2022

2022

17/12/2021
snkrx, indiedev, ideaguying, crypto

In this post I’ll go over my gamedev plans for 2022.

SNKRX #

Updated stats:

In the end I ended up making about half of net revenue.

And even though I haven’t released an update in months it still has a good number of daily players.

SNKRX plans for 2022 are finishing the game’s rewrite and releasing more updates. I’ve had a solid idea of what I want the game to be for months now and it’s just a matter of executing faster, which has proven challenging, but I’ll get there eventually.

The only real decision I’ve had to make since last releasing an update has been to decide to not add the game to any Steam sales. As the game is already cheap enough I decided to save the 25k wishlists for later, since I intend on increasing the game’s price after I release more updates. There’s a chance that this is a bad strategy and that the older the wishlists get the less they’ll convert, but this seems like a good amount of risk to take to me.

Small game strategy #

As I mentioned in one previous post, going into SNKRX I had a plan of releasing small games that took 2-3 months to make and building up Steam followers over time. As of today I have 2K+ Steam followers,

so next year I want to test how effective these followers actually are. Theoretically they should be as effective as 2000 wishlists, since they’ll all get an e-mail whenever I release a new game. We have numbers on how much that number of wishlists should help a game’s release, so a simple test I want to do is make a game in 1-2 months and then release it silently. Don’t tell anyone about it, just release it into the Steam void and see if the 2000 e-mails perform better, worse, or about the same as expected.

If they perform significantly worse then it means that the strategy of building Steam followers over time is probably not a very good idea.

Risk #

Perhaps the biggest epiphany I’ve had this year has to do with risk. I’ve already went over it here and this series of tweets is a really good summary of it:

This is a lesson that I’ve been internalizing for years now but I guess SNKRX succeeding has made me think about it more and weigh it more heavily.

There are lots of situations where the correct decision is for you to either do something all in or to not do it at all. Doing it kind of half-assed is going to be the wrong choice because it will make you spend lots of resources for very low gains. One example from the article above is how much time you spend making each game, but this applies to everything, perhaps the most relevant to the world currently being COVID lockdowns.

With a lockdown you either want to do China style lockdowns that actually work or you want to do no lockdowns at all. The middleground, which most of the Western world chose, is going to be the wrong choice because it costs you something and it doesn’t really get you what you wanted to any reasonable degree.

People have a really hard time reasoning like this. Perhaps the “boolean property of biological security” confuses people in this particular instance, but I think that more generally people are just really irrationally risk averse, which leads me to

NFTs and artists I want to work with #

This whole NFT debate this year has redpilled me considerably on just how risk averse most people are. I’ve had multiple conversations with maybe 5 different artists about the subject and all of them refuse to have anything to do with NFTs for a myriad of reasons, despite clearly needing money.

It’s easy to imagine that they’re against it for all their stated reasons (cringeness, environment, etc), or perhaps more fundamental ones (agreeableness, status), but at the end of the day I think there’s also quite a lot of risk aversion involved. They simply don’t want to risk anything at all on something that might fail bigly.

And it’s clear to me now, after this year, that about 95% of artists are like this. One common counter argument I hear is: “why NFTs when you can just commission artists?”. And this sort of gets to the core of the issue, which is that most artists simply want to be safe. They don’t want to take risks, they don’t want to do something that might fail. I could even guess that most artist indiedevs out there would not have tried to be indiedevs in 2005 if they could because it was just too risky and not trendy enough yet.

I could conclude from this “Great, now that I have more money I can hire artists and pay them flat fees. They don’t want to take risks, I take some amount of risk that I’m comfortable with, and everyone wins!” But I’ve actually come to conclude the opposite. From my life experiences I’ve learned that you generally don’t want to spend too much time around people who aren’t on the same wavelength as you, and it turns out that overly risk averse people (most artists) are not on the same wavelength as me.

