New Player Retention and Related Stuff

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Urgelt
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New Player Retention and Related Stuff

Post by Urgelt » Wed Jul 27, 2005 10:32 pm

Joe hosted a very interesting discussion on July 27 in the fairgrounds, in which he floated a number of ideas for improving player retention, particularly new players. I'm popping some of those ideas into this forum for continued discussion.

You know the story. A newbie logs on and discovers, if I stick around 5 years I *might* be able to go to cool places with the older exiles. Meantime I'm dog meat? This sucks, I'm outta here!

And invasions? If Joe aims them at newbies - the advanced exiles slaughter everything and pocket a few coins. If he aims at mid-level exiles, newbies are on the ground left and right, and the advanced exiles slaughter everything and pocket a few more coins. If he aims them at advanced exiles, they have a blast while everyone else gets one-hit, end of fun. No matter what he does, new players get screwed out of the fun. He could stick invasions away from town center - he did that after the fairgrounds meeting, in fact - but yeah, the disparity between old and new exiles has gotten pretty extreme.

At the top of the list for improving new player retention is an accelerated advancement scheme for new characters that gets them into the action at the higher levels faster - perhaps 5x current gain to rank 200, 4x to 400, 3x to 600, 2x to 800 or something along those lines. Being an old player who scrabbled up the hard way, you might think I'd resent this notion. Not so. There are never enough new players these days to organize the sorts of hunts we oldsters remember fondly. Getting them up to 3rd circle and even 4th quickly would let them start to join the community and do more adventurous things, and might be a positive retention factor.

I can tell you that a new character has a tough time when rats are dispatches, but SF is deadly and they need a healer to follow them around just to survive. So I'm pretty much in favor of an accelerated path for newbies.

An issue I'll raise, though, is how much of this accelerated experience gain should be "sharable." It would be darned easy to abuse it - if newbies with 0 ranks get 5x experience and that's shared, everyone with more than one account is going to start up newbie, share their advanced characters, and run around whacking rats. They'll just reset the new one to keep up the rank gain. No, I know *you* wouldn't do that. But we all know who would!

So the thing to do with shares is evaluate the recipient. If the recipient is <200 ranks, give 'em 5x the worth of the share. If >200 and <400, 4x. And so on. If a newbie shares an advanced character, it's worth 1x. No different from now.

Joe mentioned having adjusted the slaughter system a bit about 2 months ago. My advice on that subject is to keep adjusting. I don't think it's in the sweet spot yet. We want to retain older players too... they are the foundation of the community.

Joe floated ideas for letting people continue to have a presence if they aren't paying, such as letting them gain ranks, but no library experience... or letting them play but be unable to spend ranks until they renew. They both seem like promising ideas to me.

He brought up an old idea again: newbie areas only newbies can enter. A couple healers grumbled that they'd better let healers in, too. Well... yeah. We had a newbie area not too many years ago: the Myrm Highlands. Newbies used to lie around dead for hours and hours, and nobody could help. Out of frustraion it was opened up to everyone so we could get those caracasses out of there. If we do it again, we'll need to think good and hard about how we'll prevent a rerun. One possibility - permit an advanced character to enter for 5 minutes. That's plenty of time to effect a rescue, and not long enough to do serious rank whoring with the newbies. If a high level character tries to stay longer, he gets teleported to the pitch noids cave! Or maybe just town center, heh. In any event a newbie-only area has appeal if we can solve the rescue problem.

Joe has a special deal posted at his web site - open a new CL account, with 2 free months, for 5 bucks. He doesn't seem ready to lower the monthly or annual fees... so I don't know how many folks that will really draw in. But it might increase newbie traffic, and perhaps some of those will decide to settle in for the longer haul.

