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BHG: Where's the patch?

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# 1Mard Jul 23 2006, 05:46 AM
[This is an open letter addressed to Big Huge Games, because the only email I've ever sent to them was ignored.]

I'd like to start this thread by saying that I'm not holding your feet to the fire. Sure, Greypawn said the patch would be out early this week or late next (this was...last week), but as I'm sure everybody is aware, patch dates are a fluid thing and are generally "ready when they're ready." So that is not what this post is about.

Instead, it's about neglect. It's a pattern I saw in Rise of Nations and has apparently carried over just as many other features of the game did as well. Neglect of your playerbase, in the form of infrequent and inadequate patching is what I'm talking about here. It's been one month and a week since patch 1.5, which failed to address even the most significant of balance issues, all issues which have been on the table since *DAY ONE* of the game's release. The only significant balance patch since release was 1.1, which addressed these highly damaging issues kind of like addressing a nuclear submarine with a bottlenose dolphin.

To a certain degree, I'd expect spin from your PR mouthpiece (no offense meant whatsoever, Greypawn!). However, it becomes a joke when the discrepancies between what YOU say and what WE see is so painfully obvious. Spin is a tool to give yourself more time to address the important issues, NOT as a solution for those issues. So I'm cutting your spin right here and now:
- While your numbers may say that an almost-even number of players use Cuotl, Alin, and Vinci... there is a trend in that 9 out of 10 competitive (read: your most vocal) players exclusively use Vinci (that other 1 player is Random).
- Your numbers may say that there is balance amongst the races, because each race has an almost even win ratio... your numbers fail to point out the trend that FEW if ANY Alin or Cuotl are able to win games in which a proto rush is properly executed.
- Your numbers must also ignore short-term trends (or perhaps you ignore these), because I haven't seen but one in fifteen players actually SELECT Cuotl or Alin in the last few weeks, they're either Random or Vinci.

I know you guys have problems. That competition you promised $100,000 hasn't seemed to have sparked too much interest in your game from the global RTS community. You've put out a very ambitious game and were met with criticism in unexpected places. Your online play is riddled with inexplicable bugs which discouraged many people from playing online altogether (including some of my friends). I admire the fact that you haven't folded shop completely, I can see that you're in this for the long haul, or at least until the first patch after the expansion.

The fact remains that your game is being neglected right now, at the expense of lost interest from players at every tier of experience. You've got your most intense fans marathon training until September (or later!), but then add stress to this already difficult challenge by letting the game fester and decay. Patching is important to maintain the life of any online game. I'm sure some of your staff has played games such as EverQuest or World of Warcraft. Allow me to draw from them for a moment, an example which will illustrate how proper patches gives incredible longevity to a game.

In MMOs, a patch is more than just a balance fix. A good patch includes minor changes to every aspect of the game, but is rich enough that these changes are encountered frequently in normal gameplay. This gives new life to an otherwise player-driven world, in that the players must constantly re-explore and learn things they thought they had figured out. This translates well to RTS games because there are many players who enjoy playing the numbers and learning the secrets: if these secrets change, there is always something new to discover. Granted, going overboard in this aspect would drive just as many players away, however to a degree this process is necessary to keep even those players who desire a rock-solid playing environment in the game, because patching in this fashion is one aspect of balance. As I'm sure you're now aware, in asymmetric environments, balance is an artform. No matter how perfectly the numbers even out on your side, once 100,000x as many people get their eyes on them, indiscrepancies begin to appear. With frequent minor changes and additions, it becomes increasingly difficult to abuse any single aspect over the course of months to win every game (such as the protorush). Instead, players find a flavor of the month, which while perhaps unbalanced to a small degree, will overall be acceptable because each race would have a few small tricks of their own, rather than one race with one major trick taking the spotlight.

Another great reason to have many patches addressing small issues, rather than one patch addressing many issues, is that it encourages constant change in the player community. When there is something new from you, it gives us something new to talk about. Take a look at the lack of life-filled threads on the already few active forums dedicated to your game, and you may begin to understand this idea: people are so sick of discussing how OP certain issues are, they've almost stopped talking about balance altogether. In fact, most players have switched to Vinci because using these issues in their favor is the only way to seriously compete now. The biggest leap in my skill to date came when I broke down the artificial wall and started building the Burrowing Spider (but only against vinci opponents, I'm not ruthless). There is something wrong with that; I have to respond to the Burrowing Spider with my own Burrowing Spider, or in most of the cases I'll lose the game. That is wrong.

