'Fixing' The Altador Cup - The Economics of Prizes
For the past few weeks we have been seeing signs which are pointing to a return of the event known as the ‘Altador Cup’- and no, I don’t mean Kiko Lake’s very strong-armed approach to funding their appearance. No indeed, in the editorial of issue 728 of the Neopian Times TNT revealed that yes the event will be making a return this year. However along with the news that further information will be incoming there was another simple yet important statement. ‘We're already hard at work planning some rule changes to make it a better experience for all’. This article aims to take that statement and run with it, exploring multiple aspects of how to make the cup a better experience for all. Throughout this article I will strive to outline the various strengths and weaknesses of the cup and provide several possible ways in which TNT could be planning to fix the problems we are facing.
Before we begin however I should likely outline exactly where I stand on this topic- so as to provide perspective to my views and allow others to get the most out of what I have to say. Looking at my writing history for the times it is very easy to see that I take great interest in the many events which take place in Neopets- and mostly the economical impact of the prizes involved. You may also notice my loyalty to the team of Maraqua- and my love of utility fish. In fact if one was to view my profile you would see that of a very active and dedicated member of team Maraqua, having earnt the prestigious rank of All-Star all but two times and often going over and beyond that title. So it may (or may not) come as a surprise to hear me say this plain and simple- I do not like the Altador Cup. As it stands the Altador Cup has became more of a yearly chore then an enjoyable time and yet I find myself constantly coming back purely for the prizes. Over the years the cup has had multiple positive and negative additions which has greatly either increased or reduced my dislike for the event as a whole. But often the most important elements which I feel ruin the cup are overlooked.
Looking back on the changes which the cup has undergone there are many areas both positive and negative. Positively, the addition of a fourth game certainly added a much needed variety to the options in gaining ranks. Negatively- that fourth game has had a crippling memory leak for years. That I think is the double edged sword of most of these changes- once they are in (or out) they are rarely fixed in later years. For example, one year saw the addition of achievements with unique rewards for reaching certain feats... then that system just disappeared. Despite being one of the better systems out there for adding a little variety to the cup. Meanwhile the almost universally site-wide panned ‘New YYB’ has stuck with us to this day and still doesn’t work nearly as well as the original version did.
Over the past couple of years there has been an attempt to make the cup ‘better’ and more fair and most of it has been positive. For example, lowering the cap on how many games you play per day. While on the surface this may seem like a bad thing, in reality it is a very GOOD thing. To explain why it is important it is basically essential to go into some of those elements which ‘ruin’ the cup which I mentioned earlier. The cup has always had a limit on the number of games a user may play in a single day, each game has a separate cap and once that cap is reached the site no longer accepts or counts scores on that game. At this point users must either stop playing or switch to another game. Often users such as myself would spend hours in a day aiming to “max” these games so as to get the maximum number of prize points possible. This often would take most of the day and would be tedious to say the least. By lowering the cap the time it takes to max the games is dropped and thus most of the tedium is lifted. While the old caps may have taken me all day to reach, the new caps only take me a few hours to max and are much more reasonable.
So at this point you may be sitting there being like- ‘Okay, so you play too much. Why exactly should I care?’. I completely would agree with you too- if not for one simple thing. Economics. Yes, I am bringing up my favourite topic even here. Just like any other place on Neopets the simple rules of supply and demand reign supreme. When you have a large number of players such as myself spending entire days maxing out games the total supply of prize points rises sharply. In the year I played over 6000 games I earnt 74,000 prize points. Now before I go on let me just ask you this, have you ever reached All-Star and been super proud of yourself only to go to the prize shop and find out you can’t afford the most expensive prizes? Perhaps that Paint Brush you are dying to own is 10,000 points out of reach? This is because TNT scales the prize value based on the total average number of prize points out there. It works on a scale so there are a lot of cheap prizes that everyone can buy- and then multiple big ones which players must spend a bit more time and effort choosing from. So basically every user such as myself who earns a large sum of prize points is basically pushing up the average prize points and in doing so pushing up the price for everyone.
