Illyriad’s developers are keen to point out that people can play in a multitude of different ways, and sure enough players take them at their word: most players take advantage of the fairly complex military options, but some build no troops at all; some focus on trade or diplomacy, muse over the Mysteries, or just enjoy the community. But this leads to a culture clash.
Specifically, there is a huge divide between those who see this as a war game, and those who find it a relaxed place to tinker with building a fantasy-medieval empire.
In one forum post an H? member spoke of those who had “lost” in the current world – by which I think he meant those who had “failed” to become top-dog Alliance. The idea of winning or losing a sandbox game would make no sense to the more relaxed players.
I remember being startled by a comment made to justify sieging an active player, by an aggressor who claimed “you can’t play a game like this and not expect to lose cities”. The more relaxed players might beg to differ: lots of players who are attracted by a game with a reputation for being welcoming and humane will absolutely not expect to have cities taken from them; nowhere have the developers written “expect to have huge players trash what you have built”.
This culture clash is profound, and often hidden.
The vast bulk of players in Illyriad are of the relaxed variety. But many of the very big, very powerful players, are war gamers. So, the game is, in general, a wonderfully welcoming, relaxed, fun place to play in. But many of the very big players are at heart, shall we say, unsentimental.
This is a self-reinforcing pattern. I would guess that the game will get more and more relaxed and friendly players as its reputation spreads, but that at the same time the biggest players will continue to be be more cold blooded.
Historically, most of the players who started out in Illy very early on came to it as a war game – like Evony or Travian or Tribal Wars – because that’s excatly what it looked like. But as the game has evolved, with more non-military options being added by the devs, and with the emergence of the friendly community that we now enjoy, a different sort of player started to engage with it. Relaxed players (who would have been driven out of Travian in weeks) found that they could grow and prosper here, and presumably they invited their friends.
Meanwhile, would-be war gamers who join now will find that they are hopelessly over-shadowed by the established super-players, and will presumably slink off to find a game where they can batter other players with greater ease.
But now, though the friendly majority of players are relaxed and welcoming, the big, established players (and it takes well over a year to get really big) are still the war gamers. Not only do the relaxed guys have a lot of catching up to do, it’s also questionable whether they ever will even want to – if they aren’t here to “win”, don’t care about having the mightiest armies, etc., then they probably won’t bother to grow big enough to challenge the super-players.