TINSTAAFL TARDISes and ECONOMICS – OH MY!!!!
In the beginning there was Game of War, and it was a relatively simple game where you could go to burn stuff and chat to friends. It was also a relatively complex social experiment with kingdoms and alliances and taxes and resources and a central currency called Gold.
A lot of thought went into the design of Game of War before its release in July, 2013, so 2 years into the game, it it time to take stock, and take a bit of a helicopter view of how Game of War is going as an ecosystem.
In June 2013, StayAlive77, the Emperor of the game, now 138B power, wrote to MZ with some serious queries. The detail was posted back then at this link. http://www.insidegameofwar.com/machine-zone-reveal-their-long-term-plans-for-game-of-war/
A large part of StayAlive’s queries to MZ in June, as outlined here were related to the pace of change, the pace of release of new gear and new researches. I would like to add to that a perspective on the magnitude of those changes by trying to measure some of the increases. The focus will be on some of the design decisions made by MZ, and how they have fed into increases in combat boosts as well as devaluation of their virtual currency, Gold
One of the core tenets of Economics is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Except that in Game of War, lunch is very much free as long as you are a troop.
Whether by design or just because it was an economics in-joke during the build phase, MZ made the deliberate decision to have NO CONSEQUENCES to running out of food. Troops still defend, march, gather and fight without ANY sustenance. The way I like to think about it is that every hour on the hour, MZ’s magical mystical food elves deliver hundreds of millions of pieces of food for free to my troops. And they do that to almost all of the millions of players of Game of War. That is extraordinarily generous of them, but it does come with some pretty serious consequences.
The second fundamental concept to Game of War is that there is an UNLIMITED capacity in your strongholds for troops. Your stronghold is a TARDIS, appearing MUCH larger on the inside than it does on the outside. Along with the free lunch, and no requirement to maintain positive upkeep, we have the somewhat absurd situation of StayAlive77 having over 4 Billion troops housed inside his single tile stronghold, with none of them requiring food. So MZ’s magical mystical elves deliver somewhere in the order of 16 Billion pieces of food to StayAlive every hour. Soon enough, StayAlive’s stronghold might even exceed the population of the Earth. And fit it inside one tiny little square at the SuperWonder.
No-one knows how the design team makes their decisions, but one can imagine that the concept of cores and pieces could have been conceived as a way of providing for an ability to do damage to people with millions of troops in their strongholds, to get around their other fixed design parameters of maximum march size and maximum rally march size. These are deliberate design decisions, and cores may be an attempt to address an apparent perceived inequality that appeared as a result of people exploiting the design decisions of free lunch and Tardis-like unlimited troop size.
Other design decisions made my MZ which have materially shaped the game are the lack of convertibility of their unit of currency gold into anything else. You can use gold to purchase other items at a FIXED exchange rate, but you cannot perform a transaction in the opposite direction, i.e. you cannot convert resources into gold, or material or gems into gold. This is the ultimate in protectionism, there is no official mechanism for trade. Yes there is an ability to send someone resources, and they can gift you items in return (but only if they have gift mode), but there is no convertibility of any in-game items for Gold currency, only gold-equivalents in the form of speedups or shields etc. As such, a large black-market has arisen within each kingdom trading gold for silver, and RSS for speedups etc. The coliseum was the primary mechanism for inter-kingdom trade, except that MZ probably recognised that, and shut it down so that they could try and control and LOCK-DOWN trade. StayAlive77 pushed MZ very hard for an answer on the direction of the game, and one element they revealed to him, which they did not want made public, was that there is a proposed new feature coming that allows for a cross-kingdom trading system for pieces / cores / materials.
Since the release of the Alliance City (no comment on the usefulness of those), there has been a hint that piece trading would be allowed in future: the ever-present “Coming Soon”. Any day now……
So, it remains possible that MZ plans to actually introduce some form of market economy with at the very minimum, bartering for exchange of materials / cores / pieces. It is believed that the recent massive expansion of materials / cores / pieces, is designed to provide a breadth of options for valuation. It appears they are trying to make a diverse array of materials available for trading, with varying levels of scarcity. For example, it is likely that materials like blue flames, ripped hearts, demon tails etc will be highly sought after, whilst there will be a variety of materials that almost no-one needs any more of (e.g. siege gems!!!!). How they implement will be interesting to see, but it remains questionable as to whether they will ever allow convertibility of materials for Gold.
