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".
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.