Going Deep – The State of Eternal
This article was originally published May 31, 2018.
Eternal, as a whole, is in an interesting place right now. I have been thinking about it a lot recently, as I think the particular combination of factors operating on the game is fairly complex. I have long been considering putting these thoughts to paper, and I figured now is probably the last chance, given that we are likely going to be hit with full-fledged spoiler season really soon. I have also just passed my 2-year Eternal-versary, so I’m in a slightly reflective mood, so why not take the opportunity to write a longwinded rant?
I started working on this piece before the most recent announcements from Dire Wolf Digital. The fact that all this news is coming now amplifies the importance of looking back at the state of the game.
I am going to do my best to be brief on each of these topics. I will be blunt, and sometimes critical of both DWD and the Eternal community. I know, 7000+ words is not exactly brief, but you can probably see that each of these topics could use its own article. The goal here is not to just slam or defend DWD, or chastise the community in some capacity. I want to have a constructive dialogue about where the game actually is, and in that context discuss where things could go from here.
While this conversation is worth having, I worry this article will trigger a wave of hateful and angry responses from the community. When I am writing this, I assume that everyone involved in the community is making decisions based on what they truly think is best for the game. Even people I disagree with on virtually everything. While I want to invite everyone to participate in this conversation (link to Reddit thread), please do not accuse others of being incompetent, self-interested, or “just sucking up”. We are all in this together, and want the game to be successful.
I have increasingly been seeing comment on either the Discord or the Reddit along the lines of “Eternal is dying”. The justifications on why this is vary, but some include drop in overall player numbers, drop in attendance at ETS events, or high profile streamers/players moving on to other things. Some people also point to some specific problems in the metagame as evidence of the game dying, but I don’t think those concerns are as serious. While there is a drop in player numbers, there have also been a number of important shifts happening from outside Eternal that could be seen as “threats”, such as Magic the Gathering Arena entering (pseudo) open beta, as well as the release of Artifact later this year. There are a lot of potential causes for this player decline that people point to, including staleness in the metagame, balance problems, issues with DWD communication, or lack of progress on subjects like tournament support. I want to talk through each of these issues separately, so let’s launch into things.
Decline in Player Numbers
First off, let’s talk about player numbers. When talking about a problem, it is important to first assess the scope of the problem. You can actually look up the player numbers for any game on steam through the “Steam charts” function. Here is a graph showing the average player count in Eternal for each month since open beta. The “May 2018” number was taken from the “last 30 days” on May 29th, so not quite accurate, but good enough. I should not that I have adjusted this to a scale with a minimum of 500 player average, to better see the changes.
Yes, there is a big decline at the end. I can see it. You can see it. I’m sure DWD can see it. This is a real drop, and I don’t want to pretend that there isn’t a drop. While this is certainly not a good thing, it is also easy to overstate the size of this drop.
First off, this is not the lowest Eternal usership has ever been. This time last year we had fewer players in the game than right now, and player numbers continued to fall in June 2017 even below that. Now, this might sound like I am trying to say “hey, things aren’t that bad!! Things have been worse, therefore everything is great!” Not exactly. If you look at the graph, we actually had our best numbers ever shortly after our worse numbers ever. What happened? Well, this is pretty obvious, but Omens of the Past was released. You even see another dip in usership a couple months later, which is again accompanied by another spike around December 2017. What happened there? I know this sounds patronizing, but there is a very clear cyclicality to player numbers. As of right now we have just passed 6 months since the last major expansion, which means we should expect player numbers to be low, given what we have seen in the past.
It should also be noted these numbers do not include mobile users. Mobile was only fully introduced last summer, so any numbers from that point forward are going to hide some of the total player numbers. I would still expect player number in both mobile and steam categories to follow a similar overall pattern once the mobile user numbers become established, but it is possible total Eternal usership now is actually much higher now than it was a year ago. Once again, I do expect that mobile usership has dropped in the past couple of months, and that loss is not a good thing, but I just wanted to point out a confounding factor to these numbers that is not captured here.
