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Game Design: Game design mistakes or best way to make a game mode in 2022 that no one needed

Game Design: Game design mistakes or best way to make a game mode in 2022 that no one needed

Most gamers are familiar with clans – communities of players with a common goal of kicking other communities’ asses or just chatting with like-minded people. And if you are a game designer who gravitates toward the development of complex features, then you would probably dream of working on a clan system. 

We also dreamed about our clans. Not just dreamed, but done. Thrice.

Under the cut, I will talk about every rake that we stepped on during the development process: mechanics that don’t work according to plan, economic problems, smurfing, and even “negotiations” through Discord.

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1.0 – Let there be clans for Game Design

Approximately with this message, the first version of the clans appeared back in 2014. It was the usual association of players into a group with a single banner and name – this is how the beginnings of the clan system looked in Pixel Gun 3D.

Despite their austerity, the clans were very popular. There was no clan chat at that time, but this did not bother the players much – many of them communicated on the forum, where they found teammates.

2.0 – Let there be a clan fort for Game Design

In 2016, the project turned 3 years old, and a critical mass of players of the maximum level had accumulated, who had nothing to do. It was necessary to create an end-game cycle for them, and we turned to the clans for the second time. 

The requirements for the endgame cycle were as follows:

  1. New gaming experience.
  2. competitive component.
  3. Clans are a source of endgame content.
  4. Endgame content cannot be obtained quickly.

We collected a list of ideas based on these points, and at their intersection, an idea appeared – what kind of clan is without its fortress and what clan does not dream of capturing someone else’s fortress?

So each clan got its fort, which could be rebuilt and fortified with defensive structures in a special editor. And also – battering rams, with which you can destroy the gates of other people’s forts.

Briefly describe the mode, then this is cart escort, as in Team Fortress 2 or Overwatch. The clan gathers a squad of 5 people, joins the matchmaking queue, and waits for the selection of a rival clan. Then the two teams take turns attacking each other’s forts – the one who destroys the enemy gates faster or rolls the ram the farthest wins. The time-tested mode – no wonder players love it.

In the mode, special medals were awarded, which went into the overall clan standings. For every n point, all participants were given clan chests, from which parts of buildings and special clan weapons fell out.

The game design cycle was as clear as possible: win attacks on forts → earn medals → open chests → get parts for clan construction and clan guns.

Clans benefited from active players (to earn more medals and level up faster), and players benefited from active clans (to farm parts for crafting personal weapons).

Monetization was also quite simple – players could buy medals for the whole clan or parts of clan buildings directly.

Game Design: Game design mistakes or best way to make a game mode in 2022 that no one needed
Game Design: Game design mistakes or best way to make a game mode in 2022 that no one needed

All pancakes lumpy for Game Design

On paper, everything looked good, but after the release, problems immediately surfaced. 

Matchmaking became the bottleneck – the search for a match took from 2 to 5 minutes. But mobile players are not accustomed to waiting for a long time, so they simply canceled the selection. Even the unification of all clans into one matchmaking cauldron did not produce results.

At first, we allowed even players without clans to play the mode. The matchmaker assembled teams where clan players were placed as leaders, and any others were already thrown to them. The update had almost no affect – the matchmaking time was reduced slightly, and “clanless” players had no motivation to wait.

Then they allowed the matchmaker to collect squads from players of different clans, and choose the fort randomly. It is debatable, but there was a hypothesis: if the model appears online, then active clans will start playing with full squads. After the release, online has grown significantly – now the match starts in 20-30 seconds. But all the detachments consisted entirely of clan singles, and detachments of 4-5 people came across extremely rarely. The hypothesis was not confirmed.  

Under such conditions, the importance of a clan fort and a battering ram became almost zero – what’s the point of rebuilding your fort if you will defend someone else’s with an 80% chance? This did not bother the players themselves – they were only interested in medals and clan weapons. 

Monetization also failed, because the number of medals for each next opening of the chest was constantly increasing. This means that in the most active (and motivated) clans, buying medals was an expensive and ineffective exercise.

As a result, everyone played the mode, but few people bothered about building a base, in 99% of the matches the forts were at a medium-low level of pumping. 

Although the clans did not work correctly, they partially fulfilled their task – there was a long end-game activity with unique content in the new mode, as well as a convenient hub for socialization.

It was the sixth month of active work, a lot of time and effort was spent, and the exhaust was near zero. There were many hypotheses about how to change the situation, but they all assumed a global rework, and there was no confidence and moral strength left.

In 2016, only three game designers worked on the project, so there was no time to reflect. Everyone just switched to other features that performed great and got the game into the top 10 grosser at Christmas, but that’s not the story.

Now many errors are visible to the naked eye. Let’s quickly run through them.