So going forward I’ve decided that if I ever work with an artist on making a game it will be only on a 50/50 revenue sharing deal (if it’s only 1 artist + me). If someone wants to work with me on something they should be willing to take on the risk that it will fail, and if they aren’t willing to do that then I don’t want to work with them. This seems like a small decision but I think it’s a really good filter for me going into the future. It will likely save me some time on potentially bad pairings, and it will also save me some money, so it can’t be all that bad.

Artifact clone #

I’ve been playing a lot of Artifact recently and I had a really good idea for an Artifact clone. Artifact has a few core problems:

  1. Too cognitively demanding
  2. Too many fake sources of randomness
  3. Not enough real sources of randomness
  4. Wrong economic model

High IQ #

Essentially, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Artifact. The main problem the game has is that it constantly asks you to reconsider the game state from scratch. With every opponent card played, you have to re-evaluate, against all cards in your hand, which one has the highest expected value across 3 lanes.

The game is built in a way such that it is not intuitive at all (perhaps only after hundreds of hours of play) what the best move is in any given situation. Sometimes the best move might be to do nothing, sometimes it might be to play something in another lane, sometimes it might to TP one of your heroes out. It really depends on the situation and you have to constantly rethink it for every game state.

One of the reasons why I personally can’t play that many Artifact matches in a row is because doing this for every card played really tires your brain out. I would point to this as the main and most fundamental problem the game has. Everything else that people complain about can eventually be collapsed into this, so this is the main thing that has to be solved.

But before solving this, it’s useful to look at the other problems first:

Fake randomness #

Artifact suffers from the problem of too many sources of both explicit and fake randomness. The best example of this are arrows. Any experienced player is not going to lose a match because of arrows, thus they’re a fairly low impact source of randomness. But they’re extremely explicit, since for inexperienced players they can give the impression of making or breaking any given match.

Inexperienced players need to understand why and how they’re doing something wrong, and for that to happen they have to get feedback from the game. When a game has too many explicit sources of fake randomness you end up creating too much noise for the player to figure out what he did wrong.

Maybe he lost because of arrows? Or because the shop didn’t give him a TP scroll? Or because his heroes were deployed in an unlucky position? Or because he didn’t get enough minions in the lane he needed? Experienced players will never lose because of any of these sources of randomness, as they’re all fake, but new players don’t know that, and they shouldn’t be expected to know it from the get go.

Part of good game design is slowly teaching people things over time, and here Artifact failed a lot. I personally enjoyed it because I like luck conquering environments, but it’s very clear to me now that most people just don’t enjoy that gameplay.

And while philosophically I think that games should be made so that they make players better humans along some dimension, and so if you want to make people better at conquering randomness you need to give them environments with lots of sources of randomness, I believe there are better ways of achieving that than what Artifact managed.

Real randomness #

Artifact also suffers from the problem of too few sources of both implicit and real randomness. For instance, poker is a game with implicit real randomness. Whenever one of the 5 cards is drawn, that obviously has an effect on the game’s outcome, and everyone accepts it implicitly because it’s literally one of the few rules of the game. Artifact doesn’t have a lot of high impact randomness sources like this that feel natural to players.

Perhaps the greatest offenders on this front are heroes. Not a single hero in Artifact other than Ogre Magi has a real source of randomness in his kit. Every hero design is extremely deterministic. If you know the game you might take some issue with this, what about Luna or Lich? Luna’s and Lich’s ults are great examples of fake randomness. You can easily count if the outcome of using the card is going to be favorable to you or not and then decide to play or to not play the card. Luna’s card even gives you a bonus for waiting for the right time, since it gets stronger over time.

A good example of real randomness would be a hero that has as its signature a card that makes the next card you play cost zero mana. So if you happened to draw this card first along with a Thunderhide Pack, you suddenly get a really OP round 1.

This feels unfair, but it does so not because this kind of implicit and real randomness is bad (people playing card games implicitly understand that getting a lucky initial draw happens), but because the game is designed such that big impact events like this don’t happen often, which means that on the rare occasions when they do happen they tend to tilt the game too hard, like when a Bounty Hunter spawns with Track, kills someone and then gets a Helm of the Dominator on round 2.

