BTA Developer Blog 6: The Salvage Question

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BTA Developer Blog #6: The Salvage Question

So, in BTA's 13.2 patch, we made a change that I believe has been heavily misunderstood. We changed max salvage on missions to top out around 4/19 or so. The community has reacted with a fair bit of panic about this change and so I felt the need to explain a little further why we did it and why this isn't the end of the world so that folks can relax a little and perceive our reasoning.

To be clear out of the gate, this was not a nerf. Nerfs are actions taken to specifically punish a play style or stop something from happening and that's not why this action was taken. We had no direct issue with salvaging stuff, salvaging stuff is fine and good and fun and we like it. This was a gameplay focused decision, taken to encourage a certain gameplay loop. It is also part 1 of a multi-part effort and has multiple aspects to it. But I want to be extraordinarily clear: when we made this choice it was not to punish anyone or any play style, it was not done to hit the players with a stick and say "Bad Players! Bad Players!" Some folks have implied or believed as much and that view is just flat out wrong, this was not a punishment move.

I can hear you asking now though, "Ok BD, then what the fuck did you do it for?" and the answer there is multi-stage. The first, basic, answer is to increase c-bill equity. The BTA Team identified that c-bills vs salvage is absurdly lopsided in terms of gameplay choices, to the point that the community wisdom is to never take c-bills. This is bad design. If a choice may as well not be there, then why is it there? Increasing c-bill equity is important and something we want to encourage. This is the weakest part of the reasoning behind changing the max salvage but is the easiest one to see immediately. There is a change coming in the next few days that will further act on this point, with an estimated 50% c-bill boost to all contract payments across the board, including special contracts such as flashpoints, with no drawbacks or tricks whatsoever. This should further help to equalize perceived c-bill vs salvage value and is one of those "multi-part efforts" I mentioned earlier.

The next part of the answer is the much more important but much more obscure answer and, simply put, is that this salvage change was done to extend a specific period of BTA gameplay. BTA careers can be broken into about three parts: the scrappy early-game when you've got nothing to work with and your pilots are bad and you're struggling to survive, the rich and interesting middle-game when you've stabilized and are starting to define the career's trajectory, and the snowballed late-game when you're an unstoppable juggernaut of destruction with maxed out everything. It's the BTA Team's general belief that BTA is at its very best in the first two phases, with a lot of the best gameplay coming in the middle-game where you have some power (unlike early-game when you're just flailing for any lifeline) but still have some restrictions due to lacking perfect builds like in late-game snowball. The salvage change was made to extend the middle-game, the phase we believe is the best phase of BTA.

We had this discussion a while ago about where the best time in BTA was had and how we could extend that period so that players could experience more of it. The core problem is that BTA, like many games of this type, is by definition a snowball game and that can't really be stopped. Success means that you acquire more parts and mechs and tools which means that you inevitably snowball really really hard and become the unstoppable juggernaut of death I mentioned earlier. The key metric to how you do the snowball is salvage, which is the objectively best source of material to encourage the snowball. Further, salvage shares go up as missions become harder. On the face of it, that's logical: harder missions bring bigger rewards. But it also accelerates the snowball meaning you skip through the middle-game faster to get to the broken as hell end-game.

In order to extend the middle-game, we looked at two options: shorten the early-game or slow down the end-game. The early-game is dangerous but also deeply deeply rewarding as you survive and gain that stability that leads into the middle-game. We didn't want to shorten that experience because it too was identified as being really enjoyable and rewarding to push through. On the flip side, since we can't stop the end-game snowball, slowing it down doesn't actually change anything beyond making you get there slower. You'll still always get there if you succeed, it's the nature of the design, that cannot be stopped, only delayed. The choice seemed clear: make a change to slow down the end-game and thereby extend the middle-game some. The choice we landed on is, I hope, obvious now: reduce salvage numbers.

By reducing salvage numbers we can keep players in that enjoyable "choices still matter" period of the middle-game. Less access to everything a player wants when they want it is intentional. I've seen people saying "oh, you need to super upgrade the shops" and, uh, no, I don't. That defeats the point. The point is to extend the period where you don't have all your tools because the very act of having all the tools defeats the entire point of having a middle-game because that's the definition of the end-game snowball period. Think about it critically: you've lost literally no access to anything. At the absolute worst case scenario, a mission that offered you 7 picks offers you 4 now. That's three less items. That's it. It's not that the items became rarer, it's not that the items aren't there, it's that you now need to make choices about what you value more often. That extends the middle-game where choices are important without removing the end-game because you'll get there anyway, just 1-3 less picks at a time. Nothing changed, it just ratcheted down the acceleration a little.

I know there are going to be voices that say "but BD, I like the snowball". You know what? I do too. It's fun to be super powerful. And guess what? I didn't take that away from you, I just made it come a little later. It means you get to enjoy your career longer, it means your success will feel more earned because it took a little longer and little more tactical choices on your part to get there. Each piece of that snowball feels better because you chose it over something else. This choice wasn't made for no reason, it was made to encourage a longer, more contemplative, more "choices matter" style of gameplay. It wasn't a punishment of the snowball, it was a mild delay to encourage another period of a BTA career.

At the end of the day, BTA is a modpack with a vision and a clear design goal. Total "do it your way" freedom leads to uniform blandness (see: Ubisoft sandboxes). I as a designer believe firmly in a focused experience with intentional goals and that's the spirit this change was made in. I talked with the team, we decided that this was the period of BTA's gameplay we want to encourage most, and that's what we did. We didn't take away the early-game struggle for those players who love it and we didn't take away the late-game snowball for those players that love it, that's all still here. When you comment, and I expect there will be comments, keep in mind that we did this to encourage something, not punish something else.