Tech: Holding Up Well!
The pre-alpha is going well. We’re averaging about 3 people online at a time, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but given that it’s a limited-access, incredibly early, short duration test, it’s actually pretty great!
I’m not sure what the highest capacity has been, probably about 15 people — which unfortunately isn’t anywhere close to stressing the server’s load capacity — but it’s certainly found a lot of bugs and issues.
We’ve fixed the last known server crash bug, and the server has been stable with continuous players online for over 24 hours. (However, some players are reporting severe lag spikes — which looks like real-world internet lag, but it’s too early to tell for sure.)
So on that front, I’m pretty happy. When we combine this real-world testing with our load emulation, I’m confident that our server architecture will build out just fine. My biggest fear was that the server-side physics and pathfinding would be too slow, but it’s been fine, too.
This pre-alpha version is also the first one that isn’t built on top of SmartFoxServer. Instead, I wrote my own custom networking layer with the netty library. There were some early bugs as a result, but we got them under control pretty quickly, and the low-level stuff is now pretty awesome. I have to say that it’s a lot easier to add features onto our own custom architecture than it was to shoehorn them into SmartFoxServer’s architecture. Plus, it saves us thousands of dollars in licensing fees, too.
Anyway, there’s lots more tech development to come, but we’re more confident in the tech plan than ever before.
Thanks again to everybody that’s offered feedback! We’re still digging through it all. We’re fixing small bugs immediately, and recording the rest for later.
Your feedback has indicated that the newbie experience is working okay — if a bit ugly — and that you’re able to understand the basics of gameplay easily. My guess is that the newbie experience could even have a few more puzzles and things to discover, and it still wouldn’t be too overwhelming. (I feared that we had packed it as heavily as we could without blowing newbies’ minds, but ideally I’d like it to be a little denser.)
The biggest reported weakness is in group combat, which we already knew — it’s very chaotic and rough. And it’s been hard to spot real issues with the underlying combat mechanics (the roles, the abilities, the monsters, that sort of thing) because there are so many minor issues in the way, like a crappy HUD, difficulty targeting, and bugs that make monsters and abilities not work right.
So we’ve been focusing most heavily on group combat the past week, and ignoring crafting, puzzles, gathering, and quests. Please don’t think that’s indicative of the final game! It’s just that group combat needs the most help right now, and it’s easiest to test group-combat stuff while there are people online to try it out.
We’ve also gotten feedback that Gathering is boring — it’s a perfectly typical MMO gathering system, but it turns out that gathering is kind of boring in all MMOs. I agree with that sentiment. We’ll think about ways to make gathering more interesting in the future, without going overboard.
General Sentiment Seems Positive
Of course, the play-testers are a self-selected group of people: they’re people interested enough to pledge Kickstarter money! So they’re more inclined to like the game than an average person. But even so, most players seem to be having a good time — or at least not a bad time. Given the early state of the game, that’s good news, too!
A bunch of people sent feedback saying that they were impressed with the game. Reading between the lines, I think a lot of people were saying “whoa, this is actually a real game,” as opposed to a vaporware idea. Which is great!
Kickstarter Failure: A Setback, Not Death
There’s a long way to go, and without the Kickstarter money, the road is even longer. Some people have suggested we set up a PayPal pledge system instead, and we’re considering that and other possibilities.
A few people have also volunteered some assets and resources, and that could end up helping a lot, as well.
But in any case, our original timeline is probably impossible now… especially if we have to stop for a while and gather more money. So yeah, this setback sucks. But it doesn’t mean we’re throwing in the towel. We’ll find a way to get this game finished!
Lessons from Kickstarter
Doing a Kickstarter for the game has had two big hurdles. The #1 complaint we heard was “wow, this game is ugly.” We saw that on forums and blogs all across the net. And someone would always pipe in “well, that’s why they’re doing a Kickstarter,” but it’s really hard to fight that first impression. Gamers aren’t game developers, and they don’t know whether a game is going to be fun or not, so they use graphics quality as a shorthand. That’s why every big company hires an artist before they hire any engineers — and it’s why so many game trailers are just cut-scenes instead of gameplay footage. That shit works.
We understood this on some level, of course, but I think we were blinded by our experience in the MMO niche. We know that making an MMO is incredibly hard, and we hoped that by showing people we’d already done the hardest parts, that would help sell it. And it probably did, but only to people who got past the ugly screen shots.
If I was going to do a Kickstarter again I’d spend a lot more time getting screen shots that were as flattering as possible. I’d also approach the Kickstarter “risks and dangers” section less seriously. Instead of an actual analysis of possible risks, I’d put in the usual BS about “the biggest risk is that we make a game that’s too fucking awesome and the internet explodes.” It was incredibly frustrating to see bloggers freaking out about all our risks and assuming we wouldn’t make it because it was so risky. Our risks are incredibly small, especially compared to other ambitious games on Kickstarter. But the problem is that nobody else on Kickstarter is being realistic with their risk assessment section. So we shouldn’t have either.
Kickstarter is supposed to be a funding system, but that doesn’t mean you should approach it like a pitch you’d make to an investor or a publisher. It’s actually a hype machine, so you need to put your prettiest face forward, not admit to any weakness, and use a lot of exclamation marks. We’ll know better next time.
The Missing Killer Feature
The other big problem wasn’t due to the nature of Kickstarter. It’s that we don’t have a killer feature that instantly stands out and sells the game for us. Is our game different and fresh? Yes! I think people who played it could see some of that. But it’s really hard to explain how it’s different, especially to people who never played an MMO before World of Warcraft.
I don’t know how to solve that. And it will be a problem going forward, because if we can’t pitch the game in a few sentences, how are we going to advertise it?
Anyway, it’s been tough. I’m frustrated, as I’m sure you can tell. But I’m also extremely happy that almost 300 people were interested enough to pledge their hard-earned money. You guys are amazing and I’m really thankful for your support!
Going forward, the pre-alpha will keep running until some time on Monday, with updates each day. We’re going to keep focusing on group combat, plus a smattering of new recipes and quests. We decided not to put Necromancy into the game, because it’s still pretty buggy… we’d rather focus on getting what’s already there working a bit better. (So if you find an item that requires Necromancy, you might as well toss it. Sorry about that!)
If you have a chance to play, we really love getting feedback about your play experience, both good and bad! You can use the in-game feedback tool to send us anything, or post here, or send us Kickstarter mail, or whatever. Thanks!