Finally, I also want to stress that this is not totally crazy to see in different games. If you look at the Steam charts for other big name titles like DOTA 2 or Team Fortress 2 there are clear times when the player base falls, only to come up again later on. One particular comparison I find interesting is PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUND (PUBG). Its current user levels are about half of what they were at their peak. Path of Exile is another useful example. If you look at its history, from March of 2017 to the following summer it looks like the game is dying. Player numbers were one third of their peak. In August 2017 they had their best month ever, and since then the game population has generally looked healthier than before March 2017. These cycles of player numbers seem pretty ubiquitous in almost any long-running game that I can find.
Once again, Eternal numbers are down, and that is not a good thing. I do not want to pretend otherwise. But every game with a long lifespan seems to go through these cycles. Success is also defined by the game studio. Dire Wolf Digital is not a Valve, EA, or Blizzard, and Eternal is not DOTA 2, Battlefield or even Hearthstone. They do not need to hold tens of thousands of simultaneous users just to keep the lights on. Imagine comparing McDonald’s to medium sized chain like Five Guys. If you measured the success of a company purely by daily burgers sold globally, Five Guys would look like a disaster compared to McDonald’s. If you understand the real world you can see that measuring Five Guys by the same standard as McDonald’s is insane. Five Guys can be a successful and profitable company, even if they are dwarfed by a much larger competitor.
So, to summarize this section
• Yes, player numbers are low right now. This is not a good thing.
• Player numbers are still better than this time last year.
• Fluctuations in player numbers are tied to set releases.
• Many successful games go through cycles of high/low usership.
• Success is defined by the size of the company.
This is all to say I don’t think decline in player numbers is an emergency. There are other aspects of the game that are worth discussing, but I see no evidence to suggest that usership is at a critical level. If player numbers didn’t improve with the release of set 4 I would be really concerned, but I don’t have any reason to believe that this would be an issue.
Old/Notable Players Leaving
The second most common reason I see people point to as evidence that Eternal is dying is the loss of old and/or notable players. This is a real phenomenon, but it is also easy to misunderstand.
First, old players always leave. As I said at the beginning, I have been playing Eternal for 2 years. This will be my 24th straight month making master. There were a lot of people very active in the game at the start who left even by the time open beta hit, and there were many players active in open beta that dropped out of the game by the time Omens of the Past hit. Some of them come back, and some of them don’t. People also always assume that everyone who steps away from Eternal is doing it just because there is something wrong with the game, but stuff happening outside the game is probably more important. Maybe they got a new job, got married, had a kid, or moved. Maybe their best friend who they played Eternal with got a job, got married, had a kid, or moved. There is a term known as “recency bias” or “availability bias” where things that happened more recently seem more important or more substantial. This is just a hardwired element of human cognition, and the only effective way to overcome this is real hard data, and we don’t have that. A well-known player leaving today seems way more relevant to us than players who left last year. Is there more leaving now? I’m not sure, but I don’t think there is reason to believe the rate of losing experienced players is so much faster that it is a disaster.
There is also nothing wrong with churn to give other players a chance to make a name for themselves. For ever “Clockroach Cast” that has fallen away, there is a “THE Eternal Podcast” to take its place. SirRhino and Unearthly were some of the first ETS studs, but now new players can take that place. There are some specific players from the earliest days that were positioned right at the center of the community and left, and things went on perfectly fine without them. Obviously there are lots of people where I would be happy to see them return, but it isn’t essential to the health of the game.
So, while there is a decline in player usership and some well-known players have become less active with the game, I don’t think either is a sign that we should panic. With all that being said, I do think there are issues that should be discussed. Let’s talk about Ranked.
Ranked – The Set 1 Problem
The current meta is really good. There is a range of viable decks, though it is not so wide that you can’t wrap you mid around it. Aggro is a little soft at the moment, but that is not the end of the world. Through most of the history of Eternal it has almost always been true that the fastest way to master was to just find the best Oni Ronin deck, so the fact that this isn’t the case at the moment is refreshing to me, though I hope they come back at some point in the future. By any metric, though, the format might be as healthy as it has ever been.
So why am I not excited to play?
Well, as I said, I have been playing this game for two years. In that time Sandstorm Titan has always been a competitive card. Oni Ronin has always been a playable card. Harsh Rule. Icaria. Wisdom of the Elders. Auric Runehammer. There is a really long list of cards that have been omnipresent since I started. Set 1 is really well designed, and has some of my favorite cards, but I have been playing with it now for so friggin’ long.
