The Economist ~ What next for eRepublik?

Day 4,000, 12:38 Published in Iran United Kingdom by Spite313
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Dear friends,

As we reach day 4000 in eRepublik, and another millenium passes, we should take the time to reflect on where we are as a community, and where we - the players and the game owners - will go next.

eRepublik was always a community game. But now, as populations shrink ever smaller, it has become ever more a battle between tight-knit groups rather than the sprawling melee it once was. Individual players- or really I should say accounts, since so many accounts are now farmed and owned collectively by countries- are ever more important to the scene. Whereas once battle channels on IRC had thousands, now having a handful of key players active and with the right passwords seems to be the key to every battle.

Most ‘ordinary’ players, and the admins too for that matter, must look on this and wonder what led to this, and what can be done to fix it going forward. Any prediction about what the game might look like on day 5000 (assuming it survives) must be rooted in both an understanding of the problems the game faces now, and also in the psychology of those who can change it- the admins.

Where we are now

The single largest factor in the game’s current state is population decline. Retention is extremely poor (below 1% last time I checked) and existing players move in and out of the game as they grow bored, or busy outside the game. There are several factors which play a part in the poor retention:
A steep learning curve
The impossibility of “catching up” with strength
The low impact of weaker players
The under-development of the modules low-strength players can participate in (politics + economy)

To give the admins their due, they have tried to tackle some of these issues. For example, the strength issue was managed by introducing air battles. There has been some work on the
economy module - at least in the last few years - with changes to resource rental and holding company introduction. Tutorials were promoted and supported by the Plato Foundation.

The problem is that these are patches on an already rusty and dilapidated old vessel. There’s a very famous old philosophical conundrum called Theseus’ Paradox. In it, a ship once owned by Theseus is moored in the harbour of Athens. As time goes by, repairs need to be made to the ship. Eventually, after a century, every part of the ship has required repair or replacement. The question is- if every part of the ship is replaced, is it still Theseus ship? Or simply an exact copy?

eRepublik is similar. Is this still the game that existed in 2008 during beta? Or, like Theseus’ ship, have all the parts now been replaced? In my opinion so much has now changed that ‘eRepublik’ in its current format is no longer the same game I started playing back in 2008. That’s not to say it’s a worse game- it is better in many respects. However the flavour of the game has changed.

One key part of this is due to the way the game has evolved. Unlike most games, eRepublik does not have an expiry date. There is no “final victory”. No servers that expire after a set period of time. Because the game is always live, there was no opportunity to try new ideas, tweak the formula, and then scrap everything and start again. This meant that all changes had to be made to a live server, and downtime was measured in hours. Testing was extremely limited.

The result of this is that the eRepublik base code is like frankenstein’s monster. Rather than carefully replacing parts of the original ship, parts have been haphazardly bolted on over the years, adding new features and ideas. Each developer used different code, and different principles of coding, to the point where nobody really understands how any of it works. In other words, it’s a mess.

To circle round and conclude this train of thought, the problem with the game as it stands now is that it doesn’t appeal to new players. The reason for this is that we have a game that should have an end date, but it doesn’t. To resolve this problem, the admins have constantly changed and updated the game. Each time a problem arose, they made a solution- which in turn created a new problem. Imagine you have an infestation of rats, so you release snakes. You have too many snakes, so you release mongooses. You have too many mongooses so you release… and it goes on. Each solution created another problem.

The future

The future of eRepublik, the next thousand days, could go one of two ways. Firstly, the admins could continue down the well-trodden path. It is understood that eRepublik is a legacy game in the studio. It was their first major product, gave the studio their name, and is nostalgic for some of the older people in the company. But it doesn’t bring in much money, it doesn’t really deliver anything, there’s no app based microtransactions and it’s very complicated for today’s market.

On this path, the admins would continue to patch over problems, and the community would continue to shrink. Would this mean the end of the game? Perhaps not. Firstly because running it is not expensive, and secondly because the last five years have shown the game has an extremely dedicated community which will stick through anything, and continue to spend money. So this is the safe path- a gradual wind down that ends at some indeterminate point in the future. Like Zeno’s paradox, a target that seems to shift slightly further away each time it is measured.

The second option is to be brave. To innovate. And to change the way the game works entirely. We have already recognised in this article that eRepublik as we know it no longer exists. It died a death of a thousand cuts, and what we have now is a different game with the same name. As we discussed already, the problem is that this game was not created out of whole cloth. And so it does not synergise. The parts don’t work together, and some modules do not work at all. It functions- but barely.

The solution then is to throw the old system directly in the trash and start again. I don’t mean just push delete and roll back the game to 2008. That would never work. What I mean is to take these next 1000 days- or a sizeable portion of them - and design a new game. Call it eRepublik 2.0, the v2 that never was. To take all the essential components of the original eRepublik that really drew people to the game- the community, the national rivalry, the real world simulation- and use the lessons learned in the last decade to do it properly. With that amount of play-testing, a second version of eRepublik could be amazing. It’s been tried a hundred times by copycats, now it’s time for the original studio to perfect the original model.

Draw up a storyboard. Every idea that has ever been thought of, formulated and tried. Work out what has done well, and what has failed, and how it would all fit together. Keep it simple- the biggest mistake eRepublik made was to overcomplexify. Don’t leave it open ended- all good things must come to an end, and endless progression just kills retention. Make it so that there’s a day when everything rolls over.

Some people will be saying “but I spent all this money, if my character is deleted I’ll quit”. Sure, I get your problem. But eRepublik is going to die down that path. And ultimately you paid for the experience, and in any new world you will do the same. If you’re spending, you’ll still be good. Plenty of games have this model and they succeed.

So a new, simple, cut back game, with the best ideas of the past and an end date. What more does a game need? Victory conditions. Make it so you can win- as a player, as a military unit, as a country, as an alliance. Think how popular competitions are- that just shows how much people crave final victory and an acknowledgement of success. Give it to them.

I’m not going to go into detail about how this would look- how can I predict a thousand days in advance. But if there is the will, and the bravery, the concept of eRepublik can be brought back. We can have something fantastic, and new, that captures all of the original brilliance that people remain nostalgic about to this day.


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