This letter has grown long, but it's a culmination of over a year of disappointment: this has carried over from RoN, where the WAN connectivity issues I found most important were never addressed (I never used gamespy or LAN). I'll leave you with a quick list of what I believe are the priorities of the players when they look forward to a new patch; basically this is what people would most like to see in the patch notes:
1) Bugs fixed, especially prominant ones (ex: custom game issues, router issues, and without a doubt exploits are in this position).
2) Balance issues addressed. Even if an issue isn't completely resolved, a step towards balance in every patch gives the players a disproportionate view that the game is already balanced (there is a hazy period after each patch, where the effect on balance by the patch hasn't yet solidified, and thus no complaints). This was obvious after patch 1.1, for example, when more than a few players temporarily stopped using the protorush (until it came back into vogue, because it wasn't really fixed after all).
3) New content. This is by no means to be neglected, but it takes a sideline to the two most important issues which, when kept in check with regular patching, should not prohibit creation of new content from being the most time consuming patch issue.
4) New features. This is almost at the same level as #3, but it's still less vital because it adds less flavor to each patch, but new features do make those players who seek certain functionality much happier. New features add to the longevity of your game much more than fresh content does, though: if you take a look at older RTS games compared to new ones...the most important changes are simple things which could have been patched. Short-term longevity is addressed by content, long-term longevity by features. smile.gif

This issue will ultimately decide the fate of your game and the community that supports it. When games grow stale, players move on. This seems almost fundamentally obvious to me, but somehow BHG has missed the boat and already the game is hemorrhaging important players, with more on the verge of boredom already. I'm in no way advocating the CURRENT patch be rushed, but your overall system for creating patches appears to be in dire need of an overhaul, and I'm begging you to consider smaller, more frequent patches in the future. I understand how the slow patch process could form over the course of development, but with live players who aren't being paid to play while they wait for the next big dump of features/bugfixes, the name of the game changes. We will wait for awesome_feature_x, but some issues just need to be addressed *now,* as they are seriously damaging your reputation in a fairly competitive market.

I mean no disrespect whatsoever in this post, although the tone or message may suggest otherwise: I am aiming for tough love here. I really love this game, and you've already attracted some top notch players to the scene. I'm EXTREMELY concerned about the community, or lack thereof, however. I've tried to do my part: becoming friends with practically everybody I've met and connecting them to each other...putting my opinion into every thread of interest here...supporting community sites...I even wrote a positive review as long as this post for your game on 1up.com (WHICH WAS NEVER POSTED, OMFG), but there is only so much your players can do before the game falls flat on its face, crushing them to death ;_; Intensive patching will be expensive, but think of the return on investment: happier players stay longer, buy more of your games in the future, and you eventually overcome "That Other Companizzard" as RTS king and finally put out a steampunk MMORPG. I swore to never play another MMORPG again, but if I saw a steampunk world, I WOULD JIZGASM. And you'd get $14.95/mo from me, it's win/win! Take that first step! biggrin.gif

While I have your attention, in the hazy distant future I would *love* if there was a capability to add commentary to a .rec file. That's a totally new RTS feature just for your consideration, and I bet it would add a lot of flavor to this half of your community wink.gif Also, why isn't observer chat saved in .rec's?

If other players agree or disagree with my assessment, please discuss!

This post has been edited by Mard: Jul 23 2006, 06:44 AM

Posts: 504

Game: Rise of Legends


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# 2Medjai Jul 23 2006, 06:25 AM
I must say, i agree with everything you say im so aggravated that theya re doing all this focus on a 100k tournament when they cant even keep player playing now, i mean i love playing but these connection issues are making me stop playing cause i cant ever get a god damn game

I wish they could just drop gamespy, because some people dont mind but when you have to open ports to play a game online... somthings wrong regardless cause most people cant access it and they will say

" Well damn, why the hell should i play this game online and go through all that open a hundres ports blah when all my other games work perfectly fine."


