect themselves from those stronger than themselves, yet inevitably, strength tells, and the strong teams and alliances overcome the weaker and capture prime bits of territory.
But then, gradually, these strong alliances find that things aren’t as easy as they used to be. They attack a castle and bubble it, but when they come back for the conquest, the castle is defended not by one team or five, but a whole lot of them, all of whom, rather than attacking the vulnerable castle while its shield is in cool-down, seem to be attacking those who want to conquer it. What is going on?
An observant individual could surmise that human nature is asserting itself. Players are artificially limited to alliances with a maximum of 5 teams, yet many more than 5 teams can be seen defending. From this, it can be concluded that the players on those teams have done for themselves that which the game seems to be designed to prohibit: they have formed one or more super-alliances in order to protect all their members against the depredations of smaller groups of stronger players.
This is the point we have reached now. With their ability to simply take what they want curtailed, the strongest teams have more of a challenge. They must scout carefully to find those teams and alliances who are not protected by the emergent super-alliances.
However, as an amateur student of history, I can see the parallels between the inception of Atlas and its history to date with the history of the real world. Inferring from what I have seen, it can be deduced that one or more Atlas superpowers have arisen, each being a coalition of teams using back-channel communication to coordinate their actions. Superpowers that, due to the rules that PG set up in a vain attempt to prevent such a thing, have arisen without the awareness of many of the game’s players, and perhaps also without PG’s knowledge.
In the future, I predict that one or more super-alliances will awaken to their strength, and will begin to move against the most powerful Atlas teams and alliances who have been preying upon those weaker than themselves. When this inevitably happens, there will be a round of wars that Atlas has never seen before. Entire Diamond teams and alliances who refuse to submit to the rules that the super-alliances dictate to them will be evicted from their castles by not 150 or even 750 primarchs, the limit of what one alliance can muster, but thousands. We will have the new phenomenon of a homeless Diamond bully-team. Unless the other bullies knuckle under, they’ll find themselves homeless too. Atlas will have an entire new class of homeless teams - Diamond teams who failed to notice the change in the political environment of Atlas until it was too late, and were evicted by the “weaker” masses, being brought down by attacks that individually could not hope to inflict any more than minor troop losses, but together amounted to a death of a thousand cuts.
Then what? Everyone follows the rules, of course. No-one attacks another’s castle unless invited, for to do so without invitation is to ask for one’s own destruction. We end up with not so much ‘War Dragons’ as ‘Real Estate Dragons’… and that isn’t what most of its players started playing for. With the excitement gone, players will quietly slip away, and new players will have a hard time understanding the unofficial political environment of Atlas. War Dragons then dies not with a bang, but a whimper. Faced with unrecoverable player loss due to boredom, PG will regretfully announce that on such and such a date and time, the War Dragons servers will be shut down… but by the time that it happens, most of us will have moved on to something more interesting, and either won’t care or notice, or will simply acknowledge the inevitable.
In its present state, I wouldn’t give this game more than another two years before its demise becomes inevitable.
In the title of this post, I suggested that this fate can be averted.
This game is called ‘War Dragons’. Not ‘Real Estate Dragons’. Allowing the ownership of castles to become static will be the death of this game, since, in a parallel with real history, players will seek security in alliances and law and order. Safe, but also ultimately boring.
What have I as a player found most exciting? Conflict. Capturing territory… not trading real estate - one of your Earth castles in return for one of our Dark castles.
So… how can we liven things up? Shake off the shackles of an unchanging landscape?
The answer is simple, though it may be difficult to execute
Atlas must cease to be static. It must be - at least in part - destroyed and made anew on a regular basis. Furthermore, the newly recreated lands of Atlas must come pre-populated with NPCs. NPCs with strength and intelligence who can offer players a real challenge, and not be merely metaphorical straw figures erected only so that they can be knocked down. NPCs who - if not treated with respect and caution - could carry the fight to the players and cause them to retreat. NPCs who will grow in strength, if given the opportunity.
One possibility is that non-Atlas players and teams could actually be these NPCs, and their attacks and NPC opponents be scaled invisibly to real anonymised Atlas players. Newcomers to the game would learn from the more advanced players, and if good enough, may advance to Atlas next round.
The Atlas teams must be divided into two super-groups who are ultimately competing between themselves as well as the NPC groups. I think of them as Angels and Demons, but the actual names don’t really matter, just that they are opposed and different. Players and teams progress within their supergroup by achieving goals - capture of NPC or opposing supergroup castles and other tasks. Their reward? Dragons unique to their supergroup.
Of course, some players or teams might want some of both supergroup’s stuff, so it should be possible to change allegiance. But how do we prevent an imbalance that would see players flocking to the side that looked like it would win? The answer is to provide each supergroup with an equivalent attack power, which is divided between its players. If player and/or team movement resulted in an imbalance in player numbers, the attack power allocation would mean that those players in the smaller supergroup would become individually more powerful, and achieve greater rewards. If all Atlas players were aware of the current relative power allocation per player for both super-groups, the super-groups would be more or less self-balancing, without restricting the possibility of choice.
Sub-factions within each supergroup should be allowed. Teams should be able to join a 5-team alliance, but 5-team alliances should be able to join super-alliances. However, being in the same super-alliance should not prevent attacks between non-five-team-alliance members, but should only prevent conquest of castles. I rather suspect that many such organisations exist unofficially, so let’s formalise the situation. Additionally, groups within the two super-groups should be able to capture each other’s castles. Just because there’s a common enemy doesn’t mean that infighting should be disallowed.
At the end of each Atlas season, the outcome in Atlas should be totalled as if it was an event. The best performing teams should be placed in the best starting position for the next Atlas season, then Atlas should be cleared and made anew. Treat it as a special type of event, with its own rewards for good performance.
This situation, being non-static, would provide plenty of opportunities for doing that which interests players the most, and having a common enemy as well as definite, group goals would distract players from pointless backstabbing and raiding that is currently in fashion.