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How FFG killed the Netrunner fanbase


#1

I thought it would be useful to have a comprehensive timeline of how FFG killed the ANR playerbase, to show people thinking of getting into L5R, and hopefully to serve as a ‘what not to do’ for anyone launching a card game in the future. I’ve written it in a way that hopefully non-Netrunner players can understand what I’m talking about. The only thing is, I’ve only been playing the past couple of years, so could someone help fill in any details from the early years that I missed? Other feedback is welcome as well! Then maybe we can publish it as an article.

How FFG killed the Netrunner fanbase:

November 2014: Fantasy Flight announces rotation out of old packs… after the 8th cycle of data packs is released. Only the first 2 cycles will rotate out, leaving the card pool at a minimum of 31 ($15) packs, 4 ($30) big boxes, and 3 ($40) copies of the core set. Most fans feel this is still too large of a card pool to attract new players.

Mid-2015: After original Android: Netrunner lead designer Lukas Litzinger moves on to Star Wars: Destiny, FFG appoints his co-designer Damon Stone as the lone developer of the fifth cycle and designer/developer of the 6th and 7th cycles. Promoting the co-designer might make sense, if he wasn’t well known for designing extremely broken cards for Call of Cthulhu and A Game of Thrones. Even the best of designers is unlikely to create perfectly balanced cards on their own without a developer to help balance them.

First half of 2016: An overpowered card called ‘Faust’ causes virtually everyone to play the same runner deck for the first half of the year, using an ID called Whizzard that can dismantle the corp’s board state. On the corp side, things aren’t as unanimous, but two of the top decks ‘Industrial Genomics’ and ‘Gagarin’ win with slow, grindy, ‘prison’ decks that are considered Negative Player Experiences by most. Regional championships during this period lose about 40% of their players from the year before.

August 2016: A new ‘Most Wanted List’ (Netrunner’s way of limiting how many overpowered cards you can play) goes into effect, shaking up the meta for the first time in ages. A fun 200+ person tournament happens at Gencon with the new rules, but later in the month a pack with 2 of the most broken runner cards ever printed is released: Rumor Mill and Temujin Contract. The interesting, post-MWL meta lasts less than a month. It will take 8 months for these cards to finally be put on the MWL.

November 2016: At the World Championships, 16 out of the top 16 corporations are NBN, and 14 out of the 16 top runners are anarchs. The matches are interesting and strategic, but the lack of variety bums out many, especially the more casual players who don’t like being forced to play the top factions.

Early 2017: Store championship season for 2017 is marked by powerful new runner cards making it difficult to win as the corporation. This only gets worse when the new runner card ‘Sifr’ is released that is so oppressive Damon Stone warns on a podcast that ‘people will want it on the MWL on day 1’.

April 2017: A new MWL is finally released that substantially improves the game! However, there had been no communication about when it would be released, so the community had been depressed for months before it dropped. Even with the improved game, regional attendance is about half of the year before and a quarter of 2 years prior.

Also April 2017: A new ‘Pandemic Legacy’ style expansion for Netrunner, called ‘Terminal Directive’, is released, and only requires TD and one copy of the core set to play. It is clearly intended to attract new players, but with the community being so small and dispirited by this point, many stores had small or non-existent playgroups to hype the product. The campaign mode gets mixed reviews.

Summer 2017: 100 days pass without any new Netrunner products being announced, leading some to speculate that they’re saving a big announcement for Gencon. Instead, Fantasy Flight does not acknowledge Netrunner at Gencon, except during the Q&A when someone asks when the next cycle comes out, and they cannot confirm that it will come out this year. The North American Championships at Gencon have less than half the attendees of the year before.


#2

I’d be interested in an article exploring the different reasons why attendance might be down at Regionals. You’ve alluded to a few possible explanations:

  1. Increasing difficulty of entering the game due to slow rotation
  2. Frustration with the meta
  3. Frustration with poorly balanced cards
  4. Frustration with FFG’s bad communication skills

It’s hard to know which of those have had the biggest impact just from making a history of FFG’s missteps. Additionally, of course, there are a bunch of reasons people quit Netrunner that FFG has less to do with (waning excitement since the game isn’t new anymore, inherent barriers to entry associated with an LCG, barriers to entry associated with Netrunner being quite complicated, etc.). “How FFG killed the Netrunner fanbase” seems like a bit of an overstatement when you can’t really determine what factors were most influential in declining Regionals attendance.