This kind of system will of course add even more complexity to a game that is already getting more complex at an astonishing rate. But it will also be a huge shift in the game. Moving from a tightly controlled fixed exchange rate that only goes in one direction, to one where relative values of materials is fluid, is a huge structural shift in an economy. Every single player in this game has a store of value in their account in what MZ calls ‘in-game items’. Unlocking some small amount of that value will allow people to actually craft some of the hero gear they have been hanging out for. Or it may allow them to trade mats for speeds, or mats for gold. If MZ went so far as to allow trading of mats for gold, then there would be ALOT of people who could speed to T4 very quickly. Unlocking all the dead-weights in an economy through trade has been one of the greatest drivers of economic expansion in history.
But enough of economics, how about the War aspect of this game called Game of War.
How has the game evolved with regards WAR in the 2 years? Well, it has shifted from a game where troops were the focus, and everything evolved around climbing the pinnacle that was unlocking T4 troops, to a game where it is basically all about hero gear and equipment.
The relative power levels and strengths of troops were fixed at the start, and players did some research to work out the relative strengths of the different troop tiers.
The smart players quickly worked out that this meant that MZ’s decision on power vs strength meant that you could hide an extraordinarily strong defensive army in your stronghold with lower power by just training mass amounts of T1. Trust me, the concept of a 1B player with 450M T1 troops, which is equivalent to 100M T4 in power, is a pretty daunting concept. With anti scout on, all you have to go on is their power number. And 1B power surely is weaker than an equivalent strength army with a total power of over 3.6B (36 x 100M). So MZ NERFed play to rectify what appeared to be the unintended consequences of their 3 core design decisions:
1) free lunch, meaning mass defensive armies were basically inevitable (TINSTAAFL)
2) unlimited army size inside strongholds (TARDIS), with fixed maximum attack sizes
3) T1 are 4 times as strong as T3/4 per unit of power gain, and T2 are 2 times as strong as T3/4 per unit of power gain
So with troops basically unalterable, the only thing that can really be tweaked is hero gear. So Ancient relics which are fixed in their boosts end up getting replaced with cores, which allows much greater customisation, as well as an ability to subtly increase boosts over time.
Plus permanent hero gear needed to be boosted to allow attackers to overcome the massive limitations placed on them by unlimited defensive army size. So, we have a rapid sequence of new gear, with ever more powerful boosts, both on attack and defense. Plus new 4th gem slots to overcome the fixed limitation of 3 gems of maximum boost of 25%.
COMBAT BOOST INFLATION
So, how large is the boost to the combat abilities of hero equipment since release?
Well, first of all, we need some objective measure that we can use to measure the magnitude of combat boosts. Given this is InsideGameofWar, we will be using the attack and defense scores used on this site, being weighted boosts according to our tiering system of combat boosts as outlined in our Guide to Combat Boosts, and as implemented in our page listing the Best Combat Gear.
From a big picture perspective, what we can say is that our comparison is between the standard equipment hero gear released with Game of War in July 2013, compared to the best available equipment as of the 2nd Anniversary in July 2015.
We have averaged the top 5 pieces from each of the categories (accessory, armor, feet, helmet, weapon) in 2013, and compared them to the equivalent top 5 from each of the categories from 2015. So we are basically comparing the best 25 pieces of equipment from 2013 (5 per category) with the best 25 pieces of equipment from 2015 (5 per category).
Way back in 2013, at release of game of war, the average attack score for these best 25 pieces was 34, with defense averaging 14.6. There were quite a few pieces with 36% single troop attack, but there are of course NO pieces in the standard gear that included overall troop attack. In 2015, the average of the top 5 pieces had an attack score of almost 105, whilst the top 5 defensive pieces from each category averaged just under 80.
