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When new players join my strategy game, they have 3 days of protection from other players attacking them, but that's not enough time to catch up to players who have been playing for longer.

How can I solve this?

I thought of extending the protection time, but if I do that, players will not be able to progress without attacking (gaining more resources for faster progress).

The game is browser-based with a PHP back-end.

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Hi and welcome to Game Dev Stack exchange. This question seems to be unsuitable to the format of this site as it gets you answers based on people's opinions and may lead to debate about which 'suggestion' is the best. Such questions are best discussed within the team when making games. However, don't be discouraged. Try and emphasis on the type of game you are making, mention what are the mechanics of 'leveling up' in your game and other details that may help in answering the question. That will increase the chances of you getting a better answer. –  The Light Spark Aug 12 at 5:55
    
It is simple strategic game which has 4 types of resources: Clay, Wood, Iron, Gold. These resources are used to upgrade buildings, training army. This game might remind well-known browser game Travian. –  Arnas Valenta Aug 12 at 6:09
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@TheLightSpark I disagree. This question is subjective, but it is a good subjective question, and such questions are welcome. For a rationale, please read the blog post "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective" by the Stackexchange Director of Community Development Robert Cartaino. –  Philipp Aug 12 at 10:23
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Have you ever heard of Tribal Wars? It's similar to what you're talking about. I'm not sure if it's still kicking around though. Anyway in tribal wars, the worlds eventually ended(They ended when one tribe has conquered all villages. This takes a very long time though), and they were making new worlds all the time. This means when you start playing, you'll be put in the ring with people in the world for a bit already, but when a new world starts, you join that, and with all the other people joining it as well. –  user46560 Aug 12 at 12:49
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Start them off in Lumbridge –  BDillan Aug 12 at 16:57

7 Answers 7

The only similar system I know is OGame. In OGame, players are protected from other players until the have a certain amount of points (I think it is 50.000). It makes more sense to protect players based on their score instead of time, as score gives you a better aproximation on how powerful players are.

The theory is that with that many points, players are able to defend themselves at least at a basic level. But is not really points what provides protection to new players, but clans.

If you think about it, there is no way you can protect a newbie from the top players. That is why clans/guilds play a very important role in these kind of games. If you give players long enough time (a few days/weeks) they will be able to establish social links with other players and get a little bit better protected.

Another way to protect newbies is to organize the system in such a way that you are encouraged to only attack players with a similar power level to yours. In OGame, organizing an attack is a significant investment in time and resources. That is why a very strong player will never attack a newbie: the cost of the attack may be bigger than the benefit, or at least is not cost effective compared with attacking stronger players.

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Just little side note: In OGame, there also used to be a rule, that you simply cannot attack a player who has score lower than half of your score. So If I had score 150 000 I could not attack a complete newbie –  Pavel Janicek Aug 13 at 11:01
  1. Reduce progression in your game mechanics. Avoid making players stronger in a game-mechanical sense based on how far they progressed in the game. That way an experienced player has no unfair advantage over an inexperienced player except for their game knowledge, which a new player can also acquire when they do their research.

  2. Herd your players. When a player is new, put them against players which are also new, so that they have opponents of a similar level of progression and game knowledge. One way to do this is a league system where players can only attack players in the same league. Successful players are grouped together into higher leagues and unsuccessful players are moved down to leagues with weaker opponents. Should leagues be inappropriate for your game concept, for example because you have a shared open world, you could group players into world regions. Add an additional cost for attacking players which are far away geographically and put players into regions according to the date they started playing.

  3. Don't have negative consequences for players getting attacked and losing. That way the veterans might farm the newbies for resources, but when the newbies do not have any disadvantage because of this, this is not a frustration factor. However, keep in mind that this means players have little reason to invest resources into defence.

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The main problem you want to solve is strong, powerful players pick on weak, new players after their protection ends. There are quite a few social solutions to this:

  • Punish players for attacking those weaker than them: The spoils of defeating another player should be decreasingly lower the more weak your opponent is (and they can be multiplied the stronger your opponent is compared to you) -- this is the solution Utopia uses.
  • Put players into groups that help each other. Utopia puts all players in "islands" of up to 16 in a bunch. When someone attacks you, it can trigger retaliation from stronger players in your island.
  • Mentoring: Give new users an in-game kick-back for actively mentoring new users. One web MMO I played lists new users to mentor and there's some process to follow to say "this person mentored me and I benefited"
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It's also worth mentioning that, IIRC, Utopia also does math based upon your kindgom size. So when you're warding off an attack by enemy thieves, it's your thieves per acre and not just total thieves that matter. Same for mages, attackers and defenders. –  FreeAsInBeer Aug 12 at 12:30
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Another approach is to use exponential scale for things like experience points; if xp per level advances on a scale 10/20/50/100/200/500/1k/2k/5k etc. and defeating an opponent awards 10% of that opponent's xp, advancing a level would require that a user defeat about 5 users of his own level, 2-3 of the level above, or 10 of the level below. Even if a level-20 user could mop the floor with level-1 users, advancing by 1/1,000,000th of a level would hardly be worth the effort, especially if attacks have a cost associated with them (e.g. food). –  supercat Aug 12 at 18:21

Let's look at two examples of games that IMO do quite well to deter this behavior:

Clash of Clans: In Clash of Clans, new players are given a small amount of starting gold and elixir and a 3-day shield. This shield prevents other players from attacking the new player, but is removed if the new player attacks other players. This gives the new player 3 days to accumulate resources and upgrade buildings enough for a decent beginner-level defense.

