The hard problem of multiplayer indie games

More problematic is that a case can be made all the way up to release under the assumption that only at release we will see the true numbers and all the indicators before that point are somewhat insufficient for taking any action.

I’ve kind of been holding back on answering this thread because I’m not sure there’s a good answer to this very tricky problem. Anything I could say could easily be taken as a promise or rise expectations, and frankly, we are walking on a thin line in terms of resources/schedule/budget at the moment ( see in that other thread how Keith answered about implementing volumetric clouds ). So take the following with a (big) grain of salt…

First of all, I think we should be hoping for the best but planning for the worst. That means that I agree that we’re potentially going to face serious server population issues unless we can get the hype machine rolling which I think is quite unlikely given we have no marketing budget.

Solo content is pretty much out of the question due to limited resources. If it wasn’t, it’d be my primary choice. Adding bots is probably the best idea IMO to populate the servers and provide large scale battles all the time, but implementing smart AI that can fly around space stations, asteroid fields and on planets is a challenge and I doubt we’ll have the time for anything but a very simplistic AI, if at all. It’s not an entirely lost cause though, because we’re going to need some minimal AI for haulers anyway, so extending that gameplay to AI combat ships might still be do-able. It’s a big unknown at the moment though. As for the rest of the content, adding exploration features would help a lot and we have some ideas, but again we’re very limited in terms of resources so whatever we do has to be done with simple / easy to produce assets.

Another idea is to scale the solar system setup procedurally based on the players population. If there aren’t enough players, the solar system will be smaller and distances closer. If there are hundreds of players, you’ll get the full scale one with matches potentially lasting days. This is relatively easy to implement.

I’m also pretty fond of the idea to give players tools to organize themselves both in space and time. Basically, something they can use to prepare a battle in advance ( and notify everybody ); ideally it’d even be tied to the website. Maybe a general commander feature where players are organized in a pyramidal hierarchy, and the players on top can assign strategical objectives to player squads. Again, whether this is possible or not will depend on how much resources left we have and if we can raise more money before the game is launched.

The amount of servers can also easily be scaled up or down, it is in fact one of the main reasons we’ve gone with Microsoft’s Azure. Spawning a new server is as easy as pressing a button. In the worst case, we could limit the game to a single, massive server instead of spreading the community on multiple servers.

Finally, I am thinking of adding simple persistency elements to the game to give an incentive to players to come back. Some kind of experience points or ranking, allowing players to “level-up” in some form of competitive ladder. I don’t think it’d be a main technical challenge to implement, or at least it sounds a lot easier to do than solo content and bots.

In the end we’re probably going to go with a combination of everything described above depending on what we can or cannot do in the remaining time.

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Well this is a rather neat idea. Could the targets for victory conditions perhaps scale in this manner also? So if there are few players, space stations have less “health” (take less effort to destroy). This could give someone an incentive to join a game with very few people in it - they would feel they can still have an impact and perhaps even win games almost on their own.

Then, with more players, the difficulty curve on certain aspects goes up, allowing groups to achieve similar things in a more epic fashion.

Of course the scaling would have to be done very carefully or it could actually discourage people from joining high-population games simply because it’s easier when you’re on your own…

Focus on building your player base. As you don’t have a marketing budget, you are obliged to use social media. Tweeting and posting on Facebook isn’t going to cut it. You need to get the players doing that stuff. So make it integral to the game.

A match is supposed to last a while. At the end of a match, let each player upvote one other player. Grant recognition for upvotes. Twenty upvotes awards you the Bronze Star award. Fifty upvotes awards you the Silver Star Award. One hundred upvotes awards you the Gold Star Award. Those awards come with a Tweet button. Or they can be copied for pasting on a Facebook page or web page.

Grant other awards for significant achievements. Award Ace status for downing X enemy fighters. Award the Industrialist Medal of Merit for players who contribute X achievements to the industrial side of the game. Meritorious Conduct Medal for players who repair X ships. Respected Adversary Medal for receiving X upvotes from enemies.

Name each match procedurally so that when the tweets go out, people will see which match was involved and they can talk about who did what in each match. Include a link to a match’s web page (complete with statistics) in the automated tweets.

Your players are your best marketing tool, so give them what they need to get the word out.

