Development Diary - 15.0 World Expo Update
We developed a compensation feature that allows players to change fuses and upgrades from some cars to others, unlocking the ability for us to roll out hundreds of accuracy improvements, RQ and Rarity rebalances, without giving too much of an advantage to those who already own the cars, and without taking away value from the existing owners.
This is a summary of how we thought about and approached the features and rebalancing.
Why correct cars?
Top Drives features many prestigious car manufacturers, with more car models than any other game. When you are racing a Bugatti off-road in a Top Drives sand track, it might feel like reality is a long way away, and it is the accurate stats that form the foundation of Top Drives’ ability to deliver compelling car races that you might otherwise never see in the physical world. The debates over which car should win will never be settled, and we can improve the foundation of authenticity over time by improving the accuracy of car stats.
Top Drives has over two dozen stats per car, and over 2,700 cars once World Expo releases. This includes stats which are proxies for more complicated attributes, such as handling. Overall, we have over 60,000 stats that govern all of our cars’ performance, and there is no universal database that provides them.
Many car stats have been wrong in the past, and many are still wrong now. In the 15.0 World Expo update, there were hundreds of corrections made for existing cars, and hundreds of corrections for all the new cars we’re adding in 15.0. There is still more to do with existing cars, so we consider car corrections a constant process of improvement.
How do we source stats?
The process involves working with our partners at the car website and magazine, Evo, in addition to multiple car experts who now work on Top Drives, contacts with representatives of the car manufacturers we represent, and some key Top Drives players who help carry the torch for car accuracy even more fervently. Nowadays there is discussion and tweaks of car stats between people who have driven these cars which further unlocks the game’s accuracy potential.
One of the most significant causes of car corrections is new data of similar cars. If we didn’t make changes, as we receive data for new car models, the hierarchy would be clearly incorrect; with older and slower models running faster than newer ones. As this data comes in, corrections are made to more accurately reflect that car’s hierarchy.
Why do we have to balance the game?
Other card games will change a card or unit’s performance stats entirely for balance purposes, or otherwise release new waves of units more powerful than previous ones. That balancing tool isn’t as available to Top Drives, because our cars are real cars with stats that reflect that. If we want to maintain a game with as many cars in the same ecosystem, which we do, changes to car balance are inevitable.
Balancing cars involves changing a car’s RQ and possibly its Rarity. Revising Rarity is disruptive due to differences in their cost of acquisition and fusion. With this in mind, the team developed a token compensation system with a set of rules to reduce disruption for balance changes going forward.
Why reset car upgrades and fuses?
We are resetting fuses as this is the most value you can gain or lose when a car changes rarity.
When cars change Rarity, they become much cheaper or more expensive to fuse. Cars of higher rarities are exponentially more expensive to upgrade, so an upgraded car that increases in rarity adds a lot of value to the owner’s garage. While the opposite is true for a car that decreases in rarity.
These issues were reported by many players. Early advantages were being entrenched in a way that felt too much like good or bad luck, and they hung over these cars and events.
Our aim for the feature is to reduce huge increases or decreases in value as much as is reasonably possible. A feature cannot see every edge case. So it’s about prioritising the things that matter most and affect the most players.
Why hold sale and fuse food value of a car’s previous rarity?
A second way players gain or lose value when cars change rarity is the value of the card itself.
We lock in the value of the car when you win it (the cash sale price, and the value of fusing into other cars). So, if you own a car that’s an Epic when its rarity changes, no matter what rarity it becomes (a Super Rare, Ultra Rare, still an Epic, or a Legendary), it maintains the same cash sale price, and can still be fused into Legendaries. This felt like a fair way to reduce the amount of value gained or lost in the changes.
Why not replace the car entirely?
Our goal is to honour ownership - we want you to keep the car if you have it now. Top Drives is about collecting cars so we aim to protect your collection as much as possible. We leave the door open that there could be exceptions where a car does need to be removed or replaced in Top Drives, but not in this run of changes.
If it’s an Ultra Rare turned Epic, players now own the Epic. If, in future, this becomes a significant problem, we can create rewards that award the specific cars that are now Epics, so that they remain as accessible as we’d like them to be.
Can you use fuse tokens on newly added cars (PL15 World Expo)?
Transferring fuses provides significant strategic value, as you can prioritise cars you think will benefit you now and in the future, and away from cars that will not benefit you as much. New cars are not eligible for token usage for this reason. We can’t add new content to the game if players can transfer all their progress from old to new content. The idea of new content is it creates new cars to collect and upgrade for all players. Transferring significant progress undermines its value and impacts new players too significantly.
Why change the RQ and rarity of cars?
We periodically review RQ, but due to the disruptive nature of higher Rarity changes, the ability to balance cars has been impaired, locking many cars at RQ values very different from how the RQ rankings actually rates them.
Additionally, there were systemic issues with the RQ system that underrated or overrated certain car types that we hadn’t tried to address before; in part because they would cause significant Rarity changes. With Rarity rebalancing unlocked it was time to review our balancing calculations.
The current RQ system was derived before events existed in Top Drives, so the fundamentals have not been reviewed for five years. Over time, it has been noted that a high top speed stat plays an overrated role in determining RQ relative to its actual value. We reduced the weighting of this stat. This means high top speed cars, relative to their near competition, fall in RQ, while low top speed cars, relative to their competition, increase in RQ.
