Hey, Brad, word from one community-borne game to another…

Don’t be fooled.

If we stopped listening to our community intently, even though they’re not convinced we do, we’d cease to exist. So yeah, it’s beyond important for us. We’ve been doing it since day 1. It’s guided our game design all the way. It kept us from flopping at launch.

But, incase you haven’t noticed, our community is not exactly … large.

If Brad McQuaid wants to build the next big thing in MMOs, Brad McQuaid should build the next big thing in MMOs, not gather around the WoW disenchanted to discuss how to build a better game, because 6 million people don’t think WoW is all that bad.

WWII Online’s original community were dedicated, hardcore WWII simmers and recreators. They were the anti-bf1942 audience. This made them seem ballsy and gutsy. In reality, we were just unsatisfied. Specifically – we didn’t like the other games on the market. But when we looked around and took head counts, there were quite a lot of us. And the game wasn’t even released!

We were entirely the wrong group of people to tell Cornered Rat Software what would make a great game, except for in terms of our own small community. What we had in common was dislike for everything that makes Bf1942, Counterstrike, etc, highly popular.

That made a basis for a very strong community (which in turn creates a false perception of how big the community must be). But not the kind of strength that nurtures good product development, because it was overlooked that we didn’t really share a lot in common in what we did like.

So just like any other game, WWIIOL is a hodge-podge of compromises to the original concepts, although it initially always tried to compromise away from mainstream. Aim & fire? Not good enough. One key for each of ready, aim and fire!

In 6 months, 736 people voted on SoH’s forums for death to have an XP Debt which can cost you levels. 171 people against. There is no count of people who voted with their feet.

But this is a loaded question – the answers do little more than verify that the community is who you might think it is.

In WWII Online there are no hit bubbles. There are components with damage thresholds. Just last night I was called down by a player for our “wonderful realism” when he was able to fire rounds into a tank only 8ft from him and have nothing happen.

Infact it was great realism. His rounds had a timed fuze, the armor he was hitting was very thin (so didn’t slow the rounds very much), and they exited the muzzle at an insane velocity. These coupled together to result in his round penetrating both sides of the enemy vehicle before the fuze triggered and caused the round to explode. He would have had to put the round through a thicker part of the armor or into something solid like the engine to ensure the round detonated inside the tank.

The pre-release WWIIOL community would probably have voted 81:19 for this kind of realism back then too, because that’s who our community was.

Most people think that having to precisely hit accurately modelled, unscaled, specific individual components in a moving vehicle at 1000m with all the minuatae of angles, trajectories, armor thicknesses, round shapes, charge types, fuzes, spalling, penetration physics and etc is college class material and not entertainment.

Most people.

But our community was a community of people that wanted ultra-realism. So it is an excellent design decision. Our community loves it. (Some of the time) And by the same measure exp loss in SoH is an excellent design decision because the existing community of players love it.

But CRS were aiming big with their target audience, and by failing to realize that the warm reception was a facet of asking an audience-subset an essentially loaded question, they failed to hear the slashing sound of statistics lopping off a good 90% of the intended target audience.

In short, CRS estimated market adoption on community reception.

And while he might just be hyping his product up in the way you would expect any good dev to do, I see Brad saying things that make me think he may be – to some degree – making the same oversight in some areas, as to who is going to buy the resulting product.

This is not about changing what game SoH will be. But SoH isn’t going to be the “next big thing”. It may well be ground breaking, it may very well be the next great MMORPG, but I very much doubt it will be “big”. I would be surprized if it ships less boxes than EQ1 original/RoK did, but I would be very surprized if maintains more than 100k active, paying subscriptions for more than 3 continuous months, and startled if it manages to retain more than 60k subscribers for more than 9 continuous months.

As long as it has enough people to pay the costs, and as long as the game is actually the game the devs want to make – how many it has doesn’t matter, and it makes for an even better game experience for those who do subscribe and play, which is excellent, fantastic!

But I’m afraid you really can’t call yourself the “big thing” when you have less customers than Asheron’s Call. I guess it all boils down to really knowing how representative of your target audience your pre-launch community is. Don’t just assume they are contiguous.

