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How to keep players interested in a game with a slow buildup?

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I've been working on a browser based mmo for the last few months, and have run into some problems during testing that I was hoping I could share here. Let me give some background: My game, Dwarfgate, is a tick based strategic game that can support several hundred simultaneous players per world. The game is a strategic game with a fairly granular amount of control. Players control a tribe of dwarfs in a 2d map environment. It's probably best compared to something like civilization in its concept, although it also has RTS elements. My testers seem, to a man, to really enjoy the game. Finding testers has been a problem so far, however. I get a steady trickle of new players, but they never seem to hang around. I've got halfway decent documentation and a vibrant forum, but I think there's just not enough there in the very early stages of the game to keep people coming back. Of course, the fact that the game is tick based doesn't help, since a new player has to log in, give commands, and then come back later to see how the commands worked out, hence no instant gratification. I do have a queuing system in place, and the whole thing is fairly easy to use. Does anybody have any experience with a design similar to what I'm describing? Are there any design paradigms that might help me keep players involved for those crucial first few ticks, until they start seeing the fruits of their labours and are, hopefully, utterly smitten by the charms of my project? I do understand that my design choices have led to a game that will only appeal to a fairly small sector of the market. The game's not flashy, and not fast paced. Glacial would be a more apt description. I can't help feeling, however, that many players who sign up for an account, log in once, then never come back, would actually enjoy the game quite a bit if I could only convince them in that first login that there's a lot of interesting content for them. Ideas? Suggestions? Mockery? Scorn? Thanks in advance for your thoughts, Dai

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You could try something like assigning a certain number of "instant action points" to new players, something to give them that momentary, instant gratification. Just make sure you make them well aware that these things are only an introductory thing to get them started.

I know the types of games that you're describing because I've played a fair share in my time, but must admit, I never hang around any for a prolonged period of time due to the fact that my internet access is restricted and so I can't log in regularly to check on the state of my "kingdom/empire". When other players have been aerially bombarding you for the past week while you were away and destroyed all but the bare bones of your infrastructure, you kinda lose heart.

Of course, you could solve this by making it so that players can only attack another player who is currently logged in, but then you open yourself up to exploitation via players only logging in during non-peak hours to be able to expand their arsenal without interruption and perhaps, build up a strong enough force to become power players with relatively little to no obstacle in their path.

I always saw potential in these games in that they don't require constant and frequent logins to maintain a productive and stable presence within the game world, like many other online games of their ilk, be they muds or MMO's or whathaveyou. However, another point being that perhaps I do need to wait a week in between logins because I am acruing "action points" is also a deterent, I should have the ability to log in and play the game when I want as well. A very fine line, perhaps one that is impossible to draw.

Quote:

Although players who log in more often may enjoy certain benefits, it is entirely possible to play competetively while logging in only once or twice daily.


I think this line sums it up fairly nicely. Benefits for those who log in more frequently and to even be competitive I have to be able to log in at least once or twice a day. I'm certainly not interested in a game where missing a day will drop me out of the "competitive" bracket, even more so in my personal situation where I have access maybe three to four times a week at most. Perhaps this means that the game is not for me, in fact, I would basically assure it. However, it's important to look at from a perspective of player retention in that players are obliging themselves to log in at least once or twice a day, indefinitely, in order to qeue up some more commands for their civilization before wandering off to do whatever else it was they were doing offline.

This becomes more of a burden than a fun and enjoyable game IMHO. If all I can really do is stack up commands and await their eventual result some days in the future, I certainly should not have to be online daily to make sure that my miner dwarf is still digging a new tunnel northward to make my new cavern to host my tavern. (Yay! Alliteration!)

I may be wrong in my assessment, but honestly, since I know that I don't have the time, I am not going to clog up your database with yet another record for a player who never returns. These are just some issues I see that maybe you have or could in the future address.

My two cents, something to chew on,

Vopisk

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Thanks, Vopisk, for taking the time to respond. You make several good points, but I think you're right in assuming you're not my target market.

I'm considering some of the things you've said. I've noticed that most games that allow players to save up action points are not games with a physical map. Usually they're games with abstract representations of a physical map, such as provinces that may or may not have some kind of proximity to other provinces defined. When dealing ith a physical world map, you have to take into account line of sight, patrols, and the like. This, to me, seems to make it very difficult to allow players to save up action points and use them in bulk.

Regarding your comment about getting bombarded into submission between logins, point taken. The game doesn't really reward random acts of violence against new players, and there's a fairly long buildup phase at the beginning of the game where combat just doesn't pay. I'm considering implementing some kind of protection for new players. Letting them set up their mining ops and start building their base for the first week or so without worrying about outside interference would probably be a good idea.

It's entirely possible that what I'm seeing is simply natural attrition and that the players who never come back after their first or second login are not people who would have hung around no matter the incentive. Ideally I would like to be able to fully populate a world before starting the game, and not allow players to join a game in progress, but doing so would make it difficult to ever get a game started, and even then, the attrition problem wouldn't be solved. There would just be an awful lot of it at the beginning of the game.

Does anybody have any ideas about how to find and recruit players? I guess most similar games propagate pretty much exclusively through word of mouth, and I assume that, if the game's good, word of mouth is an excellent way to promote a game. For me it's just not working yet. Or at least not fast enough ;)

Maybe I'm just being impatient.

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Impaitence may be it. Nevertheless, you should persue some sort advertising scheme. People just might not know about your game yet.

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I'm playing a game called Hattrick and have been doing so since 2001.

It's a football simulator, where the matches are played on given times, and max 2 matches per week.

One could say that the game is never instant action (except when you buy sell players), but everything is "taken care of" at specific times. This way, you have a point in time when you know things are going to happen, so you get to see the effect of your work.

I don't know how your game works, but maybe it's hard to actually see any progress, i.e. everything is progressing too slowly to be noticeable.

In the football game, you can clearly see the effect of your work, because you'll either win or loose or tie the game.

It will probably be hard to fit in these fixed-timed "action events" in your game, but I'd just though I'd share my thoughts.

Another thing which will increase the chance of new people staying is the looks, responsiveness etc of your site. Right now, the graphics looks a bit non fitting together, i.e. its different styles of art. As a programmer, I always find the art part the most difficult.

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I've heard good things about hattrick. Apparently is has not only massive numbers of players, but also massive numbers of paying players. They must be on to something.

I don't know if having some kind of guaranteed results every x hours or ticks is something that I could incorporate into the mechanics, but it's certainly a good idea to have some kind of feedback or results early on in the game.

I'm actually spending a little bit of cash on some adwords, and they are generating hits. Not a lot, but it seems to keep that trickle of new players coming.

The graphics are still a bit of an issue, yeah. Right now they're pretty much placeholders. . .not exactly stick men, but I know that my strength does not lie in the visual elements. At some point I'm going to have to find somebody to make it all gel together and look a little more professional. Frankly I spend so much time staring at the interface that I'm entirely unable to judge it on aesthetics.

It's strange. When I started designing this thing, it never struck me that it would actually be hard to get enough players for a serious beta test. Go figure.

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