Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 28, 2015
Server outages and other players

I understand the interest for game companies to put their games online. Games as a service instead of games as a boxed product avoids a lot of problems with piracy and the like. And you make a business out of selling virtual stuff and store it server-side, so customers don't lose anything if their computer crashes. On the other hand I have two specific problem with online games: Server outages and other players.

The first for example is a recurring problem with Magic Duels. The PC version is affected more than the iOS version, but even on iOS I need a good WiFi connection to be able to play. On 4G I can't, which makes the game a lot less mobile than I wished to. Server problems are quite frequent in games that just came out. A smooth launch for a MMORPG is a rare beast. And in spite of server problems being so predictable, customers are frequently treated with obscure error codes instead of a message which explains clearly what is going on with the server.

The second problem for me with online games is that game companies frequently decide that as they are online anyway, it would be better to make the game PvP instead of PvE. I just had a look at the Pokemon Trading Card Game Online, but most of its game modes are against other players, and the game modes against the AI are limited to specific decks. No interest for me to build my own decks if I don't want to play against other human beings. And playing against other human beings isn't always an advantage. You never know who you get paired against, and that can be people who play very slow (a problem in a turn-based game), quit half-way through the game, or use the game communication tools for insults and trash talk. For a quick game, especially mobile, I much prefer a computer opponent.

I also find it highly annoying that the majority of city/empire building games on mobile platforms are exclusively PvP, in the Clash of Clans mold. First the game puts you at risk of having your progress destroyed by raids from other players, and then they sell you "protection" against that for real money. Sounds like a right mob racket to me!

And I'm pretty sure I am not the only one who would prefer less PvP and more PvE in various online games, especially on mobile platforms. I think game developers are missing out on a bunch of potential customers by not offering both options for the same game. Playing against real human beings can be fun under certain conditions, but for a casual game it often causes more problems than advantages.

Devs make PvP because it's easy to make PvP: just create the ruleset and players will create the content. For a PvE game, the devs have to create the content.
Server Outages. It comes down to inefficient server code and sending too much data. You have to approach server design from a low level viewpoint to achieve those goals, and I don't know very many people that gravitate to that, most people like big fancy tools that are "easy" or "more powerful."

"It's online, so make it PvP!" I hate this. Online is the new offline, what's wrong with PvE games? Also in the same vein is "forced association" (I want to say "forced grouping", but it's above that.) Having people competing with you for limited mobs, thus forcing you to either trivialize the content completely by grouping or having the difficulty for YOU be artificially increased by increased mob rarity are both BAD choices. Look at WoW's daily solo Tanaan quests (The ones for 600 oil, 2000 Apexis.) They're the SOLO quests! Treat it like that! Spread the players out among the different areas, and phase the areas 100 deep. (You or your group enter the lowest populated phase.) The server has to hold a lot more mobs in memory, but that's the cheap part, it's transmitting data back and forth that's the high rent part.

That would be easy and REDUCE server traffic. It's win win across the board for everyone. Unless the "design goal" is to force player association, of course. Because, you know, "It's an online game."
'Devs make PvP because it's easy to make PvP: just create the ruleset and players will create the content. For a PvE game, the devs have to create the content."

Actually, Gevlon, that isn't entirely accurate.

Designing a PvP game "because we have to design less content." results in "emergent play" that is always heavily one sided.

Chess is an example that has a complete rule set. Two players, 32 pieces, 1 board with 64 squares. You can't get jiggy with the rules. Imagine if they forgot to do that, and you sat down to a chess board with 128 squares, and 2 opponents both with 32 pieces against your sparsely populated side with only 16? You would cry foul. Oh, and another player on a different board keeps taking your pieces.

PvP games are played with the goal of seeking maximum advantage, but designed as if they will be "played fair." Why? Because the devs didn't design the content, they took the shortcut of letting the players do it.
So all in all both smokeman and Gevlon and my personal observations conclude in the fact that today devs are COMPLETELY unimaginative and lack the skills to produce content, no matter pvp or pve.

I do agree with Gevlon though on the pve game requiring exceptional development skills and imagination. Too much for the amount of games out there...
The mobile game I play has a pretty good solution to "hell is other people". Its pvp part is handled without direct player interaction:

You have 6 knights which you can deck out in different element armor and assign a maximum of 3 to your arena/guildwar team (knights can be changed as often as you like).

In arena mode you get matched with a team of another player who is approximately same level/gear (wide range though). He doesn't have to be online, you are not fighting the player himself the AI controls his team. The enemy attacks first but AI uses his double damage attack on cooldown. You can use your own special attack when it's opportune, my win rate over thousands of fights is 1 loss every 7 fights. I guess it's the same for everyone.

