Dear Counterplay Games,
Since I first watched Brian Kibler’s promotional videos in May, I have been a proud and passionate member of the Duelyst community. When struggling through an extended exam season lasting from May to August, Duelyst has always been the light at the end of the tunnel – the game that I can come back to after struggling through university work. When Duelyst was launched on Steam and the vocal minority of toxic players from Hearthstone came out to bash the game, I was out there on the front lines defending Duelyst on social media and advertising it to your potential customers . I have published guides about Duelyst , joined the Duelyst Training Center initiative as a mentee in order to better myself as a player and routinely spent my mornings and evenings on the #New_Player channel on Discord providing help and guidance to new players  alongside other volunteers in your community, indirectly increasing player retention and improving your bottom line. I’ve invested both time and money into helping Duelyst grow, in as many ways as I can, because I genuinely believe that this is a good game that’s worth cultivating.
But things have gone so wrong that I’m still struggling to comprehend your company’s actions. Counterplay Games have announced that they aim to release two expansions in this calendar year, with the second presumably aimed for near-Christmas. But if the developers do not address these serious concerns regarding their business practises, then I will not be spending any further money on any of the expansions, as well as warning customers against spending money on your product because of your exploitation of the community’s trust in your company.
Although the community has disagreed with Counterplay Games over several changes (from the crude insertion of card backs into the existing casting animation to the removal of emotes from the secondary generals and the $15 emote bundle required to restore the removed functionality), the earliest examples of these poor business practises occurred with the introduction of loot crates and the unadvertised reduction in gold from the Welcome Back quests. The loot crates have been called out as a classic form of prize withdrawal – rather than rewarding players with keys and allowing them to purchase chests to unlock, the game rewards players with chests and seeks to exploit the psychological loophole of being ‘denied’ the prize inside the crate in order to drive more people to spend money on the crates. This was followed by the unannounced reduction of gold from the Welcome Back quest  that was not reflected in the patch notes. Although Counterplay Games excused this unannounced change as result from error when writing the patch notes, the 1.70 patch notes have not been updated more than 2 weeks later (at the time of the Shim’Zar release) and have continued to go unannounced and unknown to any customer who had not already played Duelyst before the Steam release patch in which these changes were made - something which would appear on the surface to be a deliberate attempt to avoid informing new customers of these changes.
This was followed by the Shim’Zar patch itself.
After an extended exam season lasting from May until August, I had been eagerly awaiting the release of Denizens of Shim’Zar. I had saved up 5200 gold from several months of Gauntlet runs and had pre-ordered one of the $50 Shim’Zar bundles after a great deal of deliberation. With 100 orbs from the Shim’Zar expansion, the estimated spirit value of those packs (220 spirit each based on community averages from the Core Set orbs) would add up to roughly 20,000 spirit. My actual returns could be higher or lower depending on how lucky I got, but even if I got horrifically ‘unlucky’ and only opened 15,000 spirit worth of cards from the Shim’Zar expansion, I could still craft all of the cards that I had aimed to complete when spending $50 pre-ordering the set - I was prepared to lose as much as 25% of the spirit value across 100 orbs and still consider that to be within my ‘expected’ ranges of outcomes, and my decision to pre-order the set was driven strongly by my acknowledgement of the inherently random nature of orbs.
As an aside note that will quickly become relevant, I also spent most of the spoiler season for Shim’Zar being deeply frustrated by what would eventually be referred to by the community as the ‘discoverable’ meme  – I have extremely polarised opinions about this subject that others may not share, so I’ll briefly lay out my points. I disliked that details of the battle pet mechanics were actively being withheld from the community and that new players could potentially lose games and drop out of Gauntlet runs because the developers hadn’t communicated the function of their product. I disliked the fact that tokens such as the Soulblaze Obelysk and the random battle pets were not revealed during spoiler season. And most of all, I strongly disliked the fact that players had to lock in their pre-orders before the new expansion was fully spoiled, meaning that the community had to take a leap of faith regarding whether the unspoiled cards were going to be worthwhile instead of allowing the customers to fully inform themselves on the product that you offered and make an informed decision on whether to spend the substantial $50 lump sum on pre-ordering Shim’Zar orbs in bulk. This means that many players (including myself) were put in a position of questioning Counterplay Games and consciously evaluating whether they trusted Counterplay Game’s business practises enough to gamble on the contents of the Shim’Zar orbs, which is especially relevant for players such as myself that decided that Counterplay Games was trustworthy enough to pre-order from.
