Wizard101
Developer Diaries

 

Matchmaking, Maycasts, and the Meta Developer Diary

 
 
 
 

Ben "Ratbeard" Durbin
Lead Designer
Since our Spring Update – aptly titled “Meta Mayhem” – we’ve been gathering player feedback: both feedback vocalized, and the unspoken feedback in terms of how you’re playing (or not playing) PvP at the moment.

These items now sit at the top of our list: Matchmaking, Maycasts, and the Meta.

Matchmaking


As we continue our march towards 5th Age, we also continue to tweak our Matchmaking Server to provide the best possible experience. Many of the changes in the matchmaking system are made with an Elo rating system in mind (yet to be implemented; more on that below) as well as looking to address some of the issues that plague the current and former Ages: boosting, sniping/setting, and farming rank from less experienced players. Players who ask, “Why change it?” need only look back at 4th Age (and earlier) to see these issues and understand what we’re trying to put into place for 5th Age.

The two biggest issues we had with our new Matchmaking system (since the last update and the last hotfix):
  • Long queue wait times (including the “ghost queue” issue)
  • Mismatches (matching players of the wrong Tier, Rank, or Level Band)
As of this writing, we believe both of these issues to be fixed, and we can hopefully move on from matchmaking bugs to matchmaking improvements.

Maycasts



As expected, players have moved on from the maycasts that previously dominated the meta (e.g. school auras, infallible, brace) and settled around a small group of maycasts that were either not addressed yet, or need further tweaking. This is a good time to state up front that we have and will continue to “nerf” maycasts for PvP as problems arise. No maycast is safe from such scrutiny, and you should expect us to re-assess and re-balance gear (even Crowns gear) as necessary. Because we want to preserve the integrity of PvP as well as the experience of PvE players, we will make use of our dev tools to “fork” maycast triggers for PvP and PvE so that balance issues for PvP do not affect the PvE experience.

Tweaking maycasts involves a few steps:
  • Fork the triggers into PvE and PvP versions so that maycasts can be tweaked independently for either experience (most PvE triggers/cast rates are untouched)
  • Change most triggers to “SpellDone” so that passing, fizzling, or otherwise “not successfully casting a trigger spell” will no longer make your pet “shake his butt for you”
  • Change most triggers (as appropriate) to watch only for spells cast upon your opponent – no more “Shrike into Brace” or “Blade into D-lance.” (This change alone will greatly reduce the amount of maycasts received while in Shrike.)

Meta: Slow Pace / Shield Spam


Another interesting result from the last round of changes is the emergence of a new “shield spam” meta. Although we didn’t directly improve Shields during the last round of changes, the meta has shifted and indirectly buffed the value of Shielding as an action: shadow pip gain is slower, Damage and Resist limits are in place, many OP Treasure Cards are banned, and pre-enchants are still restricted. The “slow meta” that has emerged from these changes have simply made it extremely effective to shield; it’s almost never a bad play.

Addressing an emergent meta (having nothing to do with the spells in question) is a little trickier to fix. There are “right answers” to this problem and there are “good answers” to this problem but settling on a fix that is both right and good is trickier, so we intend to move more cautiously.

A first logical step will be to fine tune some of the changes we just made to see if the meta “self corrects,” but this is not a quick solution (as it requires more careful watching of live play to see how the meta adjusts). It does, however, afford us some time to consider other ways to address the meta more directly if necessary.

Some of the planned changes to maycasts will indirectly affect this Shield Spam meta. Maycasts in general will tend to favor offensive tempo over defensive; so, for example, if you are counting on a maycast to tip the tempo in your favor, casting a Shield spell is not going to do it (and in fact might hand tempo to your opponent; more on that below).

Hotfix - or, "What did we just do?"


Maycast Adjustments

Based on player feedback (and their sense of urgency) the following maycasts have reduced casting rates in PvP:
  • Maycast Outlaw’s Courtesy
  • Maycast Mana Burn
  • Dragonblade
  • Dragonlance
  • Balance Blade
  • Brace
  • Fortify
PvP Combat Stat Adjustments

One of the benefits of our recent stat audit was building in “dashboards” to allow us Devs to tweak combat settings without relying on new code to do it – easy to change, easy to change back. With that in mind, we’re going to try just a couple of tweaks to “speed up” this meta.

