DEV TALK #2: A DEEP DIVE INTO THE SHIPYARD UPDATE
Timo sits down with Jonathan Lindsay, Executive Producer at YAGER, and Mike Donatelli, Creative Director at Six Foot, to share their ideas behind Dreadnought's recent mega-update, and what they hope for the future.
We released the Shipyard Update on Halloween, and it seems to have spooked some of you. This system represents a significant departure from how players progressed through the game before, but it was a necessary change. We’re currently in the process of iterating on and improving upon it, so it’s no surprise that Jonathan opens the conversation by addressing one of the big concerns the community has already brought forward: the Credit prices of modules: “After reducing the Credit cost for new ships, the prices for modules need to be modified too. We might need to take another look at the prices for ships as well since the overall costs have been adjusted.”
Finding Your Ship vs. Building Your Fleet
We’ve received a lot of feedback from players saying that they feel the need to hoard their credits to be able to purchase the ship in the next tier—and so that they can ultimately reach tier V. “As Timo and I heatedly discussed earlier, I levelled up my tier-II ships first and enjoyed equipping them with new and more powerful modules,” says Mike. He admits that players currently seem to be striving to get to the highest tier as fast as possible, but just getting a tier-V ship isn’t as helpful as you might think. Let’s say that you just started playing and have improved all the ships in your Recruit Fleet. Having a powerful Recruit Fleet means that you win more often than you would if you rushed up the tiers. With a more powerful and versatile fleet, you find yourself in a “rock, paper, scissors” situation—and you have the ability to adapt to the battle better than you could before.
“Trying to get to the top tier is a behavior that totally makes sense for an RPG,” Mike continues: “In that kind of game, you’re trying to get your character all the way to the end and be as powerful as possible. This works when you have only one character. In Dreadnought, you don’t just have one character—you have multiple ships and even multiple fleets that play differently from each other. Successful players will take advantage of that, because without a proper fleet, you’re going to lose more often than not. If all you bring is Artillery Cruisers or Dreadnoughts, your chances of winning go down because you're not versatile enough. Your enemies will be able to switch to other classes that you won’t be able to counter. That’s the “rock, paper, scissors” part of the game.”
So with the Shipyard Update, Dreadnought has shifted focus away from finding the one ship that best fits your playstyle to building and continually customizing a powerful, versatile fleet. Even with this shift in focus toward fleets, Jonathan and Mike agree that we still have to take a good, hard look at the current prices in the game. “For now, we’ve decided to go with reducing Credit costs. This is a small change that’s fairly easy to do, and we can probably have it live within the next two weeks. We can measure the effects for a bit, see where we are, and then go from there,” says Jonathan. To make sure that prices are right and don’t discourage people from investing in better modules and improving their fleets, we plan to monitor the costs of ships and modules as well as player behavior, and then make adjustments as needed.
The Layout of the Manufacturer Trees
There’s been some talk about how the layout of the Manufacturer Trees forces people to play certain classes. For example, having to go through Tactical Cruisers to get to the light Destroyers makes some feel pushed towards a grind and faced with a wall that they simply don’t want to overcome.
Jonathan agrees: “Yes, this can definitely be annoying for existing players, because they have a favorite ship that they played before these changes were made.” But it’s quite a different experience for people new to the game, he says. A new player doesn’t know which ship is going to be their favorite—whether they’ll prefer the medium, light or heavy Destroyer, for example. Nor do they know how to handle certain classes, like the light or heavy Destroyer. One is a bit squishy and dies easily, and if you don't know how to use energy to make yourself move faster and fly evasively, you'll die a lot. Similarly, the heavy Destroyer is quite slow and new players often feel like they’re barely moving. In short, it’s beneficial to introduce players to certain ships once they’ve improved their skills and moved through some of the Manufacturer Tree.
However, this brings up another question: Why not have Manufacturer Trees that branch out from the medium destroyer to the light and heavy versions? Why did we lock these subclasses behind other classes?
“If we put all the ships from one class into a single Manufacturer Tree, then we couldn't really do the manufacturers the way we wanted to. On top of that, the game is not about single ships. It's about your fleet. And if you just went from Destroyer to Destroyer to Destroyer, you would have nothing but Destroyers and would be less effective in battle because you couldn’t react to the other team at all,” says Donatelli.
“When I first started playing the game, all I played was Destroyers”, Mike admits. “Even after the Shipyard Update came around, I started playing only Destroyers again. Then we were playing against QA (who are really good). I realized that I needed to switch to a Tactical Cruiser to heal our Dreadnought if I wanted to win that match, but I only had a low-tier healer in my fleet, with no good modules at all. So I realized I had to use the credits I was saving to buy the next Destroyer to improve my healer. I then realized that healing was actually pretty fun and spent more credits on Tactical Cruisers and modules to add to them. A similar thing happened to me when I played against a bunch of Artillery Cruisers. I spent some Credits and got a Corvette to be able to counter them.”