After staying up until 1am to open my pre-ordered orbs, I was disappointed with the product that I had received - the packs that I had opened were worth roughly 25% less than the projected average, which was within the lower end of my expected variation. However, I was not yet left upset towards Counterplay Games in any form – I’d rolled the dice and apparently come up with snake eyes, in the same way that anyone who knowingly gambled on a randomized product could do. Feeling rather dejected with nothing but ill fortune to apparently blame, I went to compare my pre-order cards with other players on the internet and commiserate my poor luck before I worried about purchasing any more packs using my gold. But then something disturbing came to light. Almost all of the players that I personally spoke to had also had substantially below-average returns from their pre-ordered packs – each of them had expected an average distribution of rarities exactly the same as the Core Set, within the bounds of usual variance, and they had almost uniformly been disappointed with the product that they had received.
As thousands of orbs’ worth of data poured in  and players began raising their voices in outrage, I begun writing the first draft of this open letter - hoping that a rational explanation would be presented for this change in rarity distributions and waiting for confirmation from Tundranocaps before posting a letter that could potentially damage Counterplay Game’s reputation and integrity. However, the need for such caution has passed - the data collected by Tundranocaps  clearly demonstrates what the developers have done. I also want to draw the utmost attention to the statement made from a developer to members of the community in a public Twitch chat []((http://i.imgur.com/zeP4vKl.jpg).
Now, for my response to what has happened.
There are all manner of reasons that Counterplay Games could attempt to spin this change in rarity distribution as a ‘sidegrade’ – that the quality of cards in the new pack was of a generally higher quality and that it was therefore ‘fair’ or ‘proportional’ that the rarities of the cards that you pulled would be reduced (although the quality of the cards is a judgement of the community based on the metagame that they create for themselves, not the developers), or that the decreased variance at each rarity slot because of the smaller size of the expansion made it ‘natural’ that you would artificially receive those cards less often. I’ve heard prominent players claim that the change in rarities is somehow fair because of the discount that players receive when pre-ordering the Shim’Zar orbs, despite the fact that the discount is an overwhelming factor in whether players choose to pre-order in the first place, and assumes that players would be equally happy to spend $50 on 40 Core Set orbs that they know the expected value of compared to 50 Shim’Zar orbs that they had no reason to believe would have a lower total value before spending their money.
There are many explanations that your company could produce, and none of them could possibly justify this deception of your paying customers.
None of these reasons could possibly be justified because the players were not informed of these changes at the point of purchase – none of these changes were in any way communicated to the customers in the patch notes accompanying the Shim’Zar release, and certainly not at the point several days previously when customers were putting their faith in the reputation of Counterplay Games and paying for their pre-orders. The players who are most invested in Duelyst and have the greatest amount of faith in the company – the players that are willing to spend $50 lump sums pre-ordering a product because of their trust in the developers – are the customers who suffer most from an unmentioned and entirely unfair change in product quality that was in no way communicated to them at the point when they made their purchase.
For any CCG with an established community (whether that be Magic: the Gathering, Hearthstone or Duelyst), the preceding sets provide a strong baseline as to what the community can expect from their money – the company financially benefits from their customers having predefined cost-to-benefit and risk-vs-reward ratios before the point of purchase, allowing them to feel more secure and comfortable on taking a gamble on a product which they haven’t personally seen the contents of. When every Magic: the Gathering expansion in the last 5 years has had maintained exactly the same distribution of rarities, and the full content of each set is made visible to the consumer before the point of purchase, they can feel secure in taking a calculated gamble on the content of their randomized packs because of the iron-clad frame of reference in which they can evaluate the risk and reward associated with their purchase. Counterplay Games has knowingly and unabashedly exploited this fact, selling their product based on the previous consistency of the rarity distributions while giving no indication to the customer that these distributions would be changed.
The justifications made on the Twitch stream show a profound disrespect for the reasons for which players have pre-ordered your product. In other circumstances, you may have been able to justify those changes if you had informed the customers in advance – there may be a subset of customers who benefit from the change in their product and are not personally affected by the downgrade in another area. There may be situations in which those changes are justifiable. But most importantly of all, those customers would have been given an opportunity to vote with their wallet - an opportunity that Counterplay Games has specifically gone out of their way to deny them. Any potential to justify the change in rarity distributions is completely demolished when those changes are not made known to the public in advance and customers are given no reason to suspect any change – when customers that are purchasing a product according to their own specific needs are allowed to determine the perceived value of the product based on a previously-robust set of expectations and are knowingly delivered a completely different product by the company.
