How long will Empire last?


A wizzard did it?


Maelstrom was billed as a game of exploration and discovery, and so had a game culture of secrets and mysteries. It was hard to talk about because people would clam up OOC because they were afraid of their IC secrets being leaked. The watchword was FOIP: Find Out In Play - the idea that everything about the game should be discovered in play. Empire has its mysteries and secrets, but to a much smaller extent. See the amount of information on the public wiki, for a start!

I came into Maelstrom about half way through, but I was already a LARPer when it started so I was aware of it right from the start. I read the initial marketing/promo material and couldn’t see where I would have fun in the game. It seemed very sandboxy and I prefer games which are more story-driven and action-oriented. However over the years I heard a lot of people talking about how great it was so I gave it a go. Honestly I never really got into it: I just couldn’t find enough to get involved with that I had access to. I went to seven or eight events across three years so I gave it a good try. I remember the Downtime system being hugely overimportant - I felt no-one cared what happened on the field (and I still doubt much ever did) so long as you submitted your downtime in good time.

I don’t have access to the numbers, but it sounds like Maelstrom’s player base dwindled away over the years. Empire doesn’t quite feel the same. I can still see aspects of things that frustrated me about Maelstrom, but to nowhere near the same extent. (My experience of Empire is only broadly positive, there’s a lot I struggle to “get”) So I don’t see Empire driving players away the same way Maelstrom did. I don’t know what the minimum number of players to make the game viable is, but I suspect Empire is way, way above it.

I do remember being in one of the “focus group” / very early preview groups when the game that would be Empire was still being formed. Matt P and some of the other PD team did a tour of the country speaking to local LARPers about what they liked in LARP and previewing the new game. I asked what the expected size of the game would be and Matt said something like ideally 800 players. I believe the first event was easily twice that.


As far as I know, the very first event had over 2000 people on the field (this being at the Tournament stud site).

The weather was awful (this was the -10 degrees and knee deep mud event…) and IC confusion resulted in the battles being brutal (PC deaths in the dozens, at least).

And of course, there were a lot of people who tried it, went “nope, not for me”, and left. So numbers dropped for an event or two, and then started to climb.

It’s only in the last year that the numbers of playing characters have risen above 2000 again, I think. Due to some excellent publicity online and word of mouth, coupled with good field organisation.

(And yeah, Maelstrom was a pig to get into and understand. The importance of downtime was such that PD sold downtime tickets, so folks who couldn’t or weren’t interested in getting to the event could send in downtime. Play-by-mail LARP…Interesting, but really not my thing)


I thought the main purpose of downtime tickets was so that if someone temporarily could not attend, they didn’t lose out on downtime actions like gaining skills. Empire has mitigated this by giving XP for the 1st and 3rd event you attend each year, so missing one doesn’t mean missing XP.


Yes, but you could use the downtime for anything, like teaching, crafting, building forests, nuking forest zones into swamps (ahem) so you could have an uptime impact and affect others with your downtime actions.

I do not miss the hideous spreadsheet game. Empire is much much better.


I’m not actually sure why people paid for the pain of having to interact with the Maelstrom downtime system. You would have to pay me to do it again.


Mostly Social responsibility I think. For a lot of people, the problem became that if you didn’t get your DT in, all your resources did nothing for a season, and potentially degraded.

There was absolute chaos in the Malathian colony for a few seasons because the player who was next in line to be governor didn’t turn up. Similarly farm owners who didn’t go to an event could suddenly cripple a colony’s food output. Armies would stand around looking curiously at the world around them etc.

Going back to the original topic Maelstrom had a slow but inevitable power creep and several very clear “this is going to end the world as we know it if we aren’t careful” scenarios. Both of those led to the game clearly escalating to an end point. By comparison Empire is much more stable, the system is less lethal there’s less power imbalance between the players and PvP is a lot subtler.


Until a gigantic nation vs nation occurs or Wintermark go on a rampage and try to murder everyone, then everyone will pool resources and curse their lands until the end of time thoroughly screwing them


Maelstrom didn’t feel like it ended because players pressed world-ending buttons. It felt like the world-ending buttons were wired in because PD was planning to end the game. I remember the Time of Destruction plot drops and that was definitely a thing that appeared at an event just after a long winter break (i.e. lots of time for PD to write the system-ending plotdrops) and as far as I know was not created by player action. Well, it might have been IC created by the slow grinding away at the world, but that could have been as fast or slow as PD wanted it to be. It having reached tipping point then rather than 5,10, 20 years later felt like PD’s choice rather than an inevitable consequence of things on the field.

From then onward skill progression got silly, but that felt like a last hurrah for a dying game rather something the game was ending as a result of.


Brilliant news - love you all


My impression was that PD ended Maelstrom because it had got to the point where the game system itself was discouraging new players, which of course was resulting in lower headcounts. PD is a business, and I would expect Empire to end if it reaches a point where the player base is in consistent decline. My uninformed understanding is that numbers per event are still increasing, so I’m not expecting an end any time soon.


Sounds likely. No sensible business are going to wire in game-ending buttons to a game which is still bringing in as good a profit as they can hope for.