Agar

Open Letter to Zeptolab

3 posts in this topic

Dear Zepotolab,

I have seen your struggles with change and wanted to write you this to let you know you aren't without support, you aren't helpless; but you need to stop making bad decisions even when you're trying to do good.

Every change you have made has come with some push back, which is inevitable, While players want new content to keep the game fresh and playable, they also want to have the stability of knowing what to expect while playing. It's a bipolar dichotomy of both craving and fearing change. There is no way you can please everyone all the time, but you can take care of the people that matter. You can win. You just need to consider what you're doing in a certain light.

Here's what you should consider your new mission statement: Engaging and evolving gameplay to reduce churn in an optimized package. 

Let me break that down to help give you some guiding principles. 

Engaging and evolving gameplay - As you change and/or add to the game content, you need to consider both those aspects. Is the content engaging, as in will the players seek it out, show it off to friends, post it on social media; or is it just a grind, a mindless tapping of the screen, is it a chore? Even something as simple as counter can make something more engaging. You also have to remember to allow the content room to evolve. Where can it go from where it starts? Can it have new modes, include or exclude PVP/PVE, have new bonuses, unlockables, achievements, goals or other milestones? Is it always just bouncing a ball on a paddle, or can you add breakable bricks, increased speed and moving targets to it down the road? Review what you have already on a regular basis and ask these kinds of questions when you are brainstorming about what to add to consider what needs to be adjusted and what additional planning you still have to do.

Reducing Churn - First off, for clarity in case a reader does not know the term, Churn is a measure of how many customers you have over how many customers you lose in a given time frame. For example, if you gain 200 customers in the same day you lose 150 customers, you still have more than you started with, so you could say you have an acceptable level of churn. If you gain 100 customers the same day you lose 1000 customers, your churn doesn't look pretty. You cannot eliminate churn, but you can limit it and limit it's impact. To limit churn, you have to find ways to keep customers that earn you money, both directly and indirectly. For example, customers who take advantage of micro-transactions at all are putting their cash directly into your pocket. Customers who watch ads to get in game benefits generate you ad revenue without directly spending money. Even more indirectly, Customers who talk about the game to others generate you new customers, who in turn generate their own revenue. Micro-transactions are the most lucrative source of income, but also the most scrutinized and demonized, while ad watching is a grind, a chore, especially if the ads are repetitive or worse, buggy, crashing games/devices and not paying out the benefits to the customer. You must have both to diversify, but you must also balance income vectors with gameplay. While there would be an ironic novelty to "Super Ad watcher Plus: The game!" it would wear off quickly, not to mention the potential of bots to watch ads instead of players. Consider the balance between the long term customer that watches ads consistently and generates that low, but steady ad revenue over time versus that new player dropping cash bomb micro-transactions before moving on to another game. Both are important, and both earn you money, but the longer you can keep someone a customer, the more likely you are to get any income at all. 

Optimized package - Games take up space in the form of memory and use data and battery power. Performance needs to be optimized to consider all those considerations. Giant games eating up all the memory will eventually be deleted to make room. Data hogs will cause overages or only work over wifi, limiting how they can be played. Battery killers get axed quickest, as hot devices can actually do damage, or lead to premature battery wear (and apple slowing down your device). And no matter how cute, no one likes a loading screen. Find ways to re-use existing code, keep the file size down and potable so it can be moved to SD cards or otherwise reduced. Keep data transferred to a minimum while keeping it secure and uncorrupted. While flashy graphics engines and physics simulators are cool, consider what you actually need it to do versus what it can do. If you can get an engine to do what you want, smaller and faster, the experience will be better.

 

Now, lets put the game under a microscope and look at how things stack up. 

Betting:

Engaging? Nope, might as well be flipping a coin and waiting 5 minutes to see if it's heads or tails.

Evolving? Just bets you have to wait even longer for. Not really a huge jump there.

Churn? You give the players an save by spending gems, but no ad revenue options, so just a cash sink. If the players don't have a way to make gems, they are less likely to bet at all. 

Optimized? It uses the existing engine and player base for a source of data, good work! Check to see how you can shrink the code down and keep things small.

Recommendation - See if you can include ad revenue into betting (+1-5% increase on the gains from winning by watching an ad?) and find a way to improve betting's engagement and evolution, like a gladiator arena where it's 3 tier lower against a higher opponent, or a quick build challenge where players see an opponent and the parts they bet make the frame that has to fight it so they have to use strategy against a clock.

Quick Fights:

Engaging? At first, but once you can draw out the bots it's just a sink for gold, which is negligible. Basically a chore for all but the newest players.