Not only have I been playing with set 1 for a long time, the set has also maintained a relatively high power level. Why is that? Is DWD just underpowering there later sets for some reason? Well, it is more complex than this. Chapin has mentioned in the past that set 1’s power level is a bit distorted in order to create the feeling of a “full format”. Stonescar aggro is probably the best example of this. In order for Stonescar Aggro to be a competitive deck in Set 1 it needed 75 cards worth of aggressive cards, right? That’s why they had Oni Ronin, Pyroknight, Instigator, Champion of Chaos, etc. Well, these cards didn’t go anywhere, so if DWD prints a better 1-drop to fit into the deck it is making a deck that is already competitive even better. Printing “Torch the Second” seems like a great way to break the meta in half. Given this base line, DWD would need to either really juice later sets, risking pushing the game into serious power creep, or hold back and accept that things would feel a little weird for a while. It seem like they chose the second option, which makes sense.
With that said, set 2 and 3 have been less powerful than they could be. I made a list of all the cards that have been changed since set 2 was released for constructed related reasons (not draft). I have groups them into “Set 1” and “Set 2+”, and shown whether it was a nerf or a buff.
This seems almost comical. Now, I should clarify, the approach DWD takes with nerfs and buffs is very different. Cards are only nerfed when they are causing real harm to the health of the metagame. Not just slightly overpowered, but actively damaging. Buffs on the other hand are not as serious. Every patch DWD seems to throw in a couple random buffs to non-competitive cards that might be interesting. Most of the cards best suited for this treatment that were in set 1 had already gotten that help by the time set 2 dropped. This explains why there are so many set 2+ cards that have been buffed. But that is only part of the picture. In the roughly 500 cards that have been released since set 1 there have been exactly 2 that were overpowered enough to get nerfed. In that same time there were 13 (I’m not counting Trailblazer) set 1 cards that needed to be nerfed, even after a year of balancing set 1.
The balance philosophy of releasing underpowered cards, then buffing them until they have an impact on competitive play is not exactly optimal for the health of the community. Lets take the pair of Shelterwing Rider and Nostrix. Both are good designs – as in the idea behind the card – but were a little underpowered when they were first released. Hooru enthusiasts saw those cards spoiled in set 2, got excited, crafted them, and then felt disappointed when they didn’t pan out. That feeling and response is real, and influences a player’s excitement about the game. Obviously it would be insane to balance the game where everyone got to play with every card they wanted to any time they wanted, but when all the cards are systematically underpowered then no one is satisfied. If people continue playing long enough to see these cards buffed they will clearly be happier, but that doesn’t undo the disappointment on their first encounter with the card.
This philosophy of balance is very well designed for a player like me, who has an expansive enough collection to play a wide range of decks, is not particularly attached to any one archetype, and has enough patience to wait for balance changes. This does not describe the average player. I also appreciate that erring on the side of “not too powerful” is probably easier, since an underpowered card won’t break a format. Still, there is really good evidence to suggests that Omens of the Past and Dusk Road were not as powerful as they could be, and that is a problem not just from a “game balance” perspective, but also diminishes the excitement about new releases. Even if there is some data inside DWD that somehow shows Omens of the Past and Dusk Road were exactly as powerful as they should be, the evidence that we see as the community from the outside looks like they were underpowered given the history of balance changes.
DWD has been starting to correct this. Dead Reckoning was really powerful, and probably had a bigger impact on ranked than any release we have had. I hope this continues. Still, when new set releases are consistently underwhelming in terms of their initial impact that can lead to frustration for the player base. When players evaluate the impact of set 2 they don’t really remember that Purify, Banish, Moment of Creation, Shelterwing Rider, Bartholo and Bloodletter all became impactful cards later. They just remember that when Omens was released the meta didn’t change much, and that was disappointing.