If these kinds of things were happening more often on both sides of the game, aided by cards designed to enable such things happening (as well as cards to protect against such events and a few other adjustements), the game would be way more random but also way more interesting. The reason why the game can’t be made like this though is because

Monetization model #

In my opinion, all card games have an incorrect monetization model. Personally I find no joy and I am not interested in collecting cards. This means that I only play draft, and that if I were to make an Artifact clone I would make it draft only.

One of the benefits of having a draft only game is that you can make individual cards way more OP and also way more conditional, because players can’t build specific decks with specific cards in mind. This opens up the design space for lots more cards with real, high impact randomness to them.

But if people are playing a card game and they can’t trade cards and it’s draft only, what’s the monetization model? The first thing to consider is that not every game needs a monetization model. This could just be… a game. But to make things more interesting, if I decided I wanted it to have one, it would go something like this:

People can buy card skins and other non-P2W items from a cash shop. The main difference here is that they would buy it using a crypto wallet. If someone already has a wallet they would connect the one they have, and if someone doesn’t have one the game automatically creates it for them. They can top up using credit cards normally and then pay using whatever cryptocurrency.

The point of this is that with such a setup there’s one thing you can do that normal games can’t do as easily: pay your players. Imagine that every other month there’s a global tournament where the top N players are paid with like 90% of the game’s cash shop earnings for those 2 months. That, to me, would be really cool and would give the game a real sense of competition, which I think really is a must in a 1v1 type of game.

Is it possible to do this currently not involving crypto at all? Probably. The problem is that you can’t send money directly to people’s accounts, so they’d have to use an external community site to actually sell their gains into real money. Whereas with crypto, because everyone that makes a payment has a wallet by default, sending money to people is very easy. On top of that you also get global payment processing for very small fees.

Pokémon-style gyms #

Another cool idea I had on top of this, although this one should probably be implemented after the game is already released and only if it’s somewhat successful, is the idea of Pokemon-style gyms. If the game has a global tournament every 2 months, you could imagine this being the equivalent of a Pokemon League tournament. To access it you need to collect 8 badges (these would be NFTs, hehe) by beating 8 gym leaders, and those gym leaders themselves would be in charge of running their gyms (could think of them as guilds) and defending their positions as gym leaders.

Because the game can pay players, these gym leaders would also be paid for being gym leaders, although it would be a fairly lower amount than top performers gain from the bimonthly global tournament.

Gym leaders can also be challenged, and there are smaller tournaments that run on some interval (either bimonthly or more frequently) where the winner gets to be the gym leader for that gym for that period. Being a gym leader is also recognized by the game from your wallet having a particular gym leader NFT, which means that like badges, you can also sell this position if you so desire, and given that it pays out a percentage of earnings from the game’s cash shop it would likely go for a fairly high price.

There would be a limited amount of gyms, obviously, maybe not 8, but 16 or so, and you’d be able to join the global tournament by collecting any arrangement of 8 badges. Because badges can be traded you’d be able to just buy them as well rather than fighting gym leaders if you wanted to, but that would probably not be a great idea since you’d just end up getting rekt at the final tournament.

For maximum memes the game itself could also be Pokemon-like. Instead of units being heroes and minions, they’re all just Pokemon-like creatures and each match you’re just commanding your army of Pokemon against another army of Pokemon. In the end this highly depends on what the artist I end up working with on this decides he/she wants to draw, but I think this particular idea would be fairly marketable.

Cards and skins #

As an aside, one of the things that I would also like to play with was perhaps making the game NOT a card game, despite its rules being the same as a card game. One of the things that comes with making a card game are the expectations of the TCG community, which is a community that in many ways is already set in their ways and less open to things that are too different, in my opinion.

So making the game something that looks and feels more like a strategy game rather than a card game would probably be beneficial. And it would also be beneficial from a cash shop perspective, because if units are actual units, like the Pokemon mentioned above, rather than cards, it’s way easier to sell cash shop skins for them.

