Author Topic: The Colonies are Dead (Long Live the Colonies)  (Read 65 times)

Matthew Gagnon

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The Colonies are Dead (Long Live the Colonies)
« Topic Start: November 23, 2022, 06:58:19 PM »
So the Colonies have existed in this game for a really, really long time now. By my knowledge at least as far back as 2005. I played them way back in my first stint playing BM in 2007-2010, and I play them today.

The pitch that was made to me about the Colonies "way back when" in my original stint, which seems to still be the pitch today, is that the Colonies are a "light" version of Battlemaster for those of us interested in a slower, more chill, less active place to play. Indeed, that is more or less still the description that leads the article on the Colonies on the BM Wiki page, with a couple other "reasons for existing" listed as well:

Are things happening so fast you don't know where you are anymore? Are you looking for a more relaxed pace of life? Is the stress of it all finally getting to you? Looking for a truly lightweight version of BattleMaster? Looking for a place to deport hated enemies? If the answer is yes to any of these things, then the Colonies is the place for you!

The reason that I'm writing this post is that after having thought about it for months (and months), and reflecting on what the Colonies says it is versus what it actually is, I've come to the conclusion that the Colonies have failed and that they serve no meaningful purpose at all. Note, however, that I'm not saying they should be shut down... rather I'm simply trying to point out that the game (and we the players) are lying to ourselves about what it is and why it is there, and we should stop doing that if we ever want to make it fun and meaningful to play.

So to evaluate if I'm right about this, let's go back to those things said in the wiki, because they are the only things I've ever heard that seek to justify why the Colonies exist. Again, the main arguments are that it is a slower, lighter-paced, relaxed BM game that could attract people who aren't keen on the "regular" experience of two-turn, battle-centric BM, and that it is a place to deport hated enemies. That's about it. That's all I've ever heard from anyone. Which is fine, I'm just saying there aren't any other reasons I've heard.

Let's deal with that second one first, because we can dispense that one fairly quick(ish).

Do you know anyone who has ever been "deported to the Colonies?"  I've been playing a LONG time, and I can't think of the last person who was deported there, treating it like a penal colony. I think the idea was to make the Colonies a sort of pre-industrial Australia, where we send rabble-rousers, criminals, rebels, etc, giving it a very raw and untamed personality, which would of course make the various realms a lot of fun to play because they'd be inherently unstable, hard to control, and there would be a lot of chaos.

Mechanically the game still, I believe, allows deportations to happen, though I don't usually play a judge so I don't necessarily have the commands in front of me right now. Still, I think you can do it. But does anyone do it? Are there even that many rebels and criminals in the game anymore? My character in Westgard just dealt with a Lurian assassin, and I never even considered deporting him -- we wanted to execute him if we got him (which we eventually did). In retrospect could we have tossed him to the Colonies? Yeah I guess we could've but it never dawned on me because no one really does that... and I think that character had a family member at the Colonies already anyway, so it wouldn't have been a realistic option.

Point is, even if it is mechanically possible, I think we should acknowledge "how the game really plays" versus how it "could" play or how it "should" play. In the end, this just isn't a characteristic of the Colonies today. I think there's a little too much of "it really should be played like this and its just the players who aren't doing what they're supposed to do" in this game, rather than brainstorming about real usage and incentives that would result in certain player behaviors.

Which brings me to the lighter version thing.

There's no doubt it is exactly as advertised with that. The single turn makes travel take a while, battles slow to build, and everything be deliberate and intentional. If that is, in fact, what you want, you are probably getting it.

But does that style of play truly attract anyone to the Colonies? I suggest to you that it does not.

There are two types of people who would be attracted to the Colonies given its different mechanics: 1 - players who do not really play the main Battlemaster game, and would choose to play the Colonies because of how different it is because the barrier to entry is lower and easier (i.e. new players brought into the game b/c of the Colonies), and  2 - players that do have other characters, but would like to also have a chill character too.

So lets deal with those two reasons, because again they are the only logical "pulls" toward the Colonies. If you can think of others, I'm all ears (though I dispute such "pulls" are working).

Regarding the light player who'd like to play BM, but doesn't have the time or want to put in the effort (i.e. attracting players you wouldn't get otherwise), it is very clear that the Colonies have failed to do that. I just conducted a review of the players currently at the Colonies, and right now there are only 48 families that play a noble there, and that includes families like The Undying who are actually BM Gamemaster accounts.