This may sound like I think the sky is falling, and that all the cards in set 2/3 were horribly underpowered. That is not what I am saying. In fact, I recently got into a public debate about whether Heart of the Vault or Slay was a more powerful card in the abstract. This was based on the idea that I think Heart and Slay are probably the two most powerful cards in the game (using certain metrics). These cards did not receive any buffs after they were printed. Still, major sets being slightly underpowered is the main “problem” I see with Eternal right now. While I still think the game would be better with Tavrod mildly nerfed, the time of his initial reign was the high point in Eternal’s player usage. Yes, I know there were other factors too (correlation does not equal causation), but he got people excited and involved in the game. When half the people love a card and half the people hate a card that is a lot better than when no one cares about a card. When rotation eventually comes this will solve many of these problems, but that is probably not going to come until the fall at the earliest. I have a lot of thoughts about rotation, which you can find on my podcast.
At the same time, the community should be a little less hyperbolic about these issues. If we accept that in the course of making a game sometimes a card ends up being a little better than DWD thought it was, and it might be annoying for a while, but if we never got an overpowered card then that probably means DWD is undershooting. Sometimes the cards we like playing are doing more harm for the game than good. There is nothing wrong with liking cards that are overpowered. In fact, there is nothing wrong with liking cards because they are overpowered. You should just be able to accept that sometimes you need to give up a beloved card for the greater good.
This is a weird topic, because the opinions are so mixed. Limited is also less important than constructed for the health of the game in my opinion. This is not to diminish players who love draft, but rather just to acknowledge that it is very difficult to play only draft in Eternal, while it is really easy to play on ranked in Eternal. If I had to guess, only 10-25% of Eternal players are primarily drafters. In some ways you could argue that low draft numbers might be a response to an unpopular format, but it is obviously hard to tell. Still, with all these conditions, let’s talk about limited.
Now, to be totally clear, I still like set 3 draft. I have liked it the entire time it has been available, though the balance changes have improved the draft environment substantially. Still, it isn’t perfect, and the way that I draft might make the draft experience much more enjoyable. I honestly just don’t play bad decks. I admit it. I resign something like 1-in-3 drafts. I don’t really have anything to “prove” with my drafting ability, so I would rather just draft again than force myself to eek out 1-or-2 wins. This is not something special to set 3 for me, I even did this playing Magic. Sometimes I would draft a train wreck, and rather than waste my time looking for my third color to cast my mediocre 4-drop I would just re-queue. I don’t think there is anything shameful in doing this, or that it is cheating in some capacity. I just don’t enjoy playing really bad limited decks. With that said, this probably colors my experience with set 3 draft. I can’t tell you if my rate of abandoning decks are higher or lower in Dusk Road draft compared to previous formats, but I do think bad set 3 decks are probably lower chance to win than bad decks in other formats. If you are forced into some low synergy Stonescar or Feln pile in Set 3 draft, you feel miserable playing against some smooth Rakano Gunslingers or Elysian Dinos deck. The games are embarrassing and miserable. This is probably a function of any high synergy format, and while it is nice to have high synergy draft formats sometimes, special effort needs to be made to make sure most players get access to synergistic decks. I also imagine this current format is horrible for anyone without experience drafting. I’m not really sure how much can be done about all of this, but this is a big picture question that I have in my mind.
There are some specific things that could use some recalibrating. For example, Set 3’s weird use of themes and signpost cards. “Unseen” as an archetype feels really underpowered in set 3 draft. I think I have seen the “curses matter” deck work like twice, and the “two-battle skills matter” deck once. One of the “rules of thumb” about limited is that the uncommon multifaction cards act as a “signpost” on what a given deck is about. If you listen to Limited Resources (MTG podcast that LSV is a host for) when they review the commons and uncommons of a set they actually review the multicolor uncommons first for this reason. These signpost cards are specifically important in high complexity formats. Set 3 is actually extremely complex, as it has different kinds of tribal synergies, some of the tribes care about relics, weapons and curses. This is in addition to the fact that you are still drafting set 1 and set 2 at the same time. In this kind of environment it is really essential for signposts to help steer drafters in the right direction.
