If You Expect Splinterlands To Go Higher This Year... Don't Count On It
I have decided to use my blog on Steemit to post my thoughts on Splinterlands. I don't expect anything from it, either through interactions, votes, or positive action from the developers @yabapmatt or @aggroed. But I will make the points and let them be visible for all to see.
I believe that we are in for a rough year for Splinterlands based on the factors listed below. The developers have created an interesting and fun game to play, but have failed to deliver in other aspects. Namely, they have let 2 groups influence their mindset at the expense of the economics for both big and small alike. The first group is what I term "the insiders", those are the people that suck up and heap praise and tell the developers what they want to hear. The second group is what I term "the programmers", those are the people that automate the bots that leech the reward pool.
Both the insiders and the programmers are overall destructive to the game, and this has been the case since the beginning. The game has succeeded despite these negative factors due to some brilliant game making by the developers, along with a few great ideas and features added as well. But make no mistake, the developers haven't learned their lessons, as these 2 groups are as powerful as they always have been.
The Economics Are Dying Quickly
Due to the way the game is played (ie...revealing the mana and ruleset before the individual's team is chosen), the bot makers will always be the most efficient in extracting the rewards (be it in tourneys or quests). The reason is there is a "best lineup" based on the mana/ruleset for each match and the bots can be setup to choose it automatically. As the bot makers have figured out, they can invest very little money and extract outsized returns by choosing a small group of cards and then playing 1000s of games automatically. Thus the reward pool is skewed heavily to the bot makers in both the tourneys and the quests.
How do I know? Because for a long time I have bought the cheap cards those bots sell. Rarely do I buy from the individuals that play the game, but instead from a handful of the same names that each season sells thousands of reward cards for next to nothing. When I finally do find an individual that is selling, 90% of the time it is because that person is quitting the game, and lately I have seen a lot of that too (that's a whole other article I could write as this trend is growing quickly).
The situation is well known by the developers but they have chosen to not prioritize this problem over others. As a result, while they may get around to putting in some bandaids to limit the damage, the fact that they don't see it as a huge problem that has encouraged people to leave will mean the economics will get worse not better.
If the developers truly understood that some great people and supporters of the game have left in disgust, then it would've been fixed by now. But it hasn't. The value of DEC trades between 1/3 and 1/2 of the intended level, and the inflation rate simply continues as each day the bot armies play 1000s of matches, get their rewards/DEC, and dump into a shrinking buyer's pool.
So even if we get a small patch, the damage is done. Many human players have left and the bots will still be here.
New Blood Is Scarce
Any economic system will have booms and busts. Its the nature of markets. While attrition is to be expected as people do leave for various reasons, the good businesses always grow the user base by getting new customers. Splinterlands has not made this a top priority, and will suffer the consequences for the next 6+ months.
All recent new initiatives have failed miserably. The mobile app is not good. The referral program was a dud. Whoever is in charge of the marketing should be fired, as they have let down the whole organization. While the game itself is great, there aren't enough new real people playing it to grow (ie the new people aren't making up for the old people leaving).
While the developers look to metrics like the Kickstarter successes to signal strength, what they are missing is the KS's are harvesting the past successes, not a determinant of the future. Unfortunately, due to the lack of new blood, I believe that the next KS will result in a "down round". While this won't be good in the short term for the value of Splinterlands, it will hopefully lead to some positive changes in attitudes by the developers and put the focus on getting more new players again.
Politics Of HIVE Vs Steem Will Hurt Them
While the developers have said they are neutral in the fierce political battle of HIVE vs Steem, they also have made statements publicly indicating they will probably be moving to HIVE:
"Running our own infrastructure is a critical prerequisite to a potential full transition to Hive in the future, as well as a way to help support the growth of the Hive blockchain in which we are heavily invested."
This statement alone is enough to let me know that 2020 will be a very slow year for Splinterlands.
While I don't personally care about either blockchain versus the other, I believe they will alienate a large group of people by "picking a side". Alienating a large group of players will mean more cards sold, less cards bought, and more players gone.
Once more, betting the whole business by making a move to a chain that is so new and controversial is a bad business decision. It is all risk with no reward. There is nothing wrong with running on Steem, so to make a change is purely driven on emotion and not on the consideration of all the stakeholders. While those destructive "insiders" will praise them initially and tell them "great job" "go HIVE" etc... the business people that look through that BS and realize that the developers are not serious about running a business. That will harm "investment" in the game as investors will lose faith that their interests are protected.
So bottom line, I think the developers will make the move to HIVE and I do think it will be a major blow to both the user base and the investor base that will take many months to recover (if at all).
For these 3 reasons I see the year ahead as lower as these are very big negative forces to overcome. I think the asynchronous tourneys and the land expansion will be a flop as a result. The developers have done a lot of things right over the past 2 years to get the game where it is today, but they have also done a lot of things wrong of the past 2 years to get the game where it is today too.
If they want to look at the successes and pat themselves on the back, they deserve it.
If they want to look at the failures realistically and use them to improve the company, then the trajectory could change back to positive.
But if they look at the successes and ignore their failures as they appear to be doing, then I'm afraid we are in for a tough year.