Evolving? It has actually Devolved! You used to have a leader board with a points ranking. Yes it was flawed, disorganized and pointless, but it was something! Players even made their own challenges (see the longest win streak forum game) to keep it entertaining but you took away from it.

Churn? While it's a chore, you do good by making it unlimited, but that also means it only indirectly helps your income. Quick Fights give boxes and crowns on boxes, then those boxes need to be opened which is where you get ad revenue and micro-transactions from.

Optimized? I can only hope it's smaller now that you've taken things away, it doesn't seem any faster moving between the garage and the quick fight, still a bit watching those cat prints on the loading screen.

Recommendation - You have skills for adding to bets, but the only skills for quick fights makes an already plentiful resource cheaper. Why not more crowns on boxes, a chance of two crowns on the same item leveling it up twice, or no skip kill streaks dropping super stars that use all the stars on a box to randomly make one thing inside it a super item, longer (impossible) no skip kill streaks dropping legendary stars! What about an obvious "More Boxes" skill? Giving players more boxes to open means more ads watched, more gems spent on opening them early, more revenue for you. How about donating your unopened box into a gang warehouse so people can support each other and open the boxes they want? You could even increase your ad revenue by giving quick fights boosts, like watch an ad and your next fight you have +25% health and attack, or the cleaners move at half speed, etc. There are plenty of options to take the quick fights to new places beyond just bringing the old leader board back.

Championship:

Engaging? 14 opponents, few if any bots, multiple frames to switch out, having to defend your position or use other tactics, this is a win! Very engaging!

Evolving? Well, now the rewards have changed to include the new ultimate machine parts but less of the regular rewards, so its win/loss. You want to avoid taking away from the game if at all possible.

Churn? Keeping people playing means you are giving them a reason to watch ads and spend gems while giving them a leader board gives them a reason to keep fighting, a reason to keep climbing the ladder. It's indirect income, but the best source of it.

Optimized? Same engine and data set of players, so again, good work! Any way you can package it smaller would be a plus.

Recommendation - A way to improve it's ability to evolve and more direct revenue would be an improvement, but you can't do it in a way that would provide an advantage over the other players, otherwise you're making 14 other people mad while only getting the benefit from one, which would lead into some bad churn. Maybe a skill to allow the player to watch an ad for a bonus part from the reward box, You could give a 30 to 50 gem bonus for instant advancement, which sounds like losing money, but if you have 15 players each spending 10 to 20 gems on opening boxes and so forth trying to beat each other to get that 30 gems, you've made 150 gems while only spending 30 gems. Everyone setting out their best frame to try to beat everyone will cancel out each other. 

Gang Fights:

Engaging? Partially. 3 v 3 is a new gameplay type, and having damage carry over means different strategies have to be used than quick fights or the championship, so that a solid win! The other aspect of gangs is being social, which means you're relying on your player base to maintain engagement. If people are quiet, rude, mean, racist, anti-social, or otherwise the kind of people that people can be, you lose customers to social factors. It's a risky move. 

Evolving? It's relatively new, so it hasn't had much chance to evolve yet. Dropping the refresh from 30 to 10 gems was nice, but everything in the gang fights is gems or waiting, or just losing. It's kind of a greedy feel.

Churn? New strategies and new gameplay is a big plus to keep people playing longer, and the direct micro-transactions help revenue, but it suffers like the championship in that there's no diversification, it's just gems or GTFO. 

Optimized? The only change from the regular engine is damage carrying over, still the same physics and database from the players, so that's great! Make the code as small as possible if you can find a way.

Recommendation - Gameplay is fantastic, so the key opportunities would be more evolution and more revenue. How about reducing the gem cost for retries and folding an ad watch retry option? A better explanation of the gang box rewards would improve participation as then they would know what the target means, rather than just "Bigger box better!" and trusting the rewards to be worth the effort. More things to do with the Gang would be a benefit as well, like a boss that takes victories to beat before spiting out coins and other loots, or something else collaborative for the whole gang to participate in. 

Ultimate Machines:

Engaging? Not really. You've addressed two of the biggest complaints from players, losing items when prestiging and unfairly stacked, overpowered attack and health boxes, BUT you've done it by throwing out the baby with the bathwater. "Screw that game that brought you here and you gave us so much money for, look over here where it's the same game, but stripped down and with different colors! Give us all your money over here, don't play over there anymore!" Want to fight more, like quick fights? Too bad, you only get 5 tickets and then we need gems. Want more parts so you can dominate this game? We don't even want your gems, you have spend all your money back in the old game on things you can't use here just to get one new part when you advance. Hope it's the part you wanted! The engagement is so low, some players aren't even playing it at all. They have to fight in the Championship anyway, so why not devote their time and money there?