First, we’ve increased the PvP Damage “intersection” from 100 to 125. This means that all schools will now get 1:1% damage increases up to 125 damage stat, with the dropoff curve occurring only after that point. Players should not expect any dramatic damage increase from this change, nor do we expect it to “fix” the slow meta – but with these new limit parameters available to us, it’s worth tweaking a bit to see if it moves things in the right direction.

Second, we’re adjusting the Crit damage multiplier, raising the potential damage of a crit. This will not change your chance to crit or block in any way, but it will add value to successful crits.

Matchmaking Sort Order

We have changed the matchmaking sort order to prioritize Level Band over Rank. This is a change to address current matchmaking, and it may or may not extend into 5th Age. We intend to closely monitor the ability for more skilled players to farm rank from higher level (but less skilled) players. As long as this sort order does not manifest such problems, we can extend it into 5th Age.

The matchmaking server will now sort players as follows:
  • Tier, Level Band, Rank, Rating
Restore Option Prompt

We have restored the option for lower-Rank players to Opt In to a match with higher-Rank players. This option is only available for Rank mismatches (not Tier or Level Band) and it is only available to players at Sergeant or above (Private and Corporal may not Opt In).

Changes to Queue Parameters

In our hotfix of 6/9, we added additional data logging to allow us to inspect the matchmaking server process. Based on that data reporting, we’ve made some changes to the queue parameters to decrease the wait time between matches from 5m to 3m. The matchmaking server will continue to wait until a minimum “healthy” queue size is reached, and it will continue to kick off matches sooner if a maximum “healthy” queue size is reached before 3m is up.

PvP Free To Play

We might have buried the big news here but since the bullet point tells the story, let’s just move right on to the caveats. We do intend, and are still exploring options, to open up 5th Age PvP in some fashion to Free to Play players. However, we have concerns about the quality of players this will bring into the 5th Age, both in terms of “unearned” rank farming from unskilled players as well as possible issues around boosting. Most importantly, because PvP is still very much “under construction,” we have concerns about ushering players into an unpleasant experience. But there are some really good reasons to get players into PVP now – mostly to improve matchmaking, but also to widen our pool of feedback to include those players we’d like to win over for 5th Age.

So, although the exact terms of Free-to-Play for 5th Age are still under discussion, we have decided to immediately but temporarily open up free PvP to all players of L20 and above.

Coming Soon - or, "What are you going to do next?"


Wow! We’ve said so much already – and somehow there’s still more things to share. Here’s what we currently have planned for the Summer Test Realm:

Health Stat Changes

All schools gain a certain amount of Health each time they level up, independent of gear. These “school based” stat increases give us an easy way to close the Health gap between certain schools and bring each school’s relative power into closer proximity. Life, Death, and Storm in particular will see gains of a few hundred Health at max level. A “smoothing” of Health gains for other schools resulted in a net change of less than 20 points at max level.

Pet Maycasts - Full Pass

As discussed above, maycasts have had their trigger logic reviewed again. Only a small subset of maycasts remain that were not reviewed: generally speaking, those that appear to be unused or retired, and those that have been reviewed recently and appear to be ok. We will continue to monitor and tweak all maycasts as necessary.

Maycast trigger logic has been forked into PvP and PvE settings, and PvP triggers generally fall into one of two categories: active or reactive maycasts.

“Active” maycasts help a player keep or build offensive tempo. They trigger only when you are the spellcaster (thus, no more spamming during team play) only when the spell target is an enemy (no more spamming self-targeted spells to trigger a maycast), and only after your trigger spell is successfully cast (no fizzles and no passes).

“Reactive” maycasts will help slow down your opponent or shift tempo back to you. They trigger in response to your opponent’s actions (eg buffing himself or damaging you) and only when your opponent successfully casts his trigger spell. These maycasts typically have the same trigger % as other maycasts, but because they only trigger immediately after your opponent successfully completes his trigger action, they will appear to trigger more often – that is to say, when they trigger, it will be memorable. These spells don’t seem to happen at just the right time – they literally only happen at the right time. Examples here would include Steal Charm or Steal Ward, which activate in response to your opponent casting a blade or shield; or a maycast Shield or Heal that activates in response to you getting hit.

