I remember logging back in for the first time after a long break from the game and looking at the list of ongoing battles. What I saw was completely foreign compared to what I remembered. It seemed like everyone was at war with everyone! My timing seemed to be perfect as I came back just in time for another World War. I was excited to see my beloved game bursting from activity and looked forward to getting back into the action.
Unfortunately as I looked into other areas of the game I was met with a very different picture. Articles in the Top 5 were from a month ago instead of 2 days ago as before. Political discussions were scarce, no one seemed to care much about elections. Presidency seemed more of a burden which was being thrown around like hot potato between the 5-10 old players still active than a position people strived for. I could find no explanation anywhere as to why we were only at war with countries who were supposedly our allies. It was not until I read through weeks worth of international media and comments that I started to get a picture of what was happening.
The reasoning in support of Training Wars usually goes like this: TWs provide our strongest players with a large amount of gold income, which they will be able to convert into Energy Bars and damage when push comes to shove and save the sorry asses of the other 98% of the playerbase that doesn’t have the Strength or the time to farm BHs on a daily basis. While even the largest beneficiaries of this system agree that it has its downsides, it is considered to be a necessary evil whose necessity comes from the fact that other countries are doing the same. Then of course there’s others who have absolutely no intention of ever fighting for a larger community and only fall back on this reasoning to justify their own anti-social behavior and unending pursuit of individual “achievements” but I think these players are beyond saving.
Indeed, this surplus gold income for tanks would not be required were it not for other countries and their tanks also systematically farming on a massive scale. If there were no TWs, no country would have a competitive advantage from BH gold, but if one country runs TWs and others don’t, they immediately fall behind. If Country A farms 20k gold a week and opposing Country B also farms 20k gold a week, the net effect is zero as if there were no Training Wars in the first place.
It only takes a pop science level of game theory knowledge to recognize this situation as a typical example of the Prisoner’s Dilemma (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma). Countries are forced into joining the endless upkeep and continual expansion of Training Wars because if they didn’t other countries would gain an advantage over them and could threaten their sovereignty. This is despite the numerous negative side-effects that TWs have on the longevity of the game and its community. These negative effects are the main points I'd like to drive home in this article:
1. Enrichment of an Apolitical, Anti-social Ruling Class
BH hunting is an activity that requires little to no cooperation, communication and has no social aspect. It is an individualistic activity, which reduces this Massive Online Multiplayer game to what is practically a single-player experience that the large majority of the playerbase have no chance of participating in. TWs encourage and select for this behaviour by enriching and giving disproportionate military power to a class of players that do very little for the larger community (with a few rare exceptions of course). This class of players can then force their style of play onto the rest of the population of their respective countries using their inflated economic and military strength. Examples of this can be seen worldwide, be it in the form of military coups or buying elections.
Clickclickclick.com, the game which eRepublik is becoming a successor of has closed after 10 years. A bad omen?
2. Degeneration of the Military Module
Military policy is no longer guided by what makes sense economically (i.e. fighting for resources) as nothing beats the gold income from TWs. New players are forever confused as to why seemingly everyone is at war with everyone when in reality no one is. Instead of engaging, long-run military campaigns we have mindless back-and-forth attacks that require very little strategic thinking. The joy of fighting alongside fellow players in epic battles is exchanged for the ephemeral dopamine rush of another meaningless 2-3-4-5 gold.
3. Degeneration of the Political Module
The political module had historically been an area where players could make value-judgments on what’s important, what makes sense economically, socially and these ideas could clash. As the above-mentioned group converts their military and economic power into political power, this debate is decided and made mute. BH hunter turned political leaders no longer need worry about playing politics as their goal of continuous gold accumulation needs no consensus from the populace (see: threats of military coups, election fraud).
Leaders are also no longer required to reason and argue the validity of their military plans, as they don’t need any such plans. This further removes an important dimension from the Political Module that used to drive discussion and player engagement.
4. Degeneration of the Economic Module
Most of the problems that required thought in company management are removed with the abundance of TWs. Company placement is a non-issue with the lack of real military campaigns. Demand for goods is no longer driven by military maneuvers instead it is held constant with the number of TWs being relatively constant. Instead, economic decisions are made in large part solely based on external meta-game events (promotions ran by eRep Labs).
5. Alienation of New Players
As the game is stripped of most of the things that made it fun, newcomers are left wondering why they should play this primitive game and why anyone else does still. Usually new players are told to try sniping BHs with bazookas, or focus on their air rank but even there they quickly realise how far behind they are. This problem is of course exacerbated by Div 4 BH hunters/Low Div Hit Merchants taking 99% of low div BHs, further ensuring that new/small players lose hope and find no enjoyment in this game. All areas that new players could enjoy outside of fighting (see above) are dumbed down and made irrelevant. With minimal new player retention, the business model of eRep Labs further shifts towards exploiting the addiction of BH hunters for 10-20 Euros a month which hurts the game even more.
So how do we escape from this prisoner’s dilemma that is making our once beloved game into a lifeless, barren copy of the late clickclickclick.com? It is clear that TWs do much more harm than good, but no country is incentivized to stop them as that’d put them at a competitive disadvantage. For now I won’t offer a solution (that might come in a later article) instead ask you all to share your thoughts on this below. Maybe with our collective effort we will arrive at a solution but the first step of that process is starting a discussion.
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