For East Continent, that number is 125 families
For Dwilight, that number is 115 families
For Beluaterra that number is 103 families
For South Island, that number is 46 families

So from a raw numbers perspective, it seems like "regular" Battlemaster attracts 100-120 or so noble families. The Colonies attract less than half that.

I went a step further and went in to look at the families that are there to see what "kind" of player they were. Virtually every single one of those players has at least 2, 3 or even 4 active players outside the Colonies, which suggests that most people who play it are really just seeking a "spare" character to play a little bit more than they do on the other continents. While I can't speak to the psychology of every player, that seems like the most logical explanation.

Indeed, there is only a single family -- one -- that plays the Colonies and only the Colonies, and that is the November Family. And for those of us who know November, he has been an on and off player since 2005, so it isn't as though this somehow attracted new blood or was some kind of recruiting tool for BattleMaster at large to try to get casual players into the family, as it were. There are four families (Mersault, Maxwell, Kingsley and X'arpa) that have a character on the Colonies and only ONE other continent, but remember that Mersault has several paused characters and has been playing for 12 years, Maxwell has been around for 11 years, and Kingsley has been around for 17 years. X'arpa seems to be the only family on the entire island I can point at that is reasonably new, and has only one character from elsewhere, thus possibly meaning that he/she is playing because of the style on the Colonies.

Which brings me to that "second reason" I was speaking about before that would "pull" people toward the Colonies: players that like the normal game but also find the concept of a "chill" character appealing.

I have no true evidence I can use here to characterize player choice, but I will say that anecdotally as somebody who has played the Colonies for a while, I get the sense that this is much less of a reason for participation in the Colonies than you would think. I've heard way too many people frustrated by slow travel times, the impact on war, the malaise on the island, and other complaints that are unique to the Colonies that come directly from the player base currently playing the Colonies. That indicates to me that people are choosing it because it is there, and not necessarily for the mechanics being different. Just my read on it, but I think it is an educated evaluation of things. I certainly know why I'm at the Colonies: it is a way of having one more character.

So I think by now it is reasonably clear that the Colonies do not attract new players (which I find undisputable) and that their pull to the already established player is very weak, and likely nothing all that special. Now let's take a look at gameplay.

Recently I went absolutely bonkers trying to stir up things on the Colonies as the primary instigator to the "religious war" thing that we tried to pull off between Sacris Incendium and the Covenent of the Undying, which dragged basically all the non-Halcyon realms into the fight against Halcyon. I spent WEEKS working on it, spending extra time in the game, writing RPs, working with other players to try to make it fun and build some kind of storyline, etc. I did enough, with the help of several other great players and the GameMasters who were into it, that the war kicked off. I may not have been happy about the "gang up" on Halcyon, but at least it was something... it was activity... it was war... it was something to do. I won't say it was a full time job, but I devoted a LOT of my time (of which I don't have a lot) to doing it, with the hope that it would end up being fun for people.

And then nothing happened.

Long story short, while the war still technically exists, almost nothing has happened in it and it has turned entirely into a dud because the travel times and remoteness of realms is absurd, and just doesn't lend itself to a fun atmosphere where a war can and will be fought. I'm not saying it is impossible or anything, but it is extremely hard, and it has a lot to do with the long wait times and mechanical issues. Add to that a player base that has atrophied from inaction for so long, and it just isn't likely to produce much in the way of action or fun.

And that's my thesis of this entire post: this is supposed to be about fun, and the Colonies are never really going to be fun as they are now.

What was my reward for committing all that time and effort to try to do something fun and interesting? Basically nothing. And that has a powerful disincentive to me ever trying to do something like that again, because why should anyone commit time and effort to things if there isn't much of a point to it and the mechanics make it really hard if not impossible to enjoy the fruits of your effort?

The GameMasters are doing their damndest to help, and I do really like the proposal that was put forth for an all-encompassing human war against the Lich King (something I've advocated for and wanted to see since he first appeared). That's great. But it shouldn't take the GMs trying to "stir things up" to make the experience there fun. The goal of the game should be to mechanically set things up so that it is as enjoyable as possible to play, so that we can recruit new players and share the fun with others.

A really big step was taken in lessening the density requirements, which I greatly appreciate, but I think the Colonies are still fundamentally broken because of the differing mechanics. Maybe I'm wrong and there's this big demand and desire for single day turns and slow as molasses play, but I have my doubts.

Which brings me to "okay, so what do you want to do about it?"

