Posted by: Leek | January 7, 2015

Breaking Down the Kantai Collection Community Fleet

This is an article I can honestly say has been a long time in the making. Well, obviously not long because Kantai Collection hasn’t been around forever, but it’s something I’ve invested a lot of day to day time to do. I guess because I studied Anthropology (specifically cultural) I just have this natural tendency to take interest in community growth and development. So when a browser game comes out that manages to grow itself a tremendous community in the span of a little over half a year, it’s natural that I’m going to take some interest.

I’m not sure if this article is going to be done before the anime, but, with it’s announcement, I figured I would try and get it out before. Think of it as a compilation of my observations, experiences, and analysis of spending a marginal amount of time with and in the Kantai Collection community. I’m not going to actually talk that much about the core game but about it’s various appeal points. I also plan to work in the overall experience of interacting with and getting to know other players (versus isolating yourself in your own game). I tried to break up a ton of factors of the series into sections, so feel free to scroll around and look into what pieces you find interesting.

Are you ready for war?

If you’re looking for are looking for an actual explanation of Kantai Collection, I can’t say this is the best place to turn. But this article can give you a simple breakdown of various elements that allowed it to get to where it is and how the community formed alongside of it. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then the next boat is gonna be leaving the port soon.

A Brief Personal Intro
For a good amount of my life, I’ve had a close friend in Japan who has a strange kind of trend foresight. I don’t know what it is, but he has this sixth sense to know exactly what anime, games, music, etc. are going to be successful as soon as he gets a glimpse. And while you’ll hear me sometimes brag about my own ability to do the same, I generally feel that all of it has rubbed off on me from him.

Over the years he’s attempted to get me into numerous things before the bandwagon started, and I’ve generally refused every single one of his offers. While it’s always kind of cool to beat the trend, it’s never felt right unless it was a personal discovery and interest. So you can imagine when he asked if I wanted to get into Kantai Collection (here on abbreviated to KanColle) that I said no. And for some reason he really pestered me this time around. He would tweet about it daily, send me and some of my other friends requests to play, he was really intent on getting us into it. A few of my friends jumped onto it eventually, and,, at that point I told them all that I refused to play. Ever. Now keep this in mind that I really put my foot down. This promise naturally meant I would be taking that foot and putting it in my mouth later on.

Welcome. Get out.

To start a bit of a parallel conversation, I had been getting involved with the doujin community a little in the year prior. I was getting to know more artists and generally my interaction with the community was fairly steady when KanColle was starting out. And a few months after my friend started harassing me about making an account on KanColle, I started to notice that a lot of artwork for the game was starting to spring up. It wasn’t the size it is at the present time, but it was still at the point where I’d run into it on a daily basis. Add this on top of the constant chitter chatter about it from my friends and it managed to cause two things in my mind. For one, it made my refusal to play it grow merely because I was tired of hearing the same thing over and over. But it also peaked my curiosity as to why a browser game’s popularity was accelerating at the pace of a rocket.

From my point of view, the log really go rolling around during and after the first fall event in November. The contents of the event brought a lot of curiosity and new life to the community, and that was the point where it became incredibly hard to not run into something KanColle on a daily basis. At this time my curiosity had finally gotten the better of me, and I decided that I needed to crack. I would eventually work around my group of friends to get an account and started playing at the start of 2014. Naturally, the fact I was playing was dug out eventually and it’s still something my friends won’t let me live down. Despite that, I’ve managed to play for a solid year and it’s proven to be a very distinct experience.

War Mania
Naturally, you can’t crack down on popularity without taking into account some history and environment. So it’s important to remember that war related works have been gaining wider popularity over the years in KanColle’s target community. And I don’t just mean pure historical but any works that tend to hover around the mechanics and elements of war. Survival games, trips to shooting ranges, even just going to exhibitions to see various vehicles of war, the interests that various friends and acquaintances have started to form over the years has shifted quite a bit. Is this universal across the entire KanColle community? Not exactly. There were naturally plenty of players that came from long histories of studying history or naval warfare directly.