There are two things to note here. The first is that it is absolutely obvious that there has been a large increase in combat boosts from release until now, 2 years later. The second thing is that defense appears to have ‘caught up’ a little bit to attack when comparing the relative balance between attack and defense boosts. The main reason for this is the inclusion of more overall troop attack in more special event gear, including balanced defensive pieces. Large defensive armies tend to really like overall troop attack. So, from this perspective, things are appearing a little less ‘unequal’ than they were in 2013. More on that later.
So a topline analysis suggests that the rate of combat boost inflation is running around 100% per year. Average combat boost scores for permanent gear roughly doubled from 2013 to the 2014 anniversary release, and has again roughly doubled again to the 2nd anniversary. Whilst there has been some catchup with the best defense scores getting closer to the best attack scores, what this is measuring is the best current attack gear vs the best current defense gear. Most defenders do not have the best current defense gear, they either have 6 month-old gear, or they have predominantly standard gear from release in 2013. When taken from the perspective of best current attack gear (Samurai, Fire Age or Colossus) vs the available gear for non-spenders who only have a small number of special event materials, then the picture changes somewhat. In that context, the average top 5 attack score of 104 in 2015, is over 7 times more powerful than the average top 5 defense score from 2013 of 14.
If we look at the boosts over time for the second year, we can get a bit of an idea of how they have evolved over time.
Combat boosts have shown a steady rise in boosts since the 1st anniversary in July 2014. There is a marked jump up in boosts around day 680, and this is with the release of the Xena Kunoichi gear, as well as the subsequent release of the Samurai gear. Whilst people will rightly argue that the Samurai gear is predominantly an attack set, the large boost from overall troop attack is almost always welcomed by defensive players. Overall troop attack is valuable to pretty much all players. We can also see the very large number of new pieces of equipment released in the last 3 months.
On the attack side, there has also been a significant rate of inflation of attack boosts.
What we can see here is a steady and large rise in boosts, with a massive jump up with the Colossus gear release for the second anniversary. Whilst the boosts follow a similar pattern to the 1st anniversary, in that some pieces boost infantry attack, some ranged attack and some cavalry attack, individually, they are phenomenally attacking pieces. The magnitude of the individual troop attack boosts leaves the overall troop attack boosts of the Samurai set way behind, even if the overall troop attack can prove more versatile and useful. Again, one can see the multitude of pieces released in the past 3 months.
One final perspective on this is a way of looking at the relative importance of attack vs defense, and how important attack is perceived to be in terms of the silver value of the pieces being ‘sold’.
Way back in 2013, there was not a particularly strong relationship between the price of a piece of gear in silver terms, and its overall attack score. The correlation between silver cost and attack score was a very low 0.15. That means that there really wasn’t much of a relationship between the two.
Fast forward to 2015, and that picture has changed quite markedly.
At the very bottom left are all the data points from the previous chart. All those 100k silver costs kind of pale in comparison, don’t they….. The correlation has now moved to almost 80%, with silver cost being reasonably well explained by the attack score of the piece in question. Whilst it is nowhere near perfect, it is a pretty consistent relationship.
This provides a little piece of evidence that MZ has shifted things ever more potently over time towards attack, and the main reason for that of course, is that the attackers are the biggest spenders.
SILVER PRICE INFLATION
Whilst combat boost inflation is running at around 100% per year, the silver cost inflation to purchase those same boosts is running ALOT more than that. From costing on average 92,000 per piece for the top 25 pieces in 2013, they are now running at an average of over 250M, which represents an annualised inflation rate of over 5000%.
But everyone who plays the game does not need the stats to understand this point. When people see gear sets with 200-300M silver for Xena Kunoichi, followed by 400M silver the next week for Samurai, then 750M for March speed and Training sets another 3 weeks later, then 1,000,000,000 for individual items in the Colossus set another week later, then it is pretty apparent that there is some serious inflation going on.
What appears to be happening is that MZ is steadily devaluing their in-game currency (gold) over time, relative to a recognised store of value outside their world, whether that be US dollars, Euros, Japanese yen, etc. They are constantly printing new gold to replace gold that gets used each day, but printing virtual currency at an ever-increasing pace. Each and every month, the same amount of USD buys you more and more virtual MZ goods, whether that be gold, resources, or chests. For new players, this is of course fantastic, in that they get to catch up to existing players. New kingdoms can become relatively competitive with older kingdoms because they are able to use current USD to by current gear, whilst older kingdoms have had their purchasing power destroyed by inflation. Their historical USD purchases are now devalued by 100% per year in combat boost terms, or 5000% per year in silver cost terms.
