Into the Record Books: May 2019

HELLO! I don’t think you were wondering, but I am in fact still haunting the GB scene. Kind of? Well, I’m back today to produce what very well may be the final #Lontent.

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I’m going to go ahead and tackle the “see ya later” up front here. More or less I’ve got some life events coming up. I won’t lie though, I’ve also had a general feeling of apathy towards the game lately too. It just feels like time to make a move.

Thank you to the readers who’ve kept up with this silly thing over the last couple years. I hope I’ve improved your Guild Ball experience in some way. The Archive will stay up. Maybe the primers/opinion pieces helped you. Maybe some numbers surprised you. If all else failed I hope I made you laugh once or twice.

I hope I’ve been fair too. We all know this road has been filled with potholes. Despite the business setbacks the developers of this game are top notch dudes. It remains to be seen if SFG can turn over a new leaf, but please continue to support Jamie, Bryce, Steve, and Sherwin (whatever their project). Guild Ball is a wonderful game, and good luck to all of you who continue to pursue it.

Anywho, you’re not here for me. You’re here for that sweet sweet data hit. On to the show you dang junkies.

 

Played Rates:

You may recall we ended April early due to the Miners’ errata. This is the “May” wrap up but we’re really covering 5 weekends – April 27th to May 30th.

Man oh man did this period have a ton of games. We’re looking at about 440 games of guild ball each weekend. That’s really high! Right around the same as the steamcons. The competitive scene is pretty healthy right now. As long as you’re willing to travel a little there’s really no reason you can’t find a tournament somewhere.

PR High

Ol Boar continues to slay it on the played rate. Butchers bring home 12.2% of the scene this month with Ox and Fillet nearly extinct. Regardless of power level, an extremely heavy played rate like this tends to signal changes are coming. I wouldn’t expect Boar to be acquitted.

Blacksmiths continue their nice little rise up to second place. They finish at 9.2%. Fish come in at 8.1% followed by Brewers and Farmers at 7.7% and 7.3% respectively. Looks like Corbelli boosted Masons to a reasonable degree. He more than doubled the weekly Mason games played and upped their played rate to 7.2%

PR Mid

Not a whole ton of change in the middle of the pack. Morticians and Hunters decline slightly to 6.4% and 6.1% of the field. Miners played rate actually rose very slightly to 6.0% despite the nerf. Order and Alchemists also stay more or less on par at 5.7% and 5.1%. The only real news story here is, like Corbelli, Rivet more than doubled the number of engineer games played. That resulted in a 1.9% increase in their overall representation to 5.5%. It’s still not quite at average, but getting there.

PR Low

The low end is pretty flat as well. Everyone staying reasonably where they were. Cooks and Navs both net 3.4%. Falconers capture 3.3% while rats and union earn 2.2% and 1.1% respectively. While I am glad to see Order and Miners represented, the rest of the Minors are still grossly underplayed. Played rates, like it or not, tend to reflect the perception of power level. I think it’s about time we consider minor guilds to be introductory/expansion teams rather that something you stick with forever. Falconers and Rats just got very reasonable power level increases and they just aren’t cutting it. I wonder if it’s just not worth stressing over their low end balance at this point. Bigger fish to fry.

 

Win Rates:

WR High

Hey look we get to talk about Boar again. He’s leading the pack sporting a 58.6% win rate. Honestly if you do a little digging on the new “player rating” feature on longshanks it is pretty apparent Boar just smashes low hanging fruit. Measuring the 1st to 3rd quartiles results in Boar winning 69.5% of his games, but if you look at only the top half of players he shrinks to 52.5%. It’s my opinion that Boar isn’t necessarily too powerful. He’s just too easy. I do think changes are coming, but it might be a while. He’s crazy, and you need a plan for him, but the best of us show he’s certainly not as oppressive as we sometimes make him out to be. Just gotta learn the matchup. Don’t forget to pray to Bryce before you go to bed. Maybe, if you eat all your harvest markers, he’ll lower the influence stat to 3/2 by Second Wind.

Maybe he won’t though. Thresher is doing just fine with a positive win rate versus the ol meathead. Farmers carry a 55.4% for the month followed by Masons at 53.4%. For as much as people were bemoaning Corbelli, it seems he’s struck a strong but reasonable balance. Morticians and Miners round out the top 5 with 53.3% and 52.4%.

