The nature of KeyForge is for computer software to create and render a unique, playable deck via an algorithm created, and continually adjusted, by game developers according to their intent. The ideal output is a varied and fun series of 100% unique decks, each functional and playable right out of the pack. Upon initial development, this was a hugely innovative concept (one very difficult to deliver) and none could anticipate how a customer would accept such a premise, much less whether it would be successful.
Given that each deck is an entity onto its own, the “wizards behind the curtain” (the game developers) that pull the levers of variables and rules by which each deck is made, have a paradoxical choice between the yin-and-yang of KeyForge, that is between variability and balance. Richard Garfield’s original concept heavily leaned towards variability (which we explore in the Unchained decks), while the FFG-team efforts were to move the decks towards balance. As such, what became the commercial KeyForge release narrowed variability, but enhanced playability and balance of decks.
As a result, after bending the levers towards balance, the variability and discovery of each given deck was fortunately still substantial and enjoyable. Even so, in the hands of evenly-skilled players, some decks will perform better than others. Third parties even developed unofficial scores for decks such as the SAS score provided by Decks of KeyForge. In other words, when fit for the purpose of winning within a given set of rules, some decks will be better out-of-the-pack than others. That is the nature of variability in this game, and frankly, part of the fun.
Thankfully, “better” in this context often sits within a large range that varies on deck match-ups, draws, and player skill. That said, with procedural generation and with any given amount of variability, some decks will objectively fall below par.
As the publisher of KeyForge, we have three customer groups to consider when making decisions. These are current, new, and lapsed players (in that order of priority).
Current players want a fun, thriving game, with solid support and communication from the publisher (although there is often to be wide disagreement among existing players on how to define fun, thriving, support, and communication—all part of life).
New players are vital to any ongoing “lifestyle game” like KeyForge, as most existing players eventually become lapsed players for many different reasons over time. New players want a positive experience with their introduction, a sense of richness and discovery, an active community to play within, and goals for which they can aspire.
Lapsed players are critical for more abstract reasons than the other two categories. These are 1) knowing why and how players lapsed is important and 2) understanding that lapsed players are the most likely to become a new player once more.
Let’s turn our gaze onto the lapsed player category for a moment:
From our perspective, three common reasons why players quit playing or participating in purchasing KeyForge have been:
a) Early/new players lapse as they have acquired a deck that was determined “bad” by play experience or by having looked up its “score” and determined that a bad deck was acquired.
b) Experienced players may lapse as the fun of KeyForge diminishes as a player’s collection grew. That new decks do not create a sense that the collection grows more valuable, but instead that each new deck simply relegates another to never again being played.
c) For many new and experienced players alike, many sense a lack of agency in making meaningful decisions in regards to their deck.
Based on the data collected (helped greatly by the Gamefound campaign), we note that the number of lapsed KeyForge players easily outnumber current KeyForge players by more than 30 to 1. Given these are both big numbers, it is a joint testament to both how attractive the game has been to many people, and that the rate of lapsed players is very high (given its relatively short lifetime of 4 years, and even when accounting for a slowdown of releases and COVID-19’s impact on organized play).
Some existing players may shake their heads and say that “such lapsed players didn’t ‘get’ the game”. While this may be true to some degree, a larger group of happy KeyForge players is a healthier group of KeyForge players. It certainly is worth asking “can we adjust both perception and practicality of these very real negative experiences by former players, going forward?”