January 16th is a special day for me.
Two years ago today I discovered Vega Conflict. To some of you, that makes me a rank newcomer. To others, I am one of the Old Great Ones™. Today is a day for me to stop and reflect on how far the game has come in those two years.
When I started, the pre-eminent ship in the game was the Dread Battleship; a powerful and feared beast that lived up to its name, took two weeks to build, and was well-nigh unstoppable. Now it is merely average; the middle of a line-up of seven battleships that range from the humble Rancor to the mighty Hellfire, and it takes only five days to build one. Since then we have seen the introduction of Carriers, Blood Amber, Cutters, The Black Market, Iron Star Company, Demon Corps, and Strange Green Creatures from Alpha Centauri… ohhh, the screams, the screams..!
Where was I? Oh yes… once upon a time, projectile weapons were the bees knees. Then, with the introduction of Impulse Beam and Aurora Ray, Beam weapons came to the fore. Current Flavor of the month are explosive weapons, with the Manifold Missile occupying the top spot. But watch this space…
One would think that I am wildly happy with the way that things have turned out, but I am not. I love this game. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be here. I love it enough to have written a book about it. But a combination of bad decisions by Kixeye – and good ones deliberately not made – have turned this wonderful game into something that more and more resembles an abusive relationship with a capricious partner who punishes swiftly, rewards rarely, vanishes unpredictably, appears unexpectedly, promises much, but never seems to quite deliver the joy that the relationship once had.
My biggest gripe is that the game has become totally pay-to-win. Coiners can steamroll the opposition with two-hundred-dollar fleets of Mk V ships that take the rest of us mere mortals weeks or months to build. The idea that people will spend what is essentially a modest car payment for what is essentially a box of bits is, to me, laughable. I say this not as an envious kid who wishes he had a Credit Card, but as a middle-aged IT professional with a higher-than-average income. I have spent about $50 on this game over the past two years – mostly in the first six months. I do not begrudge Kixeye the money; good work deserves money. But these coin offers are ridiculous.
There are numerous other gripes that come to mind:
- The decline and fall of the Black Market: The Space Station-in-orbit-of-a-random-planet thing was a lot of fun before that Scar-faced-Barstud crash-landed on a planet near you and set up shop in what is now more of a “Coin Market” then a “Black Market”.
- The devaluing of Blood Amber: Want a Valkyrie Pattern Box? You will need some Blood Amber, some VSec Parts… oh, and Twelve incredibly-hard to get T4 Carrier Cores. Or… hey! You could just COIN IT!
- The absolute refusal to implement a Coin confirm button (this is the reason that I will not purchase large amounts of coins; too easy to accidentally spend them).
- The lack of a Refit Bay: I remember LXC saying that a refit bay would “unbalance the game”… right before Kixeye rebalanced/unbalanced the crap out of the game, robbing ships like the Rapture, Nexus and Eagle of their unique and enjoyable idiosyncrasies… and still no Refit Bay. Bah.
- Crappy support: When a supply run that ended with the enemy dying with the clock at 0:00 resulted in no strongbox being dropped, I shot off a message to support. They asked for proof, lectured me, and generally made it clear that I wasn’t getting anything off of them. Willingness to lose a customer over a single strongbox: Zero out of ten.
- Power Creep: If I was starting the game now, I would look at the year-plus building curve that a non-coiner would have to endure to reach Tier 5… and quit.#I could go on, but you’ve heard it all before; when faced with the choice between making things right and putting the fun back into the game or introducing a new hundred-dollar coin offer. Kixeye would apparently prefer to get to work on the latter.
- Kixeye has also had a nasty habit of changing the behavior of enemy fleets in the middle of an event – and never to the players’ advantage. Contrast this with Star Trek: Timelines, which routinely apologizes by giving out tranches of resources to players when things go wrong.
The fact is that the game is no longer as fun as it once was, and it’s not a game that I can recommend to others. Since the Great Rebalance, I have been:
- Doing events and grabbing all of the tech that I can
- Killing aliens (perhaps the only truly fun part left in the game)
- Killing supply run fleets (or you could wait for the appropriate “Materials” market event and COIN IT!).
- Avoiding Civil Wars (the prizes are crap and I have never used any of the “extended” weapons).
- The odd fight: Five minutes of combat, five hours of repair… or hey, you can COIN IT!
At this point, I’m holding on, hanging in there, farming and grinding, hoping for things to change, but too many disappointments have made me cynical. But in the interest of helpfulness, I have a few suggestions for Kixeye to continue ignoring:
- Create an exchange to convert useless parts (Scythe parts, anyone?) into useful stuff.
- Offer something worthwhile for Blood Amber that isn’t bloody useless or bloody expensive.
- Coin Confirmation Button (unless you really don’t want my money).
- Quit putting lower-class cores in Strongboxes! There are few bigger annoyances in the game than engaging a 65 Demon Corps Contingent or Harasser Supply Run fleet, bringing home a damaged or half-dead fleet, opening the strongbox and finding a Tier-4 core for your trouble. The same core that you can get from an Artillery 37 using an insta-rep fleet. As Dilbert would put it: “Gaaaah”.
- Either equalize pattern drop chances (so the likelihood of a Mk II pattern is the same as the Mk V), or provide a mechanism to fuse patterns into better ones. Or drop generic upgrade patterns that can be used to mark-upgrade any level of that ship. Anything is better than seventeen Mk II tokens and no Mk IV or V. (Or hey, you can coin it!!)
- Concentrate on $5/$10/$20 coin deals that actually offer something worth having; I believe that it is easier to get $10 out of fifty players than to get $200 out of one high-roller.
- Design a monthly subscription arrangement that offers bonuses every month.
I understand that Kixeye needs to make money, but one life lesson that I have learned is that when you pursue joy, money often follows. But when you pursue money, joy is rare.
Bottom Line: Concentrate on delighting the players, and they will bring their friends. Concentrate on coins and they will join their friends.
Pay-To-Win will kill this game