Artifact case study

This is quite different to the rest of my blog posts, but since taking on the role of “Game
Producer” I’ve started to look at games quite differently. Valve hadn’t released a game since 2013, so this was a rare chance to follow how they approached it with Artifact.

Artifact is a card collectable game (CCG), so it’s a completely different genre to ours but I was still hoping to learn a few things.  I’m going to briefly analyse the parts of the release that interested me most. Feel free to add your thoughts to the comments section below.

The big reveal

Valve chose to announce their new game at The International 2017, the annual championship for one of their biggest games Dota 2. Just to give some context for those who don’t know what Dota 2 or The Internationals is:

  • TI7 Total Prize pool: $24,787,916
  • TI7 Average concurrent viewers: 4, 676, 749
  • Played in a 14,000 seat stadium

So it’s fair to say, the stage doesn’t get much bigger for a video game announcement.  However, the reaction to the big reveal was probably not what Valve employees were expecting. Have a look for yourself…

To be honest, I wouldn’t look into the reaction THAT much. The people in the audience aren’t all going to be card game players and they have been begging Valve to make other sequels for years. However, it is worth remembering this crowd reaction as you read through the blog.

The card game market

Since the release of Hearthstone, the digital CCG market has grown and matured extremely well. It generated approximately $1.5 billion in 2018 and is expected to rise to $2 billion by 2020. That’s not far behind how much money is spent on FIFA each year!

So it’s not surprising Valve chose this as the market to move into when you look at the numbers. The problem is that it’s an over-saturated market and games like Hearthstone are well established. As someone who didn’t play CCG’s, I couldn’t see a huge difference between the popular titles.

The esports scene isn’t huge for CCG’s, but top players can make a good living from streaming and regularly placing well in tournaments. To learn more about Artifact’s biggest competitors, see this esportobserver article.

The price is right?

This is by far the most controversial announcement Valve made, leading up to the Artifact launch. In a market where most games are free to play, Valve put a $20 price tag on Artifact. They justified it by saying players will get a bunch of packs included and the game won’t follow a “pay to win” model. At the time, the hype around Artifact was pretty big and they had a very engaged following on reddit. There’s no doubt they lost a lot of potential customers with this decision, but I’m guessing they wanted to position themselves as the “elite” CCG? 

Beta testing

Valve chose to only have “closed” beta testing. They invited pro players from existing CCG’s as well as popular figures from the Dota 2 community. They wanted to make sure the game appealed to Dota fans, but was challenging enough for the “hardcore” CCG players to make the switch.

Everyone had to sign NDA’s and no beta keys were publicly available. Followers on reddit would get little bits of information leading up to the release. The beta testers were tweeting a lot during this period, with only positive words to say.

Closer to the release date, a private tournament with a $10k prize pool was streamed live on twitch. This was the first opportunity for the redditors to see the gameplay. It didn’t disappoint. The hype around the game was huge at this point and people couldn’t wait to get their hands on the game. It looked like Valve’s strategy to generate hype had worked perfectly, without having to do any major marketing campaign.

The release

The game released late November 2018, just over a year after it was announced at TI7. The game had just over 60,000 users playing on release day, which is pretty good considering the price of the game. They had server issues, so I’m guessing they weren’t expecting that many users… which is a good problem to have!

So now we get on to the juicy bit, where it all starts to fall apart. There were some MAJOR gaps in the product that Valve released. Now I’m far from an expert on CCG’s and very inexperienced when it comes to being a game producer, but to me these were some pretty obvious gaps.  I didn’t follow the reddit threads much, but here’s the flaws that I saw or experienced:

  • I think the root of most problems come from running a closed beta with only a select group of people. I’ve always welcomed anyone to play our beta, as I’d rather smooth out the issues now instead of when the spotlight is on the fully released game. I’m not saying a game should be designed around the people on reddit, but remember what happened to EA?
  • When everything is hidden to the public during beta but the testers are giving it huge praise… then expectations keep rising uncontrollably. Especially when you price your game much higher than your competitors.
  • Users knew what the to expect from the core gameplay, but most other aspects of the game were unknown. Again, something that just drives up expectations as customers expect the same quality throughout the game. 
  • Leaderboards are a pretty standard component of most games these days. People like to “grind” their way to the top and have targets to aim for.  Without them, I think a lot of people played for a few days and then thought… okay what next?
Valve did fix the leaderboard issue and give users incentives to play more in the next patch. Unfortunately, once these changes came out the active players had already dropped below 7,000. Here’s a few videos that may interest you if you wanted to hear some other perspectives.