20 Comments

hey great post. um who’s Brad? :]

It’s Brad McQuaid, who is working on Vanguard: Saga of Heros.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brad_McQuaid

As long as it has enough people to pay the costs, and as long as the game is actually the game the devs want to make – how many it has doesn’t matter, and it makes for an even better game experience for those who do subscribe and play, which is excellent, fantastic!
Amen to that.

Not every game needs to be the game everyone plays, although I’m sure the producers want that. This is entertainment, and it’s all about providing the entertainment that people want. If they want WoW or Counterstrike, they can go and play those.

If there’s few players who want what WW2OL is, why isn’t there a MMOG version *of* counterstrike or Battlefield 1984 Fulda Gap?

Because what makes those games so much fun is the “arena” gladiatorial feel. Its really, really hard to scale it up to an MMO without simply creating a sort of DDO of WWII games where everything is little pocket instance battles that, well hey, you might as well just make a multiplayer version instead of all the hassle with servers etc.

Having been here from Day 1 release, and watching as a “business consultant”, I have been struck by how strongly WWIIOL has stuck to its core (hard-core?) customers. I’m sure *I* love that approach. But KFS, for a coder – you have hit the inflection point of game design and success on the head.

WWIIOL: Mass popularity vs. Realism? Our learning shows that we are WW II Grognard game. Many of the players around my age moved hexagonal shaped disk stacks over a honeycombed board game and dreamed of a computer game like this: complicated and realistic.

There may not be that ‘many’ customers out there for this level of intensity…but WWIIOL has made it work for 5 years. It ain’t perfect, it ain’t getting rich…but it has made a living for over a dozen families, and made entertainment for thousands over 5 years.

Doesn’t that beat the “popular” flash-in-the-pan’s that aren’t around at all?

I don’t know the answer.

I was just standing up for WW2OL to a former player who said the game was dead. My thoughts were, “So you haven’t played in how many years?”

I have a blast every time I log on. Some times that fun is interspersed with moments of frustration, but overall, I love it.

Oh that Brad. So what did he say that sparked this post?

Comparing EQ or WoW to WWIIOL is comparing Apples to Basketballs. They don’t compare. EQ grew out of the old MUD games and frankly I still view it that way.

WWIIOL is never going to have as many subscribers as EQ and WoW because most people are not interested in a game like WWIIOL. It’s a small subset of all players that like WWIIOL. And this small subset is loyal to the game because they won’t find it anywhere else. If Brad was ripping WWIIOL then he has absolutely no idea what the game is about. It’s not a popularity contest.

So why the ammo counters?

“There may not be that ‘many’ customers out there for this level of intensity…but WWIIOL has made it work for 5 years. It ain’t perfect, it ain’t getting rich…but it has made a living for over a dozen families, and made entertainment for thousands over 5 years.”

Nothing ever stays the same. You either get better or worse. If you are not growing you are shrinking. One or the other.

It wasn't actually anything that's been said particularly recently. I keep a half an eye on SoH because I'm looking forward to seeing the vision relived. I happened to stop by and see both a remark about SoH being "the next big thing" and the opinion poll on death penalty I linked to above.

MS had to have mass-market expectations of Vanguard, I hope that now it is with SoE that Sigil aren't going to face similar pressures and that they can build a hardcore game for the non-masses. Folks who haven't thought this all through think that is somehow disparaging. I happen to like dipping fries in mayonnaise. The fact that most people don't doesn't make it wrong, it just makes it unpopular, except with me :)

I HATE the notion that this game cannot accomodate both serious and casual players, or even that the market is fragmented along those lines at all (grognards vs quakers)

This game has allowed me to experience BOTH kinds of gameplay over 5 years. The problem is that the casual gamers have to WORK to find what they want, and they dont have the time or inclination to do so.

So simply put, why not design the UI so that we can reliable and easily find the entertainment that we already know is out there?

Trout

It can accomodate them, trout, but compromises have to be made, and the CRS team originally refused to compromise because they didn’t correctly size-up their pre-launch community. What they had on their hands was primarily a hardcore community of Bf1942 haters. Then they would present them with statements along the lines of ‘1942 does X we’re thinking of doing Y’ which would produce a flurry of ‘Do Y! Y is good!’ responses. Ask 100 starving men if they want beer or pizza. After they’re done eating, they’re going to be wondering where that beer went…

I’m not suggesting WWII Online was the wrong product, only that CRS shot itself in the foot by believing it had a massive target audience based on “Bf1942 shows there is a massive WWII game market” + “We get a strong positive reaction from Bf1942 haters when we offer them anti-Bf1942 features”.