He also kicked around some rather radical notions involving release of the CL editor, minus the CL world data. With the editor, any player could create areas, monsters, and items. The server software would also be released, meaning you could fire up and test your creations. The GMs have expressed some concern that if Joe does this, they will be bombarded with new area submissions which haven't been developed within the narrow guidelines and conceptions that embody their own work. Perhaps with a bit more structure this can be avoided. I'm thinking of requiring some player-provided pre-screening to select the areas to be submitted for official consideration. We could do it right here at the Sentinal, perhaps... announce an area is ready to view, set up a private server, and let folks test and criticize. We could even have design contests, with the winners forwarded to the GMs. And... I like this one... we could set up design teams, players who work together on area creations. When the team is satisified with a creation, it's probably going to be better than if one person wings it. In any event some structure could be supplied to weed out the creations that should never steal a GM's time.

Lest you think area design is easy... it's not. The coding language for CL, SOCKS, is not well documented, and without world data you'd have few clues as to how things are done. That's a big, big stumbling block. Coders can be mentored, but that means GM workload, and they have enough of that as it is. My solution is to release some world data selectively, so that there are enough clues for self-starters to self-start.

Joe mentioned that making changes in today's CL is tough, because the world has become fairly large and complex. One notion to work around it is to set up a second official server and put new designs and scripts on that server. CL was originally designed with the idea of multiple servers, anyway - we just never had enough players, servers grew faster, and it wasn't needed. Two or more servers could share "clanning" data, fallen data, sunstones, etc, and it could be utterly transparent to players, while isolating new code and new designs that might fudge the old designs if it were running on the same server engine. If this is feasible - it might speed delivery of content, and more content might influence player retention. But if it's a lot of work, we're probably stuck with one server.

Joe also suggested he might consider allowing "private" servers to be hosted by anyone, anywhere, possibly with links from the CL world. Such private servers would entirely consist of player-created worlds. There'd be no fee for using them, and ranks or items you gain in such worlds would not carry over to the real CL world, I suppose. But as this idea would tend to reduce player population in the CL world, I think it's not a helpful approach to solving the retention problem. We need more folks in the accessible community, not fewer.

Many players voiced their view that more stories and more quests would help with player retention. I'm certainly in agreement. Joe mentioned they're working on a "cool" adventure/quest but it has to wait until a "less cool" one is done, and the "less cool" one isn't one that inspires 25 hour day work sessions. Well, ok. But it seems to me there's room for small stories and small quests, too. Everything doesn't have to be a save-the-world crisis. A suggestion was put forward from the crowd to appoint some story GMs who concentrate on such things, and I like that idea. Heck, I argued for it over 5 years ago.

I threw in an additional thought: how about more non-rank skills? The GMs have complained for years that many players - and I'm on their list - focus too much on rank whoring and not enough on other things. Pfft. Nearly everything you do depends on ranks. If they want us to be more interested in non-rank-gain behavior, we'll need more things to do that have nothing to do with ranks.

A classic example of how ranks screw things up is how blacksmithing was implemented. You need a ledger just to have a decent chance of smelting ore! Doing that for an advanced exile would take years and drive up slaughter without adding any combat skills. That means NO advanced exile will ever learn that skill. Newbies, too, would be crazy to train it - it would drive up slaughter and they'd be weaker than mystics, and no shares to compensate. So blacksmiths - every single darned one - are library characters. What does that do for RP, hmm? "Oh, you need a smith? Hang on while I get mine out of the library." Hmmph.

Some years ago one of the GMs asked me how to do blacksmithing, and I answered - make it quest driven, make it real hard to complete, and make it expensive. They went with the tired old "kill a critter, learn a language" model instead.

We've got too many things to train as it is. What we need now are quests worth pursuing - tough, hard, and rewarding when we succeed.

I probably left out some of the things that Joe talked about, but this is enough to get the juices flowing. How about your thoughts? What can Joe do to improve player retention, especially new players? What will it take to keep *you* playing for years to come?

Post your thoughts!
-- Urgelt

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Post by Elise » Wed Jul 27, 2005 10:54 pm

Thank you for taking the time to post this!

Personally, I am happy with the game. CL needs to continue to grow with the player base. This means new harder areas, new circle tests, subclasses, some new healer toys perhaps. I am not at all concerned about the instant expert problem. I don't think that it is a problem. Newbie areas are well developed, mature and ... empty.