No better way to teach history than to make it fun and easy on the eyes.

If you’ve been paying attention to the manga/anime community you can probably point out works here and there that have had a fair amount of success. It’s hard to put a good placeholder in time where a lot of the war oriented manga started leaking over to the anime community. But in the case of this article we’ll just use Strike Witches as a good starting point, as it’s something that brought a lot of historical and military research into it’s creation. From there on you can go through quite a few works but to bring it more into recent time we can consider Girls Und Panzer and Arpeggio of Blue Steel as more recent examples. And both of these presented examples are series that would go on to do collaborations and work together directly with DMM/Kadokawa in building up KanColle. It’s very important to keep this environment in mind when thinking towards KanColle’s popularity and how it bounced itself off of a lot of works already present.

There’s no doubt there was definitely a wind in the air that got into KanColle’s sails. And, of all the targets, it’s hard to pick something better than Japan’s WWII naval prowess. The natural social game boom, the free to play model, and the war mania that was lingering in the air over the past few years. You add all of these elements together and it makes a really simple jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces are there and all you had to do was find all of them and put them together. It’s really something that, after creation, probably made a lot of companies bang their head against a wall for not coming up with it first. And once KanColle set itself up it became near impossible for anything similar to stand against it.

Tweaking the F2P Mold
So to get outside of the aesthetic popularity of KanColle, let’s get into something a little different by going into more detail. I had mentioned before that it’s a game that landed itself in the middle of the ever ongoing social game boom. And in case you’re not familiar with most social games, while most are free to play they often contain elements that milk several micro-transactions out of you. The strategy employed by various games are very different but, in most cases, it’s hard to avoid a bit of money leaking out of your pocket. How does KanColle stack up against the usual cases? And what potentially aided it’s journey to popularity?

To start off, let’s address the overall accessibility of KanColle. As any free to play game there’s nothing barring you from making an account and getting started immediately. There’s no mini-fees and all you have to really get around nowadays is the lottery to get into one of the servers. Despite this proving a problem for certain people (essentially based around internet provider), there are more than a few workarounds, and it’s generally just committing a small amount of time and patience to get a server spot. So while there is a bit of an extra barrier, it is still your average free to play game that doesn’t charge you anything upfront.

So maybe it’s not easily accessible in every meaning of the word.

The real element that’s important to remember is that nothing in the game is hidden behind any payments. Every transaction that you will make in the game is based around your own personal decision (whether you want to support or simply enhance your play experience). Otherwise, there are players who have played since the start and never spent a single dime. In fact, the producer for KanColle, Kensuke Tanaka, has stated himself in interviews that his objective was to create a game where you can play and obtain every item without spending any money (you can read Tanaka’s full comments here). And, even if this interview was conducted nearly a year a go, Tanaka has held true to his promise. There is actually very little reason to spend money, especially as a player who’s new to the game. If you are to make a monetary transaction related to KanColle it will most likely occur after clocking more than several hours and, at that point, you’ll have either decided whether you deem it worth it or not. Or you might have just quit playing altogether.

But there has to be a pay to win element somewhere, right? Right? Unless you find that you have a very heavy wallet and nothing better to do with your money, there’s no reason it should have to open. The only time you might feel tempted is as a starting player where you want more supplies so you can build stronger units. But since the game eases you in and will most likely give you those ships as you play the game more, it’s generally a test of your patience to not waste your own money. And that’s exactly what all of KanColle is about. You will most likely want to pay your way out with money but it’s just not cost efficient. The same amount of supplies you can gain from paying a rather large sum of money can be obtained by setting a few hours aside to play the game itself. So it becomes a deal of instant gratification versus just putting in a bit of work. And since most of the game requires your time and patience eventually, you might not be playing the right game if you can’t deal with the early grind.

