Barriers to entry are bad. I learned this lesson in a few ways with this project. Obviously when you say it that way, anyone would agree that preventing people from playing your game is a bad thing, but it’s not always clear that’s what you are doing when you are developing something. In hindsight there was a lot I could have done better, and this a good way for me to really process it all and hopefully help other developers avoid these mistakes in the future.
The game that I released was a bit rough. I had exactly one tester, myself, for the entire year and a half dev cycle. I tried to rope my friends in, but that didn’t really work out. They just wanted to play, not test, and they didn’t know how to give good feedback. One of the biggest things I will be looking for when my next project has any sort of playable prototype is good testers. After the initial release, the slew of minor issues that my written tests and personal play-testing didn’t catch was staggering. The first few days was a whirlwind of quick patches and hot fixes. Things like localization names not matching so the description of an item was item.description instead the intended text, or typos leading to one of the skills being drastically overpowered to the point where level 4 characters could one-shot level 24 mobs. All of these things could have been caught by good testing. Instead, my initial release was a mess, and the people who saw it were turned off. Feedback came in saying the game had a long way to go, and that maybe they might check back in later. That’s disheartening, and it needlessly turns away a portion of the few people who actually installed the mod.
After that things calmed down for a while. The first intended update, to add multiplayer support, rolled out much more smoothly from the technical side, and that update brought in a fair amount of new interest. With that though, came a lot of confusion. Minecraft, on the whole, is not very friendly to start of, and I didn’t think I needed to be any different. Comments started popping up about the mod lacking content that baffled me. There was tons of new stuff to do, how could someone play for an hour and not notice anything different? The answer was simple: I didn’t introduce the content to the players. This is not to say that they needed their hands held, but some sort of tip of where to start looking or what button to press first to get access to the new content menus. I didn’t have any of this, and I thought that in the hands of people who played a game with no instructions it would be fine. What I didn’t have, though, was a well fleshed out wiki detailing all of my content and how to get started. I had nothing. As a result I know I lost more than a few players, and again a simple tutorial, or even a pop-up message, would have solved all of that.
On top of that, there were fragments of a story in the mod, one that I had intended to develop fully by the fourth update, that were completely lost on people. I later came up with several ideas for how to fix this, but by the time I got any of them implemented it was too late, and they didn’t help nearly as much as I thought they would. It’s hard to find the line between subtle and impossible to find when you have been immersed in something for over a year. If you roll your eyes at how obvious the story is after a year, it’s probably just subtle enough. Good testing would have caught this as well, which is another reason to get 3rd party testing done early and often.
So a rough release and no tutorial is a bad combination to have. I did have plans to add an in-game encyclopedia in one of the future updates, but that isn’t something that should have been pushed back. It’s a lot better for players to know what is going on with the 80% of the game you gave them, than to lose players who couldn’t find any of the 100% of the game.
Making it easy to get into the game, and making the game easy for the player to understand. Two sides of the same coin, really; it’s all about getting people playing the game. Next time I’ll go over how I failed to do the one thing that could have overcome both of those issues: marketing.