This post has been edited by Medjai: Jul 23 2006, 06:29 AM

Posts: 82


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# 3SWNut Jul 23 2006, 06:53 AM
Though I think it comes off as a little more apocalyptic than reality, apart from that your points are excellent and I agree with nearly all of them (except for a few niggles regarding your emphasis).

A month between patches isn't the end of the world, and I'm sure a new one is on the way soon. That said, it's overdue now, and the balance issues are indeed beginning to sour virtually all high-end games; we need a few tweaks so that we have new stuff to play with (like Afreets and Holy Districts, whatever). Balance issues are causing a pretty significant "toy shortage", and it's now having a negative impact.

I may be speculating (and don't want to be a Red Herring that interferes with any response to your excellent letter), but I also feel that Microsoft may be somewhat at fault with BHG's patching process. Maybe they have changed their ways, but MS has a reputation for being almost draconian with their QA process (this has its upsides), and unless I'm mistaken if BHG wants to alter their upcoming patch candidate (such as, for example, adding the recent observer exploit fix) that can often restart that process which is very time consuming.

In an environment such as patches for an RTS game, especially a competitive RTS game where so many players depend on balance fixies and tweaks to keep things interesting enough to stick around, those delays may well be more trouble than they are worth, but if they exist it's probably not something BHG really has a say over. Again, that is just speculation on my part.

At any rate, RoL is a fantastically deep game, and this delay between patches likely indicates that each individual patch will be more comprehensive, which is a good thing. There were a few stumbling blocks for RoL's sales out of the gate which I am sure took people by surprise (very sadly, none of these have anything to do with RoL's multiplayer gameplay), but these PC games are curious animals, and it is entirely possible for them to become a popular success even with a lackluster premier, and as Mard so wisely commented on, a company's reputation from title to title can be its most priceless commodity.

Yes, damnit, that means look at Blizzard. In a very real way Warcraft I (a mediocre, blandish, "me-too" early RTS) is responsible for World of Warcraft's stupefying success, and all of their titles in between, simply because of their company's fan reputation. It's an incredibly tough road but BHG might make the World of Steampunk by tomorrow. BHG's employees are smart, and if they survive through both successful times and "less-than-success" times with equal vigor, it can pay out exponential dividends, they know it.

I'd love to see a response from BHG, and even if Mard's letter was a little too "tough" on the "tough love" he makes excellent points. In this industry, a company's community respect & loyalty can be their greatest treasure, but if "neglect" is ever interpreted (whether it's true or not) that can dissapear like a cold wind overnight.

Posts: 710

Game: Rise of Legends


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# 4Wily Jul 23 2006, 07:30 AM
Wow,

well said guys.

I have to agree with Mard on most everything, especially that lots of small patches is better than a few big ones. There is beter chance at keeping the ship on track rather than making a mess out of things. And each patch gives something to analyze and breakdown which is something most of us RTS gamers enjoy.

Anyway, I hope BHG is listening and doesn't let a game with such grand potential die off before its time.

cheers,
-Wily numchuks.gif

Posts: 245

Game: Rise of Legends


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# 5WH_demoneyekyo Jul 23 2006, 08:00 AM
a few note:

-a patch cost $$$$ (and have to go thro MS for testing)

-they already release few patch (much much much faster then any non-blizzard game)

- the game is new, and lots of skill RTS gamer r coming over. new strat might come out or new exploit that could affect the balance quite a bit. i think there is some balance that need fixing quick, but shouldn't be rushed.

on a side note, to me most of ur balance problem is simply focus on 1v1. u gotta think about the team game.

-the connection problem is really b/c u guy don't know how to config ur router or watever. ESO have the same problem, so is not just gayspy.
i dun't have connection problem btw. is just the gay dropping exploit that piss me off & the lag on the server broswer. BHG, fix this crap or ur gonna suffer with the tiny pop.

-u can't compare anything to blizzard.

anyway, BHG already release a few patch. and they already show significant sign that they will listen to the community feedback & support the community.

This post has been edited by WH_demoneyekyo: Jul 23 2006, 08:03 AM

Posts: 224


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# 6mforce Jul 23 2006, 08:10 AM
IMO, they say they listen and read posts, but I don't think they care too much. There are a ton of bugs I found in this game, and I highly doubt even half of them will be fixed. Who wants to bet they don't patch the observer bug and instead just tell people to kick observers?

