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Hangups preventing adoption

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Hey guys, I'm sure these topics have come up before, but I wanted to get your thoughts.

I saw the discussion about limiting room sizes to help with the fact that the player population struggles to fill games. And it got me thinking about why the game is having trouble gaining traction. It's an awesome game. But, I think there are some things that make people drop out too early and never come back.

I don't have any stats or anything to back this up, but my guess is that new people download the game, play a few rounds online, get stomped a couple times and bail before being able to even experience the rich strategy and gameplay this game offers.

I know these may be unpopular opinions here, but maybe that insular thinking is not helping the game reach a broader audience?

I think there are a few contributing factors to this:

1. In 1v1 games, the early game is incredibly unforgiving and very snowbally.

That's kind of par for the course for most RTS games. But ZK in particular is super unforgiving for the inexperienced. Most people who test out the game probably don't even survive to actually experience the game since it's so easy to screw up at the start. I don't know if providing some free defensive structure attached to your first factory would help. But, I think something to help prevent games ending prematurely would be good. There is probably nothing more off putting to a new player than watching a single glaive slowly tear down their factory because of some dumb luck in maneuvering or awkward llt placement.

2. Don't build factories if you want more units, build caretakers...

I absolutely love this game, but this is just a weird design decision. For someone jumping into the game for the first time, they would NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER assume that building caretakers instead of factories would be the standard way to increase unit production. I understand that the factory system is supposed to be an abstraction for a proper technology system. But, it's unintuitive, that's unarguable. In every other context in the world, more factories = more tanks. Something as basic and fundamental as increasing unit output in an RTS should NOT be this unintuitive and I'm sure that this alone has been the culprit to the game just simply not "clicking" with many players because they didn't take the time to read the wiki.

Maybe factories should have an upgrade or two to increase their build power to downplay the importance of care takers? The upshot to this is, it kind of nudges players to diversify their forces. After they have upgraded their factory, they will need to build a new one for more output, they may opt to go for a different tech. Instead of now, where it's common to have like 5 caretakers managing a single factory for the whole game. Also, it's going to make the world feel more realistic, having many factories pumping out units instead of just one.

3. Flow-based resources.

This one is difficult. I'm sure we have all seen this. A noob builds like 10 builders. Their logic is surely, "This is taking to long to build, I guess I need more builders?". Who can blame them? It works like that in almost every other game and in real life, more "labour" force, more output.

The resource flow system of ZK is largely invisible unless you play close attention to the numbers. There is a UI/Graphical disconnect between the inputs and outputs of resources. It's not obvious that metal is evenly distributed to all builders, and building more builders is probably hurting more than helping.

Perhaps just changing the colour of the nanolathe streams and construction skeletons to indicate how rich the resource stream is would give a more solid visual indication? Maybe something like, a red skeleton and or stream if it's getting barely any resources. And the stream gets greener as it gets closer to the builder's max build rate. Then if a builder hits it's max build rate, it will have a green stream with red flecks in it or flashing to indicate that you need more build power to fully utilize your input resource flow.

I don't know, maybe that's not the right approach, but something to give the players, especially new ones, a solid intuitive visual feedback around what is going on with the resources. Resource management is perhaps the most important thing in an RTS. So, the game should be provide an unambigious and unignorable feedback to players about what is going on to help them understand the "affordability" of something. Think about any other RTS, if you can't afford something, it's obvious, it'll be greyed out, or you'll get an in-your-face message "not enough resources".


Anyways, Thoughts??

Also, don't take this criticism as a knock to the game. I absolutely love it. It's out of love that I try to help with getting more people into it.
+7 / -0
I'm not sure multiplayer turning people new away is backed up by data. Here is player retention for the first four months of 2020 where a 'player' is someone who shows up in the playerlist of a replay on the site (ie, someone who played a multiplayer game).


It looks like about half the people who try online play come back to it. This only drops to 25% of people continuing to return after a month. Perhaps there is a difference between passworded games and autohosts. I presume some stats could be generated for them.

