Alteil’s first full year has come and gone, and left things ever different from when it started. In terms of site traffic, users and income, things are looking up. Last month was our best in Alteil history, and it’s even possible we’ll be in the black by the end of next year. The server now has over 81,000 registered accounts, although the mileage you can get out of that number may vary (I think the average user has at least 4, and there was this one guy who made over 100 accounts in one day just to see if I’d notice.)
The biggest event of last year was the August upgrade, where we changed out the back end of the game, resulting in better stability, and the front end, resulting in dual spectating, NPCs and the Demo. After about a week that went from “this is awesome” to “this is normal, I can’t believe we survived at all before this point.” This upgrade resulted in a permanent bump to our retention rate, but also a bit of a hit to our number of new users per day (anyone who decided the game wasn’t for them after the Demo, I suppose). Not only did the retention of level 1 users increase, but user retention across the board. Even our strange level 10 quitting rate started to decrease slowly but steadily after that point.
We learned a lot this year, especially about getting new users and advertising. For example, web advertising and then going to small conventions or large niche conventions is good. People see our booth and say “Hey, Alteil. I think I’ve seen an ad or something for them somewhere. Let’s go check them out.” Going to big general gaming conventions is bad. People see our booth and say “Hey, Alteil. I think I’ve seen an ad or something for them somewhere. Let’s go check out other games that aren’t out yet.” If you’re past Beta, big gaming conventions are not a place to be. Everyone has a very limited amount of time and they can’t waste it on something they could just play by going to your website. Also, big expensive ads on mainstream sites were getting us great traffic, but we do better with cheaper, more targeted advertising. Hopefully we’ll be able to take these lessons into next year and keep Alteil growing.
So what’s new for 2010? I’m sure someone’s excited that my year-end excel sheets to the bosses will involve a few less red bars than last year’s, but 2010 is the real reason everyone is reading this. Planning out the year overall, we need to consider that now we’ve got 6 Sets out, it’s time to think about slowing down the card releases just a bit. At 4 Sets a year, we’re going to catch up to the Japanese sooner rather than later. Although, I am thinking about more than one EX Pack per Set. I just need to find a way to stop that from messing up my numbering… Anyway, instead of more card Sets, (which are like a temporary boost of adrenaline to the game) we’re going to look at the one thing that seems to permanently affect our numbers: features. This looks like a good opportunity for a list…
-Lavato Heroes – No. Really, this is a no. Call it an un-announcement. Those of you who follow the Japanese game at all know that Alteil has a companion game called Lavato Heroes, it’s that green ‘Coming Soon’ button on the My Iczer page that’s been there since we launched. It’s like this, I know the game has its fans, but personally I’m not crazy about it. Also, since it was designed as an alternate game to Alteil, it doesn’t really work with Alteil at all (even Mirage Master works with Alteil because it gives you Gran and helps you memorize the cards). Of course, the big reason is time. Every card has an Alteil version and a Lavato Heroes version. That means redesigning and rebalancing every card from scratch. Personally, I’d rather spend that time making Alteil the best it can be for everyone. Maybe some other time, but for now don’t worry about it.
-Napoleon – Hopefully first quarter. Napoleon is another mini-game like Mirage Master that goes alongside Alteil. Unlike Lavato Heroes, this one is a lot less work for us. Basically, as an alternate way to earn Fight Money, you can play the traditional card game, Napoleon (I’m not going to recount the rules here, Wikipedia is your friend), with your Alteil buddies. Of course, there’s some Alteil art and other Alteil-style surprises thrown in, but that’s basically it. Nothing huge, but it might also draw some other casual players to the site and it does have the added bonus of being a team game, so for once you can actually do something as a team in Alteil.
-Organized Play – Second Quarter or summer. This year has taught me two things, Organized Play needs to happen, and no one here has the time it takes to deal with it properly. Right now my tentative plan is to try to get an Organized Play Intern, maybe paid in Gran at first and hopefully money later, who could handle it (living in NY not required (although it could help), but I think I’ll have to require living in the US). There will be prize support, but no programmer support until all the other projects on this list are done (meaning we’ll be making do with the training arena). Although, on the plus side I did figure out a kludge that would let us do random packs in the Tournament Arena, but where you get to keep the higher-rarity cards. It should work a little like a Magic Tournament that way.
-Premium Features – First quarter. Premium Features include match Replays and more Card File slots. I believe there is also an increase in the available length of things like friend mail and chat, too. The idea is to have benefits available that do not translate into a direct game advantage, like buying cards. The plan is to give them to paying players, and also free players will be able to access them for a limited time. The exact details we don’t have complete control over, because this is a feature we’re porting over from the Japanese game (although we can tweak some things, so for those of you who read Japanese, don’t expect it to be exactly the same as theirs).
-Beginner’s Packs – Throughout the year. The numbers on these were really good, not necessarily in terms of profit, but in terms of spreading out the spending over more users. We’ll definitely be doing more of them this year (yeah, yeah, they’ll include Skeleton Warrior this time). I’m not sure about permanent, but they’ll be up for long stretches and probably taken down when there is the possibility of being out-dated in the near future. After the Set 6 Gold Boxes come down we’ll run the numbers on that, and if they’re as good as I think they were, you’ll be seeing them again, too. I’m also planning to try and crunch numbers for my next shop experiment, probably Gold Packs.