1. Don’t do everything at once for Game DesignBig features need to be broken down into understandable and quickly achievable tasks. It is important to highlight the key points that can be checked before the final implementation of the feature.

As an example, at first, it was possible to roll out only the game mode without the possibility of clan building to check the interest of the players and the work of matchmaking. Based on the results of the test, decide what to do next. We went the hard way – to do everything at once and then balance a bunch of complex systems at the same time.

2. Consider what players want to spend their money on for Game DesignWe didn’t ask ourselves a fairly simple question – what problems can I, as a player, solve by buying one in-app? 

The situation was as follows: to create a specific clan weapon, you need to collect all its parts → random parts drop out of clan chests → you need to open a huge number of chests, the price of which constantly increases during the season. 

Buying medals added medals to the overall standings and gave chests to the entire clan. For this reason, the price of medals was calculated based on the profit of several players, and not one.

Bottom line: to get a gun, the player needs to either grind or pay a round sum. The players chose the grind.

3. Balance right away for Game DesignAll development attention was focused on the mode, interfaces, and clan building. But the calculations of how everything will work in terms of the game economy were very approximate. We thought that after the release we would collect analytics and balance everything, but for now, we will temporarily set prices higher. As the saying goes, “there is nothing more permanent than temporary.” The economy never reached that point.

4. Do retrospectives for Game DesignSome of the problems were clear even then, but there was no full-fledged retrospective. And this would help us avoid many mistakes in the future.

Game Design: Game design mistakes or best way to make a game mode in 2022 that no one needed
Game Design: Game design mistakes or best way to make a game mode in 2022 that no one needed

3.0 – Clans are back for Game Design

In the summer of 2019, we returned to the idea of ​​improving the clan system. For the previous iteration, a huge amount of content was created that did not work and did not interest the players. And, as you know, non-working content is not a problem, but an opportunity.

To begin with, we looked at the previous clans and the goals that we set:

  1. New gaming experience for Game DesignWe have introduced an independent game design mode that would be interesting for players even without clans.
  2. competitive component for Game DesignThere was no normal matchmaking. It was difficult to gather two clans at the same time. 
  3. Clans are a source of endgame content for Game DesignSo it was, but very passively. You join an active clan that regularly plays fort and captures → your open chests → after 3-6 months you collect all clan weapons.
  4. Endgame content cannot be obtained quickly for Game DesignThe process was slow, and it could be accelerated only by a donation, which scared more than attracted.

From the analysis of past problems, new requirements have emerged:

  • Save but rework the clan fort for Game DesignHe must play a key role in the victory. In the previous version, players managed to upgrade clan castles and battering rams, so we couldn’t just take away this content. Yes, and do not throw away a bunch of finished art and models.
  • Asynchrony. We need asynchronous competition mechanics so as not to solve the problems of one-time matchmaking.
  • Motivation. The general leaderboard was not very motivating, as it displayed only the top 100 clans.
  • Clear monetization. It should be clear to the player what problems he can solve with an in-game purchase.

Clan card for Game Design

After one of the brainstorms, we had the concept of capturing territories – the idea was to visually show the players the progress of the mode and charge them with additional motivation.

Features of the capture of territories:

  • clan activity lasts 7 days;
  • all clans are divided into groups of 6;
  • there is a clan map with a size of 270 hexes, on which 6 castles (6 clans) are located;
  • clans compete with each other in capturing the map;
  • goal: to capture as many hexes as possible by completing a specific task in each of them. When captured, the clan and the player receive a one-time reward, in addition, each player of the clan can collect tribute from the occupied territories every 4 hours (the same motivation to try not only for the benefit of themselves but also for the benefit of their clan members);
  • you can capture other people’s hexes, each recapture increases the complexity of the task (so that players do not endlessly recapture the same territories);
  • the player can capture hexes only next to those already captured, so that it looks like moving deeper into the territories, like in some kind of strategy.

By splitting clans into groups, we wanted to create competitive tension for all players. The map was well suited to the concept of asynchrony – it was not necessary to fight with another clan directly, all tasks for capturing were performed in normal game design modes.

The idea needed to be tested, so a prototype was assembled in a couple of weeks. It had a stub interface with tasks, multi-colored hexes, and a file on the test server in which the capture progress was written. For the playtest, we gathered several clans among the employees and started playing.

Saying “it was fun” is an understatement. We discussed strategy, optimal routes for capturing hexes, distributing tasks between each other to quickly farm territories, got angry when the opponents took our hexes, and rejoiced when we beat them back. 

We were very encouraged by the results of the internal playtest – we unanimously voted for the map to become a full-fledged part of the new clans.

