MythicFox (mythicfox) wrote,

The end of my time with L5R

Okay, so some folks noticed the thing I tweeted the other day about my L5R cards. I'm not going to make a huge thing about it, but given the time and energy I've spent talking about the game online over the years, I feel like I should do more than just leave it at a semi-vague tweet.

Though after writing the rest of it, I'm now going back and apologizing for what's practically a manifesto. So, y'know, normal Chris wall of text incoming.

So to get the obvious out of the way: Yeah, I quit L5R a while back. Really, about a year and a half ago now. I'd been losing interest before that, but it was in late 2013 I decided I was out for a while. I at least hung around the fringes of the community, seeing roughly what was going on and whether it'd be worth getting back into it, but a while back I just realized my time with the game has passed. The picture is the backseat full of stuff I've been packing up over the last couple of weeks to give to a friend of mine who is still interested in the game. I just finally got around to getting rid of it, and took that picture before driving it over to said friend's house.

So why did I quit? Well, if anyone's honestly curious, it's a combination of factors.

  1. Frustration of a couple of years of trying to build a local playgroup and literally having pretty much nothing to show for it aside from one friend whom I taught the game early on before I started trying to build said playgroup. (For the sake of discretion and honesty, I'm leading with this one.)
  2. An absolute loss of faith in the game's Design Team to produce a balanced environment. I've seen them make some of the same ridiculous mistakes over and over again, each time saying "Yeah, but this time we know what we're doing." Which wouldn't be as much of a problem, except...
  3. ...over the years, the playerbase has become less friendly to casual or story-oriented players, and have put a lot of time and energy punishing players loyal to whatever clan was given an unintentional boost by the Design Team. Not necessarily because of the actions of those clan-loyal players, but more because of the mercenary players who insist on playing whatever wins so they can get their own private in-jokes canonized as easter eggs in the setting, or just see how far they can push the story writers with intentionally ridiculous choices. In the process, a lot of the less vicious/cutthroat players have been slowly churned out of the game by problematic rules changes, design decisions, and the more obnoxious players. Which means the percentage of the playerbase that built up so much of the game's reputation as providing a friendly and welcoming atmosphere has dropped like a frigging stone.
  4. Going back to the lack of faith in the Design Team, every major arc (two years), they've gone back and tweaked and adjusted various rules trying to help balance somethings and make aspects of the game easier for new players. And every time, it's been "We shouldn't have to do this again, we've got it sorted." Every time. And now, with the beginning of the most recent edition, they changed a lot of stuff for what are obstensibly attempts to streamline the game. The end result winds up being stuff like removing a lot of game mechanics and replacing them with completely different keywords. Coming to the conclusion that "players are confused by having multiple Stronghold options" and so replacing multiple Strongholds with a single Stronghold -- which is then modified by a broad variety of cards. Taking the longer two-year, six-set arcs and putting a divider in the middle so it more functions in three-set blocks of legality[0]. And a lot of it is deliberately designed with making the game more appealing to Magic: The Gathering players, which isn't inherently bad but if I wanted to play Magic I'd be playing it already.
  5. The increase in Kotei[1] events centered around letting players actively screw over other clans, killing off their characters or taking away artifacts and the like. Not that I mind bad things happening to the clans, but these sorts of tournaments are actually pretty crappy at representing in-character conflict and just encourage players to develop or indulge in out of character grudges against other players. I don't mind it if a tournament helps represent bad blood between the Mantis and Phoenix clans, but when you have someone just trying to stick it to a particular Mantis player because of a personal dislike or to punish the Mantis clan for getting a powerful card, well, I just don't think that's what having an 'interactive storyline' should be about.[2] Again, I'm not averse to bad things happening to clans or characters in story -- I take issue with players getting to inflict laser-guided punishments on other players' achievements. Also, stuff like having Koteis where getting to the elimination rounds without winning the entire event can punish your clan -- if you're the sort of player who could conceivably reach those rounds but isn't sure he can win, that's not really incentive to attend.
  6. Alderac, the company that produces the game, has been replacing brand managers for L5R at an alarming rate. Literally something like 5 or 6 in the last decade. (by the way, the lead designer's been in his position for the last 8 years, and there's no sign whatsoever that his job has ever been in danger) That combined with dropping tournament attendance makes me think that the game is losing steam and that spending money and energy on it might not be a worthwhile long-term investment.

(while I could make some arguments about the quality of the story over time, it's so hard to lay the blame for that on any one or two sources and this is gone on long enough so if anyone's curious on my thoughts regarding that it should probably be its own post)

And just for the record, I'm not saying the game objectively sucks now or anything like that. I am saying, though, that my satisfaction with it and ability to enjoy it have dropped below the threshold at which I want to spend time and money on it. And if it ever does come back above that threshold, I'll probably want a fresh start anyways and I'm sure the friend I left my cards with would help me dig out old copies of stuff that's legal now.

There's been a lot of argument that the game needs a reboot, possibly as an ECG[3] because these days things like booster packs are becoming a harder and harder sell to new players even though a few games are making it work. Sort of like how WoW can make $15-per-month subscriptions work because of momentum, but new MMOs are having a harder and harder time convincing players to commit to it. While I don't know if I'd necessarily get back into the game, I'd almost certainly at least buy the base set to show my support. I'd be even more eager about doing so if they found a way to do a story reboot, either by massive time jump or whatever.

But for now, I'm out. I'm done. I sincerely hope that anyone else currently enjoying the game continues to do so. Part of me hopes that maybe some day I can come back.

Anyhow, thanks for letting me get that off my chest, and cap off a big part of my gaming history. (I mean, hell, I came kinda close to working for this company at one point.)

[0]-- Which in theory, two of those blocks should be legal at any one time, but they don't have to be. But in the end, it makes things harder if you don't have the resources to build and maintain multiple formats of decks just in case.
[1]-- The Koteis are regional tournaments, held every year around the world (and they're starting to do two sequences of them a year now to keep players interested year-round) which influence the story. They tend to break down a larger plot into smaller bits for these -- like each tournament will represent a battle at a single location as part of an ongoing conflict, for example. Winners and sometimes other players make story decisions, and winners get invites to the national and world championships. And, often, finals are settled by one player conceding to another in exchange for influence on the story prize or because the winner already won a few and just wants to let the other guy have it.
[2]-- One of the catalysts for my wanting to get out of the game was a Kotei season where each player was representing a particular character. The finals of each tournament represented an actual conflict between those two characters as part of a series of larger events and whomever won would have the choice to spare the loser, capture the loser, or kill the loser. Because of the Design Team's bad choices, the Mantis players were given some broken cards to play with. Other people punished those players by playing that Mantis deck up to the finals, choosing characters they knew Mantis players had an emotional investment in because of an online RPG event a few months prior, and then offering to concede the finals if their opponent killed the character they represented. I admit, I was a Mantis player and I was part of that RPG event, so I felt a little more personally slighted than if I'd played for another clan. But it's still shitty to go out of your way to get someone else's personal character killed because the Design Team fucked up their job. And the Story Team let it happen, while other characters got reprieves for dumb reasons.
[3]-- Expandable Card Game, which is a not-trademarked version of the Living Card Game concept pioneered by Fantasy Flight Games.
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