No-one that I know of has collected a price history of packs vs the notional gold value sold in them, but for those who have played any length of time, they will remember $100 purchasing 20-40k gold, 100 days of speedups, 20-40M of each resource, almost no chests, and hardly any materials. Compared to today, it is clear that inflation in pack contents is a deliberate program from MZ.
The funny thing about inflation is that it all depends upon your perspective. From inside the GoW universe, this programmed inflation appears horrendous, continuing to destroy the virtual value of accounts on a daily basis. From outside the GoW universe, where things are freely traded with hard currency, the perspective is one of DEFLATION. Whilst the price level ($99.95 per pack) is unchanged, the purchasing power of future buckets of $99.95 is appreciating. The player who steps outside the system sees that in 1 months time, a pack will deliver 20-50% more gold equivalents, and probably to go with a jump up in the boost of gear that is able to be crafted. The longer you delay purchase, the more value you get.
What that means is that from outside the game, the incentive system inherent in a deflationary system is to DELAY purchases. And that may be MZ’s greatest weakness. They have built a system with visible, obvious inflation in ‘in-game items’, but which perversely encourages people to delay purchases with hard currency. Unless MZ manages to implement a free-trade system that helps people unlock some of the buried value in their account by free the exchange of goods within the GoW universe, it may be that the deflationary economics will take over, and people will just stop buying as they see value being destroyed month over month. MZ’s key is to unlock in-game value before everyone realises that their existing value is steadily being destroyed. Central banks mostly serve these days to keep monetary inflation in check. Most of what they do is inflation targeting, trying to keep a slow and steady low rate of inflation, with an excessively high rate of inflation, or verging into deflation, where there is a reduction in the money supply and a fall in prices. MZ appears to be failing as central bankers. Inflation is rampant, and what usually goes with rampant inflation is major social unrest and ultimately revolution.
One of the most important debates ongoing in politics and economics relates to the level of inequality in our society. We all are aware of the Occupy movements, of the concept of the 99% expressing themselves against the 1%, of a belief that there is widening inequality in our society. That is certainly true in Game of War. It used to be that reaching T4 was a crowning achievement in the game, so that you could contribute to rallies and help your kingdom in Kill Events. Now it is all about hero gear, core stats (can you push over 3000% troop attack), 1 minute rallies and glowing golden hero gear with 7 piece set bonuses. As released today on this blog, the Set Gear Research has a cumulative time of 690 years to complete, and requires over 13 Billion silver, with a cumulative power gain of 1.7B.
Likewise hero levels 51-60 have just been released, with hero 60 requiring 9,500,000,000 hero XP. If all this hero xp was purchased in gold from the store, this will equate to 22,800,000 gold. Did anyone say INFLATION?
The next part of this series will look a bit more at Core / piece inflation, and dive a little more deeply into a comparison of best attacking vs ‘average’ defensive gear, including applying our attack score methodology to cores and piece recipes that push 3000% troop attack. We will also discuss in a bit more depth trade options, where all your tax goes, including the attack tax of 30%, and it will finish up by looking at the health of kingdoms, and thus the health of the overall GoW ecosystem.
MZ have made some deliberate decisions on design of game, with free lunch and unlimited stronghold size being absolutely central design features of the game. A lot of people consider that the NERF and Cores are reactions to these fundamental design issues / mistakes. What is also apparent is that there is a deliberate programmed inflation of both currency and combat boosts. Combat boosts appears to be running at roughly 100% increase per annum, whilst the cost of purchasing those boosts has increased by roughly 5000% per annum since release in 2013. MZ need to address a system for unlocking stored value in accounts pretty quickly, or the sentiments expressed by StayAlive in his letter to MZ in June 2015 are only going to get louder and louder. A boycott is serious talk. And I don’t know about you, but I see no evidence that MZ listened to the Emperor of Game of War.