Low cognitive demand #

Finally, now we get to the final point, which is how to exactly make the game less cognitively demanding. The first order of business is to remove half or more of all sources of fake randomness and either replace them with more impactful versions or just not have them at all. The exact details on this are pretty light because it depends on what feels intuitive, and what feels intuitive depends on how exactly I want to set up the game.

For instance, do I even want to have 3 lanes? You can achieve the effect of 3 lanes by having a somewhat wide strategy game like board where units have a range of attack and where they can only cast spells if there’s a mana source, be it a tower or a pylon or whatever, nearby. This, for instance, adds the possibility of mana sources themselves being units, like imagine it’s a huge battlefield and there’s those huge LoTR elephants carrying mana towers and allowing nearby allies to cast their spells:

This also opens up the possibility of, do I want the game to remain with depth of 1? In the sense that, do I want units to only be able to occupy 1D space horizontally, or do I want to be able to have backlines, and thus ranged attacks? This idea perhaps take the game very far away from Artifact itself, and from a card game too, but maybe it’s the right thing to do.

Artifact gave me the impression of being a fairly macro game, in the sense that to be successful at it you have to pay a lot of attention to some fairly subtle macro decisions. At the same time there’s a lot of micro level details that really matter. In a way I feel like the game is confused. In one moment you’re thinking about in which lane does this hero go and it doesn’t matter where they land or where their arrow points to (macro), and in another moment you’re having to worry about which equipment that specific hero is going to use on his health slot (micro).

I feel like a game that focused more on macro and that made micro matter less would probably get closer to the spirit of what I like about Artifact, which is essentially about being a general controlling an army and having to make complex decisions all the time and getting completely fucked if you make any serious macro mistakes.

Armies lose battles when their generals are unable to adapt to the situation.

— Legion Commander on maintaining poise

Summary #

To summarize:

  1. Draft only gameplay
  2. Less sources of fake randomness
  3. Hero and spell designs with a more aggressive mix of variability/randomness/impact
  4. Wide battlefield where units have attack ranges rather than 3 separated lanes
  5. Gameplay happens in 2D space rather than only 1D space
  6. Every player has a crypto wallet and can be sent payments from the game
  7. Frequent tournaments that pay out a % of the game’s cash shop earnings to top performers
  8. Community-focused Pokemon-style gym system as tournament entry mechanisms

This is a fairly big idea, and I’m definitely not going to work on even 5% of it next year due to SNKRX, but if I get even some small parts of it done I’ll consider it a pretty big success.

Crypto #

Every 4 years or so, generally whenever the price of Bitcoin is going up, I take a look at what’s going on in the crypto space to see if anything interesting has happened. I did it in 2013, 2017 and now in 2021 as well.

In 2013 there wasn’t much, it was just Bitcoin, and that was OK. The project is interesting, nice potential for the future, but all you could really do was move some coins around and that was it.

In 2017 Ethereum already existed and this picked up on some of the promises of “programmable money” from 2013 with the idea of smart contracts. Other than Bitcoin and Ethereum there were maybe 1 or 2 other projects that I also thought had potential but that was about it. It was still too early to build anything useful using the technology, and since I’m not interested in building crypto infrastructure I mainly stopped paying attention.

Starting at some point at the end of 2020 and at the start of 2021 NFTs started becoming big and once I understood what they were I immediately thought they were the only useful thing I’ve seen come out of the crypto space in years. Even though their starting example was awkward (collectible art?) the more general concept is obviously way more expansive than that.

But I didn’t look too much into then as I was busy with making SNKRX, I mostly played around with setting up a Tezos wallet and a profile on hicetnunc and thought it was cool but that was about it. Starting this October though I decided to go deeper to see what was really going on and I came out of it extremely impressed. Whereas in 2017 I could count the number of useful projects in 1 hand, this time around I needed about 4 hands. Here are 2 examples:

Arweave #

Arweave is a project that permanently stores your data in a decentralized network that can ensure this data is never lost. You could think of it as something similar to torrents, except that it fixes the common failure mode of torrents, which is that unpopular files end up getting lost because of no seeds.