The biggest trend of a particular type of car moving is off-road tyre rally cars. These cars were very low in RQ because of their low top speed, which often led to them being competitive on asphalt, which is not ideal for a specialist off-road car. These cars in general have moved up in RQ and thus Rarity. Now, the hierarchy of off-road cars should be greatly improved, with the cars well distributed throughout the rarities.
Unfreezing cars from changing rarity, and improving the accuracy of the ratings calculation means we closed the gap between a car’s RQ, Rarity and performance.
How are rarities changing in the 15.0 update?
380 cars change rarity, which is 15.5% of the 2,445 total cars (pre-15.0 World Expo car count).
Common/F: 52 increase
Uncommon/E: 3 decrease, 58 increase
Rare/D: 13 decrease, 44 increase
Super Rare/C: 21 decrease, 26 increase
Ultra Rare/B: 49 decrease, 21 increase
Epic/A: 48 decrease, 13 increase
Legendary/S: 32 decrease
We rebalanced the tiers for a smaller Common tier, while expanding the Rare tier. Further, when sourcing cars, we are excluding more low performing cars, especially when too similar to one another. Roughly 10% of low performance cars planned for the 15.0 World Expo update were excluded on this basis. Overall, this means a smaller percentage of cars will fall into the lesser used Common and Uncommon tiers.
Additionally, in the higher rarity tiers, the general tide we are following is moving the lowest performers out. This trend reduces how many cars move up a higher rarity tier, and it ensures that as manufacturers build and release faster cars, that the tiers adjust to reflect this. In summary, a standard for a Legendary is tighter because more cars are qualifying to be Legendaries. This means, in general, that faster cars are becoming easier to upgrade rather than harder.
Why change how RQ is calculated?
How good a car is in Top Drives is different from other racing games. Race Quota (RQ) is a measurement of efficiency alongside each car’s core stats. Strategy comes from having to select the best group of cars for a match, and cars that become too efficient for their RQ reduces the game’s strategic element. RQ balancing tries to ensure that cars do not become too inefficient or too efficient, leading to a balanced game with exciting strategic choices.
When we evaluate the RQ of a car, we race that car against all other cars across a variety of different tracks. These tracks fall in three categories: dry, wet, and off-road, and consist of a mix of different kinds of challenges, from drag races to city streets with their speed bumps. Cars then have a win rate for each category.
When we rank the cars, we make a composite overall score made up from the three category win rates. We award 100% credit for your strongest category, and 10% and 5% credit for your second and third best categories, so all cars have a rating out of 115% or 1.15, which is then used as the basis to assign RQ and Rarity.
The current tracks used were determined over five years ago, when we had fewer than 1,000 cars, before events even existed, and when we all had less knowledge about Top Drives and how it plays. Players often observed that cars with high top speed appeared to have disproportionately high RQ. This is the kind of systemic problem we aim to fix.
The main changes are a reduction in the prevalence of top speed races across dry and wet vs. twistier challenges, and a reduction in the number of hill climb tracks in the off-road category. These new sets of tracks better match the frequency of how often these races show up within the game itself.
Post Ranking Adjustments
Specialists are cars that defy the RQ system. This means there is something about their performance that cannot be explained by the rating across three categories. We aim to have general rules that can set even specialist’s RQ to avoid manual adjustments in their hundreds.
A car’s RQ is slightly based on their versatility (15% of the 115% total). Slick Tyres have very low versatility, but a reduction in their RQ by so much would render them far too strong. In this circumstances, we apply a multiplication factor to their wet and off-road scores, so that they don’t affect the RQ rating too much, and so a slick tyre car is competitive at its RQ.
A car that is fast, but with poor handling, will win some races across all three surface categories, but will lose many more in all three categories. So from the stats, the car loses a lot more than it wins, so it ends up with low RQ. This is not necessarily undesirable, but we don’t want it to get out of control.
We have developed some rules that help identify cars with single stats that far exceed their rarity, and adjust their RQ accordingly. This replaces manually tweaking a car with a slightly more automated system. Cars are identified as having a stat significantly better than other cars in their rarity, and then receive a 5-10% RQ boost. This more accurately places cars with an appropriate RQ. This replaces manual design tweaks of the past, it covers for newly created specialists with the RQ change, and will more accurately grade some car’s RQ, before they become a problem.
In future, we hope to automate this, such that we can ensure that if a car deviates from the mean of their rarity by too much, their RQ changes by a certain percentage. This should allow a more nuanced and proactive approach to identifying cars that are ill-fit for their assigned RQ, even beyond this new system.
The Fastest Cars in the World
The problem with rankings is if you are the best, you don’t know how much better you are than the rest of the cars. This problem is definitely now in Top Drives. It affects the fastest and slowest cars. But having a bunch of slow cars at 10 RQ isn’t causing much bother. Having a bunch of elite cars at 97-100 RQ, when maybe they should be rated 101-110+ RQ, is more of a problem. This isn’t solved in this update, but is something we’re thinking about for the future.
To learn more about the Car Rarity Token Compensation feature, check out this article.