This retention is a lot better than retention where a 'player' is simply someone who makes it to the main menu. One-day retention is about 30% in this case and one-week is 10%. This is understandable, as without any cost to trying ZK people are able to just pop in and see if it is for them (there is also no sunk cost keeping them around until they get it).

quote:
1. In 1v1 games, the early game is incredibly unforgiving and very snowbally.

I don't think people expect to jump right into 1v1 and find it forgiving. I don't think the start of ZK is exceptionally unforgiving. The commander can repel small raids and making turrets early (a common RTS noob trap) is not even that bad. Putting an LLT on each factory could be an ok change, however the design of it is a bit ugly. I think there is essentially no chance of this change happening because it would require modelling output that doesn't exist.

quote:
2. Don't build factories if you want more units, build caretakers...

Take this up with EErankAdminAnarchid. This topic has come up in the past two or three years and we've decided that it would be nice to satisfy what seems to be many player's desire to build a bunch of factories. It makes sense that more factories means more production, and a base with a bunch of factories visually looks more active. The idea is waiting on models that EErankAdminAnarchid has been almost completing for quite a while now.

There doesn't seem to be a ticket or searchable thread about the idea, so here it is in brief:
  • Each factory has a corresponding factory pad.
  • Factory pads are small (say 6x4) factories with the same build options as their corresponding factory.
  • Factory pads cost around 160 metal and have 10 buildpower.
  • A factory pad is disabled if it is not within 600 elmos of a non-disabled allied factory corresponding to its type.
  • When placing a factory, all complete allied factories of the type you are placing have green circles of 600 elmos radius drawn around them. When your cursor is within one of these circles the blueprint changes to the factory's corresponding pad.

Factory pads are cheaper than Caretakers because inflexible parallel construction is generally worse than flexible serial construction. Dedicating 10 BP to producing a particular set of units should come with a reward, just like dedicating 10 BP to a particular location (Caretaker) comes with rewards. I also like how factory pads will let players make a Jugglenaut or Grizzly without forgoing unit production for two minutes. This could be a much-needed buff for Amph.

The variant of the idea without the 600 elmo circle is simpler but risks destroying the logistics of bring units to the front. It would enable cheap proxy factories, which could be interesting to test out, but I expect would destroy defender's advantage.

A button in the UI to upgrade the factory is not likely to do much since, when people want to make more units, they will just repeat what worked already (make a factory) rather than search around for better options. If they searched for better options then they would find Caretaker. Besides, a factory pad is basically an upgrade that is represented as an object in the world, which is better than having the game occur in numbers and states within a unit.

quote:
3. Flow-based resources.

I don't think flow is a huge problem. If someone makes twice as many Caretakers as they need then they have probably only wasted 1000-2000 metal, this is nothing compared to how inefficient they are playing in other areas. I don't think people getting the hang of ZK in singleplayer care that much if the game is playing more slowly than we are used to. The economy in ZK doesn't have the traps of TA and SupCom, where resources are spent at random rates and stalling energy causes everything to shut down.

I like the idea of giving nanospray colour meaning, but I worry that colour is too informationally noisy. Stalling hard on metal is fine most of the time. Nanospray colour is also already set to team colour. Nanospray already changes density in response to build rate. The density range could be increased to make the changes more obvious. Perhaps making the nanospray lighter or darker would be a good addition.
+7 / -1
12 days ago
It's hard to think of a way to make the economy more intuitive without big changes to the game.

Maybe a hint system that's on by default would be useful. The hint system could tell players, "Caretakers are a much cheaper way to increase buildpower than making another tank foundry" when they place their second tank foundry. And it could warn players, "adding more buildpower doesn't help without more metal income" when they assign more buildpower to a single task than their total metal income, while their stored metal is at 0.

Of course, it would be better if such explanations weren't even necessary.

It would be more transparent if each nanoframe, and each factory, had a large font display when you click on it or mouseover it, telling you how much metal it's using per second. The display must be prominent so new players don't miss it. For factories, metal drain would include all caretakers+workers that are helping the factory. It could say "Metal drain: 15/s (83% of income)."
+0 / -0


12 days ago
USrankBerder big info panels that appear over your construction projects sounds like an idea for an additional economy overlay style widget. I think having it always show by default risks overloading people with far more information than they need (remember, stalling hard on metal is generally fine).
+0 / -0
i'm right here..

keywords patterns and this thing that I never stopped doing with my foot.
+0 / -3
12 days ago
quote:
2. Don't build factories if you want more units, build caretakers...

