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ID Merlin

Game complexity and Net users

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I've been building a very complex, economic, diplomatic and tactical battle game for quite some time now. It's a free to play browser-based game, which should make it accessible to anyone. I can be very intense, taking maybe 30 minutes to fight a battle at the beginning, and hours when you have a large, high level army. We get 2-3 registrations each week, on average, and have approximately zero retention of players. Well, exactly zero, so far. I got feedback from one player recently, who said that Travian and Tribal Wars were his preferred games. I took a look at those, and saw simple, rather ugly games that would bore me to tears. And yet, both have hundreds of thousands of players (or at least they claim to). So the questions I'm posing are: Is there a market for a very complex, detailed game, or are the average net users just looking for something trivial and simplistic? Have I just not found that tiny fraction of people that *want* complexity and detail? Do those people exist? Should I look at my design, and make it simpler, to hopefully attract more of those players, or stick to it and finish it and make something really different?

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If a game feels like work, no one will play it. If players find it hard to mentally picture what is going on and what actions to be taken, then they will lose interest.

Complexity does not equal game play.

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alot of players of those kind of games are playing at work/during school etc. they want to be able to log in quickly do something then leave.

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Get a web designer. Remake you home page. I don't know if Aragon Online is beautiful (where are the screenshots?) but the home page is certainly one of the ugliest I've seen. And being an online game addict, I've seen a lot of them.

Create sock puppet accounts, write a rudimentary AI for them. Players won't play a multiplayer game unless there are others to play it with, so you have to do the initial work.

What do players get from inviting their friends? Do you have a good guild system? Guild players play more often and longer than the unaffiliated. I've played games for a month or two more than I had initially wanted just so I didn't let my guild buddies down.

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I personally played tribalwars for over a year.

It started off as a thing to do with my friends.
We weren't in the same tribe (guild), we weren't even on the same continent, but the competition factor between us was enough to keep me there for a few months.

Then, it was the tribe that kept me around.
With a relatively simple game system and in-tribe forums that are so active you can't go 5 minutes without a post... then IRC on top of that...

Players generate players.

If there is no community aspect, people get bored.
If there isn't anyone to keep people around, they move on.

I kept playing tribalwars an extra 6 months after I first decided I wanted to quit. I even paid $30 for "premium".

This was because of the people there that I grew attached to, through the problems we overcame.

It's about getting people together, and having them stand for something.
If they don't have the big bad enemy to fight, then there's no fun.

Starting out it's good to have a clean homepage. I went to Aragon Online and there's no empty space. You've got something everywhere.

While this may seem efficient, web design is about elegance. I've been doing this stuff in my multimedia course and it's much better to have a corporate looking site that has lots of "whitespace" than to cover your page with info.

Also, try to keep it professional. "Buy AO crap here" isn't a good start. Be more articulate.

Games are a lot about simplicity...

"a multi-player role-playing diplomatic, economic and tactical battle strategy game"

That's a mouthful.

"A Massively Multiplayer Online War Game" would suffice.

Because war is about diplomacy, economy, tactics and strategy.

Or, to be more precise, you could go with...
"A Massively Multiplayer Battle Sim".

In titles like that, capitalize the first letter in each word, except for "and" if you use that.

Why is this section necessary?
"Aragon Online site navigation"

They know it's the aragon online site, and unless they're really simple-minded, they're not going to have to be told it's the site navigation if the links have names on them.

Try to tidy up things like this and work with CSS so that it fits the browser.
I'm using a resolution of 1024x768, and I can't see all of the page in my browser (firefox).

All you need for your online store and forum section are links. Don't overdo it.

You also have this section...

"I revamped the Develop page because the drag-and-drop system was completely unlike anything else done in the game. Now, you click on a development and then click on the map to place it, just like all the rest of the user interface. I also made the explanation of costs clearer, and added some other user interface elements that should make the page a lot easier to use."

If you remember from school "third person", try to use that.

"The Develop page has been revamped because..." then go on.

People want to believe that there are a bunch of developers working behind the scenes. They want to know that the game won't disappear into cyberspace overnight.

I'm not sure about the graphics on the front page either, they look like 256 color pixel art. While this might have been cool back in the day (~1985), I think many people will agree that it's going out of style.

Another thing...

If I had the biggest army, I wouldn't want people to know. I'd want people to see how many points I have and be clueless as to how many troops I have, so they either attack unknowing or so they're too scared to attack because they think I might have more.

War games are about defeating the enemy.

Sun Tzu: "if you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the outcome of a thousand battles"

Don't make it too easy for players to know their enemy.

All in all,
I cannot stress how much you should keep it simple.

You've got a complex game, that's fine. Great, even.
You don't have to make it more complex by having too complex a home page.

The most profit in browser based games is made from casual gamers.
The community is kept alive by hardcore gamers...

But without casual gamers to "pwn", hardcore gamers will migrate elsewhere - out of boredom.

Casual gamers are drawn in by simplicity, try to make the game a little more simple to understand...

Even if you're only making the home page fresh.

I'm not saying to change the game, just don't give your audience information overload.

I'm sorry if any of this came across as arrogant, it wasn't intended to be as such.

Good luck with your game.

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Something else to consider:

As a prospective player coming upon your website, I am curious about your game.
I want to know how it plays, what it looks like, and what makes it better than other similar games. Instead, I find that I can't learn anything about your game whatsoever without actually registering and giving it a try. To be honest, that's a huge turn off to your game. Why do I want to register for a game I know absolutely nothing about? Why should I be bothered to try your game if you can't be bothered to tell me anything about it?

You need to introduce prospective players to the game somehow. Something to show them why they should play, to hook them, draw them in.

Your website has nothing like that.

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Original post by Andrew Kabakwu
If a game feels like work, no one will play it. If players find it hard to mentally picture what is going on and what actions to be taken, then they will lose interest.

Complexity does not equal game play.

unless, of course, you get rewarded (such as with World of WarCraft).

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Also, it gave me a chuckle how you've been responding to ad-bots on your forums, have you never encountered them before?

Actually, that might be the source of a number of your registrations.

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Wow. I got answers to questions I didn't ask. The suggestions are appreciated from everyone. I'm not going to try to answer everything, but I'll summarize what I think is important. Hopefully I haven't missed something... To all, I really appreciate the time you took looking at this.

ruby-lang: Yes, get rid of butt-ugly programmer graphics. Replace with professional design.

ruby-lang and bdean2020: I'll work on a design of a guild system. That would help a lot. I'll have to do some research, or perhaps post another question, to come up with something that will work with my design.

bdean2020: The other suggestions are good. I'll start treating this less like a hobby site and more like a commercial game. I've gotten too used to using the board to communicate with the other devs... And test at 1024x768 or lower resolution, simplify home page.

The Army ratings are a "power" number that is a calculated value, though it would give players an idea of the realtive strength. I wanted a rating system, so players would have a number 1 to gun for. I was torn about having an army size, and so settled for the power rating. Do you think I should eliminate that?

brent_w: Add screen shot links to replace other useless stuff on the home page.

And a question: I'm pretty sure there are no ad-bots registering any more. Since about mid-2007, when I enabled the CAPTCHA system. Which users/posts did you think were bots? They may be a lot more clever now, and are fooling me.

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