Now come now, no need to get out your Villager Pitchforks and Ylana’s Blasters and aim them squarely at my face. If it was JUST people like me earning a few prize points it wouldn’t be so bad. Everyone knows about the- shall we say less then virtuous players out there who have been using less then allowable methods to play games on mass. These players often would max out one game, then max out another and another without even having to sit down for a single game. Telling the difference between a legit user and someone doing this can be unbelievably hard and TNT can be forgiven for not catching them all... But these are the players which are really pushing up the average and thus the cost of the prizes a lot more then someone like me who may max say, YYB and SoSD in a day with the new caps with his own two hands. By lowering the daily cap TNT was decreasing the maximum prize points which were earnable by a user in a day. By having less prize points, the average was lower and thus the price was lower. Doing this cuts down the prize points both savoury and unsavoury users can earn during the cup and thus allows the prizes to be more affordable to the average Neopian Joe (or Josephine). Now you still had the unsavoury types maxing out more games than should be possible with little effort- but they were having a lesser effect on the prices as a whole.
The downside of all this is that by lowering caps it may make it harder for users to make up ground if they miss a day... but on the other hand we need to lower the maximum prize points earnt in a day- so what is the solution? The main solution which pops to mind is changing the system of maxing in such a way that it rewards players who play normally and reduces the effect of those unsavoury types. Firstly, introduce an overall cap for prize points in a day- no more jumping from YYB to SoSD once you reach the max points. The cap should count all games into one total figure rather than having four separate boxes to fill. So instead of say, 68 games of YYB and 762 games of shootout (A total of – 1578 points per day)- you may have it as a max of say 1300 points per day. So you could play 108 games of YYB OR 1300 games of Shootout OR any combination of the four games you wish. But this still leaves us with a problem- what if you miss a day? Under the current system it would be very possible for someone to make up the lost points by pushing to play some extra Make Some Noise or Slushie Slinger games but how would my proposed system allow for catch-up? I would suggest making the daily max roll over to the next day if not reached- but only once. So for example, the max is 1300 but you miss a day- so the next day your personal max is 2600 and the day after that it would still be 2600 if you did not play. Imagine you were to play 500 points worth of games one day, the rest of the 800 points would roll over to the next day so your next max would be 2100 points. Basically this would allow users to miss and catch up on days in their own preferred games without disadvantaging them and allowing them to have a bit more freedom in the way they play.
Basically the goal of this plan is to lower the maximum earnable points in a day so that the unsavoury types have a much lesser effect on the price of prizes. If TNT simply makes the prizes cheaper the unsavoury types then would corner the market on these prizes. They could flood the market and make any of these prizes worthless. As it stands, those players could end up making a pretty neopoint anyway simply by selling the overpriced items gained by having an insane number of points. Assuming a user such as myself who can easily max every day of two games- YYB and SoSD does so for the whole 30 days of the cup... by the end they may amass 47,340 prize points. Then assume someone who is unsavoury maxes all four games- they amass 95,220 prize points. As you can see the difference is rather staggering. Under the proposed new system the max would be only 39,000 prize points even the unsavoury users would have this limit. Now you may be thinking ‘but the paint brush cost 30,000 last year!’- yes, but if the supply of prize points drops as does the amount which can be demanded in return. The prizes would no doubt be more reasonably priced and less affected by the users who are not playing the game fairly.
Now, I know a lot of people are crying out for the larger issues in format to be addressed- I know I personally still wish they would mirror the original YYB with the new one so we could choose to play the older better version... But this article is not about that. The goal of my article and plan is simply to increase the equity of the cup and make sure that if you spend time to earn a prize that you get what you deserve. In my mind fixing the cup is making the time worth playing- and I feel as if this plan does that. When I think of what is good about the cup I think about the team boards- I think about the friendly rivalry and the people you meet and talk to. I think about how exciting it can be to climb the ranks and earn a better trophy. The cup shouldn’t be something where you spend hours only to get outplayed by someone who isn’t even actually playing. Honestly, if this simple change was added I think it would make the entire cup less tedious and fairer for all.