My next planned blog in the Crafting Ideas series was already set to be Crafting Ideas: Increase Crew Skill Mission Durations and with so much recent discussion in the community about Treasure Hunting Lockboxes and the issues they may be causing in the game, I thought it would be a great way to set the stage for the broader topic of crew skill mission durations. If you missed my first post in the Crafting Ideas series, you should check out Crafting Ideas: Component Conversion and join the conversation.
Just to avoid confusion, it is undoubtedly a Terms of Service violation to use scripts, bots, or macros to run crew skill missions without manually clicking in game yourself. However, it is also true that the player community does not unanimously share BioWare’s aversion to all such automation, largely due to the prevalence of it in other MMO’s and the inclusion of easy-to-use technology for it in many gaming keyboards and mice.
Finally, in some of the recent community discussion around this topic there have been some players using the term “exploit” when describing the activity. You will not see me refer to it as such because I believe that it devalues the term to apply it incorrectly and that “exploit” is defined within the genre as players benefiting through abusing a weakness in the game code or manipulating the game code. As I will cover next, this is an issue based on intentional game design decisions that are not balanced, there is nothing being manipulated or used in a way it was not intended.
The Game Design
There were a number of game design choices that have led to the current state of concern surrounding Treasure Hunting Lockbox missions. While this Mission Skill in particular has garnered concern in the community, the underlying game design decision apply to the other Mission Skills as well. The first and most pervasive change has been the Influence system for companions and the impact that maximum Influence has on the companion in the crew skill system. There are two bonuses for companions that scale based on Influence level, Critical Rate and Time Efficiency. Each additional level of Influence increases Critical Rate by 0.5% and Time Efficiency by 1.5% reaching a maximum of 25% and 75% respectively at Influence 50 level.
The second game design choice, which was hailed universally when announced, was to include all available missions in the selection list for crew skills. Previously, a randomized set of approximately six missions would be available and if the mission you wanted to run was not included you would have to travel to another instance for a new randomized list until it appeared. Now, all of the missions for the selected grade are available and are always presented in a predetermined order based on the mission yield.
The third game design decision was the expected profit algorithm for missions, especially the Treasure Hunting Lockbox missions currently. After completing a very large sample size test, my data assigns an expected profit of 4,225 credits per Grade 9 Treasure Hunting Lockbox mission initiated with maximum Influence companions, inclusive of failures and critical rate. For an infinitely repeatable mission with a duration below 5 minutes, that is more than 100,000 credits per hour for the two Grade 9 missions in tandem. The game design decision is most important for mission return vendor prices because the GTN process and proceeds add a significant wrinkle in the equation compared to vendor prices. An item sold for a large profit on the GTN is a player-to-player credit transfer while the vendor proceeds are pure credit generation within the game economy.
Finally, the developers decided to significantly shorten the length of crew skill missions. Especially when compounded with the Time Efficiency bonus of high Influence companions, this design choice has resulted in valuable crew skill missions and crafting times well below 10 minutes. This design choice was also well received when announced, although some players expressed concerns that mission duration could become too quick.
The first solution often proposed in discussions surrounding the potential for credit sellers to run thousands of missions on hundreds of accounts constantly to generate credits is to enforce the Terms of Service by tracking and punishing anyone that is clearly using scripts, bots, or macros. However, that is a very difficult proposition because legitimate player activity would almost certainly be caught in the net and that is always problematic. I propose that the true solutions rely on refining the game design decisions involved to provide a balanced economic framework that provides incentives for behavior that a more appropriate.
The Time Efficiency scale within the Influence system should be scaled back to 1.0% additional reduction in mission times for every Influence level. If this is undesirable, the other solutions could be scaled accordingly, but it seems a reasonable adjustment to a bonus that seems too significant in the crew skill system. The related solution is to revisit the base duration of crew skill missions across the board. It would be completely appropriate for a minimum Influence companion to require 60 minutes to complete a Grade 9 crew skill mission. Depending on the Time Efficiency solution, a maximum Influence companion would complete the same mission in as little as 15 minutes in the current system or 30 minutes in my proposed reduction. In my opinion, it is impossible to balance the crew skill system as long as Grade 9 missions can be completed in less than 5 minutes by maximum Influence companions so any solution must include extending the duration of the missions. My next blog will expand on the topic of mission duration.
The expected profit algorithm for Treasure Hunting Lockboxes must be adjusted. If the duration solution is implemented, the lockboxes can maintain some profitability and find balance, but the expected profit is simply too high in the current design. The simplest solution would be to remove the credits received when opening a lockbox, leaving only the item contents. My research suggests that roughly 2,000 to 2,500 credits, of the 4,225 credits average profit, are derived from the raw credits in each lockbox. It would seem that the gear in the lockbox is the intended benefit of the missions, as a way to obtain gear in the 190-208 item rating range via crew skills. If so, the credits are creating imbalance without any apparent design benefit and seem easier to correct than the vendor price of the gear in the lockbox.
The benefits of the full list of available missions far outweigh its contribution to the imbalance in my opinion. A sophisticated script, bot, or macro can use screen scraping technology to find the target mission regardless, so let players benefit from this quality of life change and resolve the issues through solutions via mission duration and expected profit.
There is undoubtedly an issue that needs to be addressed here, but I hope that BioWare Austin sees the value in addressing the imbalanced incentive structure in the current game design instead of spending valuable resources trying to track and punish players that use scripts, bots, or macros to get the most out of the design. While the activities violate the Terms of Service, it is a losing battle to fight the industry trends on the matter when almost every other MMO has decided to adjust for the reality rather than ban the actions outright. As long as every gaming mouse and keyboard comes with easy-to-use macro functionalities, game design decisions must simply be made with an assumption that scripts, bots, and macros will push the in-game economy to the fullest realization of the designed mechanic.
As always, thanks for reading and I look forward to returning to the Crafting Ideas series in the days to come!
Andrew | SWTOR Economics