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I love ZK, but:

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The game is very enjoyable. I really love the big team games/lobpots, they're extremely fun and wild. I also really like economy in this game, I think overdrive and build power are extremely interesting and a well made part of the game.

However, there are problems like playerbase. Not really the people within the playerbase, but the size of it. There is a very limited amount of people playing this game and this game ends up getting less attention than it really could achieve. I'm sure many would agree with that.

So, to any administrators/game devs viewing this post, will there be any efforts made to expand the playerbase in the near future?
+6 / -0

15 months ago
I guess there could be a separate donation pool for those who'd want their donations to go towards marketing rather than server upkeep.
Another option would be just throwing out requests to reviewers, either streamers or let's play types or what have you.
+7 / -0
Yup I would definitely agree with a fund for advertising. Thing is I remember looking at server & random donations a while back and noticed a massive excess that could potentially be used.

As for requests to streamers, I think it would help a bit short term but it isn't really a whole advertising idea. Just one thing that can be done.
+0 / -0

15 months ago
well zk is a bit more promoted by steam for a limited period atm
+5 / -0

15 months ago
The return on the ads when they were run was pretty bad IIRC.
+4 / -0
I wonder if we could get a streamer like T90 Official (an AoE 2 streamer) ... stream some tournaments or games? He's got a big audience, and I bet there would be a lot of crossover and could build up the audience...

I play more Zero-K that AoE2 these days because of line-move. We must tell people of line-move and grow the audience. Haha.

I mentioned Zero-K in my RTS novel Moon Wars, but it flopped and likely did not draw players...

+5 / -0
15 months ago
GBrankdyth68 would you know how much money was put on those ads, or when they occured?
+0 / -0

15 months ago
If ZK had a fund pool dedicated to marketing I would happily throw $20-30 to it.
+3 / -0

15 months ago
How about getting some really slick T shirt designs (hire an artist?), have "official" shop link to one of the sites, put profits into marketing.
Maybe I'm wrong but it feels like that would get the advertising out to a bunch of the right people.
+1 / -0
15 months ago
it would help if a few people from the community started posting zero-k vids to youtube, there aren't many out there. it can take a long time for it to get off the ground, some peertube instances could be good also.
i don't believe in ads. they aren't cost effective and more aggravating than helpful. you need word of mouth and 'big' people in the rts/gaming communities to display the game.
rts is a dead or niche genre in the eyes of mainstream these days.
+2 / -0
Maybe these ads would be cost effective with the thousands of euros left over in donation funds. Maybe even some of the donation funds can be used to pay a popular youtuber to play this game for a few days or so, this is a valid solution from RUrankgooseman.

It does appear that there are more than enough funds to do both of these, but the current mindset towards the growth of ZK is very stubborn and stagnant. Nobody wants change yet when you hop on at midnight GMT you get barely 10 people online. The game has not changed in activity over the 3 years I've been playing it, and it's kind of sad. Serious waste of potential.
+1 / -0
Ads don't really work to acquire new users if it's not a large campaign. There's 575k user accounts, assuming two thirds of those are people after removing bots and dupes, that's a large chunk of your potential audience already. Industry standard is dollars of ad spent to gain a new user for a successful campaign, that might add one or two percents to the install base, ad spend isn't the solution if you don't have a large budget (six digits is the bare minimum and millions would be better). Ads don't convert as well if users are only exposed to a single one on a random place, getting multiple impressions is necessary to have a good return.

What ads can do is reach previous users that no longer play or people that just checked out the game a long time ago, but you'd need a convincing reason to entice them to try the game again (the value proposition). A lot of people in the SupCom community already know ZK exist and it gets name dropped routinely in general RTS discussions, so there's a chance some of those users can be lured in with a compelling campaign, but you're competing against the entire RTS market so it's a tough sell. Ads are very good at reactivating people so it might be cost effective even on a low budget, though artificial reactivations don't tend to last for very long (most people stop playing a game for a reason after all).