Allowing new exiles to progress faster will fix some problems and cause others. It will be even lonelier to be low level, since the first 500 ranks or so will fly by quickly. Very few people will be first circle. Those who believe in the instant expert problem will no doubt find that to be problematic, since there will be yet another way to get lots of ranks cheap. I think I will mourn the loss of the assumption that 3rd circle exiles typically have a clue. CL progress is more than just ranks. There is a socialization process that takes a while. People need to learn how to hunt and how to follow orders. Throwing ranks at newbies wont give them any more sense.

However, there is generally very little interesting about the first two circles. It may be best to get them out of the way.

Elise

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Re: New Player Retention and Related Stuff

Post by Ayella » Thu Jul 28, 2005 12:40 am

Thanks Urgelt for posting this! Since I couldn't be at the meeting, I greatly appreciate hearing about all the things that were talked about.
Urgelt wrote:Joe floated ideas for letting people continue to have a presence if they aren't paying, such as letting them gain ranks, but no library experience... or letting them play but be unable to spend ranks until they renew. They both seem like promising ideas to me.
YAY! I like this idea! A whole lot! As somebody who can't be in the lands right now, my account has expired. I know I'll renew it eventually, once things calm down and I can get time back etc, but it really makes me sad that I'm not getting experience :( I mean, I've been playing CL for what, five years? six? and I can't take a break without being punished.
Urgelt wrote:He also kicked around some rather radical notions involving release of the CL editor, minus the CL world data. With the editor, any player could create areas, monsters, and items.
Cool! I'd probably MAKE time for CL if I could fiddle with things like that ;o (I'd cut out sleep. Sleep is overrated.)
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Free Departing for new exiles!!

Post by Hoggle » Thu Jul 28, 2005 1:10 am

Being a new player is really rough. You dont know people, you dont know about this whole toggle thing.. You're unsure where things are and after much talking to older players you believe its much better to lay there toggling for half an hour or so rather than do the dreaded D word.. Depart.

So, how about this. Don't count departs for players below X ranks. This will allow for really low level healers and fighters to team up and give them the freedom to do all these stupid things they will learn from. It will let them explore the lands and give them a good familiarity of creatures and how powerful they are.

How much time do newbies actually spend hunting? seems like most of the time they are fallen somewhere.. or trying to get hunts together with healers and bricks who have little time for new people. Free them from counting departs and let them really just have fun out there.

I know, several might argue that this could possibly lead to bad hunting and healing habits. But I think that once they reach the level where departs count they would wise up really fast. If a new player is involved in a long hunt they could just die off and depart their way back to lib when ever they wanted. They are no longer bound by the group and how ever long they want to stay out there..

This would greatly increase newbie moral as well as the rate in which they gain ranks I believe.

Yes, Initially it will allow for some to "solo".. but whats so wrong with that when you are basically solo and clanless anyways?

Just my thoughts..

-Hoggle

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Post by Hoggle » Thu Jul 28, 2005 1:17 am

If not free departs.. how about some type of item that lets you teleport to town be you dead or alive.. and again, it becomes useless after X ranks.

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Post by Hoggle » Thu Jul 28, 2005 1:39 am

Ok.. lemme amend my last amendment.

I realize porting steps on some mystic toes.. so how about this.. any mystic(apprentice, journeyman, or full mystic) can teleport anyone holding (maybe some kinda crystal shard or whatever) to town center.(be they alive or dead)

Again, if held by anyone with greater than X ranks, the item would shatter upon trying to use it, so only new exiles could benefit.

So, wow.. lookit that.. mystics are all useful!.. newbies dont gotta toggle like crazy...

As for how IC this whole thing is, and why it couldnt be used by folks with more ranks than whatever, I guess as your mind and body grow it becomes increasingly more taxing on the crystal/item..

The reason why I say all mystics is because there is rarely a full mystic on, and only sometimes a journeyman on.. give the early mystics somethin more!..

Eh, maybe this is too much and it would be better to just not count departs at early levels.