I suppose it’s a bit hyperbolic too, though that’s less of a problem.

If you really wanted to write this article and do it right, I would think the best way to do it would be survey players who have left the game. Probably a bit hard to do perfectly, since it’s not like we can cold call people and ask them if they’ve quit Netrunner recently. There might be a decent (although somewhat biased) sample on Netrunner Dorks of lapsed players?


#3

That was part of the reason I wanted to write this timeline, as sometimes people say things like ‘well FFG can’t help it if people just lose interest in the game’. I wanted to lay out a detailed list of all the times FFG could have helped and did not and/or actively hurt!


#4

Lack of support or prizes at tournaments probably also hurts. I can only speak anecdotally about why I’ve stopped playing anything besides cache refresh, so here goes:

  1. pool of cards is too big
  2. no incentive to play in tournaments (prize support is awful)
  3. seriously flawed card design (sifr, rumor mill, faust, bioethics, 24/7)
  4. rotation will be too little too late.

I am positive about the future of netrunner, though, because from hearing Boggs talk he seems to have a better sense of what netrunner is at its core. Damon had a Trump complex in that he thought he was never wrong, and I believe that self-criticism is a useful trait when designing games. Damon made some cool cards though, and Lukas royally botched Mumbad cycle. I don’t think it’s useful to lay the blame all on Damon.

What I hope Boggs does:
1 When rotation is confirmed, they remove another cycle (probably won’t happen)
2 Rumor of 2nd core is true and gets revised every year or so, allowing for a much more controlled set of cards.
3 we get a few bans


#5

I don’t feel like World’s Top16 all being NBN is really a problem. They represented 2 different archetypes that were the top decks at the time. One reason for that is the way LCGs are designed and released. The full cycle is designed and balanced as a unit, but released as individual packs. This extended release schedule means there are always new cards entering the card pool, keeping the meta fresh. It is one of the selling points of LCGs. There were powerful counter play cards designed to deal with those strategies, but they were not available during the Worlds tournament.

I guess some people see that as a problem, but I can’t speak for them. I did take advantage of the post-worlds jump in NBN play and teched hard against them.

To me, the main issue is it is very hard to get new people into the game. The card pool is too large for someone to casually buy into the game. To get in, you need to invest heavily in a lot of cards:
31 x $15 = 465 (31 Data Packs)
4 x $30 = $120 (4 Deluxe Boxes)
(2 + 1)1 x $40 = $120 (2 Core + 1 TD)
Total = $705

That’s assuming that 2 core is enough, which I think it usually is. That is a lot of money to drop on a single game. I think one can get a pretty good value spending $700 on mtg cards. When I bought into netrunner, one of the selling points was that it was cheaper than Magic to play competitively, I really do not think we can make that claim now.

It is natural for some players to get tired or burned out on a game, and there will be some attrition. But when there are no new players coming into the game because the barriers to entry are too large, the player base will only dwindle to nothing.

There are some design issues that are driving long-time players away too, but if we have some faster rotation (and fewer evergreen cards) then at least some of those players may go on hiatus instead of quitting for good.

To me, the problem (or at least most of it) can be addressed by more aggressive rotation schedule and fewer evergreen cards.


#6

What’s bothering me the most about this is how hard FFG is trying to drive hype for L5R and SW:Destiny… And no communication for 100+ days about Netrunner. They’re jumping from thing to thing instead of committing to something. While good for most game companies, it’s not good for the long-term health of a single game.

I would’ve hoped they’d do more to work on Netrunner because they own the Android IP and license Netrunner from WotC… It’s easy for them to make tie-in games/products (Mainframe, New Angeles, that art/background book) for this IP, and much more difficult for them to make stuff for IP they don’t own… Then again, I don’t have perfect information. Maybe there’s something I’m missing here.


#7

I think the buy in is a valid argument for why people may stay away from the game, but I want to point out that the buy in for the game isn’t as steep as people often make it. A viable deck has 1-2 cores, 1-2 deluxe’s and ~4-5 data packs. Assuming the only variation between what you want for your corp and runner is the data packs you’re looking at:

2x Core = $80
2x Deluxe = $60
9x Data Packs = $105
Total = $275
Assuming you have a 10% discount from FLGS or Online that’s ~$250

This is still a large sum for a single game, but it’s not as absurd as the $700 that most people throw out. Not to mention after you have the initial investment you can just keep up with the new packs and buy select older packs as you want to build specific decks.Anytime you want to swap decks in a major way you drop $60 for some combination of deluxe and data packs.

