Oh, I now remember why I gave up on the game last year after just 5 games. I had maybe 2-3 abandoned games. I even have 1 possible newly abandoned game now; my first online game after a year, and it's abandoned! (Or he plays only in weekends). My first move was always rather devastating (see Turn-2 match with Hakim772), which could result in more abandoned games. Yes, I think a lot, but only took 5-15 minutes to submit my turn.
Seems the only way I'm gonna enjoy this game is: single-player, multi-player with friends.
Players Abandon Game When They Feel Cheated By the Game
As I mentioned in another post tangentially, the game mechanics need to change to keep players interested.
How? Mechanics must provide enough control to players to give some hope/impression that situations are still winnable
. Currently, planning for 5 seconds can mean a lot can go wrong. Too little control. There's also Dark games being broken without the Focus/Ignore Zone
user interface, which is currently still buggy. If players feel they have too little control over their loss, they'll most certainly abandon the match. Or worse, abandon the game altogether!
If an opponent kills 2 out of 4 of my soldiers in first turn, despite me spending a good 1-2 hours on planning it, I'm gonna feel like the game cheated me. Especially in situations where the artificial 5-second block gave a counter-intuitive loss.
Counter-intuitive loss? Eg 2 soldiers, his and mine, are quite far away from cover (half-wall), both sighting each other. I stay still and aim, while he aims and walks towards the cover. While both soldiers are still quite far away from cover, his soldier shoots mine. So I'll be thinking: "Staying still gives me a 1 up. Aiming gives me another 1 up. Neither are in cover. What gives?
". That didn't happen to me; I did that to a friend, who promptly abandoned the game. It's the "cover and 2x distance rule
" that is unpublished, and rather counter-intuitive.
Artificial 5-second block too long? Eg A machine gunner wants to pop off an enemy before sprinting sideways for a nearby wall to avoid a shotgun chasing from behind. He figures the shotgun will catch up within 3 seconds, so he's gotta make that nearby wall in 3 seconds. Therefore, he calculates he can aim out the window for only 1.5 seconds before sprinting for the wall. He figures it takes 1 second to make the kill, so he sets his wait-timer to 0.5 seconds. He commits his turn. Alas, the enemy comes into view a little later (aim-walk), costing him 1.5 seconds to make the kill, not 1. The timer counts down for another 0.5 seconds, and he's 0.5 seconds late to the wall. He gets shot by the shotgun. If the player had a smaller time-block (less than 5 seconds), he'd be able to respond better.
(Artificial 5-second block too short? Eg 2 busy individuals playing async. Both teams are far from each other. It takes 2 turns to reach one another. Instead of taking 1 play session (say 1 day) for teams to contact, it takes 2 days. Both of them are asking Mode 7 if the game can allow a pause right at vital (and exciting) points in the game.)
From personal experience, if I lost anything (sports, games) in first turn so drastically, I need to gather up tons of good sportsmanship in my heart to go on. After a while, I do get used to it, even love a good beating. But that's me. Many of us would just give up feeling cheated by the game.
There may be some ways for us to reduce chance of folks abandoning games.
Publish Clear Rules of Game (like chess)
Remove the feeling of being cheated. Since the game is counter-intuitive in many areas, make a solid effort to publish accurate documentation. There's a good attempt here: Principles of Combat
. However, note how Mode 7 does not support this community effort at all: "NOTE: The following has been determined by observation of games and not of source code, the implementation of this system is almost certainly different to that described here. This section does, however, describes a good model for the behavior of the game's implementation.
Heck, chess is counter-intuitive, does not mirror real life. The only reason why it works is because the rules are clear and published. And that's why chess has such an immense following (used worldwide as part of teaching curriculum).
Have a Robust Scoring/Ranking System
Create a robust scoring system
. Eg, abandoning games should cause a HUGE hit to score. System should dutifully remind players which games are nearing time out, and remind them at least 3 times to submit turns for those games. I bet the system doesn't have this yet? If I missed the time out, I'd have plenty of reasons to cry foul! So much for having a robust scoring system
Have Different Types of Scored Games, Ranked and Less Ranked
Let there be different types of scored games
with different weightage. Ranked games. Unranked games. Timed games. Etc.
Online timed games add and lose the most points to ELO. Both players are online, and each player's "Time spent in Thinking
factors into the final score. Yeah, it's a whole metagame that developers have to spend effort on. "How many points to award fast thinkers? How many points per kill?
" And these games' maps cannot be procedurally generated
, just as chess starting positions are never changed. In my last game with Hakim772, he had 3 soldiers (2 grenades 1 rocket) in a room, while I had a single grenade right outside. No wonder he abandoned the game!
Async play can also be timed, but let the time be in terms of days.
Some players just don't like being ranked. Let them have unranked games.