New fort for Game Design

We have heavily reworked the building system and doubled the size of the areas around the fort. We introduced an energy system to balance fort builds, and most importantly, we made a new game design mode.

Every 12 hours, an event was launched in which it was allowed to attack other people’s forts. Due to the already known difficulties with matchmaking, we decided to make it also asynchronous – that is, when attacking someone else’s castle, it is defended by bots and turrets. Instead of a battering ram, a tank has appeared that advances and attacks the nearest targets, and the mechanics of the fort have been updated – the conversion of the earned money was fair, and no one was deprived. 

To make it more interesting to play against bots, we added permanent death and the ability to raise fallen comrades, and also heavily buffed the fort turrets. 

As a result, the following picture turned out: a detachment of 5 people, in pain of death, going behind the tank. Players fight bots, raise the fallen, search for ammo and repair the tank, which is at war with turrets and periodically breaks down.

Other changes for Game Design

A titanic work half a year-long was done, several huge boards were accumulated in the world, a dozen tables with balancing and 140 pages of documentation.

  • reworked the system of clan chests, making them friendlier to players;
  • added the ability to give each other gifts for in-game purchases; 
  • improved clan chat and reworked a bunch of interfaces; 
  • calculated the balances and completed the system of tasks inside the cells.
  • We re-assembled the internal playtest – and again sheer delight. It turned out to be very exciting to fight for the territory – there was a sense of belonging and a visual progression. Each clan fort required an individual approach and tactics, even though the siege of the forts was against bots.
  • We succeeded – the idea is cool, everything works, it remains to collect the build, promotional materials and go to release. Easily. But it was a fatal moment. In the courage, we did not take into account many factors that eventually played a cruel joke on us. 

Error Parsing for Game Design

  • Almost none of the planned mechanics worked as they should. All of them created holes in the clan and game design economy, and any level change in the situation would be perceived negatively by the players. 
  • After much discussion, we decided to fix only critical things so that users do not get the feeling that they are being screwed. And instead of this clan system, roll out a new one that will completely change the player’s experience, taking into account all the experience gained and the mistakes made. Let’s move on to these very errors.

·        1. Too complex a system for Game Design.

  • If you are making a game design for a mass audience, and not for fans of 4X strategies, then try to make the game design mode simple and understandable. If you can’t explain the essence in three sentences, most likely you are doing something wrong.
  • This does not mean that complexity = is bad. A good game design mode is like an iceberg, the tip of which is its simple and clear rules, but the lower, the more nuanced. As they say, “Easy to learn, hard to master”. 
  • We have collected a clan war from different developments. Too many things turned out: capturing a map, a gift system, storming forts, clan building, a system of modules, and elemental damage (I didn’t specifically talk about it since this is a topic for a separate article).

·        2. Time zones for Game Design

  • Since the clan war lasts for a whole week, it makes no sense to separate matchmaking by time zones. So we decided.
  • The clan war starts for everyone at the same time – at 8:00 UTC. It is already the middle of the day in Asia, and the players from Europe and the US are still sleeping. Here, the awake Asian clans begin to seize territories using sophisticated tactics. The most popular is to shit on the enemy, capture the line of hexes directly to enemy territory, cut off the opportunity to occupy empty hexes, and force them to recapture the captured ones. Let me remind you that each recapture increases the difficulty of the task inside the cell making it harder to fight.
  • Then Europe wakes up, sees that there is no free territory around the castle, and receives a powerful immoral. By the time players from the US are ready to join the battle, the map is already full of chaos.

We expected an equal confrontation between clans with battles in the territories adjacent to the castle and pulling the front line, but did not take into account the time zones. 

Most of the players on the very first day of the clan warsaw that they were losing without even having time to start and simply gave up. As a result, one clan owns the entire map, and the rest completely ignore the mode. 

The victory was due precisely to the loss of motivation of the enemy, and not because of his skill. The recapture mechanic also played a negative role – it is more difficult to take a card away than to capture it initially. 

The balances were calculated based on approximately equal card ownership. The event with an attack on the forts was supposed to bring half the points of the clan war. Now imagine that one clan owns the entire map and collects tribute from it every 4 hours.

3. Economy without grind protection for Game Design

The clan war economy did not take into account sole ownership of the map, match-fixing, smurfing and other tricks, which I will discuss a little later. We expected that clan content could be mastered in six months, but the players did it in two months.

The clan war was supposed to motivate to receive and upgrade the content that is necessary to capture territories. The competitive principle was supposed to accelerate this process. But everything worked differently.

