Deathgarden: Bloodharvest remains a fascinating example of how games as a service launch and adapt to player behavior.
Deathgarden, an asymmetrical horror game, now has character classes for both the deadly Hunter and scurrying Scavengers. Those classes have progression trees and upgrades. This has given the game longer legs and more complicated goals ... but the new rules also offer a counterproductive system in their current iteration.
This is what players, and the developer, are struggling with.
What does it mean to win?
A single round of Deathgarden is very straightforward. One Hunter chases down and eliminates five Scavengers. The doors that allow escape are set to a timer; they can trigger and open early if the Scavengers turn in resources at fixed points around the map, or if the Hunter kills every Scavenger except one.
That’s a perfectly good concept for a game, and moment to moment, it’s thrilling. However, part of the problem is the fact that what it takes to “win” a round of Deathgarden isn’t always clear.
The first month of the game was marred by an argument among players regarding Hunter executions. If a Hunter downed a player, and then executed them very early on in the game, the community reacted negatively; seeing this as an almost mean strategy.
It’s an argument that only makes sense if you read certain Scavengers explain their frustration. “If I’m playing with my friends, and you execute me in the first 30 seconds, I have to spend the next ten minutes watching my friends have fun and doing nothing,” the logic went.
Behaviour Interactive, the game’s developer, patched in a new mechanic called “recycle.” Now, a Hunter must execute a Scavenger twice before they are fully out of the game, which essentially means no one can be knocked out of the round in the first minute. The first execution is called a “recycle,” and, after the first recycle, the option to execute them for real opens up ... or Hunters can keep recycling the players continually for more XP.
It’s a welcome change. The problem is that Scavengers have learned that they can hide in the bushes. This turns a game of cat and mouse into a game of hide and seek; a Scavenger remains very still in a hard to spot place, and the Hunter is forced to shoot random bushes and put up as many drones as possible in hopes of finding them. It takes the tension out of a game — and again, these strategies are not communicated as a possibility in any way.
The incentive for Scavengers to run and turn in resources, and the Hunters to not instantly execute Scavengers, comes from the XP system. When players participate and work towards objectives, everyone wins, as they all earn resources and experience that can be turned into upgrades and, eventually, cosmetics. However, that also introduces a conflicting set of priorities. Do players want to play Deathgarden: Bloodharvest in a way that’s the most possible fun for everyone in the match, or do they want to win?
Some players are playing in a way that maximizes their own experience. This means Hunters don’t execute Scavengers, they simply recycle them again and again for experience, and Scavengers turn in resources, save their allies, and relish in escaping a Hunter. Other players are focused entirely on their own win condition: kill all Scavengers, or escape the Garden.
This is a problem that Behaviour will have to solve. The lore of Deathgarden: Bloodharvest is that each match is essentially a Hunger Games style spectator sport, so the developers reward actions that would theoretically make for a better show.
However, the player is often focused on their own understanding of the competitive game, which often begins and ends with the thrill of winning a match. Until this core schism is solved, Deathgarden won’t be able to establish a strong identity.