This will be a very long post.
Shit be rough, yo.
The actual version
Since our last update we’ve been making progress on code changes, but our playerbase has hit a low point.
There are a few points I don’t agree with, but in general their concerns are exactly right: things don’t look so good.
Let’s be blunt: we’re currently lower than what was already painfully low, and if we don’t address this urgently, it will probably get worse.
So, what’s going on, exactly?
Our Bus Factor
Our Bus Factor
The “bus factor” is the minimum number of team members that have to suddenly disappear from a project before the project stalls due to lack of knowledgeable or competent personnel.
Imperial Conflict’s bus factor is 1. It is a worst-case scenario.
This became especially clear this week, when my city caught fire on Monday:
We got our stuff packed to evacuate and it occurred to me that if shit really hit the fan, IC might be screwed.
We’re fine now, thankfully, but it was a good perspective check.
I have been focusing on reducing staff dependency for awhile now, but we are over the point where it is an option. It is essential that we remove any and all dependencies on staff involvement to run the game. We just don’t have the resources (time or money) to sustain otherwise.
We need to increase our bus factory to be as high as possible. In theory, every single player should be empowered to manage the game and act in place of me and @Soull, at least when it comes to non-development matters.
Reducing Staff Dependency
Reducing Staff Dependency
No More Playground Rounds
We will not do any more playground-style rounds until further notice. For as well-received as they are, they take too much time to manage.
Exposing and Automating Galaxy Creation
I don’t mean custom galaxies, I mean a way for players to collectively determine what they want the next round to look like, from beginning to end.
This will not happen in the forums. It will happen directly in the game and will involve staff as little as possible, hopefully not at all.
I can’t overstate how important this is. You guys need me and @Soull out of your way. We are an obstacle that needs to be removed from your playing experience.
@Soull has done a fantastic job as a moderator, but I’ve told him before that our endgame is to make our own jobs obsolete.
That doesn’t mean that we’d go away. If anything, it means that staff would be able to play more frequently alongside you. What a goal to look forward to!
Improved Galaxy Ending Options
On the flipside of creation, is galaxy ending. Sometimes it is appropriate to end a galaxy early, and it is crucial that staff is not required to do so. That is why we built Family Surrender, and despite its problems, it is helping us for the long term.
I had a player tell me, “Pie, you don’t need that. You could have just ended the galaxy when we asked.” and that is completely the wrong mindset.
If you guys have to rely on @Soull or me to manage your play experience, then we’re doing it wrong.
So, let’s stop doing it wrong.
One of the points that came up on that podcast was that “it’s not the coding that’s the issue”, and that we should be focusing more on gameplay problems.
A few days later, an unexpected database issue caused a bunch of players to lose buildings and resources. So much for that theory!
Our technical infrastructure is miles better than it used to be, but there are still places where it is unacceptably brittle. The gameplay will not matter if people can’t expect it to operate reliably.
We simply can’t ignore the coding work that still needs to be done.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t also work on gameplay stuff, but we have to remember that as a browser-based game, we require equal parts web development and game development. Neither can be successful without the other.
As announced earlier this month, Imperial Conflict is being partially open-sourced. This means that we will be able to accept contributions from anybody who wishes to help.
This does not mean, however, that people will magically jump in to help. We need to get the word out, which is a promotional effort of its own.
That said, it is an important first step to increasing our bus factor further. Whereas the players should all be empowered to keep the game running without staff, our technical friends should be empowered to help improve the website in my place.
I am going to get the new dev website up soon, and while it will hardly be usable at first, it will be an important step forward to making force multipliers out of our community.
Another thing that caught my ear in the podcast was the contrast between IC losing players during COVID-19, compared to bigger games and AAA titles that have seen a resurgence. You would think given the environment this year, that we’d also be able to attract more players.
There’s a clear explanation for this.
Other games have money.
It’s easy to forget sometimes, but Imperial Conflict is totally free to play, and free to win. We will not exploit you for your cash. Most other games do not operate this way, which puts us at a severe disadvantage in an already ridiculously competitive industry.
We aren’t defeated though. @Zanharim had a good chat the other day about monetization strategy, and there are things we can do to help us raise funds.
This isn’t something that can just magically “idea” itself into place though. It also requires work, but it is something that is continually on my mind.
We need to build and sustain a marketing budget to bring in new people. On that note, the Patreon supporters amongst us deserve all the thanks they can get. You guys really are heroes in our story.
We are dropping new players on the floor.
Virgo saw renewed traction earlier this year, that was great and got some some fresh blood. However, it was dependent on mentorship which has always been a flaky situation.
We had some drama earlier this year over enforcement policy, and our last mentor quit in protest over Discord bans. While I understand the frustration they felt, it really put us in a shit spot because now @Soull and I had to step back into mentorship, which takes time away from moderation and development.
Because our development needs are a pretty critical priority, what that ended up meaning is that most new players that come in just sit there and eventually go inactive.
If there was ever any proof that a volunteer-based mentorship system is not sustainable, there it is.
With this lesson learned, we are going to disable Virgo and get players back into the mix of real galaxies up front.
This will have negative side-effects.
In particular, it will increase the occurence of inactives in regular rounds. Part of what Virgo did well was acting as an inactive-gate, and by removing it the valuable newbies will be coming with some dead weight too.
Some positive feedback I heard recently was that Andro didn’t have many inactives. That’s true, but it is only possible because the barrier of entry to our game is so ridiculously high.
It’s a tradeoff: we can’t want a game that’s easy to join and also want a game that prevents inactive people from joining. Those are competing forces and we have to pick one.
That doesn’t mean that we just accept inactivity as it is though. What we can and should do is find ways to reduce the pain that inactive players cause. That is the real solution we should be figuring out.
The love and energy is still here, and we still have dedicated players.
@Arimanus has been helping me troubleshoot a nasty bug, @Zanharim as mentioned has been brainstorming on monetization. Even @Lord_Pickle, despite leaving in frustration, cared enough to leave raw feedback that needed to be heard.
The point is this: we are still a community and every single one of you is valued for your contribution and presence. I could go and name more specific players and I probably will, and I don’t say it enough how important IC is to me personally. Not just the IC the game; IC the people. You.
We are IC together, and have been for some time, and will continue to be. Our community is our legacy.
Thank you everybody for reading this, but more importantly thank you for being here.
I don’t give as many updates as I used to, but trust me IC is still always on my mind. Every single day.
If you are here, you deserve a ton of credit. I don’t care what we disagree about or whether or not you think I’m doing a terrible job. You keep the game alive.
Without our players we are nothing, and there’s a die-hard core group playing that remain here enduring this struggle together. When we turn this around, we will look back at what is happening now and see the value of everybody who stuck with us during the difficult times.
Our road ahead is a tough one, but we didn’t make it 20 years so far by giving up.
Here’s a pie for all of us.