Updates at bottom
This will be a little rambling so hang in there.
Sales of Demigod have remained very strong. A lot of work was done this week to help Atari with the international release of the game. Reviews have been generally quite favorable. I loved the Xplay review in particular.
Overall, sales of Demigod are about where Sins of a Solar Empire is, far above Galactic Civilizations were at this point. But it’s way too early to tell the game’s overall success.
Keeping Demigod successful
If you read the forums, it becomes pretty clear who the people are that have bought Stardock games in the past and people who are new to Stardock games. So let me address that here.
Many users say that the support of the game is up to the game’s developer only. Stardock, being only the publisher (we’re Paramount Pictures to Gas Powered Games’ JJ Abrams).
With Supreme Commander, THQ was the publisher. With Dungeon Siege, Microsoft is the publisher.
And while I won’t deem to speak on behalf of Gas Powered Games, I will say that the combination of developer and publisher makes all the difference in the world.
Game Updates: This week
From GPG’s side of things, we’ve gotten two game updates this week from developer Gas Powered Games and you wouldn’t believe how much they got done in a week. People with sound problems on lower end CPUs? No problem, GPG went back and re-did huge parts of the sound system and even the original tracks to help with that. Favor points and favor items? Both GPG and Stardock had to put in work to point things to the updated servers (those who have been reading this awhile know the issue there). Want your achievements stored on the server instead? Yep, they did that too (instead of a fragile local file). Even balance like Life’s child removing inner grace on Sedna, yep, changed. And that’s in one week.
When a developer makes new changes, they have to go through QA. Most publishers have a very specific (and increasingly finite) budget for post-release QA. So even if the developer makes some great change, the publisher may not release it because there’s no QA for it. On Stardock games, we have essentially no limit to how many updates we’re willing to do if the developer provides them. When Ironclad sends a new update for Sins of a Solar Empire, we put it through its paces and then release it.
Now one thing that helps with that big time is that Impulse (and Stardock Central before it) allow us to distribute updates marked as beta. This lets people who want to try the latest and greatest to get an early shot even if there might be bugs. There’s a beta of Demigod up right now that has new features and such but it also buggier than the released version.
We plan to refresh both the beta release and the release version this week still. The beta version will get the new Demigod build that GPG sent plus the connectivity updates. The release version will likely only have the connectivity update.
Game Updates: Near-Term
One of the best parts of publishing Demigod has been working with Chris Taylor. People ask me what Chris is like in “real life”. I can tell you he is one of the most awesome people I’ve ever met. He’s full of energy and boundless optimism which works as a great counter to me – I’m full of energy but I always filled with doom and gloom as my journal entries probably make clear.
We’ve brainstormed on all kinds of ways to keep making Demigod cooler and cooler. Moreover, the GPG Demigod team is simply fantastic. Mike Marr, the lead designer is an incredible game designer. And I don’t say that lightly. Even if GPG people don’t post much on the forums, it’s only because they’re so busy reading them and doing something about them. They’re listening.
So one of the future updates we talked about is internally called Demigod: Clan Wars. This is where people will be able to form up clans and battle each other on the Pantheon. Think of it like the existing Pantheon except that instead of choosing light or dark, you’ve chosen a clan and your clan is on one side and another clan is matched against you with the system keeping score of who is winning.
Connectivity for people who have trouble connecting
Most of you know that my personal focus has been on the connection stuff which means a lot of these journal entries have focused exclusively on that. I apologize if I sound single minded but the issue is a big deal and must be solved. I’ve thrown everything we have at it these past few weeks and even added myself to it yesterday to start learning more about the architecture of these things. Next week, we’re flying the lead developer of Raknet (the network library licensed) to Stardock to work with on on this.
I’ve also been talking to the creator of Game Ranger about ways we can better work together. Those of you who know me know that I’m the opposite of “NIV” (Not invented here). My interest is in making sure people are having a fun with our games. Lots of people are playing Demigod games on Game Ranger right now without incident.
Answering some FAQs I get
I’ve been getting a lot of email and I did get a chance to read some of them (sorry to all of you I don’t respond to, I’ll try to do better when I’m back to working normal-ish hours).
Q: “Stardock is exagerating[sic] Demigod’s MP issues in order to get press coverage! The game’s MP works fine!!!111!”
A: Well first off, I don’t subscribe to “any publicity is good publicity”. Second, sure, most casual people loading up the released version, hitting skirmish or pantheon or playing with a few friends online works fine. But the FACT is, the built in matchmaking is NOT fine. And the match-making not being fine has nothing to do with piracy (we lost a week because of having to migrate servers due to it but that’s a different issue). The MP match making is not fine because it doesn’t handle the number of users trying to use the currently architected NAT system acceptably. The solution is to re-architect it but as people reading these journals know, it’s not something that can be done quickly.
Q: “The MP match making in Demigod is no worse or better than any other typical RTS [insert game here].”
A: The experience is worse because those other typical RTS’s have a lot more single player content. As a result, a lot of people who don’t normally play online are attempting to do so. Second, IMO the custom game handling in Demigod is worse than other RTSs in that the custom game match making is flakey and frustrating. In other RTS’s it tends to work or not work.
Look, folks, if you release a game that is MP centric and has built in match making it just “has to work”. No one forced us to make Demigod so reliant on MP match-making. There was no gun to our head. So it’s up to us to just “make it work”.
Q: Stardock mentioned sending out 50% off coupons for Demigod to people who bought the game before May 11th. When will those go out?
A: Probably end of next week.
Q: What else does Stardock plan to do for Demigod players?
A: Our focus mid-term will be to keep growing the MP community of Demigod. So what we’ll be doing is sending lots of unique coupons to players. I.e. N% off on anything on Impulse type stuff. So users who are active in Demigod will keep getting lots of heavily discounted stuff.
Q: What can I expect this weekend?
A: If you are willing to try the beta versions, we expect to release build 111 of the EXE along with our connectivity updates. If you prefer the released version, we expect to release just the connectivity update.
Q: What should my expectations be of the connectivity update?
A: We’ve had to scale them back a little bit. We had a huge breakthru last weekend but the time to take us to integrate that into Demigod itself is not incredibly fast (we’re external to Demigod so a lot of tricks have to be used to do some of what we do). But below are some of the things we expect the new connectivity update to do:
- A lot of people who couldn’t connect to games should be able to connect to games.
- Getting into the lobby should be very fast
- When players get into the lobby in custom games, they will initially only be connected to the host and have yellow, red or 0 pings to everyone else while the system connects them up. Some people won’t be able to connect and the host will have to kick them (this is exactly how it was in Supreme Commander). But it should work fine for most people. Suggestion, if you get kicked and want to retry, wait a few seconds before rejoining.
Q: What about the proxy servers?
A: The proxy servers are up. However, the connectivity update does not use them. A subsequent one will but the proxy servers won’t be useful until we solve the “flakey” issue I mentioned earlier but many people who think they will need a proxy server may find the update works for them.
Q: What about Pantheon and Skirmish?
A: The plan is that people who don’t have much experience will have bots in their games and people with experience will only play against other humans. This determination is based on who is selected as “host”. We want to make this more flexible in the future but we’re currently having the situation where new players like having bots and people who know what they’re doing don’t. When we do clan wars, bots will not be allowed at all.
More to come as the day progresses.
This evening we got an even newer build from Gas Powered Games that addresses the issue of Demigods not chasing after a target after using an ability. Since this change has been so heavily requested, we're going to integrate that into the beta build. Once we finish integration and testing, we'll begin distributing it to our server farms. We're still looking pretty good for this evening though - that's famous last words. -Brad