Future communication between devs and community

Tags: #<Tag:0x00007fb4dbf7a340> #<Tag:0x00007fb4dbf7a110> #<Tag:0x00007fb4dbf79f58>

In this topic i like to share some of my concerns about the current state of communication between the devs and the community.

I’ve structured this topic into

  1. Financing games
  2. Learning from the leaders and losers
  3. Project management techniques
  4. New communication Strategies
  5. Incorrect assessments and answers

to explain why regular communication should be the normal case in every software development company and especially in a game company.

Antecedents of my present topic

In the run-up of the C++ update we had a lot of discussions about the communication style between the devs and the community in the “I need an update about the update” post. Even before that there where frequent discussions about the amount of information shared by the devs about core gameplay mechanics and feature sets of B< which had as a consequence the question appeal. Unfortunately, the amount of shared information did not changed despite the previous efforts and i’ve observed that the community increasingly polarized about this topic. Now i like to sum up some of my core concerns and eliminate some of the incorrect assessments which I have observed in the community on the prior discussions.

Goal of my topic

First of all i like the make clear that i have the utmost respect for the devs and their performance with the creation of this game (As someone working in the software industry i know the problems and the struggle you need to deal with). With my topic i don’t like to push the development or attack someone (sometimes I’ll considered impolite - sorry in advance). But what i like, is to clear up some of the statements i heard a lot in the last discussions which show either missing knowledge in project management or incredible credulity. Furthermore i like to show solutions for the devs and the community (example oriented) how early-access (further referred to as EA) is handled in other EA projects i follow and how the current system could be changed to satisfy the requirements of EA and to involve the community into the development process.

Financing games in today’s games industry

In the past the game industry was led by “big-companies” like Activision, Ubisoft, Electronic-Arts and many more. All of them have in common that they have enough money to pay the development of a game by their own (either as publisher [invest in other developers] or as producer [develop the game with their own staff]). If a small development studio like wonderstruck liked to develop a game they were reliant on the money of the big-companies because every developer needs a wage (otherwise it would be unpaid - only few take this way).

In modern days - and after the success of crowdfunding and EA - developers are less reliant on the money of big-companies to finance the development time. Both methods (crowdfunding and I) go slightly different ways to finance a game as explained below.

Crowdfunding
Usual crowdfundings for games go something like:

  1. You have a running prototype of your game (sometimes only a really good idea) and you need money for further development.
  2. You start your campaign on a crowdfunding platform (eg. Kickstarter).
    2. Campaigns have a defined end-date and either you aquire the money and start your devolopment or you need to rethink your concept becaus it was not accapted by the community. In contrast to B< where there is no defined end-date (See FAQ “Why aren’t you funding on Kickstarter?”)
    2. You set different tiers of reward for a funding pledge (eg. 32€ -> “Get Access Today” [also called EA or Alpha-Access or Beta-Access])
    2. You wait till the end of the campaign.
  3. You start/continue development
    2. You give your “backers” (the persons who fund your idea) regular updates about what you do and how you progress over all (are there problems ? are we in time ?)
    2. Backers can give you information what they like or don’t like and help you define your requirements for the final product (you learn from them what you need to produce that others would buy it).
  4. You end your development and deliver the final product.

Early-Access
Early-Access is in many points (#3, #4) like crowdfunding but you need a running prototype and you like to give your players access to your prototype. There are many reasons (i like to name usal reasons) why you might want to open your game for EA:

  1. Testing (you can’t affort a huge testing set-up or paid testers)
  2. Information mining (you need informations what your customers [player] want to play)
  3. Money (you spent all your savings into the development and now you need fresh money)

In contrast to crowdfunding (where you don’t get “early-access” to the product always) you always get access to your EA game. furthermore i like to quote how Steam describes what one of they key-argument for “early-access” is.

Learning from the leaders

You can easily see that both (crowdfunding and EA) have in common that the devs share information with their players and involve them into development. As you can read in the Steam quote there have been number of prominent titles that have embraced this model. Some of them (i’ve fundet or played in EA) are Banished (finished), Kerbal Space Program (finished), The Universim (devolopment - alpha access) and Besige (development - EA).

All of them have a very active and big player-base. All of them share informations about core-concepts, art ideas or development plans on a frequent basis and have an extremely good rating on steam and other sites.