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Post by Raul » Thu Jul 28, 2005 1:48 am

i just think the free depart thing would be easiest to put in.. but thats just me

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Re: New Player Retention and Related Stuff

Post by Cinnamon » Thu Jul 28, 2005 7:07 am

Thanks for the posting, I was unable to make the meeting and big meetings are really only good for making statements, not so good for actual discussion.
I know I come off negative. If I say nothing on a point then I'm at worst ambivalent.
It's nice to know that there are ideas and intent to keep the game alive.
Urgelt wrote: At the top of the list for improving new player retention is an accelerated advancement scheme for new characters that gets them into the action at the higher levels faster - perhaps 5x current gain to rank 200, 4x to 400, 3x to 600, 2x to 800 or something along those lines.
Sounds good, so long as there are restrictions with regard to the multiple account abuse you mention.
Joe floated ideas for letting people continue to have a presence if they aren't paying, such as letting them gain ranks, but no library experience... or letting them play but be unable to spend ranks until they renew. They both seem like promising ideas to me.
Sure, so long as it's heavily restricted. No accruing ranks while you're not paying only to have a big rush of 12 months of lib ranks (or even direct XP) after paying for 1 month.
I can't take a break without being punished.
Check this out, if you stop paying your mortgage after 10 faithful years the bank will take your house. At least Joe's willing to let you continue living in the house for free. I know of no company that lets you stop paying and yet continues to provide the service. I've been playing CL for like 7 or 8 years and others get to play for free on my dime, how fair is that?
He brought up an old idea again: newbie areas only newbies can enter.
This only works if there is a self sustaining population of newbies. If there are enough of them that they can rescue themselves, then this works fine. Now the accelerated XP rate makes maintaining this population more difficult.
Joe has a special deal posted at his web site - open a new CL account, with 2 free months, for 5 bucks. He doesn't seem ready to lower the monthly or annual fees... so I don't know how many folks that will really draw in.
Sure, these kinds loss leader specials can work.
Not ready to lower the fees? Well with the above Play For Free offer it's an effective lowering of the fees. 75 accounts paying $10/month = $10/person/month. 100 accounts of which 75 are paying $10 and 25 are free = <$10/person/month. Regardless, CL is cheap enough.
lots of stuff about a game editor and private servers and basically some different ways for people to play *with* CL without actually playing CL. Sure it sounds cool and could lead to some real content down the road, but content isn't the problem. So what's the advantage to having people not play CL?
A classic example of how ranks screw things up is how blacksmithing was implemented. You need a ledger just to have a decent chance of smelting ore! Doing that for an advanced exile would take years and drive up slaughter without adding any combat skills.
Are you sure that's how it works? Pure RP skills shouldn't affect slaughter, ever. If I can get the ability without training the trainer, then it's simply a penalty on those who chose to make shovels or potions or armour or speak a language or bake a cake.
What will it take to keep *you* playing for years to come?
A broader player base with a constant and healthy inflow of new players.
If not free departs.. how about some type of item that lets you teleport to town be you dead or alive.. and again, it becomes useless after X ranks.
I don't see how this is functionally different from the original idea. I like the original idea. I always feel bad about warning newbies of the depart system when there are so few of them and their patience wears thin while fallen and they don't know the rules about toggle and whatnot. It's just another example of how CL fails newbies by refusing to provide the basic information to make choices.
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Post by Elise » Thu Jul 28, 2005 7:33 am

Hoggle wrote:If not free departs.. how about some type of item that lets you teleport to town be you dead or alive.. and again, it becomes useless after X ranks.
That would be the end of the rescue healer, alas.

I mention this because it impacts us all. Some of the best, most open, most fun and most rewarding hunts are rescues.

-El

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Post by Raul » Thu Jul 28, 2005 7:41 am

Elise wrote:
Hoggle wrote:If not free departs.. how about some type of item that lets you teleport to town be you dead or alive.. and again, it becomes useless after X ranks.
That would be the end of the rescue healer, alas.

-El
There will still be plenty of other people to rescue (like me!) And it might be good just to give them a number of free departs (for example three) If they depart it will tell them they have 2 free departs left.
I think having infinite departs till a certain rank could be abused.

