Are orbs doing more harm than good?

Saturday, August 15, 2015 by spiralspy

If there was a FAQ for Spiral Knights (well, technically, there is), then it’s number one question would probably be “where can I find … orbs?“. You literally can’t spend 10 minutes in a populated Haven townsquare without a 2* player asking that one. Some are oblivious to the fact that orbs are sold on the supply depot. Others shun it because supply depot orbs cost energy and they wouldn’t touch game credit with a 10 foot pole. Both types kinda seem to to expect that orbs must be obtainable from regular game play because a) they were teased with mission awards or b) were lucky enough to get one from a box drop.

Fun fact: originally we crafted directly with energy and we had an energy gauge visible in the bottom right corner of the HUD all the time to show us our remaining game credit. But then Three Rings concluded that people are likely to spend more money if there is no direct association between cost and product (the credit card problem: you spend more if you loose track of their money). As a result, the gauge went away and Rarities were introduced as another layer of abstraction/concealment. The irony here, of course, is that this decoupling obviously worked so well that our troubled 2* players no longer make the association: (crowns ->) energy -> orbs -> crafting.

When being told to buy from the supply depot, one of the following tends to happens:

  • The player quits immediately. Spiral Knights is advertised as “free to play”, but you seemingly can’t progress without paying.
  • The player quits after trying to farm crowns, but failing to get enough in a reasonable amount of time.
  • The player turns to begging, realizes that this is even more inefficient than farming, then quits.

Running a MMORPG, puts you in the same kind of pickle as a club owner. You are providing a social platform. People come to your place to meet other people to spend time with. It neither sits well with your paying customers if the place is deserted or full of beggars (or both).

Another problem with the Hall of Heroes roadblock is that making players quit early naturally results in fewer endgame players. Less endgame players means less incentive to produce endgame content, which eventually leads to endgamers getting bored and leaving as well. In other words: orbs are hurting the player population on both ends of the rank scale.

So, what could be done about the problem? In an ideal world, we would get rid of orbs altogether. After all, crafting with game credit feels much like a remnant from earlier days now that the main source of income for OOO seems to be a new promo box every two weeks. In a not so ideal world it may be meaningful to increase the drop chance for advanced and elite orbs, but that seems like a nightmare to balance. My personal preference would be to just remove tier clearance. Keep the wardens to tell players that they should not continue without upgrading their gear, but don’t stop them if they insist. Wardens were originally meant to prevent (very stubborn) players from wasting money/energy on entering levels they had no realistic chances of surviving in. Now that elevators are free, this is no longer a concern. A real challenge is much less likely to make people quit than a hard road block.