Crowfall Social Systems Interview with Thomas Blair & Raph Koster

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Note: This article originally appeared on

The team behind Crowfall, the hotly anticipated upcoming sandbox PvP MMO which bills itself as a melding of Game of Thrones and EVE Online, tackled the game’s social systems in last month’s entrant to their monthly Q&A video series.

As a Star Wars Galaxies veteran, I was thrilled to see SWG‘s former Creative Director Raph Koster and Lead Designer Thomas Blair handling the discussion, as the living society they helped to create in SWG is famously among the best the genre has ever seen, if not its very epitome.

After watching the Q&A, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity pose a few questions to the pair about the design of Crowfall social systems. Read on for an exclusive look at how they plan to build a new community in Crowfall‘s war-torn worlds.

In the ACE Q&A for March, Raph Koster talked about the importance of soft-touch social interdependence in bringing together a larger community for players to feel they’re a part of. I remember this concept being a key feature in his blog Designing a Living Society in SWG, part one. In what ways does Crowfall plan to encourage these social connections forming?

Raph Koster, Design Consultant: The biggest connector is having multiple roles for players to play in the economy. The fact that supply lines matter in the campaign worlds, the fact that there’s a fairly rich crafting system centered in the Eternal Kingdoms… things like that start creating those sorts of softer relationships, where there are economic dependencies on people because they do things you either don’t want to or can’t. We’re also definitely thinking in terms of “loops” of movement; the whole game is structured as “start in EK, venture to campaign, loop back to EK,” which means that the EKs are the place where serendipitous encounters can happen.

Thomas Blair, Design Lead: The dependency aspect of this is the most challenging as games in the past decade have really gone away from having to rely on others for anything but end game. The philosophy shifted from “what is good for the economy” to “what is most convenient for the player” which generally meant the basic character package always including combat, crafting and some utility. Systems such as global auction houses, while convenient, crushed any notion of player-run shops and everything that was a subset of the player shops like notoriety (Blair’s Place always has the best armor and stocked vendors) and vendor customization. (Cool! Blair has all demons selling his armor)

In part two of Koster’s blog on SWG‘s social systems, he talked a lot about how the game’s non-combat professions tied into its social connectivity, pulling people together by offering new avenues of player interdependence. Back during Crowfall‘s Kickstarter, you guys talked about viewing crafting as a “full-time playstyle“. Are there plans for any other non-combat playstyles?

Blair: I would think there are going to be a handful that pop up. Animal Husbandry comes to mind, which is those players who enjoy going out and taming NPC’s that can be turned into mounts or used in combat. Some players might also enjoy harvesting resources as their primary activity. Running a shop will probably end up a secondary playstyle to crafting. I’m also speculating that we might see a rise in guild quartermasters, which are players who primarily fill and maintain equipment in a guilds armory for campaigns and sieges.Crowfall Knight BannerFollowing up on that one, you’ve since announced that the player’s crow, a spirit encapsulating their account-wide progression, will switch between crafted vessels of various classes in a way that’s analogous to ships in space-games like EVE Online. I feel like this opens up a lot of potential to deepen the experience for non-combat playstyles and offer more ways for a player engaged in one to stand out within the game’s community. Is there any chance we’ll see vessels and gear specializing in non-combat playstyles like crafting?

Blair: We will definitely see some vessels aligning to some forms of crafting. It makes sense at least from a lore perspective that Myrmidons (Minotaur) wouldn’t be very good at gem crafting or thrall binding. They might be good at building siege equipment though due to their large size though. That being said, overcoming the base vessel restrictions might be something they could get around via equipping a discipline runestone. We will definitely know more once these systems are in a more playable state.

One of the things that worries me about Crowfall‘s social systems is the finite campaigns; while they make a lot of sense on the competitive level, I fear that a campaign world ending will sever many of the soft-touch social connections players will have formed in its duration. Do you have any plans for systems to counteract that risk?

Raph: Our expectation is that people who meet and form those ties in the campaigns will want to keep in touch after, but I don’t think we need an explicit system to do that beyond the usual. That said, there are design structures in the EKs around vassalage and giving people more permanent affiliations (like setting up shops in someone’s EK because they granted you space). Many EKs will probably be personal housing or playgrounds, but we are trying to design them so that people can effectively turn them into player cities or guilds.

