An open letter to Steve Fawkner

F2P games are like clouds, abundant, mostly indistiguishable, and when you move in for a closer look there’s just a damp feeling. I’m not sure how I stumbled over Gems of War all those years ago. Probably showed up on Steam as new release. Installed it, gave it a try, found it somewhat interesting. There wasn’t really much to do back then, mostly PvP, Arena and questing. There was also that gold based energy system still in place, so gaming session usually didn’t last long. Shovelware, or so I thought. Possibly worth a week or two.

And then I encountered Sirrian, your online presence. Whenever something didn’t work in-game, you showed up. Whenever there was some improvement idea, you showed up. Whenever there was a source of unhappiness, you showed up. You listened. You proposed a solution. You explained your reasoning. While any one solution might not have been the best one from individual perspective, it was presented in a way that got just about everybody involved to buy in. It just made sense. Pure magic.

I was impressed. No, scratch that, more than impressed. This was a game worth playing and supporting. A game to grow old, or at least older with. I even did something I never did before in any other F2P game, I spent money on in-game items. I wouldn’t ever purchase an in-game advantage, it’s like cheating, activating the easy mode to deprive myself of an interesting challenge. So this went as much into cosmetic fluff as possible, to impact my gaming experience as little as possible. I haven’t ever felt the need to display that fluff, I’m more of a numbers person, but it still makes me smile whenever I see it in my inventory. I probably would have bought the Golden Gate Bridge if you had offered to sell it. Twice, and felt even happier the second time around.

Well, all good things come to an end. Sirrian eventually faded away, rather abruptly. Other shores to be explored, like Marvel Puzzle Quest and Puzzle Quest 3. Gems of War moved on, sometimes confidently, sometimes rather haltingly. There were bugs, heroic gems locking up the game, the AI getting double moves on players, gem matches not resolving properly. Nothing that couldn’t be repaired, even though it sometimes took months just to get the bug reports acknowledged. There were ever more frequent configuration errors, spells creating the wrong gems, weapons belonging to the wrong kingdom, banners boosting the wrong mana. Nothing that couldn’t be repaired, although “works as intended” slowly became the new norm.

And then Weavergate happened several weeks ago. One of the most popular mythic troops, Arachnean Weaver, showing up in event chests, at 1:1818 odds. Or at least supposed to show up, some members of the community versed in data analysis eventually figured out that the drop chance had been set to zero. Another configuration error, affecting real-money purchases this time. It took the community manager team a day to respond.

An explanation was presented, that Archproxy Yvendra exclusivity supposedly applied to event chests.

And all the while the in-game advertisement for Archproxy Yvendra kept on popping up, clearly stating that exclusivity doesn’t apply to event chests.

Another explanation was presented, that event chest rules had been changed several years ago due to community feedback, to exclude regular mythic troops whenever an exclusive release overlaps.

And all the while the published lootbox rules, unchanged for years, clearly stated that in exactly this situation Arachnean Weaver would be in the loot pool.

The silence when these obvious contradictions were pointed out was deafening and lasted well over a week. Nothing was done to prevent more players from falling into the trap. There was no in-game news, no in-game system mail, no word on any of the social media platforms, just a silent retcon of the old external event announcement, one that didn’t even register as update. Forum members discussing the issue found their contributions relocated into a secluded niche, for “better readability”. Eventually the mounting outrage was met with this response, hidden deep within the forum guts.

The support team subsequently closed and locked all compensation tickets against further interaction, even those created weeks later, punting players over to the forum for “future updates and answers”. Those “future updates and answers” that the “final response” already had said would never be coming.

And that “best compromise”? The game offers multiple bundles at 80% discount each week, without any refund issues attached. I’m really baffled how half cost crafting for everybody is supposed to compensate those who spent enough to receive Arachnean Weaver several times over, provided event chests had worked as advertised.

Steve, this one was on your desk, and you signed it off. You put your seal of approval on this attrocity. In hindsight, it’s really a masterpiece that no intentional con could have set up better. First players get lured into gambling on a highly coveted item that isn’t really there, at roughly $0.25 each attempt. Then the facade everything is working properly is maintained at all cost, with every reluctant morsel of official communication indicating otherwise getting hidden well out of sight. And finally, while most players still believe they missed out on Arachnean Weaver due to a streak of bad luck, because they never got informed that it was entirely missing, a convenient 50% discount offer sneaks in, without any further explanation. Apparently Sirrian isn’t the only one able to sell the Golden Gate Bridge twice to the same person.

I guess you had your reasons. Maybe your workload was too high to pay proper attention, maybe your Christmas bonus was at risk, maybe 505 Games and Digital Bros would have asked inconvenient questions if this had shown up more prominently. Still, yikes. A significant part of your player base is kids spending their pocket money. As far as stooping goes, that’s one hell of a low bar.

