Win-based reward system cultivates too strong failure aversion

The primary driver for playing vermintide 2, at least for me in my first 200 hours or so, was the progression system. I wanted to adopt interesting builds that would feel powerful and that would be fun to play with friends. To that end I was focused on:

  1. Getting XP to unlock talents
  2. Grinding up to equipment power 300
  3. Getting scrap for rerolls and upgrades
  4. Finding red items.

If you want to do these things and max out a single career with a build and playstyle you like (which is super fun), that takes a good chunk of hours. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that.

Adventure missions take quite a bit of time. If I’m playing below my skill level and just blazing through as fast as I can with bots I can manage around 10 minutes, but realistically with buddies and at appropriate difficulty it’s closer to 20 minutes, sometimes longer. This, in and of itself is also mostly fine. It’s a time investment for sure.

A problem arises with the consequences of losing a run.

  1. Significantly reduced XP per minute played (about 60 percent without completion bonuses maybe?)

  2. No loot

Given that the progression system is the driver for play at lower levels (basically, unlocking the game) these penalties are a significant setback for players. This creates a strong loss aversion that I think manifests in a few ways that are bad for the player experience.

  1. Players don’t want to play with other players who they perceive are not good enough, because it costs them wins, which is ultimately a time cost. This creates some toxicity. It’s also probably the reason we have power level requirements for certain difficulties.

  2. Losing feels bad if you’re trying to progress. It’s frustrating, but the safer alternative is too easy or boring. This makes challenging yourself a gamble against progression. You have to pick between the two, essentially, progressing fast or being challenged.

  3. Game and weapon balance become more about what is effective at securing wins vs what is purely the most fun or interesting approach.

Winning should feel good. Losing can be a little sad, but playing should feel fun whether you win or lose. In Vermintide 2 I feel like the difference in reward for a win vs a loss is so large is kind of stomps on the rest of the experience. The game in and of itself is super fun, but the progression is so slow that failure is just soul rending, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play.

I play another game that has a not-incredibly-dissimilar loot system tied to an XP system. One mechanism I really like in that game is your XP scales with the time spent playing the game. There are diminishing returns if games stretch too long, and there’s a bonus for winning, but win or lose you don’t usually feel penalized.

I think if Vermintide 2 had a system that granted xp and loot based on time played, and had a smaller bonus for an actual win (say a bump in rarity like the quick play bonus) you would see

  1. Players more willing to do quick play with randoms because progression isn’t significantly inhibited by losses

  2. Players become more tolerant of differently (but similarly) skilled players and different playstyles because there is less at stake in the game

  3. casual players will be less discouraged because meaningful progression can be made without pressure to win every game

  4. Players will challenge themselves more with higher difficulties (IE: Champ vs vet vs recruit) because there is less at stake and will see how much depth the game has to offer.

Ultimately the point is that Vermintide is a fun game. Incredibly fun, even, but the highest fun potential really comes up AFTER progressing to level 30 and item power 300. I think the huge discrepancy in progression from wins vs losses is a big barrier to enjoying the experience. It would be nice if Vermintide rewarded PLAYING over WINNING, with a small bonus for winning being more aligned with the primary motivator to be the game rather than the win.

My ideal experience would be winning about 50 percent of games, but it just costs too much from a progress perspective.

It’s not a perfect solution to every issue, you obviously still have the problem of low power level characters at too-high difficulties (what even is the point of hero power progression? Separate topic) but that’s just my 98 cents on some things I’ve noticed in my 250 hours or so of experience with this game.

Thanks for reading.

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