The Future of PA

Discussion in 'Planetary Annihilation General Discussion' started by Zaphys, March 29, 2015.

  1. Zaphys

    Zaphys Well-Known Member

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    The RTS genre in in decline. The player count of all the most popular titles, including PA, has been consistently shrinking during the past few months (see here: PA, Grey Goo, AoEII, AirMech). Even SCII, whose player retention is guaranteed by a well-established eSports scene, has seen a decline in total player count in the past few seasons. This is only natural given the increasing popularity of other genres and the fact that no massive investments are made into RTS games.

    Although this is reality, and as such one can but accept it, I believe this doesn't mean that PA, or the RTS genre for that matter, is doomed to perish, in fact, far from it. Competitive RTS games are a niche of gaming that will always retain its appeal by using the most refined and perfected versions of the following benchmark mechanics:

    • Multitasking and Multimanaging requiring fast-paced chains of actions performed in a continuous time progression.
    • Understanding complex game interactions.
    • Adapting dynamically to evolving game environments.
    • Strategising within a deep and rich competitive system.

    There will always be gamers who will specifically seek for this kind of experience, regardless of how popular other competitive genres become.

    Nevertheless, for these games, and for PA in particular, to be successful, the right approach to its design and distribution has to be taken. Recently, we have seen many central, loved members of the community announce their moving on from PA (@ZaphodX @reptarking @Yaegz @foerest @wpmarshall ...) and I understand this is due to an issue that has been increasingly obvious in the past few patches:

    Uber is making progress in the right directions, and we understand that many developments aim for a greater good and have little impact on the current state of the game, but the game has to chage significatly until people feel comfortable investing time indefinitely in getting better at it or working towards the community in any way.

    I am not going to mention any issues regarding balance, maps or game mechanics, I think the current work-feedback loop between the devs and the community is giving a nice sense of steady progress that will eventually hit a sweet spot. The issue is, as I have discussed in several past posts already (I list them below for reference), player experience and player retention. One has to ask the question: why would someone who has tried PA for a couple of days come back and play again? why would anyone play PA for more than a couple of weeks? why would someone play PA indefinitely, with no plans for quiting in the foreseeable future? The possible answers to these questions are twofold:
    • "I'm having a lot of fun by playing randoms and casual games".
    • "I want to get better at this game and enjoy its startegic depth playing competitively".
    Any other aswer like, for example, "I just want to play with friends in casual, semi-competitive custom games", given enough time, becomes one of the two above or whoever gave that answer would stop playing PA at all.

    There are many things that PA does right at the moment, but unfortunately, the things that will cater precisely to the players who would give answers like the above are mostly missing from the current stable build of the game. The lack of campaing or an interesting Galactic War implementation nearly rules out any possibility for casual players to come back to the game after the first couple of weeks. Most importantly, I think, are the lack of a proper tutorial and the minimal tools that one may expect in a modern competitive RTS: player profiles with stats tracking, leaderboards with meaningful leagues, seasons, social features... Critically, there's no reward system for dedicated players, not a mere levelling system that allows players to see their time investment.

    And then there is the issue with how the game feels overall when you play it for extended amounts of time. The menus have bland visual designs, they are quite unresponsive at times, the action-command interface seems cluncky at times (hotkeys bugging, commands not queueing if clumped in time, etc.), there is no sense of belonging to a community when you log in the game, the commander models are very cool-looking but you don't feel like you own them (simply because there is no player profile screen that shows "your commanders")... and many other issues that have been raised several times here in the forums.

    I know that many of you would say that all these features are low priority compared to other, more related to in-game aspects, but I believe that if these are not properly addressed PA will eventually die and all the "more important features" will be pointless.

    On Player Profiles.
    Small tweaks and improvements.
    Long-Term features suggestions.
    On the potential of the Armory.