Learning from the losers

On the other hand i’ve also followed a few other games (EA) that made extremly poor in EA and therefore been abandoned by the players. To name one of the most awkward examples in my collection Godus which is nearly dead after 2 years and a promising kickstarter campaign (530k+ funds raised [yes, this is more than Oort-Online made before Sony]) in the beginning. 22cans made the big mistake to IGNORE the players opinion. Although a lot of informations was shared in the beginning the direction changed over time like now with Boundless (not saying it’s going the same way - but there are parallels)

Project management techniques

Over time the project management techniques used in the software industry changed a lot. In the beginning there were:

Over time the Spiral-Model advanced to “Agile Development” which finally resulted in “Scrum”. Most of the software companies out there work with either the “Spiral model” or with “Scrum” (i assume that wonderstruck also uses one of them).

Without wanting be too “technical” (added links for further study) i can summaries that one of the key aspects of the evolution of project management techniques is that the communication with your customer (in the case the players or the community) is a key part of the success of a software (or game).

Interim conclusion #1

In the past sections i showed (or summarized) that frequent communication (and learning from the said) is a key aspect for successful software-development and especially for game-development. Communication is desired, both by crowdfunding and by EA games (steam declares communication and inclusion as part of the EA definition). It’s also a key aspect of todays project management methods which leads me to a simple question:

Why don’t you (or stoped) communicate your concepts with the community ?

I saw a lot of opinions why devs should not spend their time on communication with the comunity in the prior mentioned topics and i like to give you an answer (in the following section) why this statements are invalid.

Incorrect assessments and answers

I don’t want to name or quote the authors of the following statements (i tried to sum them up and obtain the context) because of courtesy and i don’t want to expose anyone but if you insist i can quote directly.

Statement 1: The devs don’t want to reveal gameplay concepts yet

This is the most valid of all statements i’ve seen but it’s also only partially valid. There are two reasons why they might not want to reveal the concepts yet. While one is valid the other one is not.

  1. There is no concept yet that would fit into the B< game universe.
  2. They think it’s particularly significant.

The first argument (#1) is valid. If there is nothing to tell yet, they don’t need to tell it. This becomes awkward if there is a “direct request” from the players (like the bunch of unanswered questions in the “Question Appeal” Topic) because they like to know how you (devs) handle this problem. The result is that you should come up with a concept ASAP to show it your players and to get feedback if it’s a good idea or not. If it’s low on your priority list you can tell this your community. Most likely they will start a discussion if the idea has a consensus and you get your “community-approved-concepts” for free.

The second (#2) argument is nearly completely invalid IMO because there are no “particularly significant” informations in game-development (even in most software projects over all) that could not be presented in a way (abstraction, small world examples) that no other company could use it. If your idea is “special” it’s a key aspect of your game that’s for sure, but if your idea is stupid your game will flop because of it (eg. GW2 combat system). Therefore it would be better to “tease” your community with this idea and let them discuss it if they like it or not. You can still keep something secret and you don’t need to reveal everything but the “core idea” should be revealed to the community.

Statement 2: The devs stoped communication because we insist on what was said

In the prior sections i showed why communication should be the highest bid in a user-centered development process so there are no excuses for not talking to the community. If the community does not like your concepts or insist on something you mentioned before you should think about it! Either your idea was bad or you should not change it (or at least explain why you need to change it before you change/drop it [eg. the tier system in B<]).

You can also re-schedule any time frame that was planned early without any problems (but you need to tell it your community). Most of the players will prefer a “finished” game over a “delivered on time” game. No One want to witness BF2 again!

Statement 3: The devs don’t want to show unfinished work

While this may sound valid it’s a source of a lot of problems. Everybody only want to show the very best work he can do (that’s natural and understandable). But not everything that is in progress should be finished. I can name you an example from my own experiences in the software-industry. After a long briefing with a customer we (the developer - 5 people) sat together and discussed how we can fulfill the requirements of the customer (very open definitions and they wanted concepts for new workflows and user-interfaces) so that we can show some cool prototypes after the first iteration. We sat together and had really cool ideas but as we showed this “cool ideas”, on which we spend some time, to our customer he hated it. Even after we tried to convince him that this is a “cool feature” he did not budge. Long story short some features should never see the light of the day because they will never be accepted from your customer (let’s hope you find the rotten fruits before you ship the final product).