You know, the cheapest solution to this effort-wise is to put Caretaker in the Factory tab as well as the Economy tab.
+5 / -0
Those stats are interesting GoogleFrog.

Updating the main menu may actually go a long way to increase the "perceived" quality of the product. I know as an engineer that this type of talk may sound silly. But, after some experience in product development, perceived quality is actually very important. When it comes to engagement, it may be even more important than "actual" quality, sadly...

Spend the week or whatever it takes to make the main menu look sexy and as silly as it sounds, it may actually help a lot in retaining people.

Do you have stats on how many people install, but never actually jump into a multiplayer game?

I think something that could be improved with the menu very quickly is simply the button sizing and placement. The balance is off in terms of button importance and screen real estate and positions. The buttons needed to jump into a game are small and off to the side compared to the massive community section that dominates the main menu. I know when I first installed the game, it took me a second to get my bearing in terms of how to get int a game. Also, colours and iconography can help a lot to focus people's attention to what is important.

Also, when you click the multiplayer button, I think the battle list should perhaps show by default? Having an extra click needed there to get to the battle list is pointless. Matchmaking often has 0 players, and the phrase "battle list" doesn't mean anything so many people may never even click on that button before clicking back. They may just click on the match making, see there are 0 players online, and then just hit back. Maybe the battle list is always present on the bottom of the main menu? That way, it's hard to miss.

However, this is all conjecture. Maybe there is a way to get more granular data on this stuff? As they say, if you can measure it, you can manage it. If there is a 70% drop off due to issue with the main menu, either the interface or the branding. That seems like it could be a quick fix, relatively speaking.

I don't know what your guy's budget is, but have you considered consulting with a designer or anything? I hope this doesn't come off the wrong way, but some of the artwork that is chosen for loading screens is inconsistent in terms of quality...

Anyways, do you have more stats to share? That may help finding some hangups.
+2 / -0
12 days ago
The compatibility options should be on by default. When I first tried this game the menu and button text kept disappearing after every couple of games, and the in-game chat prompt didn't show what I was typing. As first impressions go that was pretty bad. Enabling compatibility mode fixed it.
+0 / -0
12 days ago
CArankStrife40k there is no budget. Zero-K is just worked on by anyone who feels like working on the game, it's basically a fan-made game using a fan-made engine. GoogleFrog does a lot of the work but everyone who wants to see anything changed is free to consult with people currently working on the game and submit their own work for changes. I don't think that there's anyone working on zero k who has much of a design background these days so if you know someone who wants to fill the niche...
+3 / -0


12 days ago
I think opacity, or maybe a combo of that and saturation, would work for indicating stalling nanospray. It would also work reasonably well with the low settings nanolaser. Thickness of the spray cone/spray particles/laser might be a useful secondary indication as well, so a narrow cone/thin laser would combo with a more transparent, duller colour to show things are stalling.
+0 / -0
Ok, thanks for the heads up USrankBakuhatsu. I am a programmer. So, maybe I can try my hand at updating the menu when I have some time.

CArankAdminShadowfury333 yeah, those sound like good ideas. The current spray density fluctuations I think are a little too subtle. It doesn't really scream to the player: "you can't afford this right now! You need to go out and get more metal before trying to build this! Also, in the last 30 seconds, you just dumped your entire metal reserve into this thing, which will probably never complete before you get killed."

I don't want to clutter the UI. But, I'm wondering if an icon system may help? Similar to how the default setting for metal patches uses icons to indicate value. Maybe in addition to showing the build time for something, there can be some sort of icon(s) indicating affordability? I'm just spitballing.

I think something like this would help not just newbies but mid-level players too. One of the toughest learning curves for this game is getting that instinctual "feeling" of when your economy can afford a particular unit of building. Maybe that's just part or learning the game?

One of the challenges I see is that all of the values are relative and time dependent. So, it's kind of hard to know, when the UI should be displaying a warning or something like that.