    (TL;DR) The whole point of this post is to encourage Uber to do their best and not to take the shrinking of the community as a bad sign as long as there is a plan to hit a point in development when most of (if not all) the issues above are tackled. Many have suggested that re-launching PA as f2p with paid features (like scII) and cosmetics would be a good way to revitalise the game after this process of development. It has also been suggested that including an expansion will help give the game more visibility and better reviews. All I have left to say is: take your time, PA and RTS fans will be here waiting for the game to hit the sweet spot, and then we will all happily come back to it if it is really worthwhile.
  2. cola_colin

    cola_colin Moderator Alumni

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    sc2 isnt f2p. I think it has some free multiplayer demo, but that isn't really f2p. You buy the game once and that's it. Also I don't think f2p is a reasonable step for PA at all and that probably never will happen.

    Apart from that I agree that slowly the features that improve player retention (profiles, ladder improvements, better tutorials) come into the area of important things.

    Fancy looking menus however ... I think the current one look fine. No point in wasting time on reinventing the wheel yet another time. Lagginess is a thing, though I think that is something that is a drawback of coherent. May not be completely fixable without improvements on the side of coherent.
  3. elodea

    elodea Post Master General

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    I wonder how 2v2, 3v3 or team based matchmaking would work out. Doesn't necessarily have to be ranked or laddered, could be more like just a quick match. Many people who play pa seem to enjoy that over the 1v1.

    Or maybe even ffa matchmaking? :p. People love to gamble...
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  4. mjshorty

    mjshorty Well-Known Member

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    Their business model sucks overall and their updates dont really add much to the game, constant bug fixes and optimization is fine, but uber needs to also add more units and commanders that players are interested in buying. I really dont see Uber being around for Planetary Annihilation in 5 years, let alone 1 year.

    What they have right - Retail game, i really dont like f2p games especially RTS games (exception: MMO's and IOS apps) and paying up money for the full game is fine (especially since its on sell alot)

    Whats terrible - Commander skins that they sell: First off, it sucks, really does, 5-10$ (or region equivilent) for skins that dont show up but when your in game, and people hardly ever zoom in to see that HD-mod-augmented perfection, and nothing changes for them, No cosmetic changes to their auto-attack and uber-cannon (didnt they say in so many a twitch stream that some commanders would fire rockets and other things?). It would have been much better if the commanders were simply cheaper to justify the cost, around one to two dollars (and throw in a 10 cent commander to get people used to buying commanders/makes them comfortable making DLC transactions (yes thats a thing, buying things IN A GAME like DLC is daunting for some to get over, when they would rather just buy a game and expect no additional costs))
    Other things to make commanders more worthwhile? I can think of a few fun ones
    - In galactic war we can choose different commanders to be the faction leaders, and each commander will come with their own unique system and extra abilities (the Xinthar commander has a special factory that produces dox that teleport, while the Banditks can launch large balls of fire, massive aoe, range, can travel to orbital, but does little damage overall, also would mention the fact that he starts on another planet....) fun stuff like this to keep people interested in buying new commanders to see what they do in the galactic war.
    - Design melee AI around commanders and introduce personalities and difficulty levels. Remember stronghold crusader? brilliant stuff, each AI was unique in how they attacked/ecod/and their castle designs, and the best part was they would insult/yell/demand/plead/congratulate/accept defeat/and generally sh*t talk you if they were winning....It...was....awesome... and it could totally work and be awesome for planetary annihilation, instead of having 4 boring. Though it might be harder to implement since the AI has no real build order set nor many strategies to draw on (it goes fast T2, bots, or air, or vehicles that raids with docks) but i mostly blame uber for not providing a wide amount of variety, and hopefully they can improve that.
    Not to mention we have a Sorian, so this could get very interesting ^^
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  5. reptarking

    reptarking Post Master General

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    I will continue work on random mods but I will not be participating in vanilla events tell the game slows down on its patches. Not because I don't like the way it's going or the patches are to big but because it causes alot of adjusting I don't want to do while I'm getting competitive at a few other games.
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  6. zgrssd

    zgrssd Active Member

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    If I would have to say one issues, it is propably too many big changes still ahead.
    The unit cannon totally reworked the orbital game and viability/nessesarity of invasions. As well as most other game enders/snipe approaches.
    The submarines+naval rework totally changed the naval game. Mines at least had some effect on the ground game.

    Asteroids are not there yet (wich will change the whole superweapon game).
    Last I heard much bigger planets are still planned. Wich will totally change the planetary warfare (and by extension system design/tactics and unit balance).
    The Clan War version of GW.