The ZK installation base seems very healthy to me, and user retention is usually easier to improve on compared to user acquisition. Ads are useful to boost the health of the user base at the margins, but they don't have as good a return on investment as you might hope for (and the entire PC gaming genre is very top driven where a few juggernauts hog most players, and niche games have to fight for a 1% slice).

Growth hacking through ads doesn't lead to dramatic results even on a budget three orders of magnitude bigger than the ZK war chest, in the long term nothing substitutes for the fundamentals of product design and market fit.
+2 / -0

15 months ago
ZK weakest spot seems to be graphics / animation / sound, not game design. BAR has been pushing really hard on those areas and that has brought new people in, and I think its just a worse game than ZK.
+5 / -0

15 months ago
Marketing sounds good. However, it isn't going to happen if nobody does it. That isn't going to be me either, as I'm terrible at it and not personally interested in it as a skill. The right people talking to the right streamers could be fruitful. Eg someone led Day9 through some TA 1v1s (no matchmaking required) a year or so ago. Why not ZK?

Learn from the BAR people. They seem to be quite good at hype. One of their most active developers is a professional web designer. A big modern animated landing page backed up by fancy articles and unit pages surely helps new people take BAR seriously. Something like that could help ZK, although possibly just the landing page. Integrating it with all the dynamic stuff in the background of the ZK site seems tricky.

Whatever Sanctuary is doing is probably effective, even though it comes across as a bit annoying to me.

BAR also has people semi-officially talking to other discords, twitter, youtube stuff, people pre-rendering scenes. This is the sort of "grassroots" stuff anyone could try their hand at. But note that ZK is entirely grassroots. NLrank64_Bit_Dragon has recently restarted the ZK twitter and has been making videos for a while, while NOrankAdminKingstad has done some communication between discord.

On graphics, there are multiple levels on which people could contribute.
  • The top levels involve making quality models or learning/knowing enough openGL 4 to write shaders etc. I'm not that interested in most parts of graphics programming (it strikes me as a lot of global scopes, magic numbers, and boilerplate - although I enjoy it once that it set up and I'm writing something an algorithm to run on pixels), and there is a lot of other stuff to maintain so I don't expect to dive deep any time soon.
  • A simpler level would be to look at what BAR does and adapt it to ZK. They have their own art, yes, but they are happy to share graphics code.
  • Even simpler levels involve barely more than text file editing, eg GFX can be touched up just by tweaking numbers. Again, possibly with inspiration from BAR. We are on exactly the same engine as BAR so all the same technology is there.
  • The simplest level is ridiculously simple. A lot of maps have pretty poor lighting an water settings. Improving the lighting of the units and terrain can have a massive impact on perceived quality. There is a widget to tweak all these things and output it to a config file, which is read locally, but can also be put in the game for everyone.
I don't think graphics (and certainly not the rest of the game) is the low hanging fruit for growth though.

I don't think ZK has reached everyone that might be interested. It may well have reached a sizeable portion of the most active indie-RTS online space, at least on Discord, but that feels like a tiny bubble. This will be a slim fraction of RTS players, and a slimmer fraction of people who play games in general. People have said ZK is their first RTS.

Here are some server-side stats. Note that in the following a player is someone who played a game on the server (such that it ended up generating a replay). This is not directly related to singleplayer.

Don't worry about retention. It always looks like that near the end of the period, with a surprisingly wide end. It drops off, essentially, because nobody who started playing 20 days ago has been playing for 30 days.

What these graphs tell me is that ZK has been fairly steady, with bits of growth, over about four years with next-to-no marketing. So surely marketing would do something.

On new players:
  • The server definition of "player" says we have about 30 new players a day.
  • The steam definition says we have 100 "licenses granted" per day, which I assume means "Add to Library".
  • But only 65 downloads per day. Which could include people reinstalling.
On the flipside, with ZK going steady, this could mean we are losing 65 players per day. Alternately we could be losing nobody, but each existing player could play progressively less often so as to cancel out the gain. Reality will be somewhere in between.