Blair: Again I think this is something that hearkens back to early MMO days. We used to ask people, “Can I friend you?” if they grouped with a good group of people. This often led to them grouping together again and even guilds forming out of these relationships. As games became more lobby based, cross server, and queueing became the norm for dungeons and gear, social interactions fell by the wayside. Social relationships are hard and require real effort to maintain, which translates into many folks just aren’t willing to put up with games that require others.

It seemed to me that the focus on solo content in modern MMOs was singled out as a harmful trends that’s hurt retention a lot in the current market by weakening player interdependence and social connectivity within a game’s community. This looks like a common theme among several upcoming MMOs currently in development, with some even going so far as to say they won’t have any solo content at all. How much is Crowfall planning to offer solo players?

Raph: I think the core of the game is around guild vs guild, but it’s very important that the solo player have scope to play – even players who are deeply involved with friends, guilds, or other organizations sometimes just don’t have time, or are online when their friends aren’t. So they need to have an outlet. There’s a number of activities ranging from peaceful (crafting stuff, building) to risky (harvesting in dangerous areas, etc.) for the solo player, but they may have to take more care than a group will.

Blair: It depends on what kinds of gameplay you enjoy as a solo player. A shopkeeper is primarily a solo activity and crafting his wares he also generally does by himself. However, selling his goods and acquiring more resources requires him to interact with other players. Going out and PvPing as a solo player is going to seem very difficult because most folks will be out in teams.Crowfall - Caravan Party Banner

One of the things mentioned in the Q&A was players wanting to have the best “supply lines” in past MMOs. In what kinds of ways are you planning for player supply lines be differentiated?

Raph: The biggest thing is going to manifest in the campaign worlds… with varying landscapes, the difficulty of moving resources across them, and so on, supply lines have a chance to actually be real, physical things. This opens roles for scouting for resources, caravans, guarding caravans, protecting the lines, etc. Then there’s the more abstract sense, which is having quality items flowing to the front… that sort of supply chain is based on having both a supply of quality raw materials and strong crafters. That takes forming relationships, and then we’re off to the races.

In Star Wars Galaxies, procedural resources played a big role in providing differentiated supply lines, though they also created server/database issues down the line. I know you’re probably not ready to talk about crafting or resources in detail yet, but do you have plans to come up with a middle ground with some differentiation between resources? Or in general, will all instances of “iron ore” be identical?

[Author’s note: this is something I’ve written about before. If you’re unfamiliar with how resources worked in Star Wars Galaxies, check out this post on the subject.]

Raph: Without saying too much yet… treat this as entirely hypothetical. 🙂 The sorts of issues we ran into with SWG were related to the granularity of the stats on the resources, more than anything. We used a four digit scale for each stat, which meant that two resources with identical stats except for a one point difference between 978 and 979 had to be stored as unique. In practice, nobody can really tell that there is a 0.1% difference on one axis of six. It just doesn’t affect gameplay in any measurable way.

So the biggest takeaway is that we can achieve much of the same effect with higher granularity on the numbers. Six stats with 1000 point scale on each means that there are 1000x1000x1000x1000x1000x1000 possible resources just of that one type. You can see where just removing one decimal point makes a truly enormous difference in terms of potential database load. Heck, removing two still leaves you with a quantity that players would be unable to explore over many years.

Blair: The biggest challenge we are going to have is the inventory when it comes to implementing quality levels on resources. In SWG, I had many, many houses (at least 40 between all my accounts) and each house was full of backpacks that had different kinds of resources in them. Crowfall has an inventory similar to Diablo. Items have different sizes and the player only has a limited amount of grid space to place items in. The more types of resource you have, the more slots it takes up. So if you are out harvesting and harvest even five different quality levels of copper, they end up as five different objects in your inventory. And who goes out to just harvest one kind of metal?

Ripple the player inventory problem out to the bank storage space. Harvesters generally don’t like to have a super limited inventory where they have to destroy most of what they harvest due to lack of storage space. As I said, it is a challenge and we don’t have a good answer yet. Once we get closer to implementation phase, we will come up with something that seems appropriate because I think we all appreciate what quality levels on resources can do for the crafting system.


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