Original Title ([Dear GBX] RE: New Rank Caps, You Monsters) Changed it per Cam’s recommendation…
Monsters? Maybe not Monsters, but perhaps I have your attention? Maybe I can even get the attention of @Jythri?
This is going to be a lengthy post so here’s an oversimplification to save time:
Increasing arbitrary Rank Caps to (un)intentionally drive cash shop sales of XP boosts by exploiting similar compulsions to those of gambling addicts and alcoholics is morally reprehensible and GBX ought to be better than this.
Now on to the post -
There’s a number of things about the upcoming Winter Update I don’t necessarily agree with, but the idea of increasing the Rank Caps, for both Command Rank and Character Rank, in particular goes beyond that. It’s a downright malicious change to the game and should be reconsidered.
First, if you’re reading this and are not familiar with what a Skinner Box is, please read up on it.
Second, if you’re not familiar with the application of the Skinner Box in Game Design, then South Park has a fantastic episode tackling exactly that topic.
Finally, if you’ve not ever had the discomfort of experiencing first hand, or otherwise witnessing, the destructive side of a compulsion driven cycle of behavior in your life, especially one specifically related to video games, have a quick read on the stories of others.
Now that you’re familiar with what has happened before, let’s talk about these new Rank Caps (Levels).
Why Have Ranks (Levels) In A (Video) Game?
I’m going to use a more common parlance for Ranks in this discussion, Levels. And the first idea to tackle is why Levels are used in Game Design.
Levels serve a purpose of representing, and even controlling, progression in games. Levels can accomplish this in several ways. Levels can be used to:
- Determine when new abilities, thus options for play, are unlocked
- As a gate for accessing certain content
- Demonstrate time spent with the game, conferring a sense of experience with the game to others
- … One more thing, which we’ll get to…
So why are Levels used for these purposes?
Using Levels as a wall for accessing new abilities ensures that Players spend enough time with a Character to understand their Core Mechanics before presenting them with additional options for play.
Likewise, using Levels as a wall for accessing Content ensures Players spend enough time with the game to understand its Core Objectives before presenting them with more difficult or specialized challenges based on those Core Objectives.
Finally, there’s no good, objective way to measure skill in real life for any given Player, for instance I’m not very good at most video games. But having Levels on display at least communicates a sense of the amount of time another Player has spent with the game, time that ostensibly equates to practice with it. It’s a flawed metric, but better than nothing.
Why Are There Levels In Battleborn?
Specifically in Battleborn, there are two kinds of Levels, called Ranks, and they are Command Rank and Character Rank.
Command Rank used to fall under the 1st purpose, in that it guaranteed access to Characters eventually if the unlock Challenge for said Character wasn’t achieved first. This is going away in the Winter Update however. Command Rank also used to more strongly fall under the 3rd purpose, since it was displayed in both PvP and PvE. It’s now only displayed in PvE though, weakening that purpose for it as well.
Character Rank only falls under the first purpose for the 1st purpose up to Rank 12. And no new abilities are being added for Ranks 16 - 20 in the Winter Update. Character is never displayed to another Player and so only falls under the 1st purpose of Levels until Rank 12, and then no longer serves any purpose…
Except for that one other purpose to having Levels…
What Was That Other Purpose For Levels In Games?
Levels can also be used as a reward mechanic in the Compulsion Loop of a Game.
Levels are also a reward mechanic. They hammer on that part of the human brain that releases a Dopamine reward when you do a thing. And this feeds directly in what’s called the Compulsion Loop (reading linked at the start).
So when Levels serve no other purpose, the last purpose that’s left is the Compulsion Loop. And that’s exactly where we find ourselves with Command and Character Rank today with Battleborn. Neither of these Ranks serve the purposes of gating abilities or content any longer. And only Command Rank can ever be seen by other Players, and then only in PvE.
But ask yourself, do you honestly believe that you’d be any less comfortable going into a PvE match with a Command Rank 100 than with a newly anointed Command Rank 150 Player? I believe that all but the most unreasonable will answer no to this question.
So that leaves us only with adding more Ranks to Battleborn to serve the purpose of the Compulsion Loop. And a design decision like this by itself is already poor form. It smacks of Player retention through exploitation rather than through valuable content. But it get worse once we take a look at another component of Battleborn, the Cash Shop.
What’s Up With The Cash Shop?
Adding a Cash Shop to a Triple A priced title already stings the sensibilities of many gamers. It’s an oft cited critique of Battleborn. But within the Cash Shop there’s more than just cosmetics or another way to add DLC content. There are XP boosts.
And therein lies the rub. Not only is the Winter Update bringing in an increase to the now arbitrary Command and Character Ranks, which only serve the purpose of feeding the Compulsion Loop, a typical Skinner Box design, but the Cash Shop is selling a way to expedite the Loop.
And THIS is a tactic in the game industry that is as deplorable as a casino that purposefully markets to gambling addicts or one whom serves alcohol to known alcoholics.
Not only does this feed on the Compulsion of Players, it exploits that Compulsion for Profit. Disgusting.
I’ll repeat for emphasis - DISGUSTING!
Was This Intentional Or Naivety?
So there’s two ways we got here: This was either a naïve mistake, or it was intentionally designed.
This Post is to address the first. Perhaps you’d like to give GBX the benefit of the doubt here and assume this was an accident. Maybe the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing?
Naivety can be forgiven. But now this Post exists. Either someone at GBX reads this Post, and now knowingly moves forward with this design decision, or they willfully ignore this Post. Neither is forgivable.
If this is a case of the second then shame on you GBX. You should know better, you’re professionals, and you owe your fans better than this. Maybe some member of the Product Development thinks themselves so clever for slipping this in. It’s finally gonna bring more cash in to GBX after all. But if that’s the case they’re not clever. Their motivations are absolutely transparent and they’re despicable for resorting to such a thing.
What’s next for Battleborn? Locked loot packs that drop at random with exclusive Skins and Legendaries that can only be opened with Keys sold in the Cash Shop? Perhaps you can give Perfect World a call? They can teach you all about Player exploitation and how to land whales!
Your Journey to the Dark Side is nearly complete.
So What Now?
My hope is that this was simply a naïve decision, born out of a need to keep feeding the community rewards on a shoe string budget. But if that’s the case, this isn’t the way. And now you know.
Could you more responsibly move forward with a Rank Cap increase? Yes. Remove boosts from the Cash Shop. You’re still creating a time sink for your Compulsive Players, one with no real content tied to it, and one that is still an opportunity cost in each of their lives. But at least you won’t be Profiting directly from doing so.
But if you move forward as things are anyway, despite the very clear issues with having the current Cash Shop scheme, well then GBX, you’ll be just another company exploiting its Players for cash. In which case, welcome to the club. =(