As to designing the UI. January of last year, I sat down with Killer and Gophur and listened to them describe the brigade system, and gulped. None of the brigade stuff mean’t anything to me. It sounded like government-issued friends. State Squads.

That doesn’t mean I can’t see how they fit into the game, but from my style of play and outlook on the game, that’s how they seemed. I felt that what was needed was the ability to approach this like a grid – some people read across and down, some people scan down and across. Choosing your persona, your brigade, your town and your fight – there people who work that way, and there are times we all approach it that way.

Then again, most of the time I want a fight, a group, and a weapon.

I’m still having a hard time translating the idea I have into something that sells to Gophur and Killer. As they see it, you either use the current mechanism, or you have “instant action”.

I disagree: Instant action doesn’t work in our game. You have to present pertinent information to the user, even if it its done in a fashion he can initially ignore or overlook, but mostly not be confused by.

I want a second axis (direction, not side) for accessing the game. I want to be able to pick my side and then have it use the self-same lists to index game content horizontally rather than vertically.

Rate the current objectives for me, display a legend that I can learn (*later*) to understand the rating, and provide me with a way to cycle through them in rated order. So I don’t have to shop. I want a “What Fight?” way to access WWIIOL — in parallel with the ability to select a second tab and have the information in good, old, list format like we have right now.

Give this some thought before you write it off as gamey.

Instant action *blam* you’re in, is too harsh, and it doesn’t tackle the issue of the learning curve. Instant action players will never learn to think beyond clicking the launch button, and will think “this is such a weak ass 1942 clone”. Why? Because unless they’re willing to break out the manual and learn all about brigades, deployments, fallbacks, yadda yadda blah, they can’t get from “Welcome” to “Loading” through the current system.

Simple wording can be so critical. “Select your brigade”. To someone coming in who is solely wanting to see what the game is like before making any kind of investment, this is a perplexing question: Is this a test? I have a brigade, and I have to confirm my identity by selecting the correct one?

It’s a “stupid” question, but only if you know the answer and understand the context in the first place, and those guys wouldn’t.

When Vandal and I were selling CRS on an XML-based UI, the reason for using XML wasn’t because we like angle-brackets but for the “eXtensible” part. A good UI uses widgets, and there are good XML technologies available for building and describing widgets, and the DOM model is a good way of propogating attributes, properties, etc, up and down as neccessary. Phui doesn’t have any of that, and Rickb moved on to other projects. There is some widgetry, but its extremely rudimentary. It can be done in Phui, it just needs a bunch of coder time.

And, despite all that, we can still achieve this stuff with Phui, it’s just going to take longer.

All stuff we could probably fix with an injection of funding to put or contract someone to the task for a few weeks. Phui is definitely an improvement on the GUI we had but it’s not yet as many steps forward as it could be.

Instant action can work in a particular context. In fact, you need it.

The current game does a poor job of getting players into defensive positions before attackers show up. The game just isn’t structured to provide for defense. Defenders don’t get any of their force multipliers. There’s no reason to use the Brigade system to provide for force concentration in order to increase one’s odds of successfully attacking. The number of Brigades present is irrelevant to force concentration.

My hope would be that someday each Brigade or Division will have a real-time roster of players that, on a FIFO basis, want to be teleported into the next Brigade-officer-placed spawnable ground defensive position in their sector that has had its EWS tripped, replacing the low-functionality AI that otherwise would run it.

Eventually, when polycrewing is ready, unmanned/AI bomber gun positions and ship AA positions could be handled this way, too.

Players signing up for that gameplay mode would get near-instant action, or at least enemy proximity. If they didn’t like that spot, they could bail at any time, go back to the list, and rapidly get another assignment. Maybe there could be a group-cohesiveness/proximity function, so that squads could defend together. Both FPSers and grognards would perceive design benefits from the same mechanics.