The design of the Manufacturer Trees is intended to introduce new players to the ship classes, have them advance a bit in each one, and then help them decide what they want to specialize in. Each Manufacturer Tree presents players with starting ships that are easy to get the hang of—and serves to guide them toward assembling a diverse fleet they might not have put together otherwise. This is designed to improve replayability as well as retention.
“A big problem that was reported to us by our community was that the Credit costs for purchasing ships in the next tier—and for branching out within a Tech Tree—were too high,” says Jonathan. “Now the costs have been drastically reduced. Branching out and trying new classes are not as expensive anymore.” It’s also important to note that, in a ship’s Tech Tree, players only have to research items using XP to unlock the next ship. They don’t have to purchase any of them (using Credits). This might be useful for anyone who’s dead-set on avoiding a certain ship.
So what about the fact that the game is called Dreadnought, but there’s no Dreadnought-class ship available at the beginning of the game? Wouldn’t a new player want to play the namesake of the game? “That’s absolutely right, and we’re currently working on putting a Dreadnought back at the beginning of the game,” says Mike. “Absolutely, it needs to be available right away,” Jonathan agrees. “We’ll fix that.”
Module Choices at Lower Tiers
A lot of our veteran players have told us that they’re disappointed by the lack of module customization options in the lower tiers. Jonathan says that YAGER would like to bring secondary weapons back to tier II, but they are currently double-checking the balancing that would be required for such a change. “The other point is that customization is an important pillar of the game, but it's something that can be really overwhelming for new players,” he says. “You have so much to deal with in terms of just flying your ship, managing your energy, learning your modules. Then, on top of that, there is a metagame where you can choose modules, many of which are beyond what you need to learn starting out, like the Plasma Ram, which takes time to learn how to use effectively.” This has been a big part of Dreadnought, but an overwhelming one for new players. This is something we want to ease new captains into slowly now and unlock over time. “Once you reach tier III, which doesn’t take long at all anymore, you start to get really interesting choices in terms of what you can equip on your ship. At tier IV, you have tons of choices, and at tier V, you get ridiculously diverse Tech Trees,” Jonathan continues.
So this brings us back to the topic we brought up earlier: the shift away from personalizing your ship to building a powerful and versatile fleet. Maybe this is something that we have not really been communicating properly? “The game was like that before,” says Jonathan. “You had a fleet before the new system was in place.” But Mike has a different perspective: “True, but most people concentrated much more on ‘their ship’. They effectively picked a class and played it like it was their character, and the same class would be placed in their fleet multiple times with different loadouts. Everybody picked a class, this guy here was THE HEALER, the other guy was THE TANK and when they grouped up that's what they were. They played their class. The idea of ‘the fleet’ was not that you built a badass fleet, but that you used the fleet to have multiple version of your class.”
And this is a point that has now changed. At least in the lowest tiers, it’s not about making one ship your own, but about putting together your fleet. Later, when you reach higher tiers, your customization options open up again and you have even more options to adapt to different situations. But you’ll still need to bring multiple ship classes to a match and switch classes to counter your opponents. “Not only does this keep the match even. It makes battles more interesting because everything is constantly changing,” Mike says.
Dealing with Ships of Higher Tiers
Another point of criticism we’ve heard quite a lot (and rightfully so) is that, after the release of the Shipyard Update, it is possible for tier-I ships to encounter tier-IV Hero Ships in battle. This being generally possible was by design. However, these matches were not intended to be like this.
Being able to punch above your weight class, so to speak, is intended and is an integral part of the matchmaking system. It allows a talented player with a lower-tier ship to face off against an enemy with a numerical advantage, but a lack of experience. This rewards the more experienced player with more points—and more Credits—at the end of the match. For example, if you defeat someone in the same tier as you, you get 100 points. If a tier-II manages to kill a tier-IV, you get 164 points. In short, when a tier-II player takes out a tier-IV player, they get 64% more points and Credits.
That’s why each Fleet Level includes more than one tier, and why tiers II and IV are part of two fleets. “For me, the idea is that you can play Veteran and max out your tier-IV ships,” says Mike. “And then, once you decide you’re ready, you queue up for a Legendary match with your fleet of pimped-out tier IVs. You'll have a better chance at winning than a player who rushed up to tier V and has no additional modules unlocked.”
“Also, we’re currently taking another look at the numerical power differences between each of the tiers,” Jonathan adds. “We’re planning on making the jump from one tier to the next less severe.” Our current focus is to make some adjustments to the lower tiers, since those are the ones that we’ve received the most feedback on since the update. However, tier balancing is something that we plan on recalibrating over time to make sure that every tier is appropriately
powerful and fun to play—and that there’s always an incentive to progress higher.
Ok, let’s get to the elephant in the room: maintenance costs. “First of all, you need to know that maintenance was done in the wrong way,” Jonathan interjects right away. “We put a fixed maintenance cost on every fleet, depending on whether it was Veteran or Legendary. However, this cost needs to be based on the ships that you've used in battle.” This is a change that we’ve been working on for a while. We’re currently testing it, so it should be in the game soon.