  • Progress can be measured roughly in two ways:
    • Town Hall level. The Town Hall limits what buildings are available to a player as well as what level the buildings can be upgraded to. A player must intentionally upgrade his/her Town Hall in order to progress to bigger and better bases.
    • Trophy count. Attacking someone else and winning gains you trophies. Losing causes you to lose trophies, though you won't lose nearly as many trophies as you would have gained by winning a round. Additionally, the player defending either gains or loses some trophies depending on how the battle went.

Now players are loosely separated by their Town Hall level as well as trophy count. The only thing that matches two players up is if the players have a similar trophy count. If someone with a level 2 Town Hall has 1000 trophies, then they will be matched up against other people with ~1000 trophies, regardless if their Town Hall is level 2 or level 10. This creates a soft barrier, as lower level players will run into a point where they cannot gain trophies past a certain point due to higher-level players primarily occupying that trophy bracket.

Additionally there is less benefit for higher level players attacking lower level players. The difference in Town Hall level determines how many resources a particular player can steal. If a level 5 player attacks a level 4 player, then they can only get 90% of the resources available. If they attack a level 3 player, that number drops to 50%. That means it becomes significantly less profitable to continue attacking players with a lower level to you due to the fact that you will end up spending more resources to attack for less resources in return.

Runescape: Yes, yes, we're talking about Runescape here. More specifically I'm going to be talking about oldschool Runescape due to the fact that last I played was somewhere in 2008 a little time after the wildy was removed and player trades sucked. More specifically, I'm going to focus on the wild and its mechanics instead of the non-combat areas.

In Runescape, player-vs-player combat is limited to an area called the Wild. This is an area that starts off at level 1, and progressively gets higher-levelled the deeper (further north) you get. This level determines the difference in combat levels that PvP is allowed. That means in level 1 Wild, a level 90 character could attack another character with a level between 89 and 91. Consequently a level 30 wild would allow much more varied combat scenarios.

  • This is in part due to the nature of Combat Level. Combat Level is a cumulation of various individual stats on a character (Attack, Strength, Defense, Prayer, Ranged, Magic). Each stat maxes out at level 99, with combat level maxing out at 126. Someone who has level 99 ranged and the rest of the stats are level 1 is going to have a lower combat level than someone who has level 60 in attack/strength/defense, meaning this "Glass cannon" can go toe-to-toe with Mr. NothingSpecial.

  • People lose gear when dying in the wild. Killing another player will allow you to pick up whatever gear they were wearing. If they haven't attacked anybody else, they still keep 3 items. If they have participated in PvP, then they keep nothing (unless they use a specific prayer). This creates an element of risk. Better gear means higher chance of survival, but a higher risk if you get killed.

  • Consequently the added risk makes the Wild a good place to put good rewards in. For example, certain creatures are restricted to the wild that yield a high profit.

tl;dr: Depending on the exact nature of your game, either of these two ideas could give you a good sense of scale. Essentially you want it so that higher-level characters gain less by attacking lower-level characters, and gain more by attacking higher-level characters. Adding in some form of controlled risk allows players to progress at their own rate.

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Different browser games I've played used different strategies for this. All came down to resetting all players on a set time.

One game dropped all new players in a new world with 400 at the same time, let them all compete against each-other until only one or a handful of alliances where remaining. A single round took about 1 month, and after that everybody could start a new game (new rounds started every few days).

Another one puts everybody in one pool (this used to be two pools, one for more advanced players, but when player base declined they reduced it to one). However, they reset the pool every X months (X=3 for them). When you join mid round, you stand no change to catch up to the top players, but after the reset, everybody has equal change and only skill makes the difference (and luck, cooperation etc). New players can use the round they join in to learn the ropes, and get a fresh and fair start after the reset.

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Puzzle Pirates does this in a very direct, but effective way. In Puzzle Pirate, ships are ranked based on the rank of individual pirates manning the ship, and ships full of players weaker than you would appear with a blue might rings, while ships stronger than you would appear with red might rings.

If you attack too many blue ringed ships, then you'll be targeted by the Black Ship (El Pollo Diablo (The Devil Chicken)). The Black Ship is a super strong non playable ghost ship, filled with super strong non playable skellies. The ship is nigh invulnerable and undefeatable, with stats that normal ships can't even begin to dream to have. When you lose to the Black Ship, it will take away almost everything you have in your treasure booty, but you gain nothing if you somehow manage to defeat it instead.

This discourages people from getting into unfair fights.

Occasionally though, the black ship becomes a sport for really high ranking players. They try to get targeted by the black ship and try to defeat it for the just for the lulz (though those who dares doing this would usually target friendly ship that is set out for this particular purpose). Black ship hunting is unprofitable, so most players don't do that unless they're really bored. In the rare instances where someone managed to beat the ship, the game permanently upped the difficulty of the ship. Nowadays it's so ridiculously overpowered that you know your fate the moment it engages you.

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There are multiple ways to deal with this:

  1. Resetting the game: If you have a browser strategy game then the players that have been playing since the start will always have a resource advantage, resetting the game every few months will allow new players to join in.

  2. If you have some sort of travel time rules you can place players that have a similar join time close to each other. Typically this means placing the players who joined first in the centre and the newer players outwards works quite well.

  3. Limiting who you can attack to only allow attacks against players of a similar level.

  4. Making defense more effective then offense. This means that players in general are less inclined to attack one another.

  5. Allow players to construct something that prevents a constant number of resources from being stolen/lost upon being attacked. If I can prevent 100 of each resource from being stolen in an attack and I only have 100 resources then attacking me is not going to accomplish anything. A good player will likely skip this upgrade as they will quickly begin to dominate the local area. But a new player will be able to hide behind this building preventing him/her from being attacked.

  6. Allow official alliances and let weak players give some sort of mechanical bonus towards being allied with a stronger player but make them lose a bit of this each time the weaker player is attacked. This should cause stronger players to protect their weaker allies. Maybe protectorate is a better name.

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