    Not sure if Multifaction mod-support got anywhere.
    But there are barely enough concepts (radar and sight stealth; changing unit between layers; multi-unit transports) to make proper asymtric factions anyway.
    And the future works will totally invalidate many mods too, so there is little point investing time now.

    Where other Early Access (Minecraft, Space/Medival Engineers/Terraria & Starbound) games later additions are actuall additions, for PA those tend to be total game changers. Mostly due to it being a competitive game.
    It feels like the dev's are spread too thin. There are too many gamechanging changes ahead to maintain interest. Yet the changes are also drawing themself out a bit, so we can't propably "get over" with them.

    I have no good solution myself, only dumb ones:
    Maybe focussing on engine upgrades/additions for modding and letting the modders deal with the resulting changed balance?
    Maybe focussing on the missing Multiplayer game modes, to ensure longterm PvP viability?
  7. Zainny

    Zainny Active Member

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    My gut feeling is there are too many massive changes that are needed for PA to break out at this point and start attracting new players or old players that have drifted away from the game.

    I think what it comes down to is PA made some fundamentally bad decisions.

    For example, I feel confident in saying that the multi-planet approach, while novel, is an example of a fundamentally bad decision that has hurt the game. For one, navigating between multiple different planets is confusing and off-putting for new players. And when you combine this with small spherical planets, which make defending on all-fronts required (and for a triple whammy, horribly weak defensive structures), and a constantly changing camera perspective, the complexity is just too great.

    I don't think we'll likely ever see another multi-planet RTS game. It doesn't work, and it isn't fun. Ironically, it's probably the multi-planet aspect which made the game possible in the first place - it seemed exciting.

    It's clear as well that the complexity of supporting multi-planet behavior has resulted in almost every other aspect of the game being "phoned-in". Galactic War is bad. There is no unit diversity. The terrain is boring. As numerous reviewers pointed out, playing PA doesn't feel tactical or strategic. It feels like a boring unit spam fest. And it lacks so much richness with weapon/gun variety, animations, sounds, textures, etc. - it feels like a shell of a game. And the game still has numerous technical issues which cannot simply be dismissed with "Update your drivers" - this is a game that today still has massive performance and reliability issues even on top-end hardware.

    I don't think at this point simple iterations to balance, etc. are going to make any difference at all. I think the major premises on which PA are based actually need to be re-evaluated for this game to be able to attract new players (or old players back)
    Last edited: March 29, 2015
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  8. badfucatus

    badfucatus Active Member

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    I personally feel that the future of this game lays in multiplayer scene. And for that to happen we need some stability within the balance to allow the top tier players to get creative within a stable framework. I have not been scrubbing away in gold recently for that reason, well that and life/work demands.
    I stated before, that I feel this games' future is in team multiplayer games. They are more fun to watch, and to play. I agree that's a niche market, for a straight rts, but one that PA is perfectly suited for.
    PA is a great game, fun to play, with enormous potential. How to exploit that potentail is beyond me, and from the differing views on this forum, I'm not the only one. Creativity by committee is never a good thing. Someone at Uber has to has to make some straight decisions, and stick to them.
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  9. cdrkf

    cdrkf Post Master General

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    Well they have, and personally I think the result is unique and good- and not to everyone's taste but then good things never are imo. The multiple spherical battlefields was a very brave move- one I think has worked, even if it isn't attempted again for a long time.

    PA *is* different, and has actually sold quite well from the snippets I've seen. I don't see how anyone can justifiably call it a failure.
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  10. Zaphys

    Zaphys Well-Known Member

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    scII is free to play except for the campaign and ladder (check here), so players who feel curious (like I did back in the day) can just download and play for a while with their friends in custom games or against the AI with full access to all the in-game features. This way, players can play until they decide whether the game is really worthwhile for them to commit or not. This will sky-rocket player exposure of PA if it adopted this model, but I agree it is not a good idea until the game is in a much more finished state. Once the game is good enough at what it is meant to excel, I would say: make the most basic content f2p and let the game sell itself for full retail price (much like scII as I pointed out above).

    Indeed.