Be very careful with ladders. And even with the awards I suggested. They will warp your gameplay because every achievement minded player out there will pursue those awards or their ladder position instead of playing out the fiction of the encounter. If you have even one exploitable hole in your gameplay, players will push into it with abandon in an effort to rise up the ladder or get their next award.

The gameplay itself should be appealing enough to draw players. If it isn’t, then ladders and awards won’t save you. That’s why staying focused on the gameplay is so important. Pretty planets will get players to visit, but they’ll stay for the gameplay.

Use the ARMA 3 technique: when you connect to a server, all available player slots are listed, including who is currently occupying each slot. A server can allow every slot to do everything in the game, or specific slots can be restricted to specific gear, specific abilities and so forth (ARMA is heavily moddable). The slots can also be organized into groups, with squad leaders and platoon leaders, etc. That can be used to organize communication tools, assign resources and so on.

If a player is playing one role that is restricted in some way, and that player decides that they want to work in a different role, they just go back out to the “lobby” to find another open slot and select that. Then they return to the game. That is dramatically superior to trying to organize players into a hierarchy before the game starts - especially if a game is going to continue for a couple days. As gameplay evolves, there will be times when a given role just isn’t particularly active. Or the role is getting too active and it’s time to switch to something a bit less demanding for a while.


In general, forget about lots of little add-on features. They’re going to consume your time, introduce bugs and support issues and generally bloat your product. Go with the basics and wait to see how players use your software. The social media stuff is mandatory, however. The word must get out about your game, and if you can’t do it, then you have to figure out a way for players to want to do it for you.

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I’d be fine with a tight social media integration as long as it’s easy to implement and unobtrusive but personally I would never use such a feature. I’m not big on social media though so maybe there are others who would find it compelling…

I’d love something like what you’ve described! At the very least, stats from matches could be collected and aggregated from the beginning and awards/perks/trophies could be though up and doled out later when higher-priority items are out of the way. Later on a web interface could be made to display your stats and achievements.

I wouldn’t use it either, but the social media industry is massive, and if INS can get their players dropping tweets over exceptional game events, they’ll get free advertising.

I was thinking more of a match-centric recognition system. So instead of mindlessly grinding out recognition simply because a player put in piles of time, put in recognition of actions within a single match. That encourages players to perform at their peak for this match, not simply keep playing lots of matches. So that Bronze Star for twenty upvotes is twenty upvotes in that one match. If there are 200 players per side and you can get 10% of them to upvote you for your play in the match, that deserves some recognition.

It also provides simple recognition for players who are appreciated by their teammates.

Of course, a system that encourages players to grind out many matches in the pursuit of recognition would encourage lots of play time, and enslave players to their own Pavlovian response, keeping the player base larger. Me, I wouldn’t perpetrate such a thing despite it being standard practice in the MMO world.

If there is a cumulative record, just have a web page for each player that shows their cumulative character stats. Don’t have a visible ladder or the game will revert to one of ladder climbing. If anything, let players get intelligence reports about enemy pilots. For example, generate a threat indicator that takes into account the enemy pilot’s cumulative stats. If the pilot has a K:D ratio of over 10, indicate him in red. Or if over 150 kills, indicate him in blue. Whatever. Let the players decide how they want to see the game. Don’t create one almighty ladder that is glorified by the game.

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Actually it has been stated up to 1000 players but realistically less.

Perhaps the ability to build is a solution since building would give a solo player a specific location to reside and/or locate locally, and it would give added reason to log on even if there is a single player. Also the skill tree is a good idea. EVE’s skill tree, to be honest, is sometimes the reason I log on so it induces players to relog. And skills can be implemented for building so that building is a slow steady process - another inducement to relog even if alone.

PS
Mining is also another game mechanic that can promote individuals to log on and stay local as well.

Couldn’t disagree more. Killboards should be one of consequence and if players are going to cry about their stats then cry away. Tired of Developers trying to accommodate everyone including carebears. And I have no problem about carebearing - I do it myself. But Killboards are a fascinating, interesting means to enjoy the game. Besides, immersion should be a part of Battlescape and hiding losses just undermines that. Here is an EVE related offsite board that really adds to gameplay and immersion:

Include a survival component and give the player something to fight for. like resources / faction / territory.

