A request from the devs: Do not cater to the elites

  • Dear magnanimous developers of the Screeps universe,

    I feel there is a fundamental issue with the long term direction of this game's development.

    The barrier of entry is creeping ever higher. This is creating increasing disparities between the rich and the poor. We must renounce our capitalist ways and embrace loving socialism.

    By its very nature (programming game) this universe has a tiny niche market. I would suggest a rough estimate of 500 active players, out of which 100 are competitive. If we are to take proper lab usage and boosting into account, this number is probably less then 50.

    I fear that the future introduction of power creeps will further increase the disconnect between the elite 20 and the rest of the community. I do not wish to disconsider the efforts of those that have spent time and resources harvesting power. However, I strongly advise against further development of this mechanic and in fact would suggest removing power from the game all together.

    Off the top of my head, I would suggest converting the power accumulated by various players into credits at a fair ratio in order to compensate them for their loss.

    There is no mechanic I can envision which would not increase the disparity in resources between the top and the rest.

    Some may complain that the "ceiling" must be continuously raised in order to maintain the engagement of the top players. To these individuals I say "nay". The difference between the best and the rest should not be generated by newer and more complex resources to which only they have access. The best should go ever higher by increasing levels of automation and strategic complexity. Topics such as:
    - fully automatic construction management
    - automatic selection and adjustment of owned, reserved and exploited rooms
    - automatic retaliation against attackers back to their source
    - management of complex strategies (selecting rooms for harassment or attack, backing down, switching targets etc)
    - management of advanced tactics (troop positioning, advancement, retreat etc)

    Some of the top players have made some advances into these topics, but there's still a large portion of it left unexplored. Their efforts should be invested into these domains.

    Boosts have already created a very high plateau between players. Luckily the market has given players an alternative source to even the playing field.

    The focus of future mechanics should be on topics such as the market which have distributed collaborative impact and offer easy interaction options for all players.

    Look at new ways for players to collaborate or interact.

    When the energy production of SK rooms was lowered, the devs revealed a clear intention of combining energy production to power creeps. At the time the intention was to lower the current energy availability and have it return to normal only with power creeps. This is an excellent example where top players would receive a minor disadvantage but everyone else would receive a massive nerf.

    As a last example, the recent change to the SK rooms introducing tougher invaders. The main individuals affected by this change were not the top 20. I only needed to make a small adjustment to my spawn time for guardians. Yes, there is now a higher cost to SK rooms, but overall my production was unaffected by the change. For others this change means either a significant disruption or a reason to not bother with SK rooms at all.

    Am I the only one seeing things this way?

    No power creeps, focus on development of market, alliances etc.

  • I fully agree with this. Coming from a heavy RTS background where skill was measured in terms of APM, positioning, etc I still see ample opportunity for players to dig into what I consider the core mechanic of this game - programming AI control of your creeps.

    As power creeps are a committed feature, I would suggest that their 'power' is more along the lines of modifying a playstyle for something approximating a 10% benefit. That could be in combat, economy, etc to add flavor/reward to the game without adding imbalance.

  • Dev Team

    Let's just wait until some power creeps design docs are published, and discuss their concrete features. They are not going to be a thing you're afraid of. Power creeps are just a mechanic that is parallel to GCL growth - you can choose what you prefer to focus on, your global expansion or power creeps skills. It's for all players, not for veterans only.

  • The whole power system seems to be another way of progressing in the game, an alternative way of measuring how well you are doing and another way of gaining rewards for your efforts. I am largely in favor of it.

  • Fair enough. My intention was mainly to open up a discussion on the general direction of the game. I may have focused a little too much on power as a resource. The discussion related to power and its implementation can wait until more concrete designs are put forward. However, I fear ideas or intentions will already have crystallized by that time.

    The main target of the discussion was meant to be the growing barrier for entry in an already difficult game. If something is not done to address the acquisition of new players, this community will eventually implode.

    I will open up a separate discussion for this purpose as soon as I can put my arguments in order.

  • Dev Team

    So far your only concern was about power creeps. All other mechanics are accessible for every group of players, both novices and veterans. Power creeps will be such a mechanic as well.

    By the way, Source Keepers rooms mining are supposed to be some kind of late game experience, involving a lot of combat tactics, so there's nothing wrong that new players are unable to harvest them properly.

  • I find it hard to believe novice players will be able to harvest power, let alone make use of whichever mechanics it lends itself to. Perhaps the difference in perception comes from what we define as novice. For me it represents someone with less then 30 days of experience. But let's postpone that discussion.