It would also be nice to get a more visceral feedback to when you are excessing.

Honestly, it's hard to talk about this. Since I'm already so familiar with the UI and the game and everything that it's hard to go back into the mode of a new player seeing everything for the first time. One of the challenges with stuff like this is understanding the pain points while being so familiar with the systems. It would be nice to get some direct feedback from newer players about this stuff. I know when I first started playing, looking at the metal costs felt meaningless since it takes a long time to develop a context for how much X amount of metal is worth.


+1 / -0
CArankStrife40k yes perceived quality is very important. You're free to try out tweaks and make pull requests. Extending the framework (such as adding glowy button animations) or producing art (nobody is producting art at the moment) would be good too, but much more work. The UI supports resolutions/window sizes from 1920x1080 to 800x800, so keep that in mind, and make sure to reset your install when working on what new players see when they first launch the game. Simply launching ZK is not indicative of what people see when they first launch it.

quote:
However, this is all conjecture. Maybe there is a way to get more granular data on this stuff?

Yes, more data exists. I wouldn't call it stats though. An old developer pushed for some analytics but was not active enough to do analysis or check that what was added made any sense.

quote:
You know, the cheapest solution to this effort-wise is to put Caretaker in the Factory tab as well as the Economy tab.

I don't think this would do much and it would break an assumption about the build menu. Why would a player look at each option in the factory tab when they are trying to increase their current unit production?

quote:
The current spray density fluctuations I think are a little too subtle.

I had another look and I disagree. Builders that are stalling hard send out one or two individual puffs of nanospray per second. There is a clear visual difference in behaviour between building at 100% and building at 20%. The distinction is not so great when building at 50%, but building at 50% is prettymuch fine. The economy doesn't expect you to perfectly balance it.
+0 / -0
11 days ago
You know, I don't really care that much, but..
quote:
I don't think this would do much and it would break an assumption about the build menu.

That's an assumption a new player wouldn't have.
quote:
Why would a player look at each option in the factory tab when they are trying to increase their current unit production?

1.Because caretakers are mostly used alongside factories.
2.Because I have seen noobs make Strider Hubs to increase production. Yes, multiple Strider hubs.
+3 / -0
Caretaker in the factory tab instead of the econ tab makes a lot of sense to me. Everything else in the econ tab is about generating resources (or storing them, but that is still purely economy, and pylons help with generation by linking grids), but caretakers are primarily about production. I realize they get used for forward reclaim bases, but their primary use is for production, and they are intended to be used in place of additional factories for augmenting production. Considering CZrankpsaniac's comments about newbies using Strider Hubs as Caretakers it seem like the assumption is already to look in the factory tab for production assistance.

Also, if Caretakers are just added to the 3rd row without any other adjustments, then with default hotkeys you'd just double-tap 'z' (or 'q' I guess for AZERTY keyboards) for the Caretaker, which is a neat bonus.
+0 / -0
This whole caretaker thing is probably not an adoption issue. For like my first 2 games I built a second factory of the same kind, but the campaign quickly told me it's better to use multiple caretakers instead of multiple factories. If I had started with multiplayer instead, my teammates would have told me immediately not to make two of the same kind of factory. You learn pretty quick.

Although, even after the campaign told me to make caretakers instead of factories, it did come as a surprise later when I looked on the wiki and found that build rate == sum of buildpower of factory and workers given sufficient metal. In 0ad and I think Age of Empires as well, adding more workers to a single building has diminishing returns.