WR Mid

Blacksmiths and Order are both on an upswing finishing at 51.3% and 51.0%. Rivet, while still being below 500, really ratcheted up the engineer performance. She picked up 7.5% points for the cogs. I’m thinking you’ll start to see Rivet led teams a little more often and perhaps she’ll creep past 50% next month.

Fish at 47.8% makes me sad. Alchs and Falconers follow behind at 47.1% and 46.6% – reasonable.

WR Low

Brewers ended up taking 45.3% of their games this month. Corker doesn’t seem to have quite had the impact of the others. I think he’s just a little slow to build up steam related to the current pace of the game. Piper and Rage continue their epic rollercoaster ride together bouncing up from their previous depths to 44.8% and 42.6%. Hunters continue to languish in the post-nerf state taking home 44.3%. Cooks stay pretty flat at 40.1% but I am trying to figure out what happened to Navigators? Pretty heavy decline down to 35.4%. That’s 14 whole points. My gut is with Masons and Blacksmiths being relatively popular this month Windfinder is just finding polarized matchups against her? She might also be less equipped to deal with Boar due to a lack of control elements.

 

Victory Index:

Victory Index

Ever strong and popular, butchers took 14% of the win pie this month, but actually lost 1%. Farmers lost 1% as well and Blacksmiths were happy to pick up the slack from both. Some of this may be due to folks trying out the cannoneer girls. Fish, despite being below 500, are still a popular team taking up 8% of games. Corker failed to pick up any points for the brewers but Rivet and Corbelli both had positive impacts.

 

Special Feature: Competitive Player Base

Season 4 afterglow fading… I’ve had this really odd feeling. Each month it seems we’ve had a lot of growth in competitive games played, but I just haven’t felt it in the player base. My gut is telling me the game is stagnating a bit. But how does that reconcile with the increase in games played?

Struggling with this idea for a few months I finally decided to put things to the test. Special thanks to Sam for helping compile the raw information here. While everything here is publically available, he was nice enough to get it condensed down to spreadsheet form versus me typing out thousands of lines of data entry. This data went through a lot of iterations and interpretations. I am going to kind of walk through it as I did in real time so bear with me while we arrive at our conclusion.

feature - games vs new players.png

The first thing I wanted to do was address the core question – how do I reconcile a feeling of increased competitive games when I don’t feel like people are coming into the scene. Above are the numbers for just that on a dual/Y-axis. This was pulled at the start of May. Games played increasing, but new player additions to longshanks is going down. This kind of confirmed my theory, but there’s more…

Sam and I then discovered there is a very large number of longshanks profiles which simply don’t have any activity what so ever. A ton of them are duplicates. I just so happened to run across this gem related to everyone’s favorite west coast rules lawyer:

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So what we did next was gather the last played competitive game of every longshanks profile. Some initial comparison looks extremely positive:

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Nearly 40% of profiles have played a tournament game this year. That’s pretty sweet! Even more so a quarter of the player base has been active in the last 60 days. That’s a hardcore competitive fan base. Honestly this might be guild ball’s biggest strength. It’s a great tournament game and people who get into it tend to be fairly dedicated.

While it’s great to have a core group of folks dedicated to your game, we know our new player growth is slowing. Maybe I’m personally biased here, but I kind of feel like we might have a fall out issue as well. Again, I turned to the data. I created a metric which again measured a players last date played, however, if that date was 3 months in the past they “fall out”. For example, if you last played a competitive Guild Ball game in February, you’re active through May, but in June you move to the fall out bucket. I then took this population and created a stacked column chart of all the other profile types. I then threw the games played up there for good measure.

It looks like this:

feature - playerbase vs games played.png

The first thing you’ll notice is at any given time about 30% of the profiles never get used. That’s kind of baseline and doesn’t seem to change much.

Next, new player growth, as we’ve already discussed, is a pretty small portion of the pool.

Finally, the most pronounced visual here is the heavy increase in player fall out. A larger and larger percentage of profiles are going dormant. One could argue using 4 months or 6 months, but the trend is always the same regardless of when you define a player as “no longer competitive”. The fact you can see the pink squeezing the green smaller is pretty stunning. It’s also worth noting fall out has eclipsed new profile growth since the beginning of the year.

feature - added vs fallout.png

Q4 of 2018, hot on the heels of season 4, was the highest amount of active players seen by longshanks. Since then, despite the overall number of registered profiles growing, active profile count is trending in the opposite direction. The competitive player base is shrinking… So in summary, competitive Guild Ball has a smaller group of people playing more games than ever.