-Lupos’ Watchdog – Mostly done, not yet implemented. It may surprise you that while we’ve been working on EX 5, Set 6 and all our contests, we (by “we”, I mean Lupos and Edgar) have not exactly been sitting on our backsides in the development area. As I’ve said before, the main game module is not exactly something we can just monkey around with whenever we want. We have tools for adding stuff to the shop and adding cards and all that, but the main game module is complicated, finicky, and runs entirely in processor-heavy Flash, so you don’t want to add anything to it unless you really, really mean it. But it turns out that most of the things we want to do involve stuff in the actual game. To make this possible, Lupos has been writing some code that runs entirely on our server and basically just “watches” the databases, and as the Flash runs along its merry way and makes changes to the databases, Lupos’ program checks out the changes in the databases and uses it to figure out what’s going on in the game. It can then react to what’s happening by running other code, or interact with the users by sending them in game mail. So, for example, if you find a strange mail in the Mail Tab that says “I’m watching you. I know you just got a 10 game winning streak with Primclone against players half your level. Shame on you” That’s probably just us testing.
-Achievement System – 1st or 2nd Quarter. So what does Lupos’ magic program mean for you? Well, imagine one of the things it looks for is when you get, say a 5 game win streak for the first time. Imagine the mail it sends says “Achievement Unlocked: 5 game streak.” And imagine the other code it runs was some script to give you a reward, say a few Point Cards. That would be an Achievement System, and it’s one of our top priorities for next year (You know the drill, by “us” I mean Lupos and Edgar, although I call it “helping” when I hover between them anxiously while they’re trying to code – they love that). First of all, it means more ways to grind for Point Cards and other rewards for free players. Second, it means more ways to do interesting things with the cards you have for paying players. (Yes, someday you will be able to unlock the Achievement for scoring ten wins while having no cards in your deck except “Flying.”) Third, it means just more game for everyone, and lastly the Achievement System can be used to “make” other things. For example, a series of Achievements that must be gained in order would effectively be a poor man’s single player quest. In fact, our plan is to make a series of Achievements for level 1 players, each one sending an in game mail with details on the next one in order, to walk the player through the beginning of the game (First play an NPC, then play a real person, play Mirage Master, etc). We may even “launch” Achievements with only these Introductory Quest ones, since making 10 or so simple introductory Achievements is a lot faster than Lupos and Edgar making individual code for the big block of 30-50 Achievements that we’d need for a robust Achievement system. There also will be Achievements that may only be attainable for a certain amount of time. For example, we might want an achievement for playing with something interesting but probably disadvantageous, like playing with an all Martial Artists’ File, and if later Martial Artists become awesome (with the addition of Dandan of course), we might discontinue the achievement. (You’d still get to keep it if you already had it, although you may find yourself explaining to the new players why it’s such a big deal).
-Project X – Until this post, “Project X” is how I generally referred to the Achievement system. We’ve really been on and off working on it since early summer, and actuality Lupos’ watchdog code came about as a necessary step to make Achievements possible, not the other way around. So, from now on Project X is “whatever’s next.” As of now that’s not set in stone, but I’m pretty sure I want it to be something that takes advantage of our great content to make “more game” for lower level and free players. As many people have pointed out, a lot of our players have no contact with 90% of our cards, (except when they’re desperately trying to find a way to stop them.) I’ve been going through the suggestions in the forum, and something like a limited “File Rental” system might be good. I also like the Mini-boss idea, but in reverse. Maybe instead of high level players being mini-bosses, a low level player could take on the role (and the File) of a powerful and unusual mini-boss for a short time to challenge some high level players. (Note, I’m too tired to look it up right now, but if the above were originally your ideas, feel free to claim credit in this thread). Anyway, the content of Project X is not set in stone, but the intention (make more game content for low level and fee players) is decided. Oh, and when the content is set in stone it will probably be secret until we get working on it and get confident that we can actually complete it in a reasonable amount of time (What do you want? We’re insecure about these things).
-Project “Sun and Moon” – There’s probably a good reason why this list has TWO “secret” projects listed on it… oh, right because nothing’s as well planned as I’d like you to believe! No, wait… it’s because I like being mysterious. Yeah… mysterious. This is our second secret project, which is NOT directly part of the game. So if all you care about it is getting more out of the gameplay, this is not something to worry about. Still, it’s a cooperative project between the Alteil team and our parent company, Media Blasters, and if it comes together (it probably has a 25% chance of being completed at this stage) I think it’s something all Alteil fans will like. Or, maybe I just made it up so I always have a good excuse (Oh, right well… I didn’t get to reading the Forum threads about how our business practices are effectively selling all our user’s souls to Satan, because I was too busy, uh… working on Project Sun and Moon! Yeah, that’s the ticket…)
Whew! That was long. I don’t think I have enough left in me for an inspirational last paragraph. I’m sure if you all use your imaginations, you can picture a world where I tied all this together beautifully, perhaps with an uplifting quote from “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey” to really clinch it. Seriously, these plans set our course for the first half of next year. Our goal is to improve the game in ways we can feasibly implement as soon as possible, and bring out the best in Alteil. We couldn’t have come up with this plan without the suggestions from you, our users. Even suggestions that have not been incorporated directly, will have their effects on the end products of our efforts. I for one, I’m looking forward to the future of Alteil, and I hope you all are too.
"Scissors are overpowered. Rock is fine." -Paper