Beware, this text is going to be extremely long and I honestly don't expect many player to take the time reading through all of it ( or maybe I do and I simply try to use reverse psychology on you, who knows).
Anyway, over the course of the last weeks and months I tried to come up with solutions that tackle a lot of problems the game currently has, both on the reward ladder and on the forums. I should note that those are things that I personally consider to be problematic, which doesn't necessary reflect the opinion of the entire user-base, yet it is safe to say that a lot of those things are mutual annoying.
I also don't believe for a second that anything is going to change, or that any of us really has the power to change the course of this game, yet I still want to get this off my chest, because eventually I'll leave this game for good and when the day comes, at least I can look back at posts like this and say “I did all I could”.
But enough pathos for now, lets dive right in.
Remove the current reward ladder and replace it with a monthly versus ladder
We start with the biggest issue the game is currently facing. If you like it or not, the reward ladder, as good as the intentions initially were, has slowly but steadily corrupted the whole game.
In a world were points matter more than exciting games and were racing to the top feels more like a tedious grind, than an enjoyable experience, something is clearly wrong.
If you take a look at the forums, you'll see complains about donk decks, gents and the over usage of “uncreative” top tier decks. While I personally will always defend meta decks and competitive play, I can understand that players are repelled by this environment. Add in difficulties to complete your challenges and other annoying factors and you arrive at a state of the game, that simply doesn't feel right.
Onwards to the solution ( please read the entire thing before starting your rage filled comments )
Instead of the current reward ladder, you implement a monthly ladder that initially doesn't even display the prizes. Instead we get a 3 layers system: Pokemon League, Top 4 and Pokemon Champions.
In the Pokemon League, you have to collect 8 gym badges. Prior to each badge are 3 stars ( representing the small fries you have to defeat, before you can battle the arena boss).
For every win you get a star and defeating opponents who had the advantage over you will even give you two stars. After 3 wins ( or collecting 3 stars) your next match will be an arena boss match ( you can even have a small animation “boss match!” before the start of the game).
Winning those games will reward you with the corresponding badge and also work as a save point for your progress. Why save point ? Because every time you lose a game, you'll also lose a star!
Alright, before you grab your pitchforks and try to chase me out of town, let me explain:
Losing a match doesn't feel good. We all know those long battles, that come down to the wire and we just needed one more turn, but unfortunately our opponent was faster. So, we spend all that time, gain little to no reward and even lose a star on the ladder ? What a bummer.
However, here's the catch: that's how life works, in fact that's how every other game out there with a ladder system works. You win the game, you get points, you lose the game, you lose points.
The current systems biggest flaw is the lack of punishment for running super risky decks, a donk deck or being a straight out gent. If we want to go back to a game where everyone is keen on actually playing the Pokemon TCG, we have to implement a way that stops players from carelessly throwing away games.
Yes, if your winrate isn't 100%, you'll go back and forth between the stars, until you eventually clear the gym leader, but don't tell me that something like that, finally achieving victory over many failures, doesn't sound much more rewarding than mindlessly grinding until you reached a certain number of points.
With the gym leader battles, you furthermore have a much better narrative for your games. Suddenly you don't just play any ordinary game against another player, but rather fight for your badge and the corresponding save point. This can also work both ways, because the opponent ( who's representing the gym leader) could get a small visual indicator as well, which also helps with the narrative on his side of the field.
Once you cleared all of the 8 badges ( that's 32 straight wins btw) , you move onto the 2nd stage, the Top 4. Same procedure as with the last stage, however this time you'll have to take 6 stars before each member of the top 4 and you only get a save point in the middle ( after defeating the 2nd member).
Arguably not everyone will reach this stage, hence we'll have to reconstruct the prizes a little ***** more on that later).
After clearing the top 4, you reach the final state: Pokemon Champions. At this stage the best players duke it out on the leader boards, to find out who's the best amongst them. This portion is reserved for the top 1% and in terms of prizes you are only looking and visual items ( deckboxes, sleeves and coins), alongside fame and exposure of course.
Exposure isn't something to underestimate by the way, because many of the great Pokemon TCG players also play online, but you'll hardly see them on the current “leader boards”; because they are mainly for people who grind 24/7.
Just imagine the Pokemon Champions leader board and the race to the top spots and the end of each months. Suddenly who have Ryan Sabelhaus, Chris Fulop and Jason Klaczynski, playing alongside online veterans and newcomers alike, don't tell me that doesn't sound cool.