In set 3 Skywalk Enforcer and Deepwood Ranger are total red herrings, as they are clearly pointing to very specific synergies. It may seem weird to rant about these particular cards so much, but lets look at Auric Record Keeper and Duskwalker. Neither Combrei nor Xenan are really “pushed” factions in set 3 draft, so the multifaction cards that they get are generic good cards with minimal synergy. I am not going to pick Record Keeper and say to myself “I guess I should build the entomb deck”. These signposts create expectations for the players, so when they are pointing in the wrong direction, the player feels cheated. I see there being two possibilities to explain this problem. Either:
a) DWD’s team did not consider these being main archetypes, but rather niche archetypes that came up occasionally. If that is the case, do not put these themes on the one multifaction uncommon of a given pairing, as this sends the wrong signal to players, especially in a high complexity format.
b) DWD’s team did think these would be competitive archetypes. If this is the case, they seriously need to re-evaluate their testing process, because these decks should have been taken seriously just looking at the available cards.
There are perhaps more important signs that DWD may not be spending sufficient resources playtesting limited. I want to be clear: I understand that balancing is really hard, and playtesting takes a lot of time, and DWD is a small company. Some people talk like balance is just some trivial task, where you can push numbers up and down freely. I understand that there is a complicated web of interrelated factors when balancing, where change in one spot can imbalance something else. I also know that balancing draft takes a lot of time, and you can’t just pick up good card designers off the street to fill in the needed man-hours. I really do get it. Being a game designer is extremely difficult work. But with that said, I would like to hear a reason for this:
In original set 3 draft Justice was way too good. Valkyrie Arcanist would probably rank top 5 uncommons in the set. Of the 16 Justice commons in Dusk road, 5 of them were nerfed (or 31%). Not only was Justice really good, this seemed pretty obvious. People were saying that Justice was insane on day 1, and they were right. I don’t really understand how this happens. Did the devs really think Justice was balanced? How did they come to that conclusion? Not only did it look insane from the initial impressions, but the data that came out afterwards must have agreed given how many of Justice’s cards were nerfed. I don’t pretend to know how decisions get made inside DWD, but I really hope the balance of Justice in set 3 draft caused some reflection within the building about their process, because something went wrong for the environment to be this imbalanced.
(Also, I am not counting Roosting Owl as a balance change. This card was clearly nerfed because Dusk Road Justice was so insane)
Scarlatch announced that we would be moving to draft packs moving forward. This is a really good idea, as it gives the dev team more tools for balancing the format. Let’s say that Valkyries is doing too well, while the Unseen deck is struggling. They can just swap a Valkyrie or Valkyrie-related common for an Unseen related common, and the format will hopefully shift. This also helps addresses the issue of slow turnover in Eternal’s draft environment. Campaigns are a great way to shake up the ranked environment without the need for a full set, but these obviously do nothing for draft, meaning we keep playing with the same cards for 6 months at a time. Now that we are using Draft Packs, it will be possible for DWD to scramble the contents of those packs after 3 months, and things could feel really different. None of that would solve the issues I pointed out above (misplaced sign posts and imbalance), so let’s hope that the proper steps have been taken in playtesting and development to fix some of these issues.
One of the most common criticisms that you see from the community about DWD relates to communication. Why don’t they communicate more? Why don’t they communicate in all the channels that I want in the way I want? Why aren’t more members of the design team more visable in the communications? To be everything out on front street, I am going to lay out my thoughts on the subject, then I am going to expand.
- DWD has made a lot of progress in the last few months
- Poor communication will not ruin the game, though good communication helps
- There is a lot that DWD could still do to further improve their communications
- The community has unrealistic expectations
Let’s start at the top. DWD’s communication, especially through Steam and Twitter, have improved a lot recently. Things like wallpapers, lore releases, and other posts on the Steam page are way more common than they have ever been in the past. Even things like “Chapters”, “Heroes” and promos are, in some ways, an extension of DWD’s communication strategy, and almost everyone has been really happy with these additions to the game. They have also been doing stuff like running fun contests through Twitter, and it seems to me that they have been liking posts from content creators more often over the last couple of months. There has been real improvement! It is important to highlight this, because if we are going to have an honest and meaningful conversation about what needs to happen in Eternal we should start by acknowledging the true state of affairs.
Also, we need to keep in mind how important communication actually is. Games can be successful and long lasting even with poor communication. Think back to 10-20 years ago: was communication from game companies with the established player base really that important in the success of a title? I know the world is very different now in terms of the ecosystem of gaming, but I just want to make the point that “good communication”, however it is defined, is not essential for games to be successful. Still, communication does matter. I am going to be referencing this video a lot in this section, and I strongly recommend you go and check it out. It is a Valve employee talking about how communication in Team Fortress 2 really shaped the long-term success of the title. He makes a pretty compelling point that changes in communication and the way updates were unrolled was a major factor for growing the game. So yes, communication matters, and can help the growth of a game if done well, but it is also not absolutely essential that communication is stellar.