Have Symmetrical Starts, or a Robust Handicap Calculator
In general, heavily ranked games should have perfectly symmetrical starting positions, so that players don't feel cheated (search online for how many Frozen Synapse game owners consider the game "rather luck-based
But we can still have procedurally generated starting positions for ranked games IF and ONLY IF Mode 7 is able to calculate handicap
. Eg, a player who wins from an advantaged start won't earn much points, and the loser in this case may even gain points.
Yes, it's a whole metagame (not Frozen Synapse itself), this scoring system. That's why chess tournaments and rankings is still so popular a thing to chase after. They have 15-minute blitz matches that tests your ability to make 80%-near-ideal moves. And then there are 45-minute matches that tests other stuff. And then async play for more depth. Etc.
Currently in Frozen Synapse, there's none of that (far as I can see).
Get More Players
The proportion of abandoned games will decrease simply as a direct result of having more games in play! The more popular a game is, the more interested their players, and consequently less abandoned games.
There are many ways to get more players. The foremost of which is the methods described above: have a robust scoring system, including handicap calculations. Once the game has the pre-requisite of a robust scoring system
, it can start to organize tournaments to draw in the crowds. Without that pre-requisite, throwing in million-dollar prizes for tournaments will only get lots of people crying foul.
Sadly, that's the hard way to get more players. Took chess a long long time to gain traction too. Why? Market segment too small. You're targeting the top 10% of the bell curve who love to abuse their brain cells and think hard for thinking games.
The easy way to get more players is to lower barrier to entry
. No, not price. People spend money on a whim if your product is popular (I spent hundreds on pretty games I'll never find time to complete). Instead, get a handle on making it popular.
Many ways to make it popular and more fun.
Introduce game mechanics to let players feel like they're in command of tight-knit synergistic teams
. How? Figure out how to remove the artificial 5-second block, and let players play tightly orchestrated plans against overwhelming odds
in single-player modes. Look at the various popular games in this genre: 4X titles, X-COM (many of my friends wouldn't give this up to play Frozen Synapse!), Starcraft, etc. This game mode wouldn't make Frozen Synapse the go-to game to measure tactical skills to be put on resumes
. However, they do draw in the crowds by providing fun factor, as well as lowering barrier to entry for an easy welcome.
So which way is Mode 7 going for? The hard way: robust game design to make Frozen Synapse the next chess game? Or the easy way: add fun to the game to give an easy welcome to more players? Is Mode 7 doing anything at all for their beloved game?
Why Players Really Abandon Matches, or even the Game?
A possible train of thoughts below.
First case, a dedicated gamer. Possibly learned. Possibly good with maths and logic.
He's thinking that Frozen Synapse is tough, requires thinking, ala chess. He loses, but perseveres. He's thinking he just needs to invest time learning the game. He doesn't mind chess anyway, but Frozen Synapse is real-time and so much more fun, with action.
He realizes there simply is no learning
for this game. He feels a tug back towards chess. The developers refuse to publish clear rules for it. He resorts to a wiki that sort of explains the rules, except that the explanation is not official. He tests it out, works somewhat, so he's encouraged.
However, he starts getting abandoned matches. He first moves are always devastating.
He spends a month with it, plays 100 matches, wins most. He spots the problems in scoring mechanisms and handicap calculations (lack thereof). He empathizes with the rage quitters. He starts to lose interest in Frozen Synapse.
He supposes the fact that the forums even need a Polite FS Discussion
board shows that the player base isn't large enough to provide sufficient numbers of serious players. Most are currently rage quitters, or semi-interested dabblers, or discerning individuals who got distracted by other games... all of whom abandon matches every so often. He becomes one of them, even abandoning games he's about to win
(I did that for Shogun 2 when I realized my un-improved troops can kill 1:100 at Legendary difficulty, but online play is something else).
Second case, the typical fun-seeker
A typical gamer wants fun.
He's thinking that Frozen Synapse is tough, requires thinking, ala chess. But he gets the impression that it's a real test of tactics in the REAL WORLD (urban warfare)
, and it's about time he does something useful with his time anyway.
He realizes there aren't clear published rules. He finds a wiki that sort of explains the rules, though explanations are not official. He believes he's chanced upon some rare tips and walkthroughs
, and is eager to have serious fun beating unsuspecting opponents online.
Online, he wins some, loses some. His mind is more focused on fun than on tactics.
After a while, he gets bored. It's the same green and red men running around. He tries boasting to his friends in the army about his exploits in this game, but gets a whole list of fake and counter-intuitive aspects in Frozen Synapse
shoved in his face.
He finally understands that Frozen Synapse isn't gonna prove he's a good tactician. Anyway, there aren't many opponents online (1000 world-wide?) who will let him prove that. Nobody is taking Frozen Synapse as a good measure of tactical skill.
He sees the rankings on online chess games. He decides he's not gonna spend his life being a chess geek, nor stick with Frozen Synapse that is nowhere near useful in training his tactics.
He reaches for Skyrim. Diablo 3. Civ 5. Heroes of Might and Magic. Terraria, Minecraft, where the crowds are. Where things are more lively. And eagerly awaits the upcoming X-COM from Firaxis.