I think we have to understand the basic psyche, if that’s at all possible, of players and what kind of players are being catered to in Battlescape. For example, PvP players, in general, are not all that concerned with pretty planets, clouds, fauna, trees, stars and asteroids. Sure it’s great to have amazing looking graphics with unparalleled detail, but I think Battlescape’s attention to immersion, fidelity and and detail is wasted for the most part if PvP is the ultimate game mechanic.

Builders, miners, haulers, explorers on the other hand are more inclined to appreciate and lose themselves in beautiful landscapes and space-scapes that Battlescape will offer. What’s more, they are a less into instant gratification than PvPers - ‘Oh! new Pew Pew game? Sign me up!’ No wonder there are so many flash in the pan PvP games in development! Of course on the other side, a game with next to no PvP is a losing proposition outright. The trick is to balance all elements.

Unfortunately I see too much focus on PvP for an Engine like Infinity. It will not be appreciated by PvPers to its fullest. Of course I am bias because I like to build. But I also like to blow things up and take other players stuff. :wink: But I know how PvPers think and most of them - not all and certainly not any of the PvPers here because why would you even be here if you didn’t care - are just not into real immersion outside the cockpit; probably another reason Battlescape hasn’t garnered the support of other games despite being a groundbreaking engine.

Anyway, just some thoughts but regardless of the direction…I am here for the long haul and intend to blow things up. And take your stuff. :grin:

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I see a certain trend going on in a gaming these days.
It is going on for a while, but it is getting more and more evident each year.
We live in capitalism and i see that developers have to prioritize.
And one thing how to sell your game more is to make game more accessible for masses.

  • simplification and accessibility = even your grandma can play = more salles
    so that even a new player can start and have fun instantly (key word here :wink: )

  • make game playable on consoles = more salles
    I dont want to start PC vs Consoles flame war, but there is a reason why certain games just arent made for consoles.

Since IB is unfortunately small game project it will be hard to compete with heavy weights.

Instead what about ignoring the mass market and find its own niche.
We already are sold at newtonian flight model. Arena gameplay…hmm
I cant help but to see similarity with certain game that is catering to certain player group.

It is DCS and simulator players. They are very picky, but loyal group.
They dont come in massive numbers. But what they lack in numbers, they have in loyalty.
Because it takes time and effort to learn to play those games. When you spend time you make friends, build a community and are less tempted to leave. (that is how certain MMO games made their success)

Also notice what is going for instance on on Elite forums right now.
Big part of players are getting pissed that FD are making sacrifices to more causal crowd.

And that is giant open door to someone with more simlike game.
Am not saying to be like Rogue System and DCS
But perhaps close enough.
btw DCS World multiplayer (the basic premise) … seems really similar to what you have described in KS pitch.

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There are 2 things that make this a terrible idea.

1: Even adding a little more complexity to ships and their systems takes a lot of time and effort (hence why even some basic internal damage modeling was a stretch-goal). There’s a reason DCS sells individual aircraft as expansion packs and why rogue system hasn’t finished it’s first ship yet.

2: We don’t know if the netcode is going to allow for engagements at high speed where only the relative speeds will matter, (and by extension, whether stations will be able to orbit or be fixed in place) which would put a crowd after realism off.

Right now one of the biggest things Battlescape has going for it is how simple it is to pick up and play in-spite of it’s Newtonian physics. It’s bringing simulator quality physics to the masses, letting you charge out of the hanger and throw your ship around like you would in any other casual space shooter.

Just hope the devs keep ships tough enough to bounce off things. :wink:

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funny part is that Eagle dynamics now focuses on engine and the platform itself.
Planes are made by external companies. You know Keith was actually describing something really similar.
Rogue system is made by single person i believe…so that would be the cause. :wink:

and both of those points are just you opinions…which is fine … but no, i am not convinced.

I don’t see mass market appeal as a new trend. It’s just that the gaming industry has rapidly become a de-facto global industry.

Plenty of other sectors end up doing that. If you want to make more sales, and thus more profit, you need more customers. If you don’t have customers, then you end up needing to increase your prices to compensate, because living costs money and there’s a bare minimum that any developer is going to need to get by.

This leads to niche products having a premium attached to them in some form or fashion. Looking at DCS’s prices for instance. The game itself is free, but a lot of planes are $40-$50 DLC.

I:B is currently in a grey zone about what kind of audience its going to appeal to.