So let’s talk about the places where DWD could improve. In the next couple sections I have a couple of specific points where DWD’s communication strategy has been specifically lacking, but I want to make some general comments first. In the video I linked above the speaker gives some interesting suggestions on how communications should be structured, and how they can maximize the growth of a title. Listening to this I know I had countless fun ideas on how DWD could implements some of these strategies in Eternal. I am not going to give a summary of the content, since it is fairly dense with a lot of subtly, but one major theme is the importance of the community in the communication. By finding ways to turn communication into a two-way street where the community gets to feel like they are really and important part of the game the quality of the communication can improve significantly. I am biased, but my favorite moments in DWD’s communication have been the Chapin AMA, as well as Scarlatch’s banter in the Discord. Well, aside from Chapin’s interview with me, but that was for different reasons. I know that not everyone is a fan of Scarlatch’s joking way of spoiling cards in Discord, but it gets people really passionate and involved. I would personally like to see more of this kind of genuine and personable interaction, especially broadened out to a wider range of venues. You can’t exactly replicate something that works on the medium of Discord onto the medium of Twitter or Reddit, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying. There are a lot of possibilities and opportunities, and DWD would do well to continue experimenting.
Finally, I wanted to point out some comments in that video that are useful for understanding DWD’s approach to communication for the community. The speaker highlights the importance of how over-communication can be an issue, distorting the natural flow of information within the community. He tells the story a bug fix that turns into a way bigger deal. By promising to fix “a bug”, that actually defines the object as “a bug”, which distorts the conversation about the object moving forward. What if this is not really a bug, or if the bug is much harder to fix than initially imagined given the game engine? Players will forever think this object is a bug, even if the developers decide it would be too difficult to remove it without breaking the game in some other way. The speaker also talks about the importance of not disrupting the natural flow of conversations within the community. DWD follows Reddit and Discord partly to get feedback from players about balance, and impressions on what the players want. If they interjected their own thoughts into the conversation every time that would totally distort the opinions of the players, and it would be impossible to get genuine feedback. Knowing the Eteranl community, I imagine that any comments by DWD developers would be dissected, analyzed, and referenced within an inch of its life. I know this is true because I would be the one doing it! This might be a scenario like letting kids have all the candy they want. It sounds like a really good idea, but the reality would be much worse than what you think. In fact, one of the particular problems related to Eternal’s communication involved the over-sharing of information rather than under-sharing.
Early on in the history of Eternal Scarlatch said Eternal would have some kind of competitive circuit. If memory serves, this comment was made something like a year and a half ago. While events are clearly sweet, they are not real tournaments in the way we envisioned given that initial promise. While this was extremely exciting at the time, this was probably a mistake. When you say “XYZ” is coming, you should set pretty clear expectations, otherwise people will fantasize their way into a wonderland where anything you can actually deliver will be disappointing. Some might think I am critical of the community for over-estimating what DWD could deliver, but I really put this one totally on DWD’s side. How did you think the community would react?
I would also specifically note that this loose, dangling promise of tournaments has had a slightly distorting effect on ETS. Putting in the effort to start up a community tournament series is a lot of work, probably way more than what most people realize. Building all of that, only to have DWD launch it’s own project right after would have been extremely frustrating. The ETS has obviously been a success despite this, but the point stands that this vague promise has had a real impact.
The amount of information we had about tournaments was essentially optimally bad. If we had no information, then no one would have gotten their hopes up, and when a real announcement came it would be super hype. If we had more information, like “We are planning a tournament series, but don’t expect anything material for at least 2 years” then expectations would be set at a modest level. As things stand right now there is a chance that anything DWD puts together would not meet the expectations of the community.
Don’t get me wrong – I am excited to see what happens with tournaments going forward. Also, like I said above in my write up on communication generally: bad communication on a specific subject like this is not going to make-or-break the success of the game. Still, the initial communications about tournament support were probably not very helpful to the game.
