Warhammer: Vermintide

Vermintide 2’s Player Retention Problem (and ideas to fix it)

warhammer 3 - Vermintide 2’s Player Retention Problem (and ideas to fix it)
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First of all – VT2 has amazing core gameplay. The basic melee combat mechanics, AI director, map design, etc is all really excellent. For the record, I have about 270 hours in the game (4 careers at level 30, playing Legend, twitch mode, etc.). Most of my friends I play with are 30-60 hour mark, also playing Legend. Occasionally champion. We’re all FPS game veterans and love VT2’s core gameplay.

We were discussing the game over some ale the other night and had a few thoughtful remarks.

Basically, VT2 at a certain point fails to provide the incentives (reward structures) that will retain players. Yes, the core gameplay is good and one can make the argument that, ideally, playing an awesome game should be reason enough to keep playing. But unfortunately, there are lot of other games competing for our collective attention.

The two biggest issues we discussed was that there aren’t enough ways to consistently increase the difficulty/challenge AND that ways of increasing the challenge aren’t coupled to a good reward structure that encourages people to rise to that challenge.



Basic facts

  • Deeds make the game harder but just offer more of the same chests/vaults as a reward.
  • Twitch mode makes the game more chaotic – but I think on the whole is actually easier. You’re more likely to get an emperor vault on twitch as well. Again more vaults.
  • The Weekly Challenges are cool and fun – but you lose the QP bonuses and get zero other reward for your effort. People aren’t queuing up for Challenges enough as a result.
  • Achievements (Okri’s Challenges) that unlock fixed rewards (cosmetic skins/hats/frames) are nice – but are mostly all based on raw, focused playtime – not a feat of skill.

Let me step back for a moment. Conceptually, rewards in a game (not talking VT2 here specifically) come from a few different vectors:

  • Raw playtime: the more you play, the more you level up or rewards you earn at some interval (random or fixed)
  • Skill gains: the more skilled you get, the more challenges you can take on and the rewards go up
  • Pay real money: unlock content/rewards by paying directly for it (i.e. microtransactions).

I’ll give a few examples of other games that hit the above well in relation to VT2 (which hits it poorly).

In Overwatch, playing the game earns you loot boxes on a regular interval. However, loot boxes drop in-game currency at a fairly regular rate as well. The currency can be used in the cosmetic shop to buy specific skins/emotes/etc that you want. I don’t know the exact numbers, but 10 hours of game time will probably give you 1,000 coins, which is enough to buy a kickass legendary skin. The key to success with the above is that players “know” that if they put in X-time, they will be able to acquire X-reward.

Compare this to VT2 – where the RNG of earning red means that some people will just flat out never get, nor have any means to put in the time, to get a specific item. The desired reward for play are so unlikely and random, that they might as well not exist for many people. And when people start feeling that way, they will get frustrated and walk away. Most of my friends are in this spot right now.

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Switching to the “skill gain” topic – consider Payday 2 (another 4-player coop). In addition to having a mechanism for unlocking gameplay affecting content (weapon mods etc.) through raw playtime, many of the cosmetics and gameplay items are locked behind genuine skill based achievements. Unlocking these gives you a super strong incentive to “git gud” and be able to unlock awesome stuff for it. Most of the achievements are based on skill and performing certain feats – and NOT raw playtime based achievements.

Compare this to VT2. Most of the achievements are rewarding raw playtime. Even worse, most of the achievement just give you another RNG-based chests. Other skill-based challenges (weekly challenges, etc.) actually give you a worse reward for doing it over the standard RNG chest. What’s up with that?

In summary, VT2s rewards and incentives are either non-existent or so heavily RNG based that they are of incidental benefit to the majority of potential players. This is discouraging for casual and serious players alike and leads to people dropping the game.



SUGGESTIONS

The fix is, conceptually, pretty straightforward IMHO.

IDEA 1

Incentivize raw playtime by giving players a way to work towards a specific desired reward (i.e. a specific red item or cosmetic) over time.

Maybe it takes 20 hours on average (whatever the dev’s feel is right), but make it so players can work towards the goal without being at the mercy of RNG for everything.

This would need a couple of system changes to implement:

First – Add a new in-game currency (or purple dust?) that has a chance to drop in chests (and/or can be converted from basic dust at certain rates). Second – add an item / cosmetic viewer and shop. The sanctioned armory mod already does this – it could be made part of the game and expanded to allow using the currency to just purchase items outright (and add a skin/hat viewer function to it as well).

IDEA 2

Incentivize players to take on greater challenges (i.e. encourage skill) by providing in-game currency as special rewards. Weekly Challenge? Have them reward a normal chest AND give a stack of 15 currency (or whatever amount). Deeds? Have them reward stacks of the new currency or red dust.

Second – add more achievements overtime that unlock cosmetics / items that are based on feats of skill rather than playtime. The new DLC weapons are a step in this direction, but really it’s just rewarding you for basic playtime still. IE.: play new maps 1 once each, then kill 1000 with new weapons, then kill bosses on legend – anyone who is playing the game would do all of this anyway. It’s a step in the right direction but doesn’t go far enough.

All in all, earning in-game currency from both raw playtime AND as a reward for harder challenges, and coupling this to a cosmetic/item shop that let’s people acquire things they want over a reasonable timeframe would help keep people engaged and playing the game.

For better or worse it isn’t much different from getting the rare items + skins in the VT1 quests and contract board. Eventually, an item will popup that you’ll want – and if you keep playing you’ll finish the quests to get the keys to unlock it. If you push yourself and play at higher difficulties, you can get it a little faster (finishing nightmare / cataclysm runs).

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