Statement 3: It’s a small dev team and they don’t have the man power

As a part of the project management nearly every software-team defines rock-solid project definitions for themselves (which result from the project definition in cooperation with the customer). This definitions will be split up into smaller chunks of work (backlog-items) and added to your “todo-list”. Within this backlog-items most of the information about a feature should be written out in text or diagrams. It’s not a big deal to take this backlog-items and write them down into one or two sites and show them to your customers (players). They can see your thoughts and what you are working on. You can get your customer’s approval for the idea and / or good input or new ideas for other features you can sell him.

Statement 4: Do you want to play the game or read about what you can play in a week ?

That’s an obvious but also lazy approach. If the team spends time on writing things down they can’t do what they are writing down in the same time (only only have your time once). But there is a pit fall in this approach. The time you need to write down your idea is also a time you have to think about the idea and clarify it (have i thought about everything ?). Who of you ever tried to learn a complicated subject knows that it’s a fundamental part of learning to explain something to someone else. Only when you are able to clearly tell what your idea/the subject “is” and if you are able to explain it to a person and the other understands you, your idea/the knowledge is fully “discovered”.

Statement 5: There is nothing interesting to tell

Let me tell you something, there is always something interesting to tell. Even in the times of the C++ rebuild it would be possible to tell something about “That’s the combat system”, “How the player driven economy works” or “Let’s talk about the cool ‘central guild’”. It’s not really that interesting for most of the audience to hear highly “technical stuff” about “Why C++ is so fucked up” but it’s extremely interesting for nearly everyone to hear about gameplay concepts. Concept-Art is nice but the information in Concept-Art is limited and it’s a source for speculations, assumptions and false informations.

Statement 6: laissez-faire - the devs know what they do

Even if i had never a doubt that the devs know exactly what they do when they develop the game i’m not sure if they know what exactly their players like to see (see Statement #1, #3). EA is not game development in big companies and you need to evaluate your players-needs by your own (or you need to hire a pollster). Big companies give a ■■■■ about their players wishes and just do how they like (as seen in nearly every game with a number greater than 2 in the titel). That’s why gaming is more and more boring and repetitive. If you like fresh ideas you need to talk to more than old game-designer.

Interim conclusion #2

Let’s conclude the above statements. There is not one 100% valid argument not to talk with your community about gameplay concepts. If you find one feel free to ask me for a solution (there is always one).

##New communication Strategies
I really like to encourage you (devs) to talk more and on more prominent locations (new topics) with your community. At the moment, a lot of informations is spread over several topics and only mentioned in sub-clauses. Eg. as you dropped the tier system it would have been really nice if you had started a new topic (maybe with a poll) and explained to us why you think the tier system is bad. It was a core part of the originally planned game (Oort Online) and if something needs to be changed it would be cool if we get an reason why (as you see the community accept it without outrage anyway).

A regular update about your current progress would be nice too. It’s not that much work to summarize some of your ideas and present it to us (1/3 a man day on a bi-weekly basis should be sufficient). It also “feeds the mob” (we have something to discuss) and it keeps the audience in this forum up. TBH the audience is really really low (only 10% of the players are registered and only 1% was online in the last month. Worst is that only ~0.2% are active forum users).

A lot of my friends think this game is dead (even if i try to convince them it’s not) because they see only few information about the development and gameplay-concepts and mostly only Concept-Art. A running prototype (even if it’s only a screen-cast) is better than pictures that are born in photoshop.

It’s really pity too, that after more than 3 month only a few of the questions in the “question appeal” topic are answered. This does not give (me) the feeling you really care about your community.

Final conclusion

As you saw in the interim conclusions #1 it’s common approach to talk with your customers about theirs needs. It’s also common to talk with your backer about the status of the development and about their opinions. In interim conclusion #2 you can see that there no (or only few) reasons not to talk to your costomers. Nearly every incorrect assessments is based on missing knowledge or credulity (no offense).

In the long run every software can only benefit from an open and constructive discussions with your customers. I really hope you devs (@james) rethink your current communication strategy with the community and i hope i’ve cleared some things up for all.



Again i like to say that i don’t want to offend anyone. If you feel offended please tell me and i’ll try my best to alter my topic according to avoid this.