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Re: New Player Retention and Related Stuff

Post by Turalyon[DaTz] » Thu Jul 28, 2005 7:44 am

Cinnamon wrote:Thanks for the posting, I was unable to make the meeting and big meetings are really only good for making statements, not so good for actual discussion.
I know I come off negative. If I say nothing on a point then I'm at worst ambivalent.
It's nice to know that there are ideas and intent to keep the game alive.
For once I agree with everything you said.

I recorded the whole meeting if anyone wants it. If you want it, you'll have to explain to me how to get it out of basilisk :P

Edit: Does anyone remember my idea about the newbie clan every new exile has to be a part of? I wonder if I should bring this up again.

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Post by Yor » Thu Jul 28, 2005 8:03 am

Thanks for the summary, Urgelt. I also read the actual textlog too. Just a few commments for now:

On some players being incredibly strong:

This may be true but it doesn't mean they are unkillable and everything is a cakewalk to them. I can think of at least five seperate areas where even the strongest players can easily get their butts kicked. In some cases, most of the time. There are several more places/situations where such players face at least a meaningful level of danger. I know this wasn't exactly the point of this statement but I still thought this should be pointed out.

On accelerating newbie ranking:

Great idea. If this bothers some exiles who think it's not fair to them because they ranked slower when they "grew up" then consider the following. Would you rather have more people to play with within your level range or be content knowing that every incoming newbie has to work just as hard as you did (as you stand in town center twiddling your thumbs because there's nobody to do anything with)?

On user-created areas:

Awesome idea as long as it can't be abused. Hire one or more motivated player-volunteers to review submitted areas. Then every month (or every two months) have these player-volunteers pick the best five areas (or some predetermined number). Then place a tiny island out in the ocean with five mirrors on it (or whatever the predetermined number is). Each mirror would lead to one of the latest round of selections. Nothing in these areas would count. Put a mechanism on the island for voting and when each trial period ends the most popular area could then earn the right for the GMs to look at it for possible submission into the actual game. When the next trial period begins five more areas or some predetermined number) can be put on display. If there aren't enough submissions for a trial period then runner-ups from previous trial periods can be put on display again.

This might be alot of fun and something to look forward to for players every month or two (whatever the trial period is) because everybody loves new areas. It would also hopefully not be too much extra work for the GMs because they wouldn't have to review every submission. Only the best of the best, according to the players. Although the GMs would be welcome to poke their heads in the mirrors to look at every one in each trial period if they like. :D

On making invasions fun for everybody:

This is a tough one but here's one idea. If in town, make certain buildings and portions of town inaccessable to higher levels during the invasion. Make some sort of "barricade" item that the GM or invading monters could place in building doorways or to "rope" off entire portions of town. And make it so only certain levels can "squeeze" through those barricades. In otherwords, at a certain level and above you'd be met with a "You are too large to squeeze through the opening" message. Thus, you'd be unable to help that part of town, except for cadding, until the barricades dissolve or something like that. Barricades could last for a predetermined amount of time (like an hour?). This would be like the Sentinel area filling up with faithlesses and hooded corpses during an invasion. But instead of watching Mujin-kun and Yor, for example, mow through them in two minutes, players like Blackhole, Turalyon, and Kazik would be responsible to deal with that part of the invasion because only they could access that part of town at the moment.

Anyways, that's it for now. :D

Yor

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Post by Aldernon » Thu Jul 28, 2005 8:06 am

A couple ideas I had during the meeting:

On private servers: I like it, I wouldn't like it taking away from the official world though. So allow people to run the server on their own, but make it only accessable to others through puddleby. Only those with active accounts would be able to log in and then head to a central "hub" to go to which ever friends private server they'd like too. Of course nothing on that server would count, but they could go hang out and test their friends new areas, etc. When they come back to puddleby, they're stats are set back to what they were when they left.