It already ends up being niche in a way because Newtonian flight mechanics is not something the average person is going to pick up and enjoy. It’s something you have to learn and get used to. Technically ED and SC allow newtonian mechanics, but it’s considerably water-down (i.e. they limit your velocity even with f/a off)

As was stated in the kickstarter, they wanted players to be able to drop in for an hour or so if that’s all they had, and still have some fun. Unfortunately, both ED and SC have a module to essentially do just that, and players won’t have to fly across an entire solar system to find people to fight (eating that hour up in the process). It then comes down to the flight model and gameplay to set itself apart, and I’ve already made my own post trying to discuss the flight model as something that is imperative to the game’s overall success.

At an estimated $30-$40 price-point, they need a decent amount of market appeal to keep them going as a company…or a low overhead, but the devs have families that they have to take care of. It’s a serious consideration, and probably a driving point for half the team leaving after the KS. They need a return on their investment or it’s not going to be worth continuing the project.

It’s going to be very difficult to create a unique enough experience that also has even moderate market appeal, while also fitting into their development cycle.

We need to find a good balance for that niche experience.

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Let me rephrase it, it got lost in that post.
I would not recommend to go full on hardcore sim with hundreds of buttons.
Like i said

(in the middle)
Some people are sick of games being dumbed down. Although it does bring the masses. Those same masses are mostly people that like instant gratification. But these kinds of people usually don’t stay for long. And when they do, they will eventually start to notice how simple the game is and join the pissed off crowd.
This tactic can work for singleplayer game not for multiplayer one.

I agree INS should really nail the flight model. Just not to dumb it down.
And give ships some more complexity beyond pew pew.
In my opinion management of ship systems. (with moderate complexity- ED too low - DCS too high)
As for the DCS, we could be inspired by its multiplayer i think its spot on.

There, fixed it for you :slight_smile:

I agree that game development is far from free and costs often at least a few millions, but when speaking of Blizzard, EA, Sony, and so forth, they could very well slack off easly 5$ of the final price and still make comfortable money.

Complexity does not solely come from the controls themselves.

There is skill learning curve: how well you’ll master your intended flight, whatever flight control systems are (simple or many buttons).
There is knowledge: this opponent big ship has a blind spot on whatever side, coming on a planet low altitude will make you detected at last moment, etc.
There are group tactics: how best to protect the bomber, make screen protection to blur ennemy detection,…
There is overall stratgey: optimizing the path to victory is making the right choices considering your supply and all the other factors.

Some games like Go or Chess have (very) simple rules, yet hold a dazzling complexity.

Speaking in terms of Indie companies, I-Novae isn’t currently publicly traded, and I don’t think they have any cash to spare for marketing so they are bound by word of mouth and press coverage. Therefore, the most basic expense is the cost of living. That’s not trivial when you have a family.

As for large, publicly-traded companies, yes, they’re driven by profit motive due to shareholder expectations.

Okay, let’s think about a game that’s proved pretty popular for many years: Team Fortress 2 (chosen because it’s a well-known online fps, not because of any immediate similarity with Battlescape!). And yes I know it’s not indie, but roll with me here…

Why is it successful?

Simplicity is certainly a key factor. It really doesn’t take long to learn the ropes. Simple goals, predictable controls, good UI. Once you learn these, you can begin to master them and get creative with how you use the mechanics.

BUT also, flexibility and depth in customisation. Collecting strange new weapons largely at random begins to pull you away from the standard class builds and keeps people interested and returning.

Lastly, I would suggest it highly succeeds at balance. No class feels overpowered. There is always a class that is your weakness and can spoil your kill streak! This encourages teams to spread their class choices, and also encourages changing classes to suit the team’s current needs.

There’s no denying TF2 is successful. Could Battlescape learn from these principles as we’re begin to explore gameplay in the autumn?

I remember playing TF2 before it went the way of collecting things.
It was packed with HL2 i think.
It was a really fun shooter, but after a while you got tired of same maps and scenarios.
There were other similar games. And after a while i stopped playing and never really returned to it…
…if am not mistaken it went Free to play some time back right?
In my opinion that is biggest reason for its popularity.
That accessibility close second.
And that long time hook… is that collecting.
In this age we as a species are strangely obsessed with filling up bars and gaining imaginary levels.
Without some kind of long term hook, i doubt that game would be so popular today.
Same thing with EVE its leveling system would take you whole lifetime to max out. Brilliant move from CCP.
And i believe that certain players will stay with it just because they spent such a long time already.