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jtoddcoleman

Question from kickstarter page

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Hey folks, this question came up on our kickstarter page, and I thought it might be helpful to post it here as well.

Todd

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From: Zach T.

My concern is that if you soft launch, people who join at a later date are never going to be caught up, and if I recall correctly, not everything is going to be implemented at the soft launch either. It's essentially another beta phase. Now, say I'm a non-VIP member (Although I planned to be one). I join, and I play while not everything is implemented; if I invest in one character only to find out later when the full content is released, I really don't like the character. I'd be stuck playing that character, or be forever behind the trend. Now imagine you're a VIP player paying for the benefits; you would be paying for what looks like an early access game from the outside. That's not ideal imo - and lots and lots of youtubers and redditors have echoed this opinion.

I understand your reasoning for doing this, but in a more cynical outlook it would seem like you guys are behind schedule and need revenue. If you just going to soft launch as you described - I'd think the game would be completed at soft launch, no? Am I mistaken and the game *is* complete at soft launch? Performance polished etc? If not, can you understand why people are having negative reactions to this?

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My response:

Hey Zach,

Thanks for the post.  Here are a few points that will hopefully address your concerns.
 
First: we just completed a private equity raise of $6m in December.  Our launch plan isn't affected by funding.  We are taking this approach because it's the best way to do it.
 
Second: I think we have a disconnect on what "soft launch" means -- which is understandable, since different companies use the term differently. 
 
In our parlance, soft launch means 'the game is ready for release, we're turning on persistence and we're not going to wipe again.'  I hesitate to use the word "done" only because no MMO is ever "done", so I think ready for release is probably better.  "Ready for release", however, isn't the same as "Ready to market".  Humor me for a minute and I'll explain.
 
The digital distribution business is different than traditional retail, where you sold boxes at gamestop.  When you have a retail launch date, you build up buzz and perfect the game as much as time and money allows, and then you fire every marketing bullet you have to drive players on day one. It's all about day one success.
 
The purely digital model isn't like that.  Games like Warframe or Eve Online or Wizard101 didn't become a "day one" success.  Instead the process is highly iterative.  It revolves around your "user funnel", which means the experience of a new player from the time they first notice you until they become a customer (or not).  You'd be shocked how much effort is put into tracking and optimizing this process... because online ads have become so expensive that we have to track (and perfect) every single click, every impression, every decision.  You monitor all of this statistically, like: 
 
...is "Become a King!" a better tagline in an ad than "Rule your KINGDOM!" (+3.7% more players click on KINGDOM!)
...is it better to have a RED or a GREEN download button on your website? (+2% more players click on GREEN!)
...do I give the Newbie Hat a feather, or a not? (-4.1% fewer players without the FEATHER!)
...etc etc etc
 
You also do this testing in waves, because (1) you don't want to make too many changes at once (it's harder to tell what the impact of any given change was) and (2) you can find statistically relevant data with a relatively small number of players (1000 is about as good as 10,000).  
 
So, why does this matter?
 
We have a limited marketing budget set aside for launch.  It's big for a small company, but tiny compared to competitors like EA, Ubi, Activision, etc.  So we need to make our $$$ really count.
 
To make that money count, we need to:
 
1. Finish the game, 
2. Stop wiping (because no one really cares when the data can be wiped at any time, and that screws your data)
3. Start running players through our "new user experience" in batches of a few thousand at a time
4. Monitor the conversion and retention of each batch (technically they are called a 'cohort')
5. Try different options.  Repeat steps 4 and 5 until your funnel is optimized
6. Once you've done that a LOT, and you believe the funnel is solid, THEN you spend that marketing budget to drive new players into the funnel
 
We've decided to call step #2 "soft launch" and step #6 "commercial launch".  Maybe those aren't the best terms, but #3 doesn't really quality as "open beta" (since the game won't be reset again), so soft launch seemed appropriate.
 
As for the "player who come late will be at a disadvantage" concern, two points there:  (1) players who come late to an MMO always start behind players who started early, (2) we have a catch up mechanic -- a training tome which can be crafted in game and traded to other players -- to allow you to catch up. FWIW, most MMOs don't offer that; either you grind, or you're left behind.
 
We're a small team doing the best we can to make the game you guys want, and we're doing it the best way we know how.  I hope this makes sense, and if you have more questions, don't hesitate to ask.
 
Todd
ACE

 

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The plan hasn't significantly deviated, other than in some systems/areas we've built more than we originally intended (vessels, disciplines, real-time parcel stitching... and of course the poster-child of expanded scope, the race/class split). 