The 1.1.1.1 and CR formats also both showed how strong these reduced format decks could be. Not to mention they’re going to be the basis of new post rotation decks. They provide lots of good examples of decks that are viably competitive and in the $100-200 price range. These won’t be winning world’s anytime soon, but they can likely put up good numbers at a casual GNK’s. If a player then wants to go on to seriously compete on a regional’s or higher level I think it’s reasonable to expect them to buy into the game in full.


#8

I get what you are saying, but the meta does shift significantly with each pack, and one does need to build at least 2 decks to play in a tournament.

So I think your estimate is too low, but will concede that mine is high. I’ll estimate that a new player is looking at $300-400 to get into the game for more than a few months.


#9

Tournament-winning decklists tend to use around 10-12 data packs. And I don’t think it’s super likely that someone’s Corp and Runner will use the same deluxes, unless they’ve specifically designed their decks around that. Runner decks rarely use Data and Destiny, but very often use Creation and Control. Corp decks are the opposite.

It is true that new players don’t need to buy everything at once, though.


#10

While the timeline is correct. I feel that it dodges the fact that large swathes of the MWL are cards that Lukas designed including Faust and the Mumbad cycle. While Damon has released bad cards, I do feel like he was left holding the bag when it comes to Mumbad.


#11

Damon had the chance to do something about those cards, but didn’t. He never put Sensie Actors Union on the MWL and did nothing on Bio-Ethics. He could have restricted Blackmail or limit Faust but he decided not to and he’s responsible for that.

Ultimately Damon killed the game by both printing overpowered cards (Rumor Mill, CtM, Sifr) and refusing to use the MWL to deal with well-known problems (Sensie Actors Union). Had he acted on that regard I think the game would have a much healthier playerbase than it does right now.

There used to be three or four Netrunner groups in Madrid and they started dissapearing around this time. I remember how they all came to me for advice because they thought they were seeing ton of powerful, broken cards they couldn’t beat and I had none for them because I had the same issue. Hell, I almost quit the game myself over Sifr.

Now those groups are gone and the core hardcore players that organized tournaments are leaving to play L5R. I haven’t played the game in ages and haven’t even bought the last few datapacks. I’m afraid the game, if it isn’t dead already, soon will be. Even the Netrunner whatssap group is full of L5R talk, not Netrunner.

It makes me extremely sad to say those words. I truly love this game and I have had some incredible experiences with it. I wish I could play it forever and share it with as many people as possible. It’s one of the best games ever made and it hurts to think that it might become “unplayable” in the future.

I truly hope I’m wrong but I find it hard to be optimistic about the future.


#12

Do most players really get into the game because they think:

“Gee, this looks cool. I’d better spend several hundred pounds on all the cards because there’s a national championship coming up and I need to win!”

or does it tend to be:

“Hey, these people seem to be sound and the game is cool. They play down the pub/round someone’s house every week. I’ll join in and buy some of the latest card packs. Then maybe I can enter a local tournament at some point down the line? I hope playing in a tournament isn’t too serious…”

Which is more representative of “buy-in” anxiety?


#13

I think it is in-between those two: you join in and pick up a core set and maybe a couple of packs, realize your builds aren’t really very competitive (in part because of cards, in part because you don’t know the card pool or the counterplays–nobody, and I mean nobody I have ever interacted with enjoys losing to cards they didn’t know about) and you need more, or someone suggests you check out a different build which necessitates more and more cards, etc.

It’s easy, if you’ve been collecting from the beginning of a game like netrunner, to underestimate how daunting the full pool really is. Even if you’ve lapsed and missed a cycle, the “catch-up” mindspace is different from the “starting at the beginning” one, speaking as someone who’s done both with LCGs.


#14

There has been a ton of talk about buy in.

And really, I think it is not very far off for the reason why the game has faltered. The damn card pool is so big and rotation isn’t rotating out enough stuff.

It has been pretty refreshing to play in a post rotation deckspace with my friends who still play, but our group has dwindled.

I hope that Cache refresh is them trying to figure out what they want to do instead of their current model for rotation. I hope that they decide on a different distribution model for their lcgs. I hope that all this silence is due to L5R production ramp up mixed with a stark change in course for Netrunner.

