Issue #6: Mr. Sharif Goes to City Hall
The latest development blog for Ashes of Creation touched on the ins and outs of player government. Invoking images of back rooms deals rife with intrigue, Steven Sharif, Creative Director at Intrepid Studios, began explaining some of the proposed systems the players as virtual politicians will be able to experience in the game. In addition to my own thoughts, I reached out to some leaders within the Ashes community to get their views on what this latest update means for them. Providing their input in this issue are: Aggelos, co-founder of Dungeon Crawler Network (DCN) and many Ashes related podcasts, Atropos, founder of Ashen Foundry, Zara, guild leader for Nexus, Belewyn, Ashes Community Moderator, and Telchar, guild leader for Sons of the Seven.
As with the previous blog, the thread of strong player agency was quite evident in what the article had to say. At first glance, the explanation felt somewhat like a spiritual successor to the real-time strategy genre. The first choice player leaders must face is a foundational one – what “buildings” should be added to the developing node and furthermore which of these buildings should be upgraded, expanding the services of the node accordingly. Leaders aren’t totally locked into their choice, however, as buildings can also be destroyed if they don’t perform to expectation. Some examples of buildings were covered in the blog were a marketplace, where players could set up shop to sell their wares, or an auction house, where players could offer up some of the treasure or resources they have come across in the world to their fellow adventurers. With personal choice being such a factor in the development of a node, differences of opinion on how a node should develop becomes the inherent catalyst for “meaningful conflict” the developers have discussed in the past. For those not familiar, basically this means that the developers expect players will take sides in support or opposition of the current node government’s choices. “We want our nodes to have personality, not because we made it that way but because our players are the nodes.”
When discussing what excited them most about the city hall mechanics, the common theme between those interviewed was excitement about the feature in general as well as the possibilities of what Intrepid might accomplish in their implementation. Aggelos commented from his perspective with this: “The city building and resource management are the parts that have me the most interested. I am curious how caravans will play a part since they have stated that resources added to the coffers of the city can’t be touched by players outside of the city resource system and I think most people think of [ArcheAge’s] caravans with player carried items for their use.” Atropos and Belewyn built on this with their thoughts. Atropos felt like this system could definitely evolve into another dimension of player progression – creating an environment where players are heavily invested in the success of their node as a leader or a citizen. Belewyn felt that Intrepid has an opportunity to capitalize on this type of feature that was only touched upon in titles like ArcheAge or Black Desert Online – it’s “like blending… CIV or Romance of the Three Kingdoms into an MMORPG.” Telchar felt that just the idea alone of player run governments with this level of depth is reason to celebrate. As players, we can involve ourselves in the “nuances of building an empire,” which Telchar finds quite appealing. Zara’s excitement was rooted in the one of the finer details of player agency – “Definitely, being able to impeach a leader…as a leader you have to succeed beyond succeeding.” I totally get her point and touch on this later in the article – player government in Ashes is as unpredictable as the will of the people.
While there is potential discontent that could happen within a node, it is not the only danger the Verran political leaders could face. In a world where resources are limited, neighboring nodes may just as likely seek to exercise extreme prejudice against one another versus amicable trade agreements. The City Hall mechanics allow player leaders to designate friend and foe so a neighboring node’s citizens might end up being “enemies of the state” if the government so chooses – providing rewards to their citizens for hunting their enemies down. It’s a compelling idea, but I’d like to get some more information on this to be honest, does that mean if a player is an enemy of a certain node that any opposing player is able to attack them in the open world if they are within said node’s territory or is it just within the cities themselves? Would those attackers become corrupted or would anyone within said node be considered combatants? The escalation of tensions don’t stop there either – a leader could chose to declare all-out war against their neighbor with the intent to siege, de-level or destroy their chosen rival. It is not a simple choice to do so, however, as the leader must ensure he or she has the right resources and support within his or her purview to succeed in the campaign.
The Challenges of Internal and External Politics
As mentioned earlier, it is worth noting that war isn’t always the inevitable outcome of node relations. A node leader might chose a more diplomatic take for his or her administration. This is where the caravan mechanics interact with the city hall design. The primary way nodes might align is through some sort of trade agreement. Perhaps one node is rich in lumber, while another is rich in precious metals, or one of the climates of the respective nodes are more amicable to animal husbandry and farming, while the other might house dungeons where adventurers could hunt for precious artifacts. In all cases, the trading of resources could end up being more beneficial to both nodes than being at odds. With improved economies, these prosperous nodes could offer more benefit to their citizens. This type of positive change could lead to more formal relations, perhaps an alliance between nodes. This could prove quite useful if one of the nodes falls prey to an attack from any sort of danger, be it the denizens of the world or players invoking a more manifest destiny approach.
The government system of a node is ephemeral. The tide can quickly turn from favor to disdain as the effectiveness of player government can make or break a node. It can provide an opportunity for players, who at first were strangers, to settle down and build a community. However, a node does not run on goodwill and camaraderie alone. So what does a developing node’s government do to keep things afloat? One of the two inevitabilities in life of course…taxes. In other mainstream MMOs, money sinks are pretty common – any long established MMO will likely them. Probably, the most vivid example of this is in-game cost associated with mounts in World of Warcraft. Now, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with WoW since it launched and having that background, I recall when a few hundred goal was a small fortune for my leveling character. You scraped together what you could to get that first mode of transportation. Flash forward 13 years and in addition to those available in game through RNG, there are mounts that cost anywhere between a few thousand gold and upwards of half a million gold or more. These times, they are inflating. It’s mechanisms like this in other MMOs that come to mind when I think of gold sinks. In a roundabout way, it’s a form of taxation, a luxury tax if you will. If you want the most prestigious or unique looking mounts, you’re going to pay for it. However, when the subject of taxes comes up in Ashes, their developers felt their purpose should be much more meaningful than the latest shiny steed. It is through taxes that nodes can gather the resources required to maintain a comfortable status quo and eventually upgrade. It’s a fine line for a player government to walk – don’t tax your people enough and node development suffers, too much and it may drive a drop in support or even an uprising.