Let's go even one step further and say that the top ranks earn points for real life TCG events ( be it the invitation to Worlds, Nationals, etc.). Suddenly you'll not only get more players to participate, but you also give players the opportunity to show their skills, who don't have a local scene near them. ( Yeah, I know the different age divisions could be difficult to handle, but I'm sure there is an way solution for that as well).
Let's move on to the prizes.
As I said earlier, I think the initial idea of the reward ladder was great. Giving beginners access to strong Pokemon and staple trainer cards, alongside packs, tickets and coins is great and we should definitely keep this trend going. As mentioned earlier, the majority of the prizes should be obtainable by completing the 8 badges ( let's say this is equal to 1000-1300 points on the current ladder). Since we're looking at a monthly interval, we should also increase the prizes a bit more.
Top 4 gives out the remaining prizes after clearing the 2nd and 4th member ( more packs / coins / tickets and an FA trainer at the end).
This means that players will have more time during each ladder, will hopefully have more fun playing ( mainly because the prizes aren't shoved into your faces 24/7) and even players with a small collection / players who play with Theme decks (which might be an issue, due to the high variance – we maybe have to implement a separate ladder for Theme decks, where you only lose a star after two consecutive loses, or something like that) are able to compete, due to the save points.
Oh, and by the way: yes, the visual implementation of this system was deliberately stolen from Hearthstone, however the main concept is as old as competitive video games it self and in my opinion the gym leader / top 4 / Pokemon champion stages fit the game perfectly.
I'm aware that you probably can't use the official gym leaders, due to licensing issues, but I'm sure you'll come up with adequate substitutes ( just get rid of those nameless cartoon characters ).
The casual mode
You want to complete your daily challenge, test out your new fun deck, or simply have a relaxing round of Pokemon, without having to fear losing progress on the ladder ? Well my friend, then casual mode is the right place for you.
Select your preferred format and deck and play a fun match against someone from around the world. Arguments can be made that this is dividing the player base, but in my opinion a game mode like this is going to be beneficial for everyone. Yes, there is a chance that players will just bring their donk decks and play them here, but I believe that a lot of players, who are running those decks currently, would switch to real decks and play on the ladder, rather than running rampage through casual for a couple of coins.
Contradicting to the point I just made, I'd argue that the casual mode should hand out better rewards for both players ( no matter if you win or lose [though you need to play the game, so no coin flip concedes for you]). This way it will be a a good opportunity for beginners to earn currency, while also provide a cool environment for people who don't like the idea of the ladder and subsequently losing points for losing the match. Again, the ladder should always give out a lot more prizes than simply playing casual for an entire month, but you don't want to alienate the pure casual community either, as they are the back bone of your franchise.
That's all for the game, the rest of this post will be exclusive for the forums.
Alright, now we get to the real juicy stuff. Pretty much all of the suggestions I'm going to make don't require any kind of development, or restructure of the forum, they simply require the moderators to do their job and actually moderate.
I'm aware that having this forum is kind of a luxury, compared to other TPCI products, but keep in mind that you also represent the company here. This is no fan made project, but rather the official forum and I have to admit: a lot of the fan made forums are better organised, better moderated and overall much more appealing than this.
Let's start with one of the most important points, that oddly enough hasn't to do anything with the forums at all:
Get someone like me to write a detailed tutorial, or the likes of Pooka ( c'mon, he freaking works for you) to produce videos. No, I'm not talking about the very basics of the game, how to attach and energy and what not, I'm talking about a real tutorial / FAQ. How does the trading system work ? Why does the trade-lock exists ? How do the different formats work ? Where can I find information about tournaments in my era, results from major events and so forth ? What do I have to keep in mind when I build a new deck ? How should I spend my coins ? How does the ladder work ?
You know, questions that come up time and time again. Every day, every week, every month. Questions that won't stop, because each day new players will download the game, so the next time you see a beginner with a lot of questions ask yourself this: why do we lack the ability to simply re-direct said player to an in-depth guide, that will fulfil all of his demands ?
Onwards to the actual forums.
Separate the deck building sub-forum into Competitive and Casual
Buildings decks, sharing ideas with other players and discuss those ideas is part of the fun for any TCG/CCG. However, we really need two separate sub-forums, in order to smooth out the discussion and be able to give every player the feedback that is best suited for them ( more on this later on).
When a new user posts his first deck in the casual section, there won't be any posts that suggest adding 4 of any staple trainer card, 2 Shaymins and a set of Pokemon EX / GX, but rather comments that hopefully try to improve the deck in a frame that is manageable for said user.