The second specific issue related to communication that is advertising. I’m going to be frank: I really have no idea what is going on here. Kripp’s brief stint as a sponsored player was clearly good for the game, and Kibler’s role as consultant/streamer has also been good, but outside of that, how has DWD actually promoted the game? Maybe I am missing something, but I really don't get it. During closed beta I always assumed there would be a marketing blitz around open beta. When that didn’t happen, I assumed that the blitz would wait until “release”, but that took much longer than any of us were expecting. Now that we are finally approaching full release, in conjunction with tournaments, I guess now is finally the time for a marketing blitz. If that doesn’t happen…. I guess DWD just decided not to advertise? We shall see.
The Big Picture/Moving Forward
Now is a really interesting moment for Eternal. Magic the Gathering Arena is still in closed beta, and while the initial reception (especially around the economy) has been lukewarm, the game is certainly not falling on its face. Hearthstone is going through a period of bad balance, with a series of major nerfs hitting very recently. Artifact, Valve’s upcoming digital card game, is aiming to be released by the end of the year, though it is still in a very exclusive closed beta. Right now is a really good moment for Eternal to push itself to the next level. If Set 4 releases at the same time as some well-made tournament mode that could exploit this fortunate little window to help grow the game. I say this not because DWD needs me to tell them where things stand in the field more broadly – they probably follow this more closely than I do. The next few months could be really exciting! There are a lot of reasons for optimism! There are issues with the game, but there has been real progress in many areas, and there are a lot of opportunities over the next couple months to correct some previous mistakes. What happens if Eternal does not make the most of these opportunities? Well, the game likely continues moseying along as the small community it is right now, until another opportunity comes up. While it is true that all things come to an end, I don’t think there is any reason to believe that the end of Eternal is immanent.
As I was working on edits for this article, we got news that DWD and Bethesda were parting ways on The Elder Scrolls: Legends project. While I wish them the best, I would bet this is ultimately a good thing for Eternal. It always seemed weird to me that DWD would be working on two games at once, which were ultimately competitors. WotC have successfully managed multiple card games simultaneously in the past, but in some ways it always seemed they were targeted at very different audiences. For DWD, things like marketing and allocating resources would always be a bit of a conflict. It is hard to tell exactly what will be happening inside DWD moving forward, but there is a reasonable chance that many of the employees working on TESL will move over to Eternal. This may give the development team enough man power to do the necessary playtesting and balance that is needed for the game.
DWD also announced that Eternal would be some new competitive support coming soon. It is unclear what this will be exactly, but there is no question that this is big new for Eternal. Obviously as someone affiliated with RNG Eternal I hope that whatever they have planned does not push out existing tournament organizers. Still, I am very excited about the possibilities, and I expect this is very good news for the game as a whole.
Before we finish, I want to make a quick comment about the dangers of group-think. Whenever you get a group of people together that think similarly about a subject they have the possibility to reinforce one another’s beliefs to the point that they lose focus of real life. In some ways, I think that narratives about Eternal’s player numbers or the issues of balance have been a product of group-think feedback loops. I am not trying to say that I am immune to some of the same problems – it is hard to avoid group-think! I have also been thinking about the most constructive ways to interact with these narratives once they develop, since a knee-jerk reaction where everyone who disagrees with me is wrong, stupid, and malicious is not helpful. There is research this this field that suggests that exposing people to evidence that contradicts their beliefs can actually reinforce their belief in the wrong thing. Maybe the solution is to just write 7000 words articles about all of my thoughts? (Kappa)
Thanks for joining me on this long-winded rant! As I said at the top, this has been on my mind for a while, so I am really happy to get this all off my chest. There are lots of possibilities moving forward, and while Eternal has certainly has some challenges ahead, there are very real reasons for optimism, and that is exciting. What do you guys think? Be sure to share your thoughts in the Reddit thread. This is a great conversation for everyone to be share their feelings, as this obviously involves all of us. Once again, I would remind you that everyone involved here really just wants the game to succeed. Just because DWD does things differently than you might like doesn’t mean they are trying to sabotage the game, and just because another member of the community prioritizes different things doesn’t mean they’re dumb. This is very much the kind of topic that people can get hot-and-bothered about, but that just emphasizes the importance of patience and kindness.