Istaria: The grind, the economy, and me - feedback and suggestions

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Disclaimer - I work as a product designer and product manager in my real, day to day life. You would recognize the companies I would list in my CV and there are game companies in that mix.

Now that isn't to say I'm always right, or even that *I* am objectively "right" here, now, in this. The information is the information, neutral and accepted by the industry itself as reflected in the articles of those established in it. One will either consider it or not and I'm wise enough to realize
this and be ok with it.

I intend is present a (relatively) impartial set of information that, while extremely unpopular with some of the more vocal members of this community, remains credible, valid, factual, and should, I think, be consideredby Virtrium.

I'm not saying "these are the only considerations of import".
I'm not informed enough about Virtrium's inner considerations and workings to make such a statement.

What I am saying is that there's no need to argue about what's happening in the industry. It's extraordinarily self-evident. If there's to be a debate, it should be over what is best for Virtrium in today's market. And frankly, that's not a debate any of "us" (players) can engage without some degree of bias. That's why I'm spending this much time writing all this
disclaimer... and, where available, I'm linking concepts and statements to publicly available research and papers, industry articles, and definitions.

So yes, I am biased, but I am choosing
to work at not allowing that bias to impact what I know professionally. How well will I succeed? Only time will tell.


As some may know, I'm a recently returned player. I've been away since shortly after launch (about the time that the original company was imploding). I've been back for about a month and change; the more I play, the more I realize that there is very, very little that is keeping this game from being in a position to be extremely popular:

1. The craft and level 'grind' are more noticeable than is currently popular in today's game marketplace.

I'll start this section by saying that in so far as overall design balance is concerned, Istaria has one of the best designed and holistically integrated mechanics/systems I've encountered.

That said, the skeleton lacks flesh in many ways; mechanics are too visible and thus, become annoying/frustrating over time because the destination/goal is achieved over a terrain of highly visible, highly repetitive content.

"Let's see... I can either slog more
materials or go play a game that doesn't make me dig in the dirt for three weeks just to see progress."

I could say a LOT here, but instead, will link to the GDC presentation that gives a solid example of how design often overlooks tedium and, of course, how to think about design in a way to minimizes/eliminates this (or at least hides it behind compelling content/interesting mechanics): Through the Grinder: Refining Diablo III's Game Systems (

The tedium of this 'grind' has no market-understandable purpose other than, quite literally, ensuring you spend time (and must do so), which, by industry history, ensures players have a 'vested interest' in paying a monthly subscription.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is becoming (and will continue to become more visibly) a dwindling model of diminishing returns because, frankly, companies have discovered they can make more by indulging consumerism in gaming:

"Here’s how I think of it: Players will tend to make the choices that lead most directly and surely to victory. If you set up a goal that players care about, you should expect them to try to reach it as efficiently as possible. If the most efficient way to win (i.e. optimal play) is a pain in the ******, then you’re asking players to accept a worse experience in exchange for victory, and that’s a crappy way to treat your players. (There are lots of caveats that I could make here, but let’s stick with this simplistic version of the concept for now.)
The Burden of Optimal Play suggests a guideline for game designers: if you want the player to have fun, then the most effective path to victory should also be the most fun. Playing well should never result in a worse experience." - Edward McNeill

Issue 1:
Currently, the grind is mind-numbing. The town marshall and trophy hunter quests are great, but it's entirely too easy to figure out that this mechanic/method for advancement is "just repeated" everywhere... making it feel/play as if there wasn't a lot of thought given to making the process of playing more than bouncing from town to town and grinding out collection quests, dailies, etc. (Ability and spell quests from trainers suffer from this same tedium and repetitive style.)

Issue 2: Scarcity of mobs is frustrating, particularly given the scale/size of the world and the intentional (??) scarcity of mobs in each hunting area. Intended "rare/epic" drops aside, I spent DAYS looking for specific golems (Not THOSE kind, but the OTHERS, who, it seems, are staying home today.”) just to get the 20 that was asked of me for one round of “musical town marshals and trophy hunters”. That should simply never happen.


- Consider breaking out town marshal and trophy hunter quests; place NPCs "in the field" to be encountered on exploration. Vary rewards and add in RNG chance for better rewards on various themes that reward players for non-adherence to statistical averages (e.g. "You return so quickly! I am going to reward you more/better for that", "Your reputation precedes you! I have a special quest for you...", etc).

- Consider adding more lootable quest/triggers; surprising players with a quest opportunity in the field is a Good Thing.

- Consider making rare or even unique quests that award status/title as well as loot/experience; exclusivity should be as much about "luck" as anything else. (Make these rewards trade-able for player economy!)

- Consider increasing spawn rates when it's clear that content is being exhausted in a given area. For example:
WHEN [MobName].count within X radius of [player] is !>= Y
THEN trigger [MobName] spawn of Z% of nodes within X radius of [player]

(Yes, I know that's complex as hell when considered on a game-wide level. It's a thinking point, an example of concept.)

2. The monthly subscription is unattractive for Istaria due to the legacy engine, graphics, animation quality, SFX quality, and the effects of economic accessibility in an underpopulated world.

I'm a little over a month into my return and I'm already considering whether or not I should renew. Why? I'm glad you asked:

Issue 1: There are SO many open plots and lairs in this world standing vacant and I cannot HOPE to afford any of them for some time to come because I'm scrounging mats and hoard and improving my gear... I've yet to have more than 250 silver in my possession and have yet to find a single open plot/lair available I can afford... it's just out of my range.

Mind you, I may simply be missing information/clues on “how to get there”, but that just makes my point – this stuff should be MUCH more visible, regardless how you may choose to make it so.

Issue 2: Economy is largely dead; consigners rarely have something I need or can use and everything is inflated in price, from resources to gear, spells, etc.

Issue 3: Basic formula, techniques, etc are priced out of my reach on the vendor, resulting in annoyance and frustration. I like to be self-sufficient and I don't mind that it takes me longer. That said, "longer" shouldn't mean "level capped". I’m struggling just to get all my tier IV techniques; while I intellectually see that 29s “isn’t that much”, it definitely is when I’ve never had more than 250s in my life-to-date.

Issue 4: I only recently "discovered" that we are intended to sell looted items for cash (and I had to ask someone to learn that). As a dragon, this is particularly abhorrent as this means I'm in a position of having to give hoardables over just to "get by". Clearly, in a bigger population, this would be offset by player economy.... but that's not where the game is at present... this should be adjusted in the interim, however short/long that may be.
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