Zoning & Flagging in Albion
When we started to think about Albion Online for the first time, two things were pretty clear for us:
- PvP is playing an important role in the game
- At the same time we need to find mechanics to get beginners slowly into the world of PvP
It is not good game design if you get killed by a Griefer in the first 5 minutes of your game time. So one of the two major game mechanics we had in mind for Albion had been our zones.
When we started our first playtests we had two zones. A green zone (where no PvP is allowed and a red zone (where PvP is allowed in combination with Full Loot). A system which felt natural for me as a huge Dark Age of Camelot fan. However during the course of all our alpha tests we made some changes which were each time the result of the community feedback. The first thing we realized was that we wanted to add a penalty system for people killing other people.
So the first penalty system we had in place was one that became active after you attacked someone. However nowadays there are a few problems with (let me call it) a “post-attack-penalty”.
You have either of two problems:
- The penalty is not significant enough
- If it is too strong people are
- not fighting at all
- or creating alt accounts to circumvent the negative effects
We realised quickly that we are not living in 1998 anymore and people are way more efficient in circumventing certain mechanics than some 20 years ago. So we actually pretty quickly started to experiment with a “pre-attack-penalty” which in the end became today’s flagging system.
With a “post-attack-penalty” we would definitely have killed them quickly because … why not?
Short Explanation: In certain zones you can only attack other peoples if you flagged yourself BEFORE as a “villain/criminal”. The flagging takes almost a minute and you cannot move during that time. So it is possible but harder to abuse it.
So with this flagging system we can have different scenarios. For instance we can show in an area how many people are flagged as a criminal, so I can decide for myself if I want to go there or not. Or when you are in an area where there is no flagged criminal a few of them might enter and then you are aware of the situation and you can now decide to find a way out of that area or hope that they won’t find you.
Another penalty is that in our red zone we are showing when there are more than X players running closely together. A penalty for larger ganking groups making them less effective. We are of course offering a zone where we are not doing this and where we are also encouraging larger groups to fight each other.
A personal experience I had was that we were running with a group of 20 players on our way to a dungeon to fight some monsters and we met a 3 men group on our way. So of course we could have somehow followed them with a few people while the rest is secretly flagging somewhere but
- this would not have guaranteed the kill, maybe they still had escaped
- it was too much effort for just three normal kills
So we waved at each other and continued moving on to our dungeon. With a “post-attack-penalty” we would definitely have killed them quickly because … why not?
As I said above a post-attack-penalty is impossible to balance right and from our perspective we are getting way better results with the pre-attack-flagging system.
But coming back to our actual zones. After the addition of the flagging system we made some important addition to our zones: A new yellow zone where we removed the full loot part and replaced it with a durability loss of all your items.
Why did we do this?
Before it was totally black and white. On the one hand (green zone) you had no pvp at all but on the other hand, when entering a red zone, you were directly confronted with the full loot mechanic. Despite the flagging system it really felt like: “Ok, so here, there is no boxing allowed but once you step through this door, feel free to have a real fight with Lennox Lewis.”
There is a large group of people who are extreme hardcore PvP players and where we are happy that they are playing our game but there is an even larger group of players who are not so much into PvP because of various reasons.
And we want our game to be very good at motivating and preparing these people to also try out PvP. So we decided that the first step after the green zone is our current version of the yellow zone where the penalty is a durability loss only.
Trade routes evolve all over Albion as well as those groups of players who try to undermine them.
Having a significant death penalty is something we perceive as very important. And losing a lot of your durability is also something that has a significant impact on your situation. With Albion Online, we wanted to go back to the concept that death is really meaningful as a game element. From our perspective, it makes people think their actions through much more thoroughly and encourages players to plan their operations a lot more smartly and efficiently.
In that sense, it even opens up the door for extremely interesting economic events - e.g. it is a very common thing in our game that guilds are organizing their resource transports meticulously by hiring a small squadron of mercenaries who aim to protect the precious items loaded on the transport mounts. That way, real trade routes evolve all over Albion as well as those groups of players who try to undermine them.
All in all, we consider the zoning system certainly as one of the core elements of Albion Online as it allows to both fulfil the needs of hardcore PVP players and players not interested in PVP but also to transition new players into the world much more easily, thereby generating a base of players who end up enjoying PVP much more than they initially thought because they were gradually smoothed into it.