So, for example, your maintenance costs will be lower if you have more tier-II ships in your Veteran Fleet than if you have all tier-III or tier-IV ships. “It’s already the case,” Jonathan continues, “that your income for playing tier II is lower than for tier III. Going to the next-highest tier awards you with 10% more Credits. Of course, that’s just the base calculation—specific numbers depend on how well you do in a match. So, at the moment, if you go into a Veteran match with tier-II ships, you're actually paying the maintenance cost that was supposed to be for an all-tier-IV Veteran fleet.”
This basically means that, in a case like this, you’re playing on a tier II-level, but you’re paying tier-IV maintenance prices? “Yes,” Jonathan says. “And that’s wrong. It has already been changed, just not yet implemented. It definitely needs to scale depending on the tiers of the ships in your fleet.”
We think you’ll be happy once maintenance costs are adjusted, but the question still remains: why were they set up like this in the first place? The short answer: “It’s a monetization mechanic,” says Jonathan. “I've read a lot of posts about it by now and I know people are unhappy about it. A lot of players understand why it was put in, but they would like to see it change. It's just too expensive, and that's one of the things we're changing in the next iteration.”
Mike lets us know that, in a game like Dreadnought, there are always Credit faucets and Credit sinks. “Credits are part of the progression system that you can win a lot more of when you play well and win. In Dreadnought, that’s the Credit faucet. Ship and module purchases, as well as maintenance costs, are designed to be Credit sinks.” “Maintenance adds a certain risk / reward challenge to playing a match,” Jonathan adds. “Especially in Legendary, where you can make a lot more Credits—but have to pay a lot in maintenance if you lose.” That being said, we don’t expect people to play Legendary all the time—the game is actually not designed for that. If you only want to play Legendary, you'll probably run into credit problems pretty quickly if you're not an exceptional player with a well-equipped fleet.
Mike: “It is a monetization method, no argument there, because the game needs to be viable. We had planned to have the option to convert GP to Credits available when we first launched the Shipyard Update, but the conversion system just wasn’t ready to be released.” We have seen this point come up multiple times in the community. Players have asked for an option to convert their GP to Credits. This had been planned from the beginning, but since a mechanic like that involves Grey Box Points, we need to make sure that it's working bug-free. And while this option would make progression a little more flexible, it’s important to note that converting GP to Credits does not alleviate the XP requirements for researching a new module or ship.
“This conversion option should be included in the same update that fixes the maintenance costs, probably within the next few weeks,” says Mike. “Of course, this is looking a bit problematic now that we're coming out with that mechanic after the progression system was already released,” he laughs.
Of course, maintenance isn’t the only monetized aspect of Dreadnought. Two key monetization mechanics are Elite Status, which grants you and your team a higher rate of XP and Credits after battle, and the ability to purchase uniquely designed Hero Ships that can give you direct entry into a new Fleet Level. And there’s also the option to customize your ships with vanity items, as well as the ability to convert Ship XP on a Veteran-Status ship into Free XP (which you can use to research items on any ship). In short, we designed Dreadnought to be fun and rewarding for all players, while making sure that those who choose not to spend money don’t suffer any disadvantages when facing off in a match against paying players.
Selling Ships for Credits
In addition to GP to Credit conversion, Jonathan says that there’s another feature that he’d like to see in-game. “I’d really like to see the ability to sell your ships for Credits as soon as possible! It would be perfect if we could get that in with the same update,” he adds. This is an option that people would love to see. The idea would be that you could sell a ship you don't want to play anymore and receive some of the Credits you initially invested in it. We are currently trying to implement this idea and the GP to Credit conversion in the same update.
Ok, we’ve talked about most of the big topics already, but one really big one remains: officer briefings. Mike lets us know that we are currently looking into putting Officer Briefings into their own tree, independent from the Manufacturer Trees. You would be able to unlock more (and better) Briefings as you level up. However, there would be some kind of limitation as to which Briefings can be used in which tiers—for example, to make sure that tier-IV Briefings don’t bring Recruit matches out of balance.
“There is a plan to introduce a crew progression to the game,” Mike lets us know. “We want you to be able to outfit your fleet with a customized, highly specialized crew. That's in the roadmap for 2017—a crew progression system with a lot of depth.”
Looking Beyond the Shipyard
How’s that for a little “light reading?” We know it’s a lot to digest (a ship-load, really), but we do hope we’ve addressed most of your concerns and provided some clarification on the decisions we’ve made—and the intent behind them.
In the weeks since the Shipyard Update went live, we have seen that the revamped progression system performs better than the previous one, new player retention has improved and that the game is stickier than it was overall. So, in short, this new system is here to stay, and we look forward to hearing your feedback so that we can steadily tweak and improve it. We will continue to listen, and with your help, get the game where we all want it to be.