Anyway, Gems of War just turned seven. A toast to you, Sirrian. You made me realize the value of communication, how honesty, understanding, the willingness to interact can make the difference between yet another game and a game that absolutely stands out in a good way. And also a toast to you, Steve. You also made me realize the value of communication, how honesty, understanding, the willingness to interact can make the difference between yet another game and a game that absolutely stands out in a bad way. Weird as it might sound, I feel somewhat guilty for not supporting Sirrian better, by spending more money. Maybe there would have been one Sirrian more and one Steve less around today.

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Based on the in-game wording and the help pages, it would be fairly obvious to me that I could get both Archproxy Yvendra AND Arachnaean Weaver from the Event chests. How much more clear can the in-game text be? The new mythic is exclusive to all of the listed chests, and event chests isn’t one of them, therefore when I open event chests, Archproxy Yvendra isn’t going to be the exclusive mythic.

Then on the help page, it reiterates that statement, listing the affected chests that have that exclusive mythic, and event chest isn’t listed. Now, the last sentence is kind of vague and can be read in two different ways. It states that “Event Chests can only drop the new Mythic if it belongs to the weekly event kingdom.”

One could read that as saying “If the new mythic belongs to the weekly event kingdom, event chests can only drop it.” This would support what really happened, but it would have us asking “why isn’t Event chest listed then among the list of exclusive sources?”

The other way to interpret it, and I believe this is the correct way, is that it’s saying “Event chests CANNOT drop the new mythic UNLESS that mythic belongs to the weekly event kingdom.” That makes sense, because people would rightly think they can get the mythic from all the other chests, they should be able to get it from the event chest too. But the help article is saying, no, you can only get it from the event chest if the new mythic is part of the weekly kingdom, because event chests are exclusive in their content based on the weekly kingdom.

That interpretation is how I read it, and how I believe it’s meant to be read. It’s trying to warn people that just because there is a new mythic, doesn’t mean you can get it from event chests – event chests still only drop things from the weekly kingdom.

And that’s how it should be! Because people wait MONTHS and MONTHS for specific kingdoms (there are 34 kingdoms currently, that means it takes over half a year to rotate through them all).

Here’s the scenario that would occur if that didn’t happen:

Let’s say you’re waiting for your kingdom to rotate. You need to rotate through 33 other kingdoms first. So you’re saving up your event keys to get the mythic you want. But a new mythic is getting released on the friday before your kingdom. If a new mythic was exclusive to event chests, that would mean players would only have Friday+Sat+Sun to open event keys to get the weekly kingdom mythics, if the Friday through Thursday that the mythic was released on dropped it exclusively in the event chests.

Well, as explained by Kafka, that basically never happens. Why? Because the mythic they release is from a DIFFERENT kingdom from the weekly kingdom. So it wouldn’t matter anyway. Players have literally never had to second guess and ask “Should I wait to open these event keys till the new mythic isn’t exclusive anymore?” They’ve never had to do this, because the new mythic has always been from a different kingdom.

Except this time. This time it wasn’t. This time Archproxy Yvendra dropped on Friday, Oct 1st, and it was exclusive to Glory, Gem, Guild, and VIP chests from Oct 1st through October 7th. That was the part everyone knew.

But then there was the separate crowd, who saw that the weekly kingdom from Oct 4th through Oct 10th was Zhul’Kari. That meant people who wanted Arachnaean Weaver from event keys needed to open event chests during that time period. So away they went to open it.

Lo and behold though, no matter how many times they opened event chests, they never got Arachnaean Weaver. The only mythic anyone saw was Archproxy Yvendra.

“Well, that’s weird, because it’s Zhul’kari week… so event chests should drop all the Zhul’kari mythics, because it says in-game and on the game’s help pages that the new mythic, Archproxy Yvendra, is ONLY exclusive to gem, glory, guild, and VIP chests. It doesn’t say anything about event chests.”

What the game wasn’t telling players was that Archproxy Yvendra was the exclusive mythic in Event chests as well, but only during the overlapping dates of Mon Oct 4th through Thurs Oct 7th. On Sun, Oct 3rd, Zhul’kari wasn’t the weekly kingdom. And on Friday, Oct 8th, Archproxy Yvendra wasn’t the exclusive mythic anymore. But during that period Mon-Thurs, it was the exclusive mythic in event chests too, but wasn’t being advertised as such.

That meant people opened thousands and thousands of event chests, trying to get one of the best mythics in the game, thinking they could get it if they just opened more.

Just downright deceitful. There’s no other way around it.

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