It wouldn’t be suitable for newbies, of course. You’d have to have some rank-gain in a variety of weapons to be eligible. But I’d bet a lot of long-term players–the “I just got home from work, I’ve got 45 minutes, I want a fight right now” guys, among others–would find it pretty user-friendly. And it would dramatically increase the utilization-efficiency of defensive players, and therefore decrease the amount of time that attacking players aren’t being engaged. I think that would be a good thing.

The good thing about internet is that is growing more and more and more people is learning abot “pay to play” games and understanding the mechanic. i myself didn’t belive in the “pay to play” excheme until i started playing this game.

As the MMO population grows, it also grows the market WWIIOL has…. of the WWIIOL manages to keep some form of pace with the advancements.

Right now, the things it needs is:

– Better perfomance
– Better infantry engine
– Better ground engine
– Better phisics engine (it can be improved in areas like flight model, objects phisics, etc…)

CRS created a wonderful game with an extraordinary concept.

As many have stated, the promise of an immersive role playing FPS that would allow squads to use strategy and tactics to impact historically based scenarios on such a massive scale with Air, Naval, Armour, and Infantry pulled in many dedicated squads and individuals.

However, the original intent of the game has outpaced the technological abilities, finances, and marketing know how of the development team. While the game has seen improvements, CRS has been unable to follow through many of it’s original goals. As quickly as promises of exciting new features are suggested, the RATS are just as quick to change direction and dismiss these concepts as pure speculation on the behalf of overeager subscribers. Examples… structural modeling, Polycrewing, medics, ordinance servers, Hand held Anti-tank weapons and mobile AA platforms, naval game play, Squad patches, Brigade based squad positioning, and more…

While many aspects of the game have improved, the basic game play has never developed to the level subscribers were led to expect and many are starting to give up hope that the original intent of the game is still the goal of CRS.

In an effort to address this falling game attendance CRS has recently turned to emulating some of the successful competing FPS style games on the market. The effort to encompass this new player base marks a clear departure from the direction that many of the day 1 players have held on for.

Ironically the efforts to compete with larger developers for that market share clearly puts BE at a substantial technological and marketing disadvantage. It is not so much these technical aspects of the game that its current player base is requesting, but a more rational approach to how game play impacts battle field activity and better team play tools.

It seems that CRS has never fully understood its player/developer relationship. After 5 years of not listening to the player base and a myriad of bad marketing and development decisions, they seem miffed that players are starting to unsub as they give up hope.

I only hope that they can pull a rabbit out their hat soon.

CRS seems like a freight train in its ability to react, implement, and develop improvements/changes to WWIIOL. I understand CRS has a small team with limited resources, but I get the impression Management is short sighted/out of touch at times, which leads to improperly/half delivered content.

The Graphic User Interface (GUI) work in the first half of 2005 would have been good if game population was still organized had people logging into the same brigade/squad every play session instead of playing find the limited number of Attack Objects (AO).

I remember back in the Spring of 2003, when the 1LB Iron Wolves and the rest of the GHC/OKW were trying to fill Reserve Officers billets for the pending introduction of Brigades and ToE’s, which were do to be released shortly (i.e. Soon). Within the next three months, ToE’s look to be completed, nearly three years after such an item was spoken of as being in the immediate pipeline for development.

In CRS’s defense the GHC/player base (unknown, if AHC was raising reserve officers at the time) may have gotten ahead of themselves and misunderstood things.

I recall DOC said three years ago that modeling new towns was inefficient use of programmer resources since Terrain Engine II (TEII) was to be developed shortly. I am thankful that batches of towns have continued to be added with the old inefficient programmer method over the last three years in lieu of TEII development. It is of note; the newer towns and FBs designs are generally more thought out and funnier to fight around.

I have no idea of the programming requirements behind the game, nonetheless CRS acknowledging its limitations to take time to evaluate and implement things: XML-GUI, streamline-model production, TEII, and continue to look for off-the-shelf enhance such as SpeedTree, if cost effective.

***I have taken approximately two hours to draft and edit this to a semi-readable form. While I don’t enjoy DOC, I do enjoy WWIIOL and would like it to success greatly regardless of some brain damage on my part. =)

After 5 years of not listening to the player base

That can’t possibly be true; games that actually don’t listen to their playerbase can be found under the “discontinued” listing at any popular MMORPG site.

So I can only guess you mean’t the part in italics to say “me”.

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