If any issue needs solving, I think it would be best to give facs greater buildpower and make them a little more expensive. Give them 40 buildpower and make them cost 1000. That way, the game works the way players from other RTS games expect it to work. They have no inclination to make a second factory because their first factory has all the buildpower they need. Although there is a potential issue with balancing the flow of metal - you don't want the 40 buildpower factory to be drawing 4x as much metal from the first minute, preventing players from building expansions. Perhaps that could be tweaked on the backend so that factories are just slightly lower priority builders.
+0 / -0
10 days ago
Hmm, personally I'm more of a fan of cheaper factories to make tech switches less painful to do but I may be in the minority here.
+1 / -0


10 days ago
USrankBerder: The flip side to that is that it makes that factory even more all-or-nothing in raids. Right now Caretakers can be bombed or raided to slow production, but killing the factory is usually not worth it. If the factory was a 40bp target, there wouldn't really be an alternative for smaller raids, and losing it would be an even more deadly blow.
+1 / -0

9 days ago
The only hangup is marketing. The people would would like to play this game don't know it exists.
+2 / -0

9 days ago


Greatly reduced player retention in one year period - 30 days retention has dropped slightly from 27 to 23, in the same time first-time players have almost doubled. Trending shows way more players but even less retention.
+0 / -0


9 days ago
quote:
If any issue needs solving, I think it would be best to give facs greater buildpower and make them a little more expensive. Give them 40 buildpower and make them cost 1000. That way, the game works the way players from other RTS games expect it to work.

I don't think anyone expects a single factory to be able to consume all their resources well into midgame (well, perhaps excluding early C&C games). To know whether this approach would work we would need to know whether players are making factories because they notice that they are excessing metal, or whether they simply want to produce more units and don't know how else to go about it. If people are not making factories in response to excess metal then making the factory expensive will just make things worse.

That was more of an aside. Here are my misgivings about weighty factories:
  • CArankAdminShadowfury333's point about raiding granularity.
  • The choices around increasing unit production would be much simpler
  • Switching would be harder.
  • All other construction would stall, and I don't want to pay the price of solutions.

quote:
Perhaps that could be tweaked on the backend so that factories are just slightly lower priority builders.

I really don't want to tweak the backend. I am wary of applying ugly patches to otherwise consistent mechanics with the intent of making the naive uses of the system smoother. Inconsistencies make the system harder to learn and understand. This would essentially be a weak economy AI that smooths over the economy but also prevents players from learning how to use it themselves.

quote:
Hmm, personally I'm more of a fan of cheaper factories to make tech switches less painful to do but I may be in the minority here.

This is also a bit of an aside, but I think making switches cheaper would make ZK harder, or at least overwhelming. Expensive factories cannot be built too often, so it is often safe to ignore the possibility. With much cheaper factories people would need to switch around all the time.

quote:
Also, if Caretakers are just added to the 3rd row without any other adjustments, then with default hotkeys you'd just double-tap 'z' (or 'q' I guess for AZERTY keyboards) for the Caretaker, which is a neat bonus.

It would be, but those are not the default hotkeys. 'Z' is the idle worker key. The Factory tab key is 'B'. Here are some of the causes of the current tab arrangement:
  • I think of BP as the third resource. Construction simply costs equal parts of all three resources.
  • Caretakers are built to produce BP while factories are built for their unit lists. It didn't make sense to put Caretaker in as the odd one out among 12 factories.
  • There are 10 things in the Economy tab and 12 things in the Factory tab. Moving Caretaker would make the split even more imbalanced.
  • I like relegating the Factory hotkey to 'B' and then never using it.
  • I like rectangles.

I'd say that these things currently stand in the way of a change:
  • The Factory hotkey being terrible.
  • The Factory tab being called 'Factory' rather than something like 'Production'.
  • The high cost of changing everyone's hotkeys.
  • The weird gap that moving Caretaker would leave in the hotkey system, or the higher cost of moving something into that gap.
  • The allure of EErankAdminAnarchid creating factory pads and rendering the change irrelevant.

Also, when I laid out the grid I set Caretaker to XC rather than XX because it is easier and quicker to hit two adjacent letters than it is to hit the same letter twice. Perhaps this was foolish given all the accidental Urchins.

quote:
The only hangup is marketing. The people would would like to play this game don't know it exists.

If we had fungible skills (ie, money to hire people rather than the skills of who is already involved in ZK) then marketing does seem like the lowest hanging fruit. That or web design for a flashy landing page. It may not even be that the most effective strategy is to put ZK in front of more people, but rather to make those that find ZK excited enough to see them through the first hour or so of learning curve. The learning curve can only be flattened so much game-side, and with increasingly diminishing returns.
+5 / -0
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