For guild wars your guild gets randomly matched against another guild of approximately same strength and activeness (again wide range) from a pool of guilds who declare war at about the same time (waiting time up to 5 minutes). You then have to defeat first the team of the player assign guild sentinel before you can attack anyone at will. The sentinel gets a decreasing defense bonus. If he is not active at the time (many players can declare a war) you can note the elements of his team and set up yours accordingly to counter. If he is active he can change his team as well, it's a little fun game. Again the fights themselves are you against a dumb AI.

Ingame chat is restricted to your own guild. No direct player interaction in arena/guildwars whatsoever, no chat no emotes.
"I also find it highly annoying that the majority of city/empire building games on mobile platforms are exclusively PvP, in the Clash of Clans mold."

I definitely agree with this, as well as partially agreeing with Gevlon and more so with jim. Mostly I just think mobile developers are highly unimaginative. They make games just like Clash of Clans because they are intentionally copying the Clash of Clans model, which happens to be one of PvP and mafia style "protection money" extortion (or revenge).

That's why I think Smokeman is wrong in this case. Yes, PvP games can be imaginative, and can take a lot of effort to balance. But it takes no effort to balance a blatant ripoff of another game, as is the case for nearly every mobile game.

Eventually someone will make a PvE empire builder, but it will be new and there will be 2-3 glaring flaws. And then there will immediately be 100 copies of the game, with different names, all of which will also have those same 2-3 glaring flaws. Because mobile developers have no imagination.
I still remember back when making good AI for computer opponents was a thing that got talked about a lot. Then I guess internet connections got faster and developers discovered that it was easier to just let players beat on each other instead of worrying about challenging AI. Quite a shame but I can understand why the lazy option won out.
The mobile game I play

Bryksom, what is the name of that game? I might try it!

For a PvE game, the devs have to create the content.

That is certainly true for certain games, but in the case of trading card games the devs only need to create a reasonable AI. They did that for Magic Duels, and the Pokemon TCG is an order of magnitude simpler, and *does* have an AI for Trainer mode. So why not just expand on that for a mode which allows me to play self-built decks?

I agree with the various comments that making "a PvP system" is simple, but making a balanced and fun PvP system is as hard as making PvE AI/content.
Knights & Dragons

pay2win at core and expensive. You can play free but it literally takes months to get enough armors to counter every element combination (you need 15 of different combinations and can't get the good ones right away as weak as you start) and then you have to level those armors.

But you can play Arena right from the start and get matched with other newbies, so no harm in trying.
I reckon Gevlon and Smokeman are both right.

On Gevlon's point:
Steam is an elephant's graveyard of indie multiplayer-only PVP games. For so many of these games, the art is gorgeous, the sound immersive and impressive, the mechanics novel and interesting... but there's no content. Just PVP matches.. and empty servers.

I get the feeling so many of these indie devs elected to release as a PVP brawler because 'it's easier than a campaign'. So all this amazing art, worldbuilding and mechanics go to waste, consigned to the $1 steam sale bargain bin with "there are no players, thus cannot play," complaints earning them the 'mixed' or 'mostly negative' Steam review death-mark.

On Smokeman's point:
How much of the WoW team's devtime is devoted to PVP-centric re-balancing? How about PVP only like LoL? TF2? Other esports contenders all seem to spend a LOT of post-release time (the amount of time that could easily create a great solo campaign) on balancing and fine-tuning the PVP experience. It seems like you can't go a single patch without seeing PVP-inspired balance adjustments, and throwing CMs at only the endless forum demand for class-specific attention (complaining) can't be cheap.

A game done WELL can't just say, 'PVP is easier than content', because if done right it's probably NOT.
I play a mobile game called Castle Clash.. I tried Clash of Clans but didn't like a few minor game play items and I knew someone who played Castle Clash. I guess technically it's PvP but the players you raid aren't online when you raid them and you don't have much interaction. You decide where to deploy your troops and heroes and then you have a few spells you can use to boost/protect them. There are also dungeons and other battles that are strictly against the AI. Resources seem plentiful so getting raided doesn't hurt that much. I really enjoy levelling heroes.

The game is pretty repetitive but it's a nice little time waster. You can speed things up with money but there are very few things you can't get by just being patient (and lucky). I also like that there is group play. I'm part of a nice little guild and do a boss battle every day followed by group dungeons. Again, not much interaction but sometimes that's good since you can play the game while doing other things.

Strangers can only send canned friendly messages unless you add them as a friend. The chat has a crappy swear filter that just sends your message into a black hole if it contains something it doesn't like. Anyway, pretty tough to talk trash.
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