Steam won't give me monthly active users, but it says daily users averages about 950, peaking around 1,200 on an average weekend. The casual ladder has 1729 people on it at the moment and I recall it being set to expire after two weeks, so that should be a good estimate of the two-week playerbase of hosted competitive battlerooms. These numbers are very hard to compare. Coop seems quite popular and singleplayer even more popular than that. We had some stats a few years ago that said something around 3500 weekly active users. But the wide down ramp on the multiplayer retention graph implies that people may play a bit then return weeks later. So it is hard to guess monthly players. Somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 doesn't seem far off. But then, assuming the 65 downloads are new, we're losing 2,000 per month. This doesn't seem implausible if we assume that the majority of the lost players are new downloads that bounce off the game (which is fine imo if RTS just isn't for them).

Retention isn't necessarily a good end goal. How long "should" people play ZK for? Steam says that the average player has played for 21 hours, out of 190,100 players. That seems pretty good. The median is 71 minutes (first standard deviation of 7 minutes to 17 hours). Sticking with a free game for 71 minutes, to give it a go, seems fine to me. Most people will just play a bit of coop with friends or even just the campaign. We could try sucking these people back in with things like daily challenges and rewards.... but why? I like doing the releases at about the rate that they happen, and events are good. More types of events are possible even (eg unit tweaks allow for "special balance" weekends). But I wouldn't want to ramp up retention via the modern habit-forming systems. I think we need to put ZK in front of more people who would get a good 1000+ competitive MP experience out of it, rather than try to draw out the time spent by the 20 hour campaign people.
+15 / -0
15 months ago
i try to share the game with friends since its free. not a lot of ppl like RTS unfortunately...
+4 / -0
The casual ladder has 1729 people on it at the moment and I recall it being set to expire after two weeks[...]

It should be 30 days, assuming this config isn't overridden: https://github.com/ZeroK-RTS/Zero-K-Infrastructure/blob/master/Shared/PlasmaShared/GlobalConst.cs#L124

Watching the ladder fall off confirms it's at least higher than 14 days right now:
+0 / -0
14 months ago
zero-k is already a very well made game, original enough to warrant any RTS players to try it out as there is nothing like this elsewhere.

each time i presented this game to other people the vast majority didn't want to try it because it looked bad.
(only when we showed them gameplay and told them all the game's original features did they got interested)
do not underestimate the importance of visuals.
it doesn't have to be super beautifull nor look like a next gen game but we can all agree that zero-k does look very outdated.
BAR is a good example of what the spring engine can deliver. i doubt zero-k devs have a goal of achieving BAR level of visuals however it wouldn't hurt to have at least a major fx, sound and texture overall.

of course the best would be to also get new models and animations...

since BAR new visual update i am seeing more BAR players than zero-k players.
+3 / -0

14 months ago
on sound design, i summon DErankkatastrophe . how could you be incentived?
+0 / -0

14 months ago
The first post reads a bit like "hey devs please increase size of playerbaes, k". Like they could magically do it.

I don't think ZK looks bad. Imo it looks almost as good as BAR. It's also more readable than BAR visually (ZK icons seem much better), it's also easier to tell live units apart from dead ones.

There's other stuff not directly dependent on new engine features that impacts perceived quality:
- how smooth the unit animations are, namely walk cycles
- sounds
- explosion effects
- how the unit model design, scales,textures, etc fit the factory sets and their role (not just the "raw" quality on a screenshot)
- how smooth and intuitive the game physics is

There's also social issues which could be improved. How the ladders work, how to get people to join battles, etc.

On a more basic level, what % of players stumble on crashes or other bugs where the game doesn't seem to work for them and quit?

Polling people about what they think of the game could be interesting.

+3 / -0
14 months ago
I don't think ZK looks bad. Imo it looks almost as good as BAR.

BAR definitively looks way better than zero-k in all visual, sound and animation aspects except for nukes.
it did go like this:
i watched a random 8v8 BAR video on youtube, it was pretty, i launched BAR to play some games.
despite BAR's gameplay being simplier, the visuals make up for it.
+2 / -0
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