When creating the economy, we took the median values ​​of the activity of the players and started from them, without limiting the grind in any way. That is, if the player is more active than calculated, then he receives more rewards in direct proportion. On the one hand, this is true for the player, on the other hand, this approach creates at least two problems:

  1. We have no control over the profits of the grinder and cannot limit them without worsening the experience of ordinary players.
  2. For the sake of rewards, the player will do the same actions that he doesn’t even like, quickly burn out and leave the game design.

In our case, players from active clans earned, on average, six times more than expected. Grind completely killed the siege of forts, and clan building was not needed and did not bring income, although it should have become the basis of clan monetization.

Repetitiveness for Game Design

A map of territories in the colors of different factions is a thing that anyone can understand, which is why it attracts the main attention in a clan war. So the clans spent most of their time on it. 

Active players are busy capturing hexes, and completing tasks, which are many from war to war every week – sooner or later it starts to get boring. Imagine how much effort it takes for clan players to capture the entire territory (200+ hexes, many of which are captured in 5-10 runs). 

You should not draw so much attention of players exclusively to the clan mode – the game design is full of other daily activities that also take time. The game design already had a battle pass with tasks, and an additional list appeared with the clan war. As a result, the player had a conflict of interest – he needed to complete tasks or a battle pass, or a clan war, or look for where they intersect. And there is no time and energy for everything.

Game Design: Game design mistakes or best way to make a game mode in 2022 that no one needed
Game Design: Game design mistakes or best way to make a game mode in 2022 that no one needed

Smurfing for Game Design

The clans realized that matchmaking selects opponents according to their strength and results in previous wars. Because of this, many began to engage in smurfing – leaked several wars to get too weak players, captured the entire map, and ground tribute all week. 

Matchmaking could be corrected, extremes and minimums could be considered, and a correlation could be drawn between the clan’s earnings and their behavior, but this did not save us from fixed matches.

Fixed games for Game Design

In some hexes, there were missions with more valuable rewards that could be farmed with frequent recaptures. This is how match-fixing appeared – the clans began to take the same cell from each other in a coordinated manner.

We organized a convenient Discord server for players a long time ago, so the clans did not even have to look for a platform for communication. They wrote off right there: “Now I’ll start looking for a match, I need to spot at the same time.” If they don’t get caught together, they cancel and try again.

A month later, we looked at the analytics and saw a bunch of “agreements”. The craziest case – in 4 hours, two clans recaptured one hex 75 times. Each time the difficulty increased by 30% of the base one, on the 75th time the task sounded like “make 250 headshots with a pistol”.

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Siege of forts for Game Design

We built the whole economy on the fact that the clan captures territories (the first half of the impact in clan war points) and attacks other people’s forts (the second half of the impact). But since some clans seized entire territories, they received six times more from the calculated profit. The mode with the fort on the contribution has become 1/7 instead of the expected half. 

We were counting on a certain number of clan points, but there were either a lot or a little:

  • In the lower divisions, a couple of victories in the siege of the fort were enough to win the clan war, since the clans there were weakly active and rarely captured more than 5-10 hexes and the reward for the siege gave much more than possession of a small share of the territory;
  • in high brackets, where the whole map is recaptured several times, the number of points from capturing map cells is so high that fort siege points were not even worth it.

Fort event rewards were calculated based on an average time of 4 minutes per siege. Thanks to fixed matches, it was reduced by 2 times – the clans simply removed the protection from their forts, removed all the guards and traps, and captured each other’s forts without too much resistance.

All this could have been avoided by initially limiting the maximum income of the player somehow: adding a system of energy, tickets, attempts, limiting the maximum number of tasks to complete, and so on. This would also save us from other problems – match-fixing or the capture of the entire map. 

4. Fun playtests for Game Design

Fun playtests in the office are partly to blame – all test participants knew the rules, knew each other, and also played side by side, communicating live. Even boring games become fun when played with friends. 

In reality, most players do not communicate with each other in any way, cannot discuss gameplay and coordinate, and much play without sound at all. Since then, we’ve had a rule of silent playtests, no Discord, no sound – it’s the closest thing to a real gaming experience.

5. Strategic planning for Game Design

It is very difficult to operate such a big feature: core, balance, clan card, construction, leaderboards, gifts for clanmates, and so on. It is difficult not only to operate but to focus on and evaluate results. After the release, we simply did not know what to grab onto and what to fix, what metrics to look at and analyze in the first place, how we should plan the next release, and what to load the development department with while the game design department was trying to figure it out.

The failure with clans 3.0 was the very impetus that forced us to completely rethink the development and planning processes. We wrote a separate article about this.

Plans for Game Design

Now the new clan system is in pre-production: we are writing documentation, carefully calculating balances, analyzing possible scenarios, and so on. We will release it in a few months, when we thoroughly run everything and test it, taking into account all previous mistakes and experience. I think that we will make the final material.

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