 

Moving Forward:

But Lon… why? Why and what can be done?

I will say, while I cannot confirm this in any way, I do firmly believe these results extend to casual play. I wouldn’t even be surprised if this mirrors sales. While reasonably well informed, the rest of this is opinion and speculation

Regarding the why – I have a few theories:

  • New player growth has stagnated due to a combination of:
    • SFG shooting themselves in the foot with product releases and customer service issues. I don’t feel like I need to rehash any old issues here. They say they are fixing thing, but they’ve said that before too. Let’s hope it sticks this time.
    • The pundit program. It strikes me the pundit program has not been about new player growth in quite some time. If you’re a pundit reading this – when was the last time you ran a demo? When was the last team Steamforged encouraged/rewarded you running a demo? Was your last tournament the usual suspects? Or did you make an effort to find new blood. (note: pundit does not equal tournament organizer)
    • Structure of the game. While Guild ball is an easy game to learn it has a very steep learning curve. If an individual isn’t willing to get smashed repeatedly for their initial learning period, which to be honest could be lengthy, they are going to quit before their tournament debut.
  • Existing player fall out is increasing because:
    • Again – SFG shooting themselves in the foot. It’s very hard to keep a hype train rolling when logistics do not function. A player base can get stoked for a release… but when your LGS still doesn’t have their order filled for 3 months… that’s a reason people turn to other games.
    • Old idea burn out – Let’s face it, we’ve been playing a more or less similar game since December 2016 (Season 3 release). Sure there’ve been tweaks to make it better, and overall, the game is better, but the structure of the game is largely the same. I’d consider Minor guilds a net-negative due to balance difficulties. 3rd captains, while certainly cool, always struck me as a “break glass in case of emergency” solution. Temporary hype-shot in the arm if you will. Again, super cool, but not particularly revolutionary. Mourn was probably the boldest leap, but falls flat in the face of the actual game tempo. Some folks are just tired of running reps at this point.
    • Speaking of Tempo – While I don’t necessarily buy into this one whole heartedly, I’ve heard this over and over locally and online: The game is actually too fast. It’s funny because that was a stated design goal of Season 4 and people seemed to want it. The ideology essentially boils down to “Early mistakes and/or bad dice snowball so quickly there is no chance to recover and salvage the game”. I probably buy into this one less due to my personal playstyle – I’ve always wanted to win before turn 3 and I’ve always embraced/capitalized on variance. But when I see this discussed so often it is hard to ignore. Maybe a snap back mechanic is needed.

These are just my thoughts and musing. Very speculative. I make no claims on any inside knowledge beyond simply paying attention to the pulse of the community.

So what can be done?

Honestly I could write pages on this topic, and I actually did, but upon re-reading I felt it was far too ranty and I doubt that is helpful. I mean SFG if you want my thoughts reach out, but it basically boil down to “Address the problems above”.

Quick Hit? Fine, you twisted my arm:

  • Fix your production problems. Actually do it this time. For real.
  • Abandon SFG Direct. You weren’t ready. All you did was piss off stores.
  • Stop depending so much on your fan base to do things for you. It’s really unprofessional how often you piggyback on fan content. Control the media narrative. Buy Longshanks. Buy GBManager. Run your own nationals.
  • Make new game plan cards. Rotate them quarterly. That’s something you can do right now, today, and only costs you dev time (which is your greatest strength btw). If you make something broken, pull it out of rotation next quarter. I think this would spice things up far more than any new captain or rookie because it literally freshens every game played.
  • Completely rebuild the pundit program with a focus on tournaments and new player growth. Probably best to just end it and start with something new. Right now pundits are just a caste system of fans with access to a webstore. Set strict expectations with better support and rewards. Individual goals should be clear, measurable, and held accountable. Give them the tools and structure they need to succeed in delivering your brand to more players.

 

Ok I’m getting ranty again and I was trying to avoid that for the 10th time. Maybe all of this is terrible nonsense, but know it is from an individual with a 4.5 year relationship with the game. It’s just my own personal experiences, discussions, and data collection. I truly believe Guild Ball is, and can continue to be, a fantastic game. Steamforged is at a turning point and has the opportunity to forge its own future. Only time will tell if they, and we along with them, can pull it off.

Give Shark back Gut & String.

-Lon

 

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