So this topic has been brought up again with the recent "WE ARE KILLING THIS GAME" videos by CEOPyrex. During this, the point was brought up that certain players have been entering public contracts in squads of full of proto gear and higher tier vehicles. This isn't a new problem by any means, as newer players have been getting the sharp end of the stick on this for something like 15 months now. The problem actually pre-dates the game entering open beta. I remember week 2 of the game going live on Tranquillity, struggling with my exile assault rifle against GEKs and people who were already using tanks.
But how long this has been a problem isn't exactly relevant to fixing it. Looking at the solutions that CCP have tried and failed with during that time does. Lets look at a few.
Offering Better Alternatives
I'm sure there's a carrot/stick analogy here, but whatever. Offering a better place for veterans to really go full throttle against each other is a pretty standard affair. The challenge is greater, but so long as the rewards are too, many high level players will be willing to try. Every attempt Dust has made towards providing this has failed on a few basic levels.
- The original corporation battles had a poor reward:risk ratio.
- Faction warfare rewards don't provide a sustainable way to play. Game mode doesn't provide a reliable way to play with a full team. Could potentially work with full team queuing and a method of trading assets between players.
- Planetary conquest has a huge barrier of entry before you even get into the match. There's too many other issues to fully list them all. CCP are fully replacing it and scrapping it's current form in the future.
- Tournaments lack the tools for third parties to run them effectively. CCP lack man power to run regular events themselves.
There's also the final issue that none of these provide as many skill points per hour as running public contract ambush matches. So are inferior options to people simply wanting to acquire SP.
The Current New Player Experience
So with the carrot not being...carroty enough for the veterans, CCP decided to give new players a stick free zone in the form of the academy. This provides separate matches for players under a certain amount of lifetime warpoints. Much like it's carrot based cousins however, this stick free zone has it's issues.
For starters, there's nothing stopping veterans from remaking alts to play in it. Some people enjoy being vindictive and likely won't stop just because they're asked. There's the issue of people saving up skill points and then coming back to play with a large advantage over there peers. New players have no means to play with more experienced friends in this safe haven of sorts. Finally, the academy does little to prepare those who go through it for what awaits them in public contracts.
Designing A Better New Player Experience
Until today, I had no real suggestion that would meaningfully address this problem. That was until I read this article by game designer David Sirlin regarding the same topic on one of his own games. In it he talks about how when teaching people to play his games, he would provide a simpler ruleset to get them used to the basics. Having used this method with one of his earlier games, it's how I teach new players before introducing them to the more advanced parts of the game.
Looking around, other games have this too. Counterstrike has some lighter modes to allow people to get used to the movement and weapons. Smash Brothers has a variety of modes and stages that allow for people of all skill levels to enjoy. Early levels in platformers start with easier jumps and weaker enemies. World of Warcraft starts your character with a couple of basic skills and progressively gives you more.
Dust 514 throws you straight into everything with a few boxes of text between you and the enemy. Tanks don't care if the pen is mightier than the sword, because this isn't the 19th century. Dust is a complicated game and gives a serious advantage to those who are knowledgeable. The closest thing we have to easing the transition for new players is slight limitation of tanks in ambush. Not to mention the gap between the basic starter fits and
So the solution seems fairly obvious now. We add a way to play that boils Dust down to it's simplest form, while keeping the current modes intact. What I would propose are "Training Matches" that only allow a select amount of free, premade fittings to be used. This would include basic gear with a small variety of fits to allow players to get used to using different weapons and equipment in a number of different roles. It would also limit vehicles to basic LAVs only in order to get people used to vehicles in a simpler form. Also removing things like the warbarge strike and possibly turret installations.
The downside to this mode would be limited rewards. You wouldn't be earning nearly as much ISK per match. The SP rewards could be smaller post-cap as well to keep public contracts more competitive. There's the possibility to add a further bridge between this and the more competitive modes with a full team version. Entering the full team queue would provide a mode with slightly more advanced mechanics, such as higher tier outfits and more vehicle types. The ISK rewards would still be lower than public contracts, but it would provide a way for people to get used to playing in larger groups.
There's obviously more to something like this than a couple of simple paragraphs can cover. As a basic concept though, doing something that's based on what many other games have done with a large amount of success seems like a good place to start. Adapting it to fit Dust is the harder part.