Posts: 110

Game: Hardware


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# 7torn.uk Jul 23 2006, 08:10 AM
QUOTE(WH_demoneyekyo @ Jul 23 2006, 09:00 AM) *

a few note:
-u can't compare anything to blizzard.


Thats the fact alot of people seem to miss.

Posts: 33

Game: Rise of Legends


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# 8WH_demoneyekyo Jul 23 2006, 08:21 AM
u r truely ******** if u think BHG isn't supporting the game enought by releasing like a patch a months, 3 tournament with 1k cash each. and now a 100K tournament. and also a PR that actively reply to topic in forum.

name me a non-blizzard company that support the game like BHG.

Posts: 224


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# 9SWNut Jul 23 2006, 08:54 AM
Guys, let's try to minimize side conversations here.

As the original post says, this is an open letter to BHG. Let's try to keep it straightforward until such time as Greypawn or another representative gets a chance for response. Any responses we make should either be community extensions to that letter, or comments regarding it.

I do believe there has been the sensation as though there's been a bit of a dearth of two-way communication between BHG and the player community, but GreyPawn is just one man doing a full-time job and considering that as far as I know he is their only PR dude, he can only do so much.

Just the same, it would be nice to hear more frequent and mature back-and-forth dialogue from the community to BHG and vice-versa. I don't know how possible that is, but considering that there is no officially sanctioned BHG community site (and RoL's in-game matchmaking service is, at least at present, admittedly not serving as much of a community hub) this is about the best we've got.

I think we all know that we're being heard; I'm sure Greypawn monitors community chatter very closely, even though it's not possible to respond to everything on a daily basis. Nonetheless, I think it would be ten kinds of awesome if there was some sort of formal communique that we could expect with regards to the state of the game.

Certain other developers have such features as "weekly updates", giving just little teasers of things that have occured in development from week to week. That doesn't mean he has to reveal upcoming product information, but just giving us a little insight into the game makers' mindset and the road ahead for both short-term game tweaks and the BHG road ahead would go an awful long way.

Tidbits and communication go a long way towards keeping this hobby fun, and in this one player's opinion such a feature could grant a significant boost to both people retention and the future fanbase.

None of these are requests or demands; just suggestions. We don't want to stretch you thin, Greypawn, but if at all possible we just want to get an idea of what's happening on a human level. Perhaps that's easier said than done.

Posts: 710

Game: Rise of Legends


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# 10DakiMagro Jul 23 2006, 08:58 AM
yaaa, BHG is doing their great job, compared to other RTS manufacture.

"Small Release", one of the XP programming rules, which Kent Beck said,
is important.

BHG did enough small release, a patch per 2 weeks from the release.
and i heard that next patch will be larger patch than past,
which includes maps, big balance changes etc.
Hopefully, i want more tiny patches, like "Weekly map".

-- weekly map idea
1.
hire 1 map artist/creator with 1 more 100k$/year,
his job is making 50 competitive maps/year and
keep a contact with ROL community.

1 map creation will require about 5days(without balance testing ;p)
but balance testing, we can!!(except me noob) and reflect the results
to BHG, because this community enough great.

2.
or public how to creat a map more , (yes, i know there are
tools and detail description, but currently none use them)
and hold "Weekly 100$ map contest", then, pick them,
if they are enough good/suitable, and release as weekly map patch
through community trial phase.
it costs 5.000$/year (+ about 10,000$ for implementing man power)
it's cheap! compared to hire 1 employee(100k/year) and very good idea.

Posts: 480

Game: Universe at War


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# 11naturalviolence Jul 23 2006, 11:34 AM
I agree although I think $14.95 a month is way to much. BHG neglects forums and E-mails to much some people out there have great ideas, like me, but they just don't pay attention to them. I made a ROL fansite and sent them my url but they never responded for some reason, and I've deffinately waited long enough.

Posts: 1


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# 12TheGoodEvil Jul 23 2006, 14:12 PM
I had the luxury of seeing your ideas n practice with an indie game called "Trash" the developer (I was community manager for them) released a patch every couple of days to address problems that popped up. It wound up destroying the fanbase... every time he fixed one balance problem another worse one popped up until the game was changed almost completely...