So once you put a large amount of the time into the game, there does come a time where you have to make a decision as a player. There will be a point where you will be faced with a question of spend money or not, usually based around how many units you can hold. From the start, all players can hold around one-hundred units and if you are really just trying to clear maps this is more than enough. But if you are interested in keeping various ships you’ll eventually notice that you’re running out of space. And this either means getting rid of certain units or eventually paying the fee to increase your inventory. So it’s important to remember there is a decision that might happen eventually based on your habits and experience. But it comes at such a late time in the game that chances are you’ll have a clear enough mind to make a decision you’re happy with.

Your hard work will be rewarded. Trust me.

And that’s really it. KanColle is a game that really doesn’t force you into a money commitment until you’ve had a long relationship with it. It’s, instead, a game that just requires you commit the ample time to play it. And honestly that’s one of the things that’s worked in the game’s favor. Not because it doesn’t force people to pay micro transaction after micro transaction, but because forcing players to spend a good amount of time with it raises a certain kind of community.

Come Together, Grow Together
Now that we’ve gone through all the elements that have aided KanColle grow, it’s finally time to talk player base. As I’ve explained, KanColle attracted certain players and it’s style itself causes some distinct behaviors in the community. I’m not going to say that every player will experience what I’m going to talk about but they are common happenings as players embed themselves in the community.

The first and most natural occurrence in any game is the common hurdles that every player will face. Starting out in KanColle, no player will start out with the same ships or have the same luck, but every player will have to complete the same quests and run through the same maps. This means that every player will have to break down the same walls and, while there are exceptions, will struggle a bit to escape from some early game trauma. Common experience is always a plus for community as, more often then not, it allows players to experience similar events. The stories will be different but most players will be able to relate to a certain point of time in their career. And it generally turns into a good way for old players to assist and cheer on newer players in those times of struggle.

Don’t worry. It happens to everyone.

This element of cooperation especially becomes a factor during events where there is a distinct unification across the community. Since events only last for a minimum amount of time, there is a slow build up and period of tactics sharing that tends to occur between players. Before the event, players will often try to guess the level of difficulty and scope of the maps. During the event, it becomes a question of what the most efficient way to clear maps is or how to clear a map without having certain high level or powerful units. There are hundreds of questions that will fly between various players to ensure that everyone can safely clear event maps before the timer runs out. So even without a direct element of cooperation within the game, the community tends to become a very large war room during the span of an event. And it’s that unity, common experience, and sharing of information that really propels people to form bonds with fellow players.

But even without the common experience, there are still embedded elements of the game that pull the individual in. I had mentioned that, while players will run the same maps, everyone will end up building their own custom fleet starting out. There are a wide variety of ships that will drop for players as they start out, and it’s hard to say that everyone will be clearing maps with the same fleet makeup. And, like I said before, KanColle is an incredibly large time commitment. You’ll spend a long time with your starting ships and most likely grow to love and hate some of them based on your own experiences. To be frank, it’s more like building your own little family as opposed to an army. You put the time to level up and power up your units, and the permanent death formula KanColle employs leaves you in a position where losing a unit is throwing away that time. So there are very few times a player will deliberately charge into a map without thinking about the condition of their own units. Not because it means simply losing a unit but because it equates to losing all that time and hard work you put into raising them. A player may be able to build/receive that unit again, but it doesn’t mean they gain back the time they spent leveling and raising it.

And there are a large amount of players who go into the game already fond of certain units. Especially at this point in time, there are very few players who start up KanColle completely unaware of any existing units. But I will admit, from experience, that if you ask someone their favorite units after a few months it will often spawn very different answers from if you asked them starting out. Why? Like I explained, it simply comes down to a matter of personal experience. There are many cases where certain units just perform better for certain players and those experiences become embedded in that player’s mind. The same battleship that never hits anything for one player just happens to be the unit that bailed another player out of a tight spot. So while one guy will come out of the game hating something, another player will come out with a potential new favorite member of their team.

‘Till service end do us part.