Only time will really tell. I would love to see OP try some of what they are doing with Netrunner. But it would either require some really creative thinking, or a change to some of the fundamentals of tournament play.


#15

The only time I was really bothered by prize support was European Championships 2017: a single Bhagat?!
(Coming from someone who played in GNKs, SCs, Regionals, Nationals all over Europe since 2014 and visited Worlds 2016)


#16

I wouldn’t have thought it would be too difficult to contact people who have advertised that they’re selling their collections and survey them for their reasons - I agree this could be an interesting insight into why people are leaving the game.


#17

In my 10 months playing Netrunner, have experienced a few issues that have certainly been challenges to playing the game and getting invested.

  1. It is hard to buy in. Unlike MtG, there really is only one format that ever gets played and it is only really playable if you have most or all of the card pool. Before MWL 1.2 came out, there was a brief interest in alternative formats (draft, 1.1.1.1, pre-constructed decks) because everyone hated the Sifr meta. Since MWL 1.2, and despite the publication of Cache Refresh, there is very little interest in newcomer friendly formats.

  2. It is hard to find face-to-face games. Many stores do not have any regular Netrunner nights and those that do are frequently down to a handful of players. If you cannot play on the one night per week that Netrunner gets played in a store that is not too far from where you live, then you are likely not playing regularly at all.

  3. The game has a very steep learning curve, so new players will lose a lot. Other than experienced players intentionally playing weak decks, there is no handicap system that allows newer players to get an edge up to have a better chance of scratching out a few wins here and there against the hard core remaining players.

  4. Related to all the above, the people who have hung on and still play regularly tend be the more competitive players who like to play decks that are not vanilla classic Netrunner, so the new player not only is in for a thrashing much of the time, he or she is getting beat by a deck that is designed to not play old-school Netrunner.

  5. Finally, because of all the things that FFG has done (as outlined in the OP) new players enter the community and are exposed not to enthusiasm and excitement about the game but to a chorus of complaints and cries about how the game is dead or dying or just in a terrible place. All of the complaints about FFG seem valid from my limited perspective, but I personally experienced and had to basically ignore the doom talk when I bought into the game. If I had listened to it, I probably would have dropped out a month or two after I started.

I don’t know how the player community can overcome these challenges. When I visit a store where there is a MtG draft going on or a bunch of people playing Commander, I do see casual players having fun. I know the old “casual vs. competitive” issue got raised a year or so ago and the voice of the community seemed to say that people calling for more casual play should not complain so much, but if the game is going to grow or stabilize, it seems to me like it needs to intentionally reach out to create casual and noob-friendly formats.

FFG needs to do some things differently, but we here on this forum can’t force FFG to do anything. The only part of this problem that we can fix is the part we control.


#18

These cards are not the nuke you’re saying it is. Sifr is largely op compared to these 2.


#19

I’m having your same experience here:
stopped playing a couple of years ago (mid SanSan cycle) because I lost my job and other personal reasons, so I sold all my NR stuff. Last year I started playing Ashes, it’s a cool game, but the support of PHG is super bad (the latest packs just got released at GenCon, they’ll hit the shelves late september, the last one before that was released at GenCon 2016, the OP kit is still the one released in April 2016…) so the 100 days of sylence of FFG are like a breath of fresh air for me :smile: I found out about CR from a YT channel I was subscribed to and it got me interested in the game back again, but when I started browsing Reddit or this forum to catch up with all the new shiny stuff I was overwhelmed by complaints and angry posts. Fortunately I’m used to bad support from my previous experience with PHG so I’m not discouraged from all this “DED GAEM” posting, but I’m more than sure that this doesn’t help newcomers at all, even more thans the “bad support” from FFG does, so I believe that we as a community have our share of fault if the game sinks.


#20

Yes, the community at large is very negative on the game lately. It is really impossible to recruit new players into an expensive game that the loudest voices are shouting is dead until it actually does die.

I’ve noticed some of the most passionate players grow silent over the past few months, which I think means they have drawn down their involvement, but aren’t actively maligning the game in public forums. Other players seem to spend every waking moment starting new threads about how netrunner is dead and why it’s all Damon’s fault (he’s left guys, we should all move on).

I don’t mean to discourage discussion on the topic. I think open and productive discussion can be helpful, and is the only way we can turn around this situation. But I do think some of the hyperbolic posts here and elsewhere are hurting the community much more than they help.

I think the game is in a much better place now than it was around February/March, but the dwindling player count is limiting my chances to play.