Likewise, if a player seeks advice on his current meta deck, it's much easier to go into detail, discuss about certain picks and so forth.
It's not so much about being snobbish and going :”Oh, those filthy casuals should stay away from me and my glorious competitive decks”, but rather about giving the forum a sense of structure, which makes it easier to navigate and subsequently easier to moderate as well.
Rewards for active users
I can't believe you haven't used this before. What's the biggest advantage the official forum has over any kind of fan made project ? You can freaking create resources for the game. Coins, Tickets, trade-locked packs, everyone of those are mere virtual items, that can be created at your will.
We want players to create content for the forums. We want good writes to create primers for the different archetypes ( sort an an overview of the entire archetype with card choices, game plan, match-ups, etc.) and we want fun and interactive discussions. This forum should be the prime source for any information about the Pokemon TCG ( more on that later, again), but therefore we need more users, more content and, above all, a higher quality in said content.
Just imagine the following:
- rewards for reaching a reputation of X “Hey there, you just reached a reputation of 200. Thank you for your ongoing work on the Pokemon TCG forums. Take these 5 packs ( trade-locked) as a token of our gratitude".
- rewards for the number of posts “ Wow, you just reached 500 posts on the official Pokemon Tcg forum. Take these 500 coins and celebrate!”
Each month will also feature a special give away for stuff like “funniest post”, “new user of the month”, “best post – deck construction”, “best post- feedback” and so forth. You don't even have to moderate that much, just scan through the forums on a regular basis, look out for posts with a lot of reputation and find your favourite.
It's all about creating an environment where people are encourage to post meaningful content, ********* with others and overall have a good time doing so.
Have monthly writing / creative contests on the forum
Tying in with the idea of given away rewards to the users, why don't we have a monthly contest, where the contestants can win all sorts of in-game goodies.
One function that is severely underused is the ability to share decks ( mainly because everyone can use that tool, no matter if they actually have the required cards or not).
So we create a deck building challenge. Build a deck around a certain theme, write a short introduction to the deck / the strategy and then let the jury decide the winners. The main criteria here shouldn't be focused on competitive viability, but rather on the narrative of the deck.
Create a narrative deck that centres around Ash's first experience in the Pokemon league.
Create a deck that can deal the most damage on turn one, without having to attack ( none of your cards is prized for this challenge and you'll always draw perfectly)
Create a deck without a single supporter card.
Create a narrative deck centred around the evolution of a Pokemon.
Create a water based deck, using only cards from the S&M sets.
You get the idea. It's fun, it's creative, it's for everyone and you get a chance to win cool prizes on top ? Sign me in.
Other contests could include: write an exciting battle report ( they are more common in the VGC, but I'm sure you can tell an epic tale of your card adventures as well), create your own Pokemon card ( given a certain Theme), Puzzle challenge ( you are given a screenshot of a board state and you need to find a way to win the game in your turn) and many more.
The Pokemon TCG forum
Get rid of the O. Pokemon TCGO will always be an advertisement for the real card game ( and vice versa), so get those players on board. In fact, the majority of the forum already works for both games. Deck construction ? Rumours has it that both games feature the same cards. Player vs. Player ? It even says “Discuss upcoming official tournaments” so why don't we bring in the TO's / Profs. from local events, in order to promote their tournament and give players a platform to discuss / organize. They get exposure, you get new players and in the end everyone is happy.
Trainer challenge discussion ? Re-name it to beginners /casual lounge and you get yourself a nice place for beginners to be introduced to the game, have a spot where parents can socialize and where you can simply have a casual talk about Pokemon, without going full nerd mode ( sort of like the off-topic sub-forum).
Feedback forum ? Just add sub-forums for online and offline feedback and we are good to go.
Listen: You want people to buy your product, play your games, attend the events and watch the streams.
I haven't gotten to the many minor issues ( weird profanity filter, canned chat and all of that), because even I won't read this entire thing ever again, so kudos to you, if you somehow survived until this point.
I need a glass of water now.
The shadows of the abyss are like the petals of a monstrous flower that shall blossom within the skull and expand the mind beyond what any man can bear, but whether it decays under the earth or above on green fields, or out to sea or in the very air, all shall come to revelation, and to revel, in the knowledge of the strangling fruit - and the hand of the sinner shall rejoice, for there is no sin in shadow or in light that the seeds of the dead cannot forgive...