And as of early 2014 year, the implementation of the marriage system has become a bit of a way for players to commit to those bonds that have formed over their time playing. While it doesn’t mean the same thing to all players (plenty simply use it as a stat boost), a large margin of the player base has used it as a means to show what units mean the most to them. And since only one ring can be received via quests (barring the ability to purchase more via transactions), it forces players to make a bit of a hard choice in commitment. Does it mean that players who marry several units are doing something wrong? No. It’s a system that has further developed on the already existing system and has given players a new way of showing their own personal development and, potentially, tell their own story.

Benefits of Loose Direction Series Design
When it comes to game community talk nowadays, I like to bring up loose direction a lot. I don’t know if there’s an actual correct or coined term for it, but “loose direction” has always been the phrase I’ve used to describe it. So what exactly do I mean by loose direction? When I use this term I’m referring to a series that very loosely creates it’s characters and generally leaves a lot of storytelling up to the community. Why is this an effective strategy? It’s biggest benefit in Japan occurs due to the large and ever growing presence of the doujin community. It allows a large amount of people to want to put their own spin on things; like certain character behaviors or ideas as far as direct plot. Naturally, leaving a series too open isn’t effective, but a successful open series or even a simple character based around this loose direction principal often leads to an oil well of creative content. And what’s better than the community generating content to help advertise the series for you?

KanColle itself has just enough content to allow it certain direction. Is there a real plot? Not really. The enemy you fight against is pretty loosely defined (which oddly enough was a very beneficial decision). But the original elements aside, many of the ships’ personalities and relationships are taken directly from historical events. Various things units say are tied directly to those events as well as what other units they may mention in certain lines. But not every ship has this which led many players to dig a little deeper and weave characters a bit more tightly via historical events. So while the history element of basing a series around WWII naval ships was worked into KanColle, it didn’t work in everything. And this itself leaves it just open enough to allow the community to run with things in their own direction.

The real battle waits at Comiket.

The staff of KanColle itself have been smart as to pay attention to the hustle and bustle in the community. The ideas generated by the community don’t fall on deaf ears and many units themselves have been more distinctly defined via community input. And that itself is the real beauty of well executed “loose direction”. It may seem lazy to some but it’s not as if the incomplete factors impact the series like an incomplete game needing DLC. The nature of KanColle’s missing elements allow it to benefit entirely. It’s best to look at it like a series of clay sculptures that are not in any distinct shape yet. One clay sculpture might have been done to appear like a dog but there’s no distinct shape to say what kind of dog it is. This leaves the community time to look at it and decide what kind of dog they think it is. The staff simply goes in and completes the sculpture to define those details the community defined.

This is, without a doubt, a very limited tool available to only certain types of games. But I can cite several examples where the technique has helped enhance the overall community experience. It’s very much the classic open ending with a bit of a larger twist. Loose direction is not always the safest tool to exploit and, without any starting appeal, it can backfire rather spectacularly. However, in the right situation, it can work wonders and KanColle is a solid case example.

Different Ways to Play
In our final major section I wanted to focus on some basic player archetypes. I’m not going to say that these are the only players to exist but they are some big examples that you will spot. I went a lot over what drives the community but I never really narrowed the scope down to what drives players this way and that way. So this section will be a little bit of community wrap up before we get to the overall conclusion.

What kind of Admiral are you?

The first and a really common play style is that of the collector. With any social game there’s a common tendency for there to be a lot of individual units to collect and utilize. KanColle itself comes prepared with a large encyclopedia that fills up as you collect and raise units and different weapons (Pokedex anyone?). And there are players that have a sole purpose to do nothing else but fill every entry of the encyclopedia as it grows larger and larger. Naturally, the level of completion that some people strive for is different. Completion can involve the encyclopedia but also extend as far as completing all the various maps and missions that are released. And with the list of accomplishments and missions growing with each update, you can imagine that keeping yourself at 100% completion is one of the more difficult things to strive for.