A word from the wise, a patch a month is perfect. It allows the testing team to "FIX" the problem and allows players to situate what is right or not right with the last patch. a patch every week (unless its a stability patch which still has to be tested to make sure it doesn't muck up the game more) can frankly kill a game worse than not patching.

TGE

This post has been edited by TheGoodEvil: Jul 23 2006, 14:12 PM

Posts: 1,288

Game: Blizzard


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# 13Cookies Jul 23 2006, 14:38 PM
Ehh I think you're going a bit overboard here. BHG is definitely doing a far better job than almost all other RTS developers in terms of releasing patches and informing the community of their plans, not to mention providing actual cash prizes for tournaments in a game with a small player base. I remember playing AoE3 for a couple months and not ONE balance patch had come out by the time I left (and that game was 1000x more imbalanced than RoL is now). That was from a company with years of experience, a larger fanbase, and more money. You can't expect large patches to be released immediately unless you want even more bugs and imbalances to appear after the patch than there were prior to its release.

Posts: 330

Game: Rise of Legends


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# 14Space_peon Jul 23 2006, 15:11 PM
Holy hell, who would read all that? n1qshok.gif

Posts: 264


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# 15Cookies Jul 23 2006, 15:17 PM
People with attention spans greater than 5 seconds.

Posts: 330

Game: Rise of Legends


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# 16Phaleos Jul 23 2006, 17:31 PM
While i agree with TGE for most of it ( i also played trash and he was complely right , if u didnt play for 5 days the entire game was completly diffrend and new stuff was imba) but on the other hand if something is complely broken it should get fixed asap and not wait for THE big patch where everything gets adressed.
Im talking mostly about the observer bug and the quickmatch system that is very noob unfriendly , followed by connecting issue's in custom games and the anoying chatbugs .
And to a lesser degree balance issue's.
Overal i think BHG is doing a good job with a small gap of improvment if they would fix the important bugs fast , im sure they are doing all they can , dont forget its only their second game so comparing them to blizzard is kind of useless they got nowhere near the fundings blizzard has .
They sponser multiple tourneys at the same time and having a active PR and a active balance tester in the game and forums should show their good will.

Posts: 685

Game: Company of Heroes


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# 17Wily Jul 23 2006, 17:41 PM
QUOTE(Space_peon @ Jul 23 2006, 08:11 AM) *

Holy hell, who would read all that? n1qshok.gif


Do you not think it was well written? Actually I thought Mard was very articulate and his points were both clear thinking and well put.

If you mean who can read so many words... I am not sure wht to say. n1qshok.gif

-Wily numchuks.gif

Posts: 245

Game: Rise of Legends


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# 18Vesuvius Jul 23 2006, 18:08 PM
I think in regards to this upcoming patch, there have been new things that they've had to account for such as the observer bug and that will surely set back their timeline. I think that their support thus far has been very good. For the first patch, no one except the beta testers really had any idea what was balanced and what wasn't(you could make the argument that we still don't). It isn't really fair to expect them to fix an imbalance that hadn't completely emerged. If you compare their support to ES's, ES didn't do anything to the balance until months after the game had been out and even then they didn't address the issue.

Posts: 2,748

Game: StarCraft 2


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# 19Mr. Wrex Jul 23 2006, 18:58 PM
Space peon hasn't posted one common sense or non-flaming post since he registered, please ignore him.

Posts: 15,885

Game: Dota 2


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# 20Space_peon Jul 23 2006, 20:56 PM
QUOTE(Wily @ Jul 23 2006, 05:41 PM) *

Do you not think it was well written? Actually I thought Mard was very articulate and his points were both clear thinking and well put.

If you mean who can read so many words... I am not sure wht to say. n1qshok.gif

-Wily numchuks.gif

It's an unstopebul wall of text, we must destroy it first before it destroys us. We will need a team of hard headed resource massing noobs to break it down I nominate cookies to be the leader of this squad. The plan goes like this, cookies and his squad approach the wall and do this

frusty.gif frusty.gif frusty.gif


Are we all clear?

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