I'm not going to claim to be an expert or say that I have all the answers, but I will say this: I do like that the Colonies are different in some way from the rest of the game, and I think we should seek to preserve that aspect of them. But I think we should ditch entirely the "slow pace" aspect of it, and seek to make it different in other ways... ways that might incentivize fun and expansion. The War Island having only 46 families doesn't bother me because I see more people there who are there specifically because of the mechanical difference (i.e. it is more exciting and interesting because there is constant warfare). Let's make the Colonies have a similar draw.

What I think I might do -- though I'm entirely open to other suggestions -- is make it an "experimental island" in ways that go beyond what Beluaterra is with "testing" code changes and what not. I think things should be different here than they are anywhere else. Some of that might be simple... what if we think of the Colonies undergoing a shift, much like the Americas did after they were settled in the 1500s through the 1600s. At first they were sparse, poor, agrarian, dangerous, and difficult to tame... but eventually populations grew, industry was built, wealth was tapped, and incredible natural resources caused the American colonies to be more prosperous than the mother countries.

Maybe we say that the Colonies in our game are experiencing something similar. Maybe we radically increase population numbers, we dramatically increase personal wealth here. What if we ramped up the size of things, so that troop leaders could command much larger units here -- instead of 100 men, you could carry with you 1,000 or even 5,000 perhaps, turning you into something akin to the commander of a Legion rather than just a minor Lord commanding a small amount of troops in a medieval setting. If everything was "scaled up" proportionally (wealth, population, etc) and everyone experienced the same increases in capacity, you could have some really badass wars where 10 troop leaders could command say 50,000 men into battle... 20 could command 100,000 men or more even. Real numbers that you absolutely saw frequently in antiquity and even sometimes in medieval Europe.

You could do other things that are incentives too... like having a player on the Colonies entitles you to a 10% (or 20%) wealth cap increase for your family... so you can earn and hold more, and the Colonies will likely give you a lot of gold.

And then there are things we could do which I admit would take time and effort to implement and wouldn't be overnight... but I would like to see a complete and total reimagining of the Priest (and frankly the adventurer too) games. Specifically for priests, I would love to see religion strengthened significantly (to give us a reason to actually play it) by treating Priests like adventurers (i.e. not normal nobles you have to sacrifice, but "extra" characters that could be exclusively played), thus ramping up the number of priests we would have... I'd like to see an automatic tithing system whereby nobles would have part of their tax income automatically diverted to the church without having to pay a fee (that no one ever pays). I'd like to see nobles be forced to make a decision of a religion that they must join to be a noble in a realm, subject to added realm commands for the rulers (i.e. default religion, official religion, suggested religion, general tolerance of government to each religion commands, etc).

In other words, I'd love to see the Colonies be a world that had the religious flavor that I think was originally intended by the Priest game, allowing them to flourish and grow, and giving thousands of new potential plot lines to build on and conflict to brew from.

But whatever is done, I think it should remain different from the rest of the game, but should instead become a destination for the players due to those differences, rather than "just another place to store a character" which is what I think it is today.

After all, if we aren't supposed to really care about the continent and it is either boring, slow or lame... than why exactly do we have it? If that's how we're going to run it, we should probably just shut it down and focus on the other islands.

That's my take, at least.

« Last Edit: November 23, 2022, 08:23:09 PM by Matthew Gagnon »


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Re: The Colonies are Dead (Long Live the Colonies)
« Reply #1: November 23, 2022, 10:24:22 PM »
I will add a few cents to the jar as I am one of the people who have played a ruler on Colonies off and on for 5 years.  My activity has diminished over the last decade from when I started playing.  I was brought into BM by my late partner.  I've had certain disagreements over the years with the way certain things have been ran.  I don't hide this fact.

With this said, Colonies being one turn a day was an interesting idea originally to me.  I joined the Colonies to have a different experience.  I stayed because of the people.  Even when I was thinking of leaving the game, I kept my character to the side just in case I wanted to continue.  However, the world seemed to get further and further apart.  A bit of indifference happened as we shrunk down including myself.

At this point, I wouldn't bother creating a new character on Colonies.  It runs very slow and it is hard to keep any story going long.  GM's have been trying their best and I nod to them at this, but the player based stories have fallen.  So, what's my point?  Is this just a diss track?  Nope...

Things I would like to see with Colonies:
1) Switch it over to 2 resets a day
2) More Developed Religious Realms
3) Player Realms bordering each other again

I like the ideas of making it where you can have more troops or a bonus for playing on it.  Might get a bit more people into it.