With the recent burst of popularity in speedrunning games, it’s hard to say it hasn’t leaked over to games where it’s not exactly logical. KanColle is a game that’s often based around luck, but there are still players that are convinced to find the best and quickest way to clear the newest maps and, especially, event maps when they’re released. Due to the limited amount of events and new maps that are released throughout the year, it’s hard to say that these players are incredibly common. But, there are a good amount of players who get a lot of fun and enjoyment out of the challenge that comes with jumping into the unknown and being the first to crack a new map. But sometimes these two mentioned types of players aren’t the only trait and play into another type of player.

Probably one of the more avid and hooked players are those that target the rankings. KanColle runs a rankings system that’s based around your various achievements throughout the month. At the end of every month a slew of top rankers will be given exclusive prizes, often weapons, that the regular player base can’t obtain through any means outside of events. Naturally, getting a top spot in the ranks turns into a war of it’s own and requires a player to devote countless hours of the day to ensure they maintain a monthly top position. Add in the presence of an event and the intensity of the competition only grows. Having played good amounts of hours on a fairly regular basis myself and having barely making a dent in the rankings, I can assure you it’s not an easy feat. The players who do this are something and are highly respectable or obsessed depending on your personal life outlook.

Congrats on clearing the event! But what was your clear time?

Up until this point, I’ve gone over some pretty common players and all of them seem like far extremes. So it’s important to not forget the simple things. Naturally, there are casual players, but there are those that have really developed their own personal fleet. And these players are usually stubborn. They’re the ones that want to succeed with their selected fleet no matter what hardship it brings them. Whatever the case, they’re the players that have either spent a lot of time with certain units or simply have some historical attachment to a certain formation. Whatever the case, they’re a breed of player that isn’t out to clear everything as quick as everyone else. They’re more likely to take their time and figure out a personal solution. This leads to them often coming up with their own tactics rather than taking the easy, common solution.

Cleaning Up the Paperwork
So that about wraps up my brief little explanation of the various elements of KanColle. Sure, it didn’t seem short but I could go on for quite a bit longer with a lot more fleshy detail. This article was just meant to give some bare ideas, and I think I managed to cover the most significant as simply and effectively as I could. Hopefully it helped make some sense of the raging popularity behind KanColle and made you realize that hardly any of what it exploited is exactly “new”. KanColle simply utilized and bent several ideas to draw favor to it’s side, and it’s popularity really shows that those decisions were smartly made.

The environment it chose, the loose direction, the accessibility, all of these elements and more would pave a long and very easy to traverse road to success. And, at the end of the day, all you can really do is applaud the staff for their work. The game itself isn’t particularly special and, while various elements are rather well done, it was really something anybody could have created. But sometimes you really have to break a series down to realize that fact. It’s easy to dismiss the popularity of series under a single idea, but it’s really important to attack it from every angle you can. And I really feel the only way I could really break down KanColle was by diving into the belly of the beast myself. Had I chose to stand by my original decision, I’m not sure I would have really understood how the community so tightly knit itself together. Nor do I think I would understand the sheer time investment and the amount of attachment it can draw out of a person.

The real question is, where does the series go from here? KanColle is going into it’s third year of service and it’s hard to say how long of a lifespan it has. There is no doubt a slew of unexplored ships and doors the staff has yet to open, but it becomes a question of how long the community is willing to run with it. DMM and Kadokawa themselves have attempted creating games with a similar formula, but very few players have made the transition merely because of the time commitment. And, I believe, it’s the time commitment involved with KanColle that will eventually be the end of it.

The anime itself as well as the Vita release guarantee that KanColle will be strong and making a decent sum of money for another year. There are still plenty of people who want in on the action and a few events to welcome the new players will do well to ease them into playing the game. But with a population of nearly two and a half million players and growing, it’s hard to tell how many new faces are really going to jump on in during the coming years. But I feel the deeper community will stay together as long as the game doesn’t tweak it’s formula too drastically. The community strength the game breeds is something I feel confident will cause many players to stick with it until end of service. The ship will have to sink but there’s no chance it will be easily forgotten.

We await your return, Admiral.

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