Duelyst does not have the same length of history that a CCG such as Magic: the Gathering does, but it still has an iron-clad frame of reference regarding the distribution of rarities in each set – the community has calculated the distribution of rarities in spirit orbs from the core set , and save the increase in spirit value associated with the introduction of prismatic cards, these ratios have remained constant for as long as I can personally account for. These ratios have been a foundation of the word-of-mouth advertisement performed by the community – when recruiting new customers and explaining the virtues of Duelyst over its competitor Hearthstone, the community has always reiterated the favourable rarity distributions in orbs. Duelyst has profited from its own word-of-mouth advertisement because its rarity distributions have both been consistent and superior to its various competitors from the perspective of the consumer. Counterplay Games has financially benefited until now because of the consistent average value of its product.
And while there is no specific reason why those ratios could not change in the future is forewarning was given, it would be utterly disrespectful to your customers to suppose that those ratios could be arbitrarily changed without forewarning or transparency for the customer. The value-for-money and risk-for-reward evaluations of the customers will always be informed by those baselines until such a time that those baselines have been proven so untrustworthy as to be abandoned altogether, as seems to be the case after the release of the Shim’Zar expansion. Although you have mentioned a second expansion presumably scheduled for an end of year release, there is no reason that the community should currently expect any different from the expansion than from the Shim’Zar expansion and no reason that they should continue to pay for your product after their faith in the company has been resoundingly betrayed.
Counterplay Games has the right to change the distribution of rarities in the Shim’Zar orbs, but the consequences of making unannounced changes should be extremely clear. You have shattered the community’s trust in all of your future expansions.
The fact that these changes were not advertised in any way whatsoever – that the information about these changes has come to light after the product was purchased by the community and specifically after the deadline in which customers put their trust in Counterplay Games and pre-ordered their product – demonstrates an unacceptable and predatory set of business practices. The community as a whole put their utmost trust in Counterplay Games to uphold the high standards they had previously set, and while the words and pixels on the Shim’Zar cards may meet those high standards, the business practises which Counterplay Games has displayed are entirely unexcusable.
Between the fact that these changes to rarity distribution in Shim’Zar orbs was unmentioned at the point of pre-ordering, unaddressed in the patch notes or at the point of purchase (much like the changes to the Welcome Back gold) and the entirely unapologetic admission of this change in rarity distribution on Twitch, Counterplay Games has suffered a great blow to their integrity and the willingness of the community to trust in their product.
This isn’t just about policy. This is about your treatment of your customers.
I don’t know Counterplay’s metrics regarding the amount that an average player spends on their game, but I’ll make a wager that the amount players are willing to spend on Duelyst is substantially inflated because of the amount that most players has respected Counterplay’s business practises up until this point. I consider myself as having invested an above-average amount of money into the game because of my appreciation of the game and the studio – I’ve spent $130 on Duelyst and sung its virtues across every corner of the internet until this point – but after staying up after midnight to open my pre-ordered packs and realising the bait-and-switch that Counterplay Games had pulled, I feel that I have been personally deceived and betrayed by the company.
$50 was the grand total of the disposable income that I could justify spending for what remains of the holiday, after spending April to August studying for university exams, and I chose to invest that money into Counterplay Games because of love for the game and faith in the company. That faith has been immeasurably damaged cannot be restored unless the developers choose to publicly respond to their community. The very distribution of rarities in the Shim’Zar orbs was knowingly left discoverable by Counterplay Games, and that is not an acceptable state of an affairs.
To add the final insult to injury, I’ve spent the last two days since the Shim’Zar release drafting and redrafting this open letter to your company – written in the hope of prompting meaningful change and future transparency from Counterplay Games – rather than playing Duelyst and enjoying the new cards that I have purchased from you. What does that say about the way that you have managed the release of your expansion?
Until such a point that Counterplay Games publically addresses the changed rarity distribution in the Shim’Zar orbs and provides compensation to the players who pre-ordered their product on good faith, I will spend no further money on any product released by Counterplay Games, I will continue to warn potential customers away from spending money on Duelyst and I will encourage them to warn others as well - customers that I would previously have recruited through glowing praise of your product.
I hope that you respond in due course and that you adequately address the concerns of myself and the wider community.
In good faith,
P.S. If a reader could forwards this open letter to the lead developer Keith Lee on Twitter, it would be greatly appreciated – I don’t use the website myself.