That said, while the "top-level" feature list hasn't changed, I have made -- and will continue to make -- made changes to content and implementation where it makes sense -- the vassals system, which I'll be doing a refresh on soon, is the one that leaps to mind (because I'm working on it right now).  My general rule in these cases is to give you guys something either more flexible/functional than promised, or -- if and when we have to fall back -- to explain how and why and do the best that I can to live up to the spirit of that feature.

When major things happen, Gordon and I will typically announce them "off-cadence" with a Founder's Update, typically on a Wednesday but occasionally on a Friday.

In terms of the milestone schedule, yes, of course we have a plan internally but we never share that because I things shift around constantly in the development process and it doesn't matter how many caveats we make; if we say it, or even imply it, some players take it as a gospel -- and get really mad when we "break that promise".  So instead our approach is to

(1) communicate constantly,

(2) be as transparent as possible, 

(3) which includes openly owning our mistakes, and 

(4) show constant forward progress.

To that end, I think we've done a pretty good.  Hopefully you guys agree.

Todd

 

 

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Kudo's for addressing this.

Its infuriating for long-time fans to explain in a nuanced manner when we don't have the same level of access to all of the information available like you guys do.  This is getting bookmarked for all the trolls and haters who are unfamiliar with your terminology; which as you aptly pointed out, differs from game company to game company.

I think this is probably the only major criticism out there beyond the un-winnable "pay to win" argument left to address.

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couldn't in a digital distribution age use twitch and youtube as advertisements instead of ads which are adblock/ublock?  I don't have figures but I'd imagine more success with twitch than shotgun static/gif ads. It's even better when a popular streamer has one or multiple of the devs joining.

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Just let us know when the final wipe will happen, that way everyone knows when to get serious. If everyone assumes there will be one more wipe and it never happens you'll probably get some upset customers. If you just sorta ease into "eh maybe we won't wipe anymore" after months of beta testing, bad idea. The final wipe should be a big deal, a milestone for Crowfall. Just call it a release with a large banner and fireworks. No confusion.

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9 hours ago, jtoddcoleman said:

...do I give the Newbie Hat a feather, or a not? (-4.1% fewer players without the FEATHER!)

Feather hat is always better :lol:

Thanks for the detailed explanation, will be helpful to link when people ask "why soft launch?".

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14 hours ago, jetah said:

couldn't in a digital distribution age use twitch and youtube as advertisements instead of ads which are adblock/ublock?  I don't have figures but I'd imagine more success with twitch than shotgun static/gif ads. It's even better when a popular streamer has one or multiple of the devs joining.

The plan calls for that, also.  You drive in different audiences (and track them as separate cohorts) as part of this approach, and then you let the numbers tell you what works (i.e. spend more money here) and what doesn't (pull the money from this area and spend it elsewhere).  It's basically a "generic algorithm" of marketing channels; you feed the strong and starve the week.

Todd

 

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With the 10x skill training and not getting on for a few days, using skill points can take some time and now I have like 20 days built up because I don't want to take the time to sort it out.  When it will be wiped before launch

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8 minutes ago, Devonic said:

With the 10x skill training and not getting on for a few days, using skill points can take some time and now I have like 20 days built up because I don't want to take the time to sort it out.  When it will be wiped before launch

/agree, we're doing a pass over that UI (and some of the underlying systems) to make that more clear and engaging.

Todd

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21 minutes ago, jtoddcoleman said:

/agree, we're doing a pass over that UI (and some of the underlying systems) to make that more clear and engaging.

Todd

yes !! Unleash the Faye code!!!!! 

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19 hours ago, jtoddcoleman said:

 

You also do this testing in waves, because (1) you don't want to make too many changes at once (it's harder to tell what the impact of any given change was) and (2) you can find statistically relevant data with a relatively small number of players (1000 is about as good as 10,000).  
...
3. Start running players through our "new user experience" in batches of a few thousand at a time

To be clear, this "batching" is only referring to advertising and new player acquisition, right?

I'm assuming that everyone who is currently a backer will have access to the soft launch on Day 1.

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Thanks Todd! This is a great explanation of the game plan and how you plan to approach launch as well as dispeling a lot of the negative rumors going around on Youtube.

Edited by ZeFx

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One of my concerns is the catch up mechanic.  My guess at commercial launch players will given points to catch up.  Having them start off so far behind will be viewed negatively.  I think that is pretty easy fix.

The harder fix is VIP catching up.  How will they catch up to the VIP that start at soft launch.

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