    It is precisely the concept of "late game experience" that I am worried of.

    The core game (creeps, structures, energy, RCL etc) is good. It is sufficiently complex that there are months, if not years of development someone can pour into the subject. There are so many different approaches to take on this subject that there is no shortage of work to be done by veteran players. Especially with the end goal of fully autonomous AI (diplomacy included).

    Boosts are already an issue imho since they are an end game mechanic and therefore create an extreme differentiation between novice and veteran players. I haven't focused so much on this since I realize it is set in stone.

    The desire from the dev team to create an end game experience is misplaced.

    A well circulated concept in game design is:

    Simple rules lead to complex, intelligent behavior. Complex rules lead to dumb and primitive behavior.

  • Dev Team

    I find it hard to believe novice players will be able to harvest power

    This is where the market comes into play. If someone cannot harvest it, he can buy it from those who can. Buying resources from the market is totally doable for someone “with less than 30 days of experience”, even if it’s about calling some console command manually.

    let alone make use of whichever mechanics it lends itself to

    They behave in the same way as regular creeps, but with only one method available: .usePower(). Programming a power creep to boost your sources is an even easier task than programming source harvesters. Just go to the source and spam Game.powerCreeps.MySuperBooster.usePower(PWR_BOOST_SOURCE, source).

    The desire from the dev team to create an end game experience is misplaced.

    I don’t think we’re creating an end game experience with power creeps. We’re creating parallel experience. Not everybody is excited with expanding their empire territory. Some players could find a better motivation in developing their heroes skills rather than claiming more rooms. Including players with a week-long experience and only one room.

    Simple rules lead to complex, intelligent behavior. Complex rules lead to dumb and primitive behavior.

    Totally agree.

  • I find it hard to believe novice players will be able to harvest power

    I think you might be overestimating the difficulty in harvesting power. From a "difficulty to script" point of view it's pretty much on par with harvesting energy from another room.

    I mean, rather than programming a creep to navigate to a source and harvest, you program a creep to navigate to a power bank and attack, and rather than program a creep to reserve a controller, you program a creep to heal your attacker. Transporting the power back is the same task as transporting energy back, and you still need to program respawning when creeps die in both cases. All and all, you're doing the same thing just with different body parts and function calls.


    Now, whether or not that's going to be the best use of energy is going to depend on exactly what power creeps do. It's a much more expensive use of energy to harvest power than energy, and right now it's not worthwhile for a novice to spend his energy pursuing that, but that's only because you don't actually get anything in return for harvesting power right now. Once power scripts do something, it may or may not be worthwhile for a novice, but that's more dependent on what the rewards are than how hard it is to do.

  • I like the general spirit of making sure this game is accessible and fun for newer programmers just as well as the experienced ones. I don't think the answer is fewer game mechanics like eliminating power creeps. Perhaps just some consideration on the relative difficulty of game mechanics, and making sure there is a nice difficulty curve as new ones become available. 

    I agree with Del that relative to some other game mechanics, power gathering is pretty simple. More simple than programming behavior for an SK operation, for example. 

    As for the new abilities that come with power creeps, it remains to be seen how much programming expertise will be involved, but we shouldn't assume it will be too much. 

    I think one thing that would help make the game-mechanics learning curve more accessible is a quest/achievement system. This can provide scaffolding, recommending new challenges with a difficulty level that increases at a manageable rate. This will help bridge the gap between where the tutorial leaves off and getting an empire of several rooms up and functioning. 

    Here are some quest/achievement ideas, ordered from easier to more difficult:

    • Gather all 3000 energy from a source 
    • Deplete a source just as its timer runs out (provokes thought about efficient mining practices)
    • Have a creep travel through 10 different rooms (multi-room functionality)
    • Harvest from three sources in the same tick (multi-room functionality)
    • Successfully defend against 5 invaders you placed manually (defense testing)
    • Sell 10k of some resource on the market
    • Buy 10k energy on the market
    • Kill a Source Keeper
    • Completely deplete a source in a  source keeper room
    • etc.

    At the moment this game is superb for players who like to seek out new challenges, a true sandbox. The majority of players are used to having more direction in games. Many game mechanics seem intimidating until you actually give them a try. This is just one way of saying "oh, you've done this? then you are probably ready for this...."

    Perhaps power can be a good reward for completing these quests.