    I'm not suggesting a complete revamp of the menus. The biggest issue is smoothness and responsiveness, both in menus and in-game UI (the feeling that they are stable and solid as a piece of software, far from the experience one has right now). The current templates, if optimised and with a rework of the colour themes and images used for visual candy things like menu backgrounds, commander models, leaderboards, rank tags, etc., will be just fine.
  11. cola_colin

    cola_colin Moderator Alumni

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    That is a demo. Not f2p. Their PR department may have called it f2p, but it is just the concept of having a demo.
    Having a demo is a pretty risky thing and I would not want PA to have one unless it is perfectly polished.

    I feel outside of the menu the menus in general are fine, there are a few situations where they lag (mainly planet loading) that need to be fixed.
    Ingame it is a performance question. Once the game is under very heavy load the UI suffers as well. Maybe more than it should.
  12. badfucatus

    badfucatus Active Member

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    Stability is the key. Both in the game itself (crashing puts people off, no question), and a meta that doesn't change every month.
    Premature announces of its death, are just that premature. I used lurk a great deal on the team liquid forum, and people were saying the same about sc2 years ago.
    I hope the future of PA includes Uber, although I have a lot of faith in the talented modders that make up this community.
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  13. cola_colin

    cola_colin Moderator Alumni

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    I disagree with that. Isn't LOL basically based around constant meta changes? People can deal with meta changes just fine and until the balance feels "really good" I think they are in fact necessary to keep people interested.
  14. rivii

    rivii Well-Known Member

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    Meta changes are fine in LOL because the core gameplay is set in stone since its release. Here in PA we are still struggeling to find the core balance. Everything is getting overhauled with every patch. You need to learn so much over and over again. It's one of the main reasons why so many top players just say.. Screw it I dont have time for this. You can be a god on one day and a complete noob on the next. There is little to no consistensy.
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  15. cola_colin

    cola_colin Moderator Alumni

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    I don't feel you need to relearn a lot. Seriously a few build order changes. None of the basic skills are lost through patches.
    And most of the top players are top players since month, so it seems they could deal with it.
  16. rivii

    rivii Well-Known Member

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    Build order is 1 thing. YOu need to redo your math on the timings, how much of what can you have at minute x to make timing Y work. Is that timing usefull anymore or not because units x,y,z have had nerfs while a, b, c have had buffs, How do I use air most efficiently now and are bots any usefull now? There is so much more than just simple buildorders. I would expect you of all people to know that with your top play in SC-FAF.
  17. cola_colin

    cola_colin Moderator Alumni

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    Well yeah you need a bunch of games to test stuff, with the changelog being a pretty big help to know what to look for. So what? What is bad about playing games to find what works?
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  18. rivii

    rivii Well-Known Member

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    In the core of it, nothing is wrong with that at all. However, it forces people to learn the basic stuff over and over, the most efficient build order stuff etc. instead of trying and forming new meta's or special tactics. comming up with new rushes or 4 min all ins, idk crazy stuff. It's basicly the same as learning how many scv's you need to build tomine your minerals most efficiently with every new update.

    The relearning happens on such a basic level that it is suprizingly annoying to do with almost every update.
  19. cola_colin

    cola_colin Moderator Alumni

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    I don't share that feeling at all. That's all I can say.
    I feel the current balance of PA is too "starcraft-y" in the sense that top players seem to try to play it like starcraft, going on about specific timing to hit. FA wasn't like that. The only timing I ever knew was something like "You do minute 11 or so t3 air rushes in patch 3599"
    Maybe it's just a result of some of the top players being involved in starcraft as well.
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  20. philoscience

    philoscience Post Master General

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    Sadly it seems PA will go out with a whimper rather than a bang. For me the final straw was when it became impossible to consistently get good pub-stomp random games going. Once the community became small enough it was be leet or be dead with little middle ground for learning and having fun. Even playing with Realm became boring because there were not enough moderate players to field fun pub matches. It was either play vs the gods or play vs total nubs. I think over exposure during alpha + the launch mismanagement really screwed the chance for PA to hit an all important critical mass needed for multiplayer. Constant balance changes are also irritating, but I wouldn't mind if there were more players to learn them with.
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