The network is set up kinda like Bitcoin, where you have miners and miners get rewarded with a token that they can either hold or sell for profit. The difference being that miners in this case are running the hosting and serving of files that need to be stored, and more specifically, they are also incentivized to host unpopular files.

In Bitcoin, the miner who gets to mine a new block reached it by winning a lottery in solving a complicated math problem. In Arweave, the miner who gets to mine a new block has to have proof that he is hosting a random file chosen by the protocol. Because it’s a competition between miners, it pays off to host unpopular files, since there’s a lower chance that other miners will have it whenever it’s randomly chosen. This ensures that basically no file is ever lost. You can read about it in more detail here.

Helium #

Helium is a project that provides wireless internet coverage across the world. Similarly to Arweave, mining in Helium is actually providing a useful function, which in this case is providing an area with network coverage. You simply buy a Helium device, which is essentially a wifi hotspot, turn it on, and that’s it. There are lots of details to how it works exactly which I won’t get into here, but you can see the network’s state on this very cool explorer:

What Arweave, Helium, Render, Livepeer, Akash and so on, have in common, is that they’re all using mining, or sometimes staking, to solve an actually real problem and make that solution both economically sustainable in a decentralized manner, and also cheaper.

One of the main criticisms people have of Bitcoin’s energy usage is that mining it solves no real problem. This is obviously wrong because mining serves the purpose of securing the network, but I guess what they’re saying is that the network itself is solving no real problem. This is also wrong because decentralized global payments is obviously a useful problem to solve, but even supposing that it isn’t, it’s impossible to look at a project like Arweave or Helium or Render and say that they’re not solving a real problem.

It’s self evident that they are and that the way they’re solving the problem in a decentralized manner is only possible because they’re using the same incentive setups that Bitcoin does. So I’m very impressed by projects like this, and these definitely didn’t exist to any great extent when I checked the space 4 years ago.

Summary #

Essentially I’m really happy with how things are going in this space currently and unlike in 2017 it seems like there’s some real legs to it now. From a developer’s perspective it seems slightly too early still, so I’m not about to transition all my time into becoming a crypto developer or anything, but it’s probably a good idea to keep paying attention to what’s happening and to try to build something using some crypto technology.

As I mentioned in the Artifact clone section, one thing that I want to do is to integrate a wallet into that game, and that feels like an appropriate goal to have for next year. Just integrate a wallet into my engine and make it possible for someone to buy something with it, and for me (the game) to send money to their wallet. And also make sure that the UX/UI on that is as clean as it can be.

This feels like something very small but if I manage to do it successfully it essentially gives me global payment processing for very small fees, and without having to rely on Steam or any other service. I mentioned here that I want to make an MMO eventually and getting this done would be a small step towards making that a reality.

In general I feel like indie developers haven’t entirely woken up to the fact this new tech gives you both global payment processing and consistent data storage for free basically. Right now it’s still a bit too hard to use it and it’s still too early (trust me that I know how this sounds, since it’s been “too early” since 2013 basically), but in the next 5 to 10 years it will likely become commonplace for indiedevs to use this tech since the benefits are actually really positive. In the end, most users won’t even have to know that you’re using this under the hood since it will be seamless, just like they generally don’t know if you use Unity or Godot or whatever to make the game.

END #

So yea, that’s it. 2022 plans:

  1. SNKRX rewrite + updates
  2. 1-2 month long game to test Steam followers power
  3. Early work on Artifact clone
  4. Crypto wallet engine integration

At least this is what I have my mind on currently. I’m fairly impulsive and plan averse so I’m sure as the year develops I’ll change my mind on some of this and I’ll also get entirely new ideas that I’ll chase instead… It can’t be helped, it is what it is.

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