Winter Plan

We’ve been in beta for a while now and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on whats been going on and share our plans for the next few months. It’s going to be a very busy and exciting winter for us and we’d like to be open and honest with you, as we always have.  I follow most of the discussions we have on discord with our beta testers. I can honestly say, those discussions really do impact the way we prioritise upcoming changes to the game. That’s not going to change anytime soon, so please join in if you have some suggestions or just want to follow the discussions.

Since the beta went live

It’s been about 10 weeks since we sent out beta keys… so much has changed! For a start, just look at the 5-a-side and 11-a-side pitches and players.

Before

After

5-a-side Before

5-a-side After

11-a-side Before

11-a-side After

The 2D camera view and zoom functionality is something that came very quickly after feedback from you guys. We’ve still got some adjustments to make to both pitches, but on the whole I’m really happy with how they look.

We’ve upgraded the servers and made our back-end code more efficient. As we add more into the game and as the user-base grows, more stress will be put on the servers. As a gamer myself I know there’s nothing more frustrating than lag, so we’ll try our best to keep on top of it!

Our main focus has been on the match engine. As I write this, we still have bugs but I think we’re past the worst of it now. Most bugs being reported now fall into these categories:

  • Giving players the option to receive when they shouldn’t have one (fake blue)
  • Struggling to receive or save the ball, due to unrealistic ball speeds

The objective of the beta was to identify these kind of bugs, so the match engine is stable once we go Early Access on Steam. We have completely redesigned the logic for receiving and ball speeds, so once they are developed and tested, we should be in a good place! 

Winter is coming...

Here’s a taste of what’s to come. These are things that we definitely want to improve or add to the game. However, the order they get released will depend on a lot of other factors, including feedback from you!

This is the new logic for resolving “fake blue” as mentioned above. There is a lot more data being passed between client & server with this new design, so we may see some performance issues creeping in. We’ll try to stay on top of it.

The size of the pitches and some of the pitch markings aren’t quite right yet. 

This is a pretty big one, which we’ve been working on for quite a while in the background. I’d expect the first draft to be done pretty soon. Then we can get your feedback before the noobs start arriving 😀 

We’re still playing around with the design & placement of the commentary text. Again, this is one which would be good to get some feedback on. We’ll also be making the in-game chat easier to use.

At the moment it’s basically non-existent… so we’ll be adding in more auditing stuff so you know exactly how many credits are coming in and out of your account. There will be a redesign of how we present footballer slots to you, but that won’t be for a while.

Something else we’re looking to redesign. We want it to be impactful, but not overpowering. It resets after every quick/custom match, but in league matches it will have some carry over.

As mentioned above, the ball speeds in both modes need to be fixed. Shot speeds will also depend on your shooting attributes.

Before we go early access, we want to change how users find/join quick match lobbies. The new design will definitely suit players who look for matches during off-peak times. 

Another thing which isn’t there yet, but something we want to introduce. We’re not reinventing the wheel here, just some useful half time and post match stats.

Got a lot of ideas on what we want to be improved. Translating them into AI code is a bit more tricky unfortunately. Obviously we want most games to have no bots, so this isn’t at the top of the priority list at the moment.

Given the long list of things on our to do list, we’re looking at early next year to go Early Access on Steam. Not everything on the list will be done, but the game should be in a good place by then. Until then, we’d really appreciate you guys trying out the game every time we release a new patch and letting us know what you think. Even once we go into Steam Early Access, there will still be regular improvements being made. You just won’t get as much free stuff as before… sorry 😀

Beta testing

It's coming soon!

As we’ve said many times, we don’t want to give you guys something that we wouldn’t want to play ourselves. We’ve had some unforeseen issues related to the match engine in the last few months. I think we are past the worst of it now, so please hold tight!

How can you help us?