Evolving? You've put some of the old weapons in the new game with festive wrapping and added a couple new items. Flamethrowers for damage over time, and freeze bombs to stun your opponent, again, you've locked popular requests behind this new wall where it's inaccessible to players who wanted to use that on regular game. If this is supposed to be a "beta test ground", then this actually could become a good thing, but you've got to take what you learn from the Ultimate Machines back to the regular game.

Churn? People know an obvious cash grab when they see one. Everything is gems. This isn't "Ultimate Machines" so much as it is "Pay to Win Machines". You're alienating your player base that provides ad revenue. That's like giving up your job that pays the rent to do a lap dance for the cash to buy a new computer. Relying on spikes of direct cash for stability is sleeping on a bed of nails.

Optimized? All new content, similar (same?) engine, players have to create new machines in a new data base. You've nearly doubled the amount of stuff in your game. No matter how small you make it, that's a massive increase in how much you're asking in file size. At least it shouldn't affect the data or battery used.

Recommendation - You've forced it down our throats, you might as well try to make it not suck. Ultimate Gang fights are supposed to be in the works, so that's an improvement, just try not to keep getting gem greedy. I don't recommend "Ultimate Quick Fights", if you want to keep these machines special you can't make them do chores, but maybe you could tie in the regular quick fights. Like make it to where you can buy an Ultimate Box with Bills (that Ultimate money purple rectangle thing), and give out bills from the regular and super boxes. You could add skills for "Big Bucks" dropping bonus Bills out of boxes too. Giving Quick Fights a reason to matter by way of bills in boxes for Ultimate Boxes would make it more engaging and help revenue with gems and ads being used to open those boxes.

 

Conclusion:

You've tried to make things better, but stumbled. You tried to appease new players running into the wall of stacked boxes at 10/24 but only gave them a Pay to Win option while shafting your most lucrative player base by stripping away everything they paid for.

It doesn't have to be over, but you need to turn things around. The loss of 10/24 will be a bloody nose you have to recover from, there's no way of getting them back. I'm not sure unlimited prestige is the way to go, as that reduces the Championship to a chore, just a means to an end, a massive sink just to get more ultimate parts. I think the better approach would be to toss out prestige and instead give out a "Cup" as a way of substitution, and instead of unlocking skill sets after a certain number of prestigues, you have to spend "Cups" to open that skill tree so you can spend your Paws there. Some players will just enjoy having a high Cup count and cycle through the 24 tiers of the championship over and over again, some people will park themselves where they want, either for tactical advantage or ascetics.

You've got to limit the number of toolboxes that can be put on a given item. You have to. There is no other way, and it will make people mad and you will lose players over it. You can make skills for adding a higher number of health boxes, a separate one for a higher number of attack boxes, but you have to establish a limit or the problem will only get worse as 10/24 and 24 in general becomes a pay to win brick wall for all the new players. If you don't give new players the chance to cycle back around to the first tier, you will have a limited lifespan of how much revenue you can get out of new players while simultaneously watching the highest level of players dwindle out. You have to put the cap in. If you want to attempt to salvage the high end player base, first off, give them a warning the change is coming, and second off, give them some form of compensation, so like, eject the parts that are above the limit of boxes from all their builds, lock them out from being used for any builds, and let them sell them for coin, or give them another trash can to sell them for a (reduced) amount of gems, just during the warning period, then remove the gem can when the cap goes into place. It's going to suck, there will flaming posts and all kinds of negativity from the highest ranks, but if you don't swerve this trolley car, you will lose out on your influx of new players and your game WILL die.

Keep all your players in mind, not just the pay to win crowd. You want to increase your player base to stay resilient. You want to add more options, more ways to play the game, more things to do, more content when ever you can and try not to take away whenever you can. 

I hope you at least remember to look at what you've done and consider if you've done good by your players. We are enjoying your game, and we are here to give you feedback, even if you don't want to hear it.

 

Agar

  • Thanks 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's a long ass but a very well written letter.

Well written thoughts and ideas. And we do appreciate your time for writing this to improve gameplay.

This will be forwarded to Zepto. 

Cheers.

 

- 10tickles (Discord Mod)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Neat!

Sorry for the volume of information, it was part needing to get it off my chest and part needing to get this stuff to someone in the game.

Thank you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now