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New to Warcraft: Upkeep Taxes

11.12.18 | Cepheid 15442


Let's talk tax.

Now that I have your attention with such a riveting topic, I would like to discuss the humble Upkeep system and why it is critical for the game we know and love today. Why it deserves credit for its contribution to the tight game play loop that has kept competitive players interested in this game for 15 years, and why it's something you should pay attention to in your own games.

How it works

So first of all, let's talk about what the Upkeep system does.

When you go over a certain  population your gold income reduces. That's it.

The numbers:

When your upkeep level changes you will hear a sound play to alert you, and you should notice that the gold ticking from your gold mine will change.

Note: Creeping, selling items, gold received from an Ally, and the Transmute spell are ALL affected by Upkeep, however they always show their initial No-Upkeep value. So be sure to do the math yourself!

Why it exists

To understand it's intent, I'm going to take a few quotes from Blizzard themselves, firstly, let's see what the website has to say about Upkeep.

"Upkeep has been included to improve tactical management for players while fostering a more aggressive style of gameplay. Players are more aggressive and turtle far less in their bases, and it gives players real strategic decisions to make about how many units they wish to control with pros and cons to each. Upkeep is also instituted to focus the game on smaller numbers of units. The more units that are allowed in the game, the less powerful Heroes will be relative to your army. This is simple math. High Upkeep is MEANT to be very punishing. Players should not be in it for long, but we didn't want to set the harsh unit cap at 80."

There are a few things to take away from this:

  • Upkeep is intentionally designed to reduce turtling and promote aggressive play.
  • Going into Upkeep is a decision the player must consider.
  • By reducing the army sizes, Heroes take center stage.
  • Be careful about going into High Upkeep!

Next I'd like to quote Rob Pardo, the Lead Designer on Warcraft 3, here's what he had to say to Soren Johnson of Designer Notes on the topic:

"Now the other [decision] was when we put Upkeep into the game. Which again, was one of these really tricky problems for us to try and make the hero concept work, because when Upkeep wasn’t in there, then all you really had to control the players was population cap. 

What would happen, what was always happening in play test, is people would get up to their pop cap, they’d have a big army, and then they would stockpile all their gold, they’d have a ton of gold and then what would happen is we’d get in combat with each other and if it ended up not resolving the war, then both of us can instantly rebuild our army, there was just no economic tension."

For a slight aside here, keep in mind what he says about stockpiling. We shall come to that later. For now though, you can see that Upkeep was included to add tension to the game, to encourage players to fight each other, while keeping the armies small enough that heroes play a big role.

The strategy of Upkeep

Above I mentioned that there are four considerations of Upkeep, and now we can look at how that affects the decisions made by the player:

Leave the Turtles on Turtle Rock

Turtling is a popular strategy in RTS. Build up a force behind strong defenses and push out once you get the big army. Upkeep means this becomes less effective as the game goes on it takes longer to get to 100 food, giving your opponent time to either organize the siege to push your base, or expand and take the map.

To break Upkeep, or not to break Upkeep?

It absolutely must be a conscious decision you are making to break 50 food. New players must not allow themselves to float just over the Upkeep barriers into 53 food, or 85 food. Trust me that the loss in income isn't worth that small army advantage! Make sure that you are breaking Upkeep when you decide to.

There goes my Hero...

Warcraft 3 is all about the Hero. With Upkeep nudging the game into low-population battles, the Heroes become all the more important, and Heroes love map control. In addition to the expansion options you get, Warcraft 3 maps are full of another two resources that you need a Hero with to access: XP and Items. With Upkeep, you benefit from fighting for map control rather than sitting and building your tech or economy as is often the case in other RTS games.

High roller

I know I said you must be wary of breaking Upkeep, this is especially true of high Upkeep. It's very hard to recover from losing a 80 food army, so you have got to make sure you're using the army if you have it. You should aim to never accidentally break upkeep, and if you have to kill a worker or two in the late game, that's often fine!

A few things to consider:

  • 50 is our magic number. It's the largest army you can field without any penalty to your gold income. If you have two heroes and ~10-15 workers, that means your army is only likely to be around 25-30.
  • Timing attacks. The common way to use this system against your opponent is to quickly build 20+ of units and attack while they are on 50.
  • Why stockpile? Well, there are many, many things you should spend your gold on once you hit the No Upkeep cap. Upgrades, Teching and buying expensive items such as healing scrolls, staffs or even marketplace items should all be priority. These are force multipliers which make your army stronger without costing supply.
  • FFA games require a lot of Upkeep management. You need to have enough of a stockpile to fight multiple wars consecutively with different units, but not so much that it leaves you vulnerable to attack.
  • Upkeep also reduces the effectiveness of "feeding" strategies in team games. If you do plan to feed (and to be honest, they aren't incredibly effective), make sure the team collectively has a good lumber income to afford high-tier units to make it worthwhile, otherwise a cut of that gold is going to waste!

Upkeep - Harsh but fair

This system is the unsung hero of Warcraft 3. Adding an additional dimension of strategy, as well as encouraging a fun and aggressive style of play. It's a system so good that it often goes totally unnoticed by new players, yet it's there, guiding you to that exciting and tense gameplay that has kept veterans coming back for over a decade.




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