Everyone we’ve spoken to has been really positive in anticipation for the release and we’re so excited to play with you guys! To make the most of the beta phase, we want to get as much feedback from you as possible. Also, it’s worth mentioning that we won’t be able to fix everything before the Steam early access release. We’ll fix the highest priority issues before going on Steam and fix the other stuff as we go. Here are the key areas that we really want to know from you:

It’s a controversial topic that I’m sure most of you will have an opinion on. What we need is detailed feedback with stats to back up your experience.

What specific action have you got concerns with and what player position & build did you select? Is the action failing too often? If so, we’d appreciate an approximate percentage of failure. Likewise for something being too overpowered.

We want to give you as much information as possible, without taking space away from the pitch. If anything on the screen is annoying you or too distracting, then other people will think the same in the future… so please tell us now! And remember to be specific. Tell us exactly why it sucks. Too big? Too small? Too thick? Too thin? Too bright? Too dull?

We’ll be monitoring the server load regularly but we’d also like to hear your personal experience. Our focus will be on reducing the latency (lag) for as many of you as possible. What we’ll need to know is your location (town/city), your internet speed and the time of day (include timezone) you tried to play. It would be great if you could try a few different times so we get a good spread of data. Please include good & bad experiences!

November update

It’s all starting to come together now as we get to the end of November. I thought I should give a brief update on what’s been happening in the development and marketing world of Super Club Soccer.

India trip

We started off the month in India to finish off month of the match engine design and get to know the team better. I spent a lot of the time drawing stuff on the whiteboard! Our hotel, ITC Gardenia, was amazing and I just had to put up a picture of the hotel lobby for you guys.

Development update

A lot of the match UI work has been done, so I should be able to get some more screenshots for you guys next week. There’s just a few small tweaks that need to be made on colours and arrows. We’ll have pictures up on the Facebook page as soon as they’re ready!

The main development focus at the moment is on the match engine, which should be coming together early next month. Once that’s in a decent state then we can try and get it to some of you guys before Christmas to have a play around with.

Marketing update

The trailer is coming very soon and once that’s published, we’ll look to get the game on Steam direct. As I mentioned previously, we’ll need all of you to vote when the time comes! In the meantime, Beefjack have been scouting out online influencers suitable for our game. Once the game is playable, hopefully they’ll make some exciting content for you guys and their followers to enjoy!

 


As always you can reach me on the forums, our social pages or via email!

Forum site: forum.superclubsoccer.com

Facebook: facebook.com/superclubsoccer

Twitter: twitter.com/superclubsoccer

Instagram: instagram.com/superclubsoccer

October update

As I haven’t done one of these in a while, this update is a random collection of stuff. We just passed 200 likes on the Facebook page so big thanks to everyone who is supporting us! We do have something planned to reward you guys, but more on that in the next blog.

Beefjack – who are they?

If you follow our twitter account, you’ll have seen we partnered up with Beefjack Promote for the rest of the year. If you don’t follow our twitter, you should! We’ve already done a few giveaways, so make sure you don’t miss the next one.

Anyway, back to Beefjack. So they’re a marketing agency who are helping us to get more eyes on the game. You will have noticed our social media accounts being a lot more active recently and they’ll continue to manage them until the game goes live. Once the game is in a playable state, they’ll also look to attract some “online influencers” to try it out. Hopefully some big names from Youtube, maybe even some ex-footballers as well. Of course if you have any links with people in the industry please reach out to us!

Game trailer coming soon!

In the release plan I previously shared, I said we’d be looking to get on Steam direct around mid October. We’re gonna delay that so we have a more polished game trailer and hopefully get some good in-game footage to use. Once that’s ready we’ll put out a press release with help from Beefjack. We’ll keep you updated on that through our social media pages.

Trip to India

This has come out of the blue really, but my personal circumstances have allowed me to take a few days off next week and travel to Bangalore! It’s a crucial time in the development of the game and I look forward to visiting the team. I’ll be focusing on the match engine logic and having 2 full days together will really help.

 


As always you can reach me on the forums, our social pages or via email!

Forum site: forum.superclubsoccer.com

Facebook: facebook.com/superclubsoccer

Twitter: twitter.com/superclubsoccer

Instagram: instagram.com/superclubsoccer