Project Rebalance

Bubbles, FC Sunnyvale Developer 5 September 2016, 13:18

It's been quite some time since I wrote about Project Granddad. Decreasing player abilities once players reach a certain age, has been on the wishlist of both developers and managers for almost as long as the game has existed.

The project has kept getting postponed, however, both because other tasks have had higher priority, lower risk or a lower workload - and because the initial analysis showed that it wasn't as simple as first expected.

But now the work has begun in earnest, and Project Granddad has been renamed to Project Rebalance. The new name reflects that fact that it won't be enough to just make abilities decrease once players age.

Describing the entire project all at once would be too big of a mouthful, so I will be writing a series of blog posts in the coming weeks, presenting the different efforts one piece at a time. In this post, I'll be laying out the overall vision and plan.

The vision

It's important to make it clear which goals we want to work towards. So, in this post I want to give you an overview of my vision of how the game needs to develop.

An active and dynamic player market

About 13,000 successful auctions are carried out between the users of Virtual Manager each week. This number only counts actual successful auctions where a player changes hands from one human-managed club to another.

We'd obviously like as many trades carried out as possible, and to see lots of players changing hands back and forth between clubs. Even more important than that, though, is there needs to be wide selection of relevant players for sale, when a club is on the lookout for someone new to fit into their line-up.

Great White sharks vs. piranhas

A huge treasury shouldn't make you untouchable and if you're in the VIFA Top 100, then you shouldn't be able to rest on your laurels.

So even though the clubs in the absolute top are the Great White sharks of the game, they need to feel as though they're constantly being chased by countless hungry piranhas, who will shred them to pieces if they ever slow down just a little. Being at the absolute top should be glorious but stressful.

Smooth, rising difficulty and a feeling of progress on all levels

The difficulty level should correspond to the ambitions of each manager. If you're satisfied with being around 4th or 5th division, then you should be able to play more casually than if you're going for the top. If you do want to reach all the way to the top, and stay there, then it should require a bigger effort.

We'll need to analyse all aspects of economy and player progression for clubs of all levels - all the way from freshly started clubs and all the way to the top. There shouldn't be any level that so easy that it becomes boring, and you also shouldn't feel like you've hit a wall. If you're really ambitious and ready to put in the effort, it shouldn't take 5 years to get into a position where you became a realistic threat to the top clubs. It needs to be easier becoming one of the piranhas.

Interesting player career progression

Because players only ever get better and their abilities never decrease, career progressions are neither interesting nor realistic. When a player reaches the top, he'll remain there until the day he retires. There's no incentive to sell him and if you're a club in the absolute top, then you can just lean back and not have to worry about that spot in your line-up for months. This needs to change.

When players reach a certain age, their physical abilities should start decreasing. That's already been established. Beyond that, we also need to examine other way of making player progression more dynamic and varied.

For instance, the best players should be able rise to the top at lightning pace, reach a Rating of 99 (but not 99 i every ability), remain there for a while, and then start dropping. For clubs who have the ambition of staying in the absolute top, this means that they'll have to be much more active in the player market, because they have to keep the players in the relatively short time that they'll be at their peak. When these players start dropping, they'll need to be replaced, but they might be useful to lower-tier clubs who can get them at a bargain.

Variation among the players

When you look across clubs of all levels in the game, from top to bottom, we want to see an even distribution of many different players.

Today, the distribution of players, grouped by Rating looks like this:

Players in a club                  All players
 Rating     Share               Rating     Share
   0-9:     30.0%                 0-9:     93.0%
 10-19:     12.9%               10-19:      2.1%     
 20-29:     17.1%               20-29:      1.73%     
 30-39:     11.3%               30-39:      1.12%     
 40-49:      7.2%               40-49:      0.7%     
 50-59:      4.9%               50-59:      0.47%     
 60-69:      3.4%               60-69:      0.33%     
 70-79:      2.5%               70-79:      0.24%     
 80-89:      2.02%              80-89:      0.18%    
 90-99:      0.93%              90-99:      0.09%    
   100:      0.11%                100:      0.0098%    

Unlike the numbers in my old blog post about Project Granddad, the numbers in the column "Players in a club" exclude players in bot clubs. So we're only looking at players employed in a club, run by a human manager. Since that post, the new training system has also had an effect.

As an aside, I can tell you that the unemployment rate among players in 91.2%!

Some people have claimed that there are too many of the best players, and that too many players look alike because of the ability ceiling. The numbers above show that this is false; quite the opposite, actually.

The vast majority of players are scraping the bottom of the Ratings scale. The fact that the majority of players are that bad, is a co-factor in forming the gap, that make the richest clubs incredible hard to challenge. We need to lift more players up from the 0-40 range and into the 40-100 range. These players will be the piranhas' teeth.

If we have just removed the ability ceiling, it wouldn't actually make the game more interesting for that tiny handful of clubs, who actually ever manage to get a player that hits the ceiling. On the contrary, it would just allow the top clubs to pull even further ahead, become more untouchable, and ultimately make the game more boring both for themselves and the clubs who are meant to challenge them.

Even though we're looking at increasing the number of players in the upper half of the Rating scale, this will come in combination with decreasing abilities when players get older. Players might reach higher ratings overall, but they won't be able to remain there for the rest of their careers.

The top clubs who have complained about a lack of things to do, have actually had a point about their players stopping dead in their progress. But the main problem has not been the number of great players nor the ability ceiling, but rather the fact that players in an extremely unnatural fashion have been able to remain at the very top right until the day they retire. This will change once player abilities start decreasing with age. At that point, you'll need to decide if you want to prolong their career with specialised training and daily energy boosts, or if you should try to get a younger player in as a replacement.

The plan

Project Rebalance will consist of two major efforts:

1. Adjustments to player progression and careers

We will start right at the foundation of players' ability progression: the potential they are born with, when they're drawn as youth players. The potential distribution is set by an algorithm that's over 10 years old, and which has never been fully analysed and taken up for review. We've done that now, and for the past several weeks, I've been discussing many different solutions with Virtual Manager's crew. The solution we've agreed upon I'll be detailing in a blog blog next week.

Next up, we need to analys and build projections of player career progressions, so that we can get proper, objective numbers on player progression as it exists today, on which to base our further development. With the new potential distribution in place, we then need to discuss solutions which can move us closer to achieving the goals I've set out above.

The magnitude and precise method of action of the age-related ability decrease will need to be worked out, and the effects and methods of training might also need to be adjusted. For instance, we'll need to see if requiring an increasing amount of xp to level up an ability will bring an interesting dimension to the game.

Once these changes have been decided upon and explained in the blog, they will go live in one big update. I don't know yet when that will be.

2. Adjustments to clubs' economy and various other small changes

In this effort, we will figure out if we need to adjust clubs' incomes and expenses, such as cup prize, league prizes, sponsorships etc. There should always be an economic incentive to move up in the leagues. We'll be looking at the number of player slots, the number of injuries etc. Many of the changes will be minor, but each one of them need to play their part in moving the game closer to the vision, little by little.

Next blog post

Next week I'll be writing about the first piece of the puzzle in the effort to adjust player progression: the distribution of potentials.

This post is part of a series on Project Rebalance. If you haven't read the previous posts, you should do that first.
  1. The Vision and the Plan (this post)
  2. Potential distribution
  3. XP and age-related decline
  4. Simulating an entire player population
  5. Economy
  6. Form analysis in the physio department
  7. Setting ticket price per match
  8. Prizes for cups and achievements