Yep, that’s exactly my point. The question was (partially) rhetorical to show our situation: our problem isn’t that we don’t have enough players; that’s the symptom. The problem is that we don’t have enough money.
Even the “free” options aren’t really free because we’re also short on resources (time and effort).
For example, who runs the social media campaigns? Are we willing to accept any willing help even if they lack experience and do a poor job? That’s a tough question, and that’s assuming we even get volunteers. If we do, they will also require oversight which is another cost.
The p2w thing is iffy, but there are ways to monetize safely. That’s a much larger topic that I won’t get into here other than to say that our goal is not to maximize profitability at the expense of the soul of the community. More players doesn’t inherently mean a better game, especially if we compromise the competition.
There are plenty of profitable and popular games that are exploitative and shit excuses for cash grabs. I don’t plan for IC to be one of them. We want a balanced game, not just a popular and profitable game. Right now we are lacking on both fronts, so we should fix the game first so it is more enjoyable even with fewer players.
So where does that leave us? I think you said it well here:
The drastic change is already happening. The solution to nearly every problem that we have goes back to the fact that our underlying tech is horribly outdated. For example:
The backend is unstable, which has lead to people missing units, database issues that effect gameplay, etc. This causes players to leave.
The frontend is stale and difficult to navigate, which causes people to leave.
Game-design changes are incredibly costly to implement because our underlying codebase, although miles better than it used to be, is still a monster and plagued by technical debt. This causes people to leave because it takes too long to adjust the game in response to feedback.
Any marketing efforts that we are able to get going are somewhat wasted because the first impression of the game is so poor, and new players bounce.
I could go on, but the point is that we aren’t having problems reaching players, we’re having problems keeping them. We have literally 100s of new players who have joined this year, verified their email address, and then left.
Marketing will add value for us, but it isn’t the priority right now because it isn’t where our bottleneck is. Our product itself is the problem, not the fact that people can’t find it.
This is close but not quite right. People still read books for example, even though they can watch movies. There is still very much a market for text-based strategy games, and this market is about to shift because of Flash dying this year.
IC is like a book that its original owner didn’t care for, and has a damaged spine, torn pages, and ink that is hard to read. If somebody tried to read it and stopped in frustration, you wouldn’t say “see, people don’t read books anymore”. That’s an excuse to hide from our actual problems: that we’re running a website that severely lags behind modern web trends.
IC is a website as much as it is a game, and the game design itself won’t matter at all if the user experience isn’t up to snuff. That is why our redesign is so important; literally everything else is stuck behind it, including monetization.
Getting back to the original topic though, @Zanharim is on point here in trying to find solutions for the game as it currently is, and @OrBit is correct that IA has always been a problem. Even at IC’s height, this was never handled well. Blaming this problem on player count is overlooking the actual issue.
So, how can we handle unofficial alliances without requiring staff involvement? If we can brainstorm it, we can build it.