If you have any suggestions about my thoughts feel free to discuss them but please refrain to come up with the already answered above statements (unless i’ve forgotten an extremely important point).

Thanks for your time to read this :slight_smile:

15 Likes

You can add We happy few and Prison architect to games where their communication works great.

And well probably Stonehearth too, the developement is a bit slow sometimes but they damn sure know how to keep the community engaged.

2 Likes

First of: Well written, @Heurazio . This topic was a good read :wink:

Yes, I can support this feeling. Not that I have lost my faith in the devs, but most people I talk to about the game tell me the same. They don’t believe in it’s progress cuz they see not much new informations of actual game material. Some more teasing would wash away the doubts of most of them, even if it’s not EA-material but videos, screenshots or similar.

Something like a regular coming news-topic (may be also linked to the homepage to the non-0,2%-people out there) where you give us every week or second week some short infos about your progress with some screens. That would help a lot to keep the people focused on the game. You may also press it into a newsletter … I love newsletters of games I want to keep an eye on. Best examples are Elite Dangerous, Shroud of the Avatar or Crowfall. They do great jobs in their newsletters, even if they are sometimes very short on new informations (especially those of Elite :wink: )

3 Likes

You are saying in comparison to Godus there are parallels, but also you are saying, you are not saying both do go the same way. If I got it right this is in relation to not listening to the communities opinion.
But if there are parallels and both don’t go the same way, and Godus’ mistake was not to listen to the community, then BL mistake could be to actually listen to the community.
Although it could be I twist things right now, because you definitely encourage to interact with the community. I irritate myself right now. So maybe not to be taken too gravely.

It is great info. Thank you for this.

A weekly development update or something would be a strong step in making the game seem more …what’s the word…like it is advancing, a way to show this.

And yes , more Youtube videos with updated materials

Additional, an E mail to regestered users inviting them to contribute to the forums

@thorbjorn42gbf Thanks for the games mentioned. “We happy few” seems really promising (i played “Contrast” [same devs] and it was awesome). I only named games i am or was part of the EA. I can’t say anything about other games.

Thanks :slight_smile: Took me some time and i tried my best with the formulation because english is not my mother tongue.

Yeah … maybe i screwed the formulation. Let me clear this … Godus and B< share that there was a lot of communication in the beginning. As development continues the godus devs start to ignore the opinion of the players (they added an ingame cash-shop [one of the reasons i’m against cash-shops even for vanity], gameplay changed to grind and freemium) and that’s something i’m scared which could happen to B< too (the start / beginning is parallel - hope the outcome is different). At the moment i’ve the feeling the devs “start to ignore” our concerns and doubts. Let me make an example … both, @Saint_X and i wrote a PM to @james almost a month ago, we both don’t got any answer on our PM and this is not a good sign. Even a “Sorry, no time” would have been better than no answer at all.


@TrueGormagon Hint: You can edit your answers to answer more than one person per post. You can also mention other forum users with a “@” before the name and they’ll get notified. It’s “ugly style” to post multiple answers in a row because it’s harder to read and it’s swell post counter.

Thank you for the well presented and balanced post. We really appreciate the time you’ve put into this, and your desire to improve things.

This is something that is very important to us, and @james and I have had a quick conversation about what we need to do to address the issues you raise.

James is very keen to reply to this fully himself, but unfortunately for personal reasons he is unavailable now, and may be over the weekend too. We may have to ask for your patience for a little longer until James has the opportunity to respond, but we will get back to you (on Monday at the latest), and we work out what we need to do to keep the community with us as we develop the game into the awesome thing we all want it to be.

13 Likes

Hey, at least it wasn´t posted & forgotten like the Dev Q&A Video #1 that was posted almost a year ago :smile:

But you are right, the result of the new Q&A thread was quite disappointing, I thought that most oft the questions would´ve been answered withing a few weeks to a month (with “We don´t know yet but will answer this asap” as a perfectly fine answer).
I also have to say that some of the given answers were pretty disappointing too (sorry @olliepurkiss but the Q&A: End Game thread was quite underwhelming)

3 Likes

that’s good to hear, i’m looking forward to read your answers :thumbsup:

You are right, that was really sad :frowning:

Yes i also hoped that. Unfortunately this topic died too after only a few (and partially incomplete) answers.