On invasions: It's true it's way difficult to balance town invasions. Big things wipe out the newer folks and the mystics :lol: small things get wiped out by rangers. My thoughts, create an AI for large-ass critters that ignores exiles who's level is far "below" them (give the AI /pull capability to avoid newbies blocking, or have it munch newbies if they block it too long ;) ). For example, a new darshak uber-elite who ignores anyone with less than 1500 ranks, yet kicks the shit out of Michael (insert favorite "brick") etc. It could work the other way too, an AI that avoids the power players and goes for the younger exiles, this may be more difficult to do, as some of us still hunt rodan's simply cuz they are so damn annoying ;)

Just a few quick ideas....
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Post by Zeitgeist » Thu Jul 28, 2005 8:07 am

Hoggle wrote:Ok.. lemme amend my last amendment.

I realize porting steps on some mystic toes.. so how about this.. any mystic(apprentice, journeyman, or full mystic) can teleport anyone holding (maybe some kinda crystal shard or whatever) to town center.(be they alive or dead)

Again, if held by anyone with greater than X ranks, the item would shatter upon trying to use it, so only new exiles could benefit.

So, wow.. lookit that.. mystics are all useful!.. newbies dont gotta toggle like crazy...

As for how IC this whole thing is, and why it couldnt be used by folks with more ranks than whatever, I guess as your mind and body grow it becomes increasingly more taxing on the crystal/item..

The reason why I say all mystics is because there is rarely a full mystic on, and only sometimes a journeyman on.. give the early mystics somethin more!..

Eh, maybe this is too much and it would be better to just not count departs at early levels.
I like the tie-in to any mystic, Hoggle. I'd love to have my AM out and about more often but unless I can find a small party that actually wants to include a low level mystic... well, it's rather boring to play one. Perhaps if there were a few more mystic skills that just came with the job and didn't require 1000+ ranks to make it to one level above sucking! At least with this suggestion there would be more helpful things to do.

The only addition I can think of is the device should have an activation switch so the mystic can't port the fallen back to town without the fallens consent. From a fallen or Healers standpoint it would suck to be pulled out of a location when you didn't wish to leave or for the healer who just entered the snell to find the fallen poofed away to town.
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Post by rieger » Thu Jul 28, 2005 9:06 am

I think this worry about newbie only areas and departs is overblown--when you couple if with accelerated ranking for newbies. If they are earning ranks 4 times faster than we did, and a depart is a fraction of a rank, then departing is the smart thing to do. Heck, they'll make up for the experience loss in 10 minutes.

I appreciate and echo Elise's concern about the end of the rescue healer under these circumstances. I remember when I was first starting out and spent a reasonable amount of time as a rescue healer. It was fun and satisfying. Everyone likes to be a hero sometimes. At the time I remember thinking that "departs are selfish" because it removes an opportunity for an activity that other people find rewarding. If you give newbies free departs, I expect that you would greatly reduce the number of newbie healers. Impatient fighters would be better off departing when fallen and getting healed to white by a mid-level TC healer than getting healed from red to white in the field by a newbie healer.

Although it's more visible in terms of fighters doing it, veteran healers frustrate and marginalize newbie healers too. I can't imagine it's too fun for a low-level healer during an invasion either. While they run around trying to find someone willing to stand still for their slow heal, cadders are zapping around all over the place. I think newbie-only areas are key to giving these people (newbie healers) SOME place where they can be "heroic." I think there was a suggestion years ago that a newbie-only area would be opened up temporarily only when there was a long-time fallen there. That seems more reasonable (if bizarre from a realism perspective) than letting people in for a few minutes at a time.

I also worry about the plateau effect on players under this new accelerated ranking regime. They'll go from fast ranks to slow ranks to extremely slow ranks MUCH faster than we did. I remember when I was approaching Lord status I was getting 1.8 ranks/day. Newbies will go from dozens of ranks a day to 2 ranks a day in a few months, potentially. So make sure the drop off isn't noticable until AFTER the 2-month free period expires ;-) Bait and switch. I like it. It shows that DT is starting to take marketing seriously. Just kidding about this last part of course. I think the increased decelleration of ranks will be a potential problem (that's represented by a negative third deviative on the rank curve for those who haven't been geeky enough this week to meet your quota).

Anyway, exciting times. I'm optimistic for CL.

Rieger

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