  • Dev Team

    Yea, achievements are very important for this puprose indeed. It is exactly what we had in mind with the "Achievements" option on the Roadmap. I think when we get closer to the implementation, we'll open a public discussion of which achievement kinds you'd like to see.

  • Culture

    I agree with the problem that Atavus identified, although I don't agree with the solution. I worry that this game is going to be hard for new players to join, especially if they don't have friends already in the game to help.

    I have a different solution I would like to propose-

    * Larger novice areas,

    * Longer period of time for novice areas before they are released,

    * Increase the max rooms in novice areas to 5.

    This would allow new players to establish territories for themselves without having to directly compete with the big players. Once the walls drop most of them should have close to 5 developed rooms, which will be much tougher to crack than three. I also assume with the larger area and more players to start that alliances will form amongst new players.

  • To bonsai's point (\o hai bonsai) I do think this game could do with a bit more scaffolding (although not too much as selection of goals is part of the game too imo) I even thing it would be cool to incorporate that into power creeps, such that completing a limited set of quests/achievements can get a player into the power game early (i.e. grants enough power to have a small/weak power creep early on).

    Having said this, and having started ~3 months ago, I am more inclined to agree with atavus.  I recently got dedicated upgrading, mining, and hauling up and running, and I can't imagine power creeps being more important than any of those three.  I'm currently working on remote mining which until recently was much harder to test (ty artem and the screeps devs for getting the private server running).  Given that remote mining at the very least (not to mention long distance scouting) is required for power harvesting, saying that power as a feature is (at the moment) "available to all players" is like saying that harvesting source keeper rooms is a feature "available to all players".  While it is true, it's misleading at best.

    And to artem's response about markets, any trade on power will be a sellers market, making the players selling power (the highest end players that have the time, energy, and cpu to look for and harvest it) even more powerful.

  • For me, I think the biggest problem is not power in and of itself, but instead the fact that large players have had so long to stockpile it. If it's something that is spent like minerals, then we have a huge problem where some players will have enormous amounts "saved up" by the time it is finally launched. If it is something that is accumulated like GCL and merely allocated, then its effects should be marginal at best in order to prevent it from being too powerful.

  • I DO NOT agree that power creeps will create an imbalance. At least not exactly. The more I play the more I see how "larger players" have a tremendous, nearly insurmountable, head start. I would like to say that I hope development continues to make sure that new players and established players can meet on equal footing. There are problems in this area, but I don't feel they stem from power or power creeps. 


    In essence, while I do think there is a gap between established players and new players, I think it's a kind of wait and see situation. I don't think power creeps on their own totally offset some balance. Specially when it's not released yet. 


  • Dev Team

    For me, I think the biggest problem is not power in and of itself, but instead the fact that large players have had so long to stockpile it.

    We probably will introduce a way to convert your account GCL points to power points using some disadvantageous exchange rate (more energy expensive than harvesting and processing it directly). Either on the launch of this feature or as a permanent account option, not decided yet.

    What do you think is the appropriate energy cost for 1 unit of power?

  • Well, 1 unit of power costs 50 energy to process, and let's pretend 6 energy per unit to harvest. If we round that from 56 to 100, then double it to 200 GCL (double because 1 energy = 2 GCL) I think we've got a suitably "bad" exchange. I think 250 GCL could also be an acceptable exchange rate.

    6 energy per unit to harvest -> 3 generations of 1 attack creep (4k) 1 heal creep (6k) = 10k per gen = 30k to harvest an average of 5k power.

    If you allowed ongoing power purchases, maybe 500 GCL for 1 power to really discourage it except in emergencies -- but I think 200 could work as a one-off thing (vs an estimated cost of harvesting it of 60 energy). What does everyone else think?

  • Culture

    I think a better solution would be to temporarily have terminals sell power for X amount of credits, where X is some number that encourages newer players to dump some minerals into the market to get credits. Also offering older players the option to convert their processed power into something else as way to lower theirs may be worth exploring.

    As a horribly stupid but kind of amusing idea, letting people convert power into CPU credits they can dump into their bucket may be an interesting mechanic.

  • What about increasing the bucket size to 10k? I reckon people might get sour if they filled their bucket with power only to have a reset storm hit (which resets their bucket to 5k anyway)

  • Culture

    Working around that is simple enough- just have this be a separate bucket that is only used when the primary bucket is depleted. That way if the main bucket gets refilled the bought CPU is still there.