Sorry @olliepurkiss, i have to agree on this. I hoped for more than an enumeration and i hoped for much more “concepts” you show answering such a question.

1 Like

The end game thread was made in response to people wanting to have a general idea about what the endgame was supposed to be as we where discussing progression, I really wanted more for that answer too, but it was deffinetly enough to deffine some of the endgame challenges for the discussion.

Banished was/is a nice game, it is a small game but it is nice an makes real fun. From time to time i play some rounds. The game had a BIG developer team, 1 player so far i know ^^.

Like @Heurazio i had played this game. I found the game to start very well, but only after a short time, the game get little changes and became increasingly pay to win. and the game was nearly death. Good start but a bad end.

If you writing something down, the player who has not installed the game, could awaken the interest of players and therefore install the game and invite other players.
You must not writing a such big post like @Heurazio first Post, ~10-20 line (30-60 minutes to write something) is enough to awake the interrest of a player

You can find every time anything what is interresting, talk about trading, collecting, woldbuilder or any idea you had in the developer team. If you say nothing you lost the community

:+1:

~0.2% active players in the forum is not so good, at the time i have joined the game the forum activitie was higher. in the last time i see only every time the same player answer. I think 1 problem is to less information from the dev`s, the community needs something which they can discuss, and in between a few answer.


this is a good idea

i prefer text form, cost not so much time to create and i can read it from everywhere, and it is easier to understand often.


we get 1 answer, he said we get our answer after his holiday, on the next monday, but we never get the answer, after 1-2 weeks later i write to @james if he forget to answer but i still wait for any answer.


good to know, i hope it has helped the big post from @Heurazio that we get now more informations


I had finally time to read the giant post and then also respond to it ^^

3 Likes

I’ve been thinking a little bit about this, and I think a good format could be a podcast. We don’t always have something to show, but we often have something to say. Posting reams of text or informal ideas feels wrong and often if we do we get held to this later on, can be a bit confusing if you’re trying to understand the journey of development. It’s also a good format to answer questions, and a great format for me to accidentally leak stuff because it’s hard for me to edit after the fact :wink:

Any thoughts on this?

10 Likes

(By the way, I understand and acknowledge the concerns in this thread. They’re totally valid, especially for an early access game. But you can rest assured that if we’re not really active on the forum we’re spending more time working on the game and upcoming features.)

6 Likes

Podcast sounds great! Feel free to invite your best Australian pal Squidgy to the chat! :wink:

2 Likes

As I said in my last post, @james wants to reply to this himself, but unfortunately for personal reasons he will be unavailable for the foreseeable future. So you’re stuck with me and @ben!

Firstly I’d like to say that we completely accept your concerns about communication, it hasn’t been good enough for an early access game. We will work with you guys as much as we can to improve matters, so please continue to let us know if what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong.

I’d like to say a couple of things about where we are:

  • Everything that gets posted on the forum is read by us and taken on board. We are constantly integrating your ideas into the design and your opinions are referred to during our discussions.
  • Our lack of communication is not a lack of desire or interesting in keeping you up to date, it is purely because we’re trying to fit it in to our working days and it often gets pushed off the end of the list. As you point out, this shouldn’t be the case, and we will fix it.
  • The last few months have had all the coders porting the game to C++, this has made it harder to give interesting updates. Now we are moving back on to new features there should be a lot more to talk about.

Up until now we’ve been leaving it to individual people to post as and when they can fit it in, and hoping that will get the right information out there. That’s not worked, so instead we’re going to try a weekly update, which as @ben has already mentioned may take the form of a podcast or a hangout. We’ll do one this week and take it from there. I will also continue to answer the questions in the Q&A thread as quickly as I can.

If you want to speak to us directly please message @ben, @james and myself together and one of us will get back to you.

13 Likes

Yeah, podcast sounds great! It’s a good format, and hopefully it doesn’t eat up too much of your time (via set up & editing)

Hopefully all is well, or will be well

:thumbsup: this sounds like a great approach

3 Likes

Can you make this a Youtube Video - please no live-stream (I’m sure most of us can’t attend a live-stream either because of time offset or because of available time). Personally i’d prefer a text because it’s easier to quote and talk about but a video would work too if it’s easier for you.

Hope @james is well and back soon :slight_smile:

That’s good to hear, i really appreciate this attitude. Rest assured that i always express all my concerns.