In addition to gathering resources and currency, the task of a node leader is to attract a population. The tools at a leader’s disposal are quite varied – generation of events that provide buffs to experience, crafting, for example or even generating quests based on the node level. A leader’s work is never done as they must constantly plan and execute as the node evolves – navigating resource surpluses and droughts, diplomatic relations, military threats and perhaps the most complex aspect of all… keeping your community happy.
While we have discussed the features mentioned in the article itself, I was curious to know what the community leaders I interviewed thought might also be worthy of a look by the development team. Aggelos believes the enemy of the state mechanic already discussed should be bolstered with a “city banishment” feature where leaders could declare people outlaws within the city limits. Atropos, Belewyn, Zara and Telchar were more intrigued with some of the other tools that node governments might use. Atropos was interested in exploring more about the mechanisms would be available to weigh decisions. “What happens if there is not a clear ‘best choice’ for a branching path of node development? How will citizens of the node effectively communicate their ideas so the group can align on a decision? Will this be largely though external tools like forums and Discord, or will there be internal game mechanisms for people to debate and convince other node citizens that their idea is the best?” All great points that would be very important to flesh out as the design of this system moves forward. Belewyn felt it would be good to expand upon the voting aspects touched on in the game and hopes that it is “not limited simply to elections.” Wouldn’t it be helpful to have options as a leader to call a vote on “expansion and development, taxation and even laws within a node”? Building on this thought, Telchar wondered how “deep the scripting environment” was planned to be. Would a leader have to manage a sort of “spreadsheet simulator” or would it more “hands off” and simple? He felt that how deep these systems are planned to be could ultimately impact the decisions he would make in the running of his guild. Zara also agrees with this point of view as she was interested in how the city hall system would mesh with the guild systems in general, as it has been mentioned in the past that it would be difficult for a Guild Master to hold a place on a node’s ruling council. Makes one wonder what relationship these two key systems would share.
With a system as complex as we are all imagining (development team included), I asked my contributors to point out what they thought some of the challenges the developers might face as they bring life to this game system. While Aggelos chose not to comment, his colleagues in the community each had their own point of view. Atropos speculated with a system so dependent on player engagement… How will the Intrepid allow a broader spectrum of players to participate in such systems, given that some might not be inherently motivated to do so? Belewyn had thoughts along similar lines – she was curious how Intrepid would “make government positions attainable by the little guy.” In her view, there would always be a barrier to entry for individuals not part of a more dominant political guild or alliance on the server. Telchar felt the challenge might be more around the balancing of the different aspects of the game – economic, militaristic and political functions. It is also worth mentioning that the design, in his opinion, would have to assume players will “metagame” and get information beyond what is intrinsically in the game. Given that, the design felt good from his perspective. Zara felt it would be challenging to balance changes in player governments, if this depends on a majority vote or something similar. Like others have noted, larger groups of players could effectively lock out the minority or individuals on their respective server.
Community Feedback Wrap Up
The community interviews were wrapped up with one final question – I asked if any of them planned to take advantage of the city hall mechanisms. Most of the interviewees felt like they would participate in varying degrees as time allowed. Aggelos was pretty tight lipped on how as that would reveal “guild secrets.” Playing the metagame already, eh, mate? Atropos, though interested, felt like the task of running a node would likely be more appropriate for those who could maximize their in-game time. His preference would be to ally himself with a guild that fit his play goals and use that partnership to exert political influence. Telchar’s game priorities centered on “providing a lucrative environment for trade and security.” While she is not sure she would be able to achieve node leadership herself, Zara plans to align her guild hierarchy to ensure that those focused on such endeavors can influence the node in accordance with her guild’s ideals. Last but not least, Belewyn very clearly states “the political aspiration dream is not one that ever fascinated me.” However, if she did have such desires, she reiterated that the “metagame” is where she would focus her activity, researching the best path to achieve her goals whatever they might be. She did say that personally her heart was set on owning a tavern. She quips quite astutely…”Though a tavern owner, I think, can become an influential individual as well.” I have a feeling you’re quite right, Belle!
The Final Word
It’s clear that the latest blog has provided a lot of food for thought for the Ashes community. Depending on the depth of the systems that are implemented, the possibilities are wide open. I and many others are quite eager to learn more about the game systems and the metagame with a life of its own they might create. I want to personally thank the community leaders who contributed to this piece – Aggelos, Atropos, Belewyn, Telchar and Zara. Their insight and input was invaluable! Until next time, everyone!
Interested in more Ashes content? Check out the sites below to get your fix:
From the Ashes – Aggelos’ labor of love, devoted to Ashes of Creation – Don’t miss the next podcast focused on Intrepid’s City Hall Blog!
The Ashen Foundry – created by Atropos, a home for discussion, guides and tools to optimize your Ashes of Creation experience
Anthology – Sponsor of the Ashen Herald, this is Makinoji’s YouTube showcase of community creations in story and song
Interested in contacting the guilds/communities represented in this article? Check out the links below:
Dungeon Crawler Network, run by Aggelos
Nexus, run by Zara
Sons of the Seven, run by Telchar