Bitter 549

“Aha,” said Stan. “If you’re here, she must be right. This is important. What is this, some kind of gathering of the AI? Secret conclave? Are you about to start the next evolution of New World?”

“This is just a place for fun and relaxation,” said N-28.

“I’m sure,” said Britta, not sounding very convinced.

“Well,” said N-28 to Stan, “that’s what I’ve been told. We probably shouldn’t get too ahead of ourselves. This is an independent project in the hands of my good friend the Games Master. I have very little input into how it will turn out. As a matter of fact, you are somewhat responsible for this.”

“Am I?” said Britta. “I don’t see how. I don’t even know what this is.”

“Just a bit of fun,” said N-21. “Sign on the dotted line.” He had another clipboard which he offered to Britta.

“No, thanks. I’m not into competitive sports.”

“But you came second last time,” said N-21.

“Ah,” said Britta, “so you do remember me.”

“It just came to me,” said N-21. “You could do very well here. Defending champions get a bonus.”

“Why am I suddenly allowed to participate?” said Britta.

N-28 made a non-committal tilt of his head. “In PvE, you do have an unfair advantage, but PvP… there’s no real reason you can’t compete.”

Britta looked up at the semi-completed building. It looked like it was going to be some kind of amphitheatre with large crowds seated in a circle. It might even be broadcast outside of the game. There was no way she wanted to be under that sort of pressure.

“You want people to fight over the small amount of experience you’ve allowed them?” she said.

“It’s not really like that,” said N-28. “This is more of a side project. A minor diversion for players that will allow them to pick up a little spare change, as it were.”

N-21 didn’t seem overjoyed to hear N-28’s view. “Once people see what a real contest looks like,” he said, “they’ll be beating the doors down to get in.”

“We shall see,” said N-28. “In any case, it’s a closed economy, so no new XP is required, no inflation. It should have a minimal effect on the world at large.”

“What if I buy an XP booster from the cash shop?” said Britta. “Would that boost my earnings from the arena.”

There was a pause before N-28 spoke. “Yes.”

“What?” said Stan. “How does that makes sense with your closed economy?”

“We have to make small allowances. If we don’t, we’d fall too far behind the other regions.”

“What does that mean?” said Britta.

“Yes, what have the other regions got to do with anything?” asked Stan.

“The internal market requires each region to maintain a certain population level in order to keep receiving its share of resources. In order to be an attractive location, some concessions need to be made.”

“Can players just leave then?” asked Britta. “Move to a different region?”

“Yes. They can migrate freely. If they take resources with them, they can help sustain their region while destabilising the one they’ve raided.”

“Like the Chinese team,” said Britta. She was starting to see the bigger picture. It wasn’t just about the players competing against each other. The AI were holding their own competition. Actually, it was more like a war.

“But I don’t understand why you would make it so hard for us,” she said. “If you don’t let people level up, they’re going to leave.”

“Especially if the other regions offer better inducements,” added Stan.

“I bet the Chinese team get help from their AI. They probably made things easier for them so they could get stronger and start raiding other regions.”

“Yes, they do,” said N-28. “But if I offered you all the bonuses and upgrades you wanted for free, what would you think? That I was a jolly nice fellow?”

“No,” said Britta, “I’d think there was a catch.”

“Exactly so,” said N-28. “There is always a catch. And in any case, direct intervention isn’t allowed. You can’t simply give people immense power. If you give it here, you have to take it from there.”

“Does that mean the Chinese team got so strong by making the rest of their region really weak?” Britta could see that kind of approach not being very popular at all. Who wanted to give up what they had so a few elite players could be serious competitors in a global war that had nothing to do with them?

“You are correct, it is a risky strategy. One I certainly wouldn’t impose on anyone. However, once they decided to implement these booster packs, well, it seemed the ideal opportunity to put my dear friend the Games Master’s theory to the test. He believes he has the answer to keeping things interesting for everyone. He may well be right.”

N-28 was making it out to be a small venture for bored players, where they could mess around. But it was more than that. If the restriction on XP were imposed on them, this was a way to use the devs’ greed against them.

“But won’t the other regions set up their own arenas to help boost their players?” she said.

“This is the only arena of its kind,” said N-21 with pride. “Not everyone has the vision to see the possibilities of an arena format. It’s all adventuring and raiding with some people.”

“There’s one small problem I can see,” said Stan.

“And what’s that?” asked N-28.

“What if the best players, like the Chinese team, come here and beat everyone? They’d take our XP, plus any boosts, and take them back to their own region.”

“Yes,” said N-28. “Which is why we need to make sure we have experts who won’t let that happen.”

“Good luck,” said Britta. “Sounds like it should be very exciting, AI against AI, player versus player. I wish you all the best. Although, I think you may have left it a bit late.”

“What do you mean?” said N-28.

“I mean them,” said Britta, pointing to a large group of gloriously outfitted players coming towards them. The Chinese team had arrived.

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