Even if it’s good to here that you integrate our ideas (which i’ve never doubted) i see a problem with this (and that’s one of the main reasons for me that i wrote this topic). I’ve made a BPMN diagram for better explanation but i try my best to explain it in text to for everyone not familiar with the diagram syntax.

This picture shows my current feeling / understanding of the EA in B< (which is hopefully superseded now) which feels like a “monologue”. After we’ve received the initial definition of the concept there was no new (or very little) information flow about new concepts to us. Even if you integrate all our ideas an refine your game concept there is a problem that there are different understandings of the game. There is your “Game concept” which is refined and detailed. You know what to do and how things work and there is our very crude “Idea of the game”. Since we do not know what your concept of the game is, it’s really really hard to offer helpful, new ideas or come up with things we’d like to see because we don’t have the insights of your concept. Maybe we’d have super cool new ideas if we would know what’s going on. Furthermore there are different “Ideas of the game” for every single player because the concepts of the game offered by you (the devs) are most likely small leaks in sub-clauses. Not everyone is aware of everything you said and therefore it’s hart to start a solid and productive discussian about a topic.

The diagram above shows my understanding of “how” EA should work (and how i saw it in successful EA games) and what i hope to see (more) in the future. This concept is a real “dialogue” between devs and community. As you can see the most important point in this diagram is on the one hand that there is a “Common Game Concept” which is known to everyone. On the other hand there is a message / information flow into both directions (devs -> players | players -> devs). You you come up with “New Concepts” (build on the “Common Game Concept”) and when you share it with us we can come up with “Ideas and Notes” in direct relation to your “New Concept”. In this way a discussion can be build on solid informations and can be much more productive and constructive. An other benefit is, that you don’t need to be scared if we like the result or not (you get feedback immediately) and that the iteration can be accelerated (if we now what you plan we can work on concepts that fit into the current “Common Game Concept” and fewer time is wasted with ideas that won’t fit in the game - therefore there is less reading and tweaking overhead for you).

[quote=“olliepurkiss, post:16, topic:4141”]
Up until now we’ve been leaving it to individual people to post [but] That’s not worked, so instead we’re going to try a weekly update[/quote]

This is an excellent adaptation and i’m looking forward to it.

+1 :thumbsup:

4 Likes

And one that’s been suggested for over half a year :joy:

2 Likes

1 month later …

it is now more than a month passed since i wrote this topic. In my opinion it’s now the time for a small recap about what has changed, what is good and where there is still need for optimization.

The New

The changes in the past month showed clearly that this game is not abandoned by the devs. I think this is a good sign for a lot of players and a clear message for all who thought the game was dead (especially in the steam review section).

In the past four weeks we saw a dramatically increased number of dev posts and devlog posts and i hope we will see a lot more in the next time. Also the amount of shared informations changed from “show what we have” more into the direction of “show what we want to accomplish with the game”. This is a good starting point for further discussions within the community and with the devs.

In my opinion it’s also a good sign that all devs are much more active in the forum now. We saw a lot of posts by “other” devs than “only” @james or @ben.

The Good

What are the good changes in the past:

  1. More Devlog Topics
  2. Content changed from “what we have” to “what we want to accomplish with the game”
  3. More dev activity in the forum
  4. Game-Concepts shared (eg. Guild beacons, beacon persistence to name only a few)
  5. More regular updates (thanks to the C++ port i think)

The Bad

It’s still pitty to see that only a few of the questions from the question appeal topic have been answered completely (after that long time). Also a lot of the answers are “vague” and not really clear (usually only after demand - if there is one).

  1. Only few questions from “Questions Appeal” were answered completely
  2. Vague answers about questions
  3. Often necessary to ask for details
  4. Difficult to understand / see how the player opinion affects your decisions

@james Last but not least some things are forgotten (maybe because you have a lot to do - but you said this on April 18 [20 days ago]) like:

Conclusion

The “new” communication strategy is going in the right direction and is a lot more what i’d expect from a EA game than the prior strategy. It’s also obvious that you care for your community and you want to deliver the best game possible.

i hope you will continue with the current strategy and don’t drop it again. Thanks that you took my concerns so seriously (@james, @olliepurkiss, @ben and all other in the team).

I’m looking forward on what is coming and i think you do a great job :thumbsup:

5 Likes