Taunt/Pacify

This change qualifies as one of those small changes that might have a big impact on both PvP and PvE. In short, we have removed all of the old “modify threat” effects and replaced them with the new Taunt and Pacify effects that we introduced in Karamelle (Shatterhorn and Grrnadier). We should mention that we have currently set the pip cost on these spells a little higher, out of an abundance of caution for the potential to “spam” the effect in team play (both PvP and PvE). (When we audit spells, we call this the “spam tax.”) Functionally this means that these effects, when present on a spell independently, will have a higher cost than when they are included with a damaging effect.

Specifically, for PvP, Taunt and Pacify have the potential to indirectly but significantly increase the value of minion play.

Minion AI Tweaks

Speaking of minions, we’ve identified a short list of minions where a slight AI tweak may make them more useful (both for PvP and PvE). Coupled with the changes to Taunt/Pacify, we’re "nervously optimistic” that an alternate “minion meta” may arise to provide players with additional PvP strategies.

Treasure Card Gating

This change affects mostly low level PvP, though because spells become available at all levels of play, it has the potential to affect any level of PvP below max.

This change affects PvP only, and prevents players from drawing cards from their sideboard if the player is below the specified minimum level for the TC.

To determine the level for each TC, we started with the level of the learned spell (if any), then set other TCs of similar rank to the same level, and then we made a pass to deliberately set some essential TCs (blades, traps, etc.) to a lower level in order to provide more diversity in play. Last but not least, we set each TC to the minimum level for its Level Band, in order to allow players to use TCs that might be slightly out of reach. For example, a TC that matches a spell learned at level 18 would be pushed down to level 10 for the purposes of TC Gating.

More Trainable TCs

We’re adding 1 new trainable spell for each school. In most cases these will shore up existing gaps in utility (e.g. hit plus global).

Still to Come



It’s important to assess our PvP changes in the context of the launch of 5th Age PvP, and – with occasional detours and delays to respond to emergent issues – we continue to follow that roadmap. “PvP Balance” remains the largest task yet to complete, but our list of things yet to do grows smaller with each major update.

Elo System

Probably the last big change to come is to transition PvP from the rating system we have now to an Elo system. (Technically we would be transitioning back to an Elo system, since W101 PvP once used an Elo system.) The Elo system was created for chess but is now widely used in many competitive games and sports. To summarize, in an Elo system, the amount of rating that you gain or lose is relative to the rating of your opponent; instead of being a flat transfer of +/-16 rating for the winner and loser, the amount gained or lost is relative to gap between your ratings.

Rank Reset

Of course, we can’t just switch over to the Elo system and launch right into 5th Age without giving it a thorough test first. For this reason, after the Elo system is implemented but before we launch 5th Age, we are currently planning to reset the rating of all players, sunsetting your 4th Age rank forever. We will likely use the rating that you earn during this transition period to “benchmark” your rating for 5th Age, so while there will likely be another rank reset before 5th Age begins, it may only be a partial reset. This is important to help us get more experienced players ranked appropriately to clear the lower ranks for more inexperienced players.

New PvP Event/Currency/Rewards

Last but not least, we’ll also be creating brand new Events (in the fashion of the Deckathalon, Beastmoon Events, etc.) to encourage participation in PvP, and of course those new Events will come with new rewards to earn. We will retire all of the existing arena tickets and PvP gear, then reset and replace them with a new currency and new rewards to earn. (We’ll keep the old gear available for stitching purposes.)

"Something Something Conclusion Goes Here"...


This is the part in my Dev Notes where Prof. Falmea usually likes to step in and suggest that I find some friendly way to wrap it all up – but we’re well past the point of pithy conclusions! I’ll simply ask that you continue to be patient with our efforts and please continue to provide your feedback, via the forums, our KI twitter handles, or stopping by my regular morning Twitch streams.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Thanks,

Ben "Ratbeard" Durbin
Lead Designer
@Wizard101Devs

Dated: June 23, 2021