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Defiant's Growing Pains

Pirates of the Burning Sea General Articles - By Ernest Ross on February 23, 2009

Defiant's Growing Pains
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Back in November, after weeks of promising an ailing Australian playerbase that a solution for their problems was in the works and an announcement would be made "soon," FLS CEO "Rusty" Williams delivered a devlog in which he outlined Flying Lab's decision to discontinue their business relationship with BigPond.  BigPond, a subsidiary of Telstra (which is about as popular with Aussie gamers as Sony Online Entertainment seems to be with everyone else), had been Pirates of the Burning Sea's distributor Down Under and from the very beginning the majority of Australian players protested FLS's decision to work with "failstra," promising that no good could come of it.  They were right.

So what was the solution?  To dump BigPond and fire up a brand new server with a Port Battle schedule timed to cater to the Australian and late Pacific Time Zone players who had been expressing their own discontent ever since the PB Schedule system was put in place to prevent "night flips" (for those who don't know, this is the act of taking advantage of time zone differences by putting a port into contention while the bulk of the port owner's players were sleeping, generally carried out by European players on the North American servers and US players on the European servers, resulting in a port battle scheduled for a time when the defenders could not hope to field a full fleet).  Since the beginning, FLS has chosen not to impose geographic restrictions on their servers.  Among the reasons for this decision they have cited that many of today's MMO gamers are adults with jobs whose available playtime may not always coincide with the majority of their own time zone's players.  The new Aussie server would be called "Defiant" and would be handled through SOE like the rest of the servers.  FLS would also ramp up advertising in the Australian market to try and make up for the lack of advertising provided by BigPond.

On the surface, this sounds like a good decision.  FLS loses what's basically just another middle-man and gets back to just having two companies to deal with again (Sony Online Entertainment and Akella who distributes the Russian version of the game).  But problems quickly arose, some of which weren't entirely FLS's fault and some of which were.  In the weeks leading up to the launch of Defiant, there were threads on every server's sub-forum as players tried to get a feel for how many would moving to the new server for a fresh start and what nations they would be choosing.  Of course, there were those posting about how it was doomed to fail, but these were generally the same people who say that about everything so their trolling was mostly ignored by everybody.  Then the day came, the server launched, transfers were opened and moves were made.  That was when things began to go wrong.

The first big problem came in the form of player choices and more importantly FLS's inability to anticipate them.  As a few players from each existing server and one or two full societies moved to Defiant, all servers (especially Antigua and Blackbeard) saw a large influx of players moving in from Rackham and Invincible.  That's right - Invincible!  A LOT of the Australian players turned their nose up at their new server and chose instead to move to the two servers with the largest populations.  After suffering so long on an under-populated server with terrible to non-existent support from BigPond, many Aussies wanted to experience the game with a full server and who can blame them?  FLS should have seen that one coming.

The second big problem came when just days after they had begun, the system through which BigPond accounts were to be converted to SOE accounts and the characters transferred to the servers accessible via SOE's Station Launcher broke down.  Repeatedly.  Last week when Invincible was finally taken offline, there were still a few characters that had not been transferred out.  The reason(s) for these breakdowns in the transfer system have never been disclosed in detail.  A company that is usually very open with its customers via numerous communications platforms including their forum and their official IRC chat channel has been remarkably taciturn on this subject.  Of course, this leads to all manner of speculation as to just why that is.  Unfortunately, none of that speculation can do anything to change the rough start Defiant has gotten off to.

After this one-two punch to Defiant's breadbasket came one tough uppercut and this one everyone could see coming, but nobody could do anything about.  The few societies who had transferred en masse to the new server brought with them established economies and formidable fleets.  These players expected to face the creme of Australia's crop, but instead had few organized opponents.  But before they could even think to throttle back their assault they had already steamrolled their way across the first map and left what opposition there was reeling.  This causes frustration for the defeated AND the victorious even under the best of circumstances, and Defiant's circumstances weren't anywhere near the best.

In addition to being frustrated over what they perceived to be insurmountable odds, players on the new server were also frustrated by the fact that it hadn't attracted as many players as they were expecting.  Given that they'd all used their transfers to move to Defiant, they had no transfer credits available to leave.  New population complaints from players feeling trapped in a bad situation were as loud and fierce as similar complaints from players on Rackham not long before.  While many of these players just re-rolled to Antigua, Blackbeard or Roberts, though, some did unsubscribe.  Of course, having even less players did nothing for the health or stability of the struggling new server.  Those who decided to stick it out did their best to convince more players to come and try it out but they had all they could do to combat the players who had left the server in frustration and were now hi-jacking nearly every thread in which anyone so much as mentioned the word Defiant in an effort to chase off anybody who might even consider it.

This all played a part in the creation of FLS's new Population Incentives which give France and Spain increased experience and loot on all servers while all four nations on Defiant receive the bonuses.  With the new incentives it's easy to get from level 1 to level 50 in just a week (or a day, if you've got a friend or two to help) and that's slowly bringing in more players.  These players vary from trial accounts to people rolling an alt just for something else to do.  Now that the exodus has ended and the rage posts have largely quieted down, the small remaining community is doing well to keep itself entertained while trying not to drive everyone else out.  While there aren't as many red circles as you'll find on Antigua or Blackbeard, the circles Defiant does have are active more often than not during the server's prime time.  The veterans are generally quick to offer help to new players, as they are on all of the servers.

Will responsible conduct on the part of the players combined with the new population incentives be enough to nurse Defiant to full health?  It's too early to tell, but FLS definitely needs to pay close attention to Defiant, lest they have another Rackham on their hands.