Thoughts on Super People's final beta

Thoughts on Super People's final beta

02/09/2022
design, super people, skill death spiral

Super People’s final beta just ended so I’ll go over my thoughts on it, which are a continuation of these two previous posts:

To summarize, in the first post I looked at the game’s design from a high level personality based perspective and gave my thoughts on how I thought the developers should have changed the game to make it more fun for a higher number of people. In the second post I went over the changes that the developers did make for the test session and how I thought they made the game better.

For this final beta the devs changed pretty much every high level suggestion I honed in in the previous posts, although their solutions were largely less aggressive than mine. To recap in more detail, my suggestions were as follows:

  • Class selection: change it so it can be chosen freely instead of being given at random
  • Levelling + passives: no change
  • Gear grinding (needing to find materials in game): remove entirely
  • Personal supply: no change
  • Armory: change so that it has more impactful upgrades and non-random weapon effects
  • TTK: keep it low or lower it, not originally something I suggested but that I realized was very necessary to add randomness (and thus increase retention) to the game

The general idea was to keep matches as pure as possible from a personality perspective, while sending all conscientious energy to what happens between/outside matches. The highly conscientious like building things up over time, grindy gameplay and consistency (as opposed to randomness), so removing gear grinding from each match and compensating that removal with things like letting players choose their classes, for instance, feels correct and like a harmonious change that makes every personality type happy and thus will appeal to a higher number of people.

Class selection changes #

The actual changes the devs made were the following. Starting with class selection:

Now instead of one class from the pool of all classes being given completely at random, your account unlocks more classes as it levels up. This solves one of the main problems I pointed to in my first post:

The highly open will be mostly breadth-first learners, since they like variety and exploration more, whereas the highly conscientious will be mostly depth-first learners because they are more process oriented and bordered and so on. This of course doesn’t apply only to learning, but to thinking, doing, etc.

When it comes to games this also matters, as if people are forced to play random classes instead of classes they want to play then as a designer you’re favoring the highly open at the cost of everyone else.

People want to be able to play a single class, learn how to play against other classes, get really good at it, and only then start venturing out into playing other classes. It’s just how a good portion of the population approaches things and there’s nothing that can be done to change this.

The majority of people learn by sticking to one thing, getting somewhat good at it, and only then venturing out and exploring more. A class selection system that forces people to play random classes flies in the face of this, and thus makes the game less attractive to those kinds of people (who are a majority).

The solution to slowly unlock classes as you play the game more, and thus to initially constrain the pool of available classes, is a middleground solution that doesn’t quite give players full control, but is definitely better than before and addresses the problem somewhat.

The only issue I personally had was that I unlocked all classes way too fast, in my opinion. Like, I played 3 matches and I think by that point I almost had everything unlocked, which shouldn’t really be how it goes for a new player. It’s possible I levelled up fast because I did well in those first 3 matches and thus got account XP way faster than a normal starting player does, but I don’t really remember it. Either way it’s an OK solution that directly addresses the problem.

Gear grinding changes #

As for crafting changes:

In the test session the devs decided to remove crafting entirely to see how the game felt. I thought that was good but they also needed to make some additional tweaks to drop rates to make it work better.

What they decided to do instead was to keep crafting, but make it simpler by simplifying crafting recipes, which makes the player need to find less materials overall. They also made finding materials (as well as capsules from what I could feel) easier, so the amount of “grinding” time required before you feel like you can engage in battles fairly has been reduced.

It’s hard for me to say if this is the right or wrong choice, but it’s definitely a middleground solution between both extremes of removing the system entirely and keeping it like it was before. I had a lot of fun with the way things were in this final beta so it can’t really be that bad.

Armory changes #

For the armory the changes they were made were these:

They did in fact add more impactful upgrades, but they didn’t go so far as to add non-random weapon effects. Now the way it works is that you can influence certain perks from appearing in the weapon based on which blueprints you use, which is another middleground solution between the extreme of pure choice vs. pure randomness like it was before.

TTK changes #

And for TTK the changes they made were these:

On top of bringing the decreased TTK from the test session, they also decreased defensive abilities on most classes. Personally I think the TTK from this final beta was perfect. These two weeks were the most fun I had with the game so far and I think in some important part it was because of this.

One of the things that decreased TTK does is that it makes the game more random. You can die more easily, but you can also kill more easily. This increases variance and thus gives less skilled players a chance against more skilled players.

For a game to thrive over time this kind of randomness is absolutely necessary, as if it doesn’t exist and more skilled players can consistently beat less skilled players, the game enters a “skill death spiral”, as new players can never get into it after the game has been out for some time, since they’ll never be able to beat the majority of the playerbase who has been playing for longer.

This means only skilled players play, and as skilled players get more skilled even the other skilled players that are still left decide to leave, and at some point there’s just not enough people to even start matches. I described this as something that happened with Battlerite Royale in my second post, and it seems like the devs also understand the dynamic given their changes.

The one thing that is in conflict with this is that the devs also want to make the game a serious competitive game with tournaments and so on, which means that they also want to reward skill more at some level. Given how they’ve been handling the game so far though I’m pretty confident that they can navigate this conflict properly going into the future.

Changes overview #

I initially read all of these less aggressive changes as normal big company risk averse kinds of decisions. This is a serious game made by serious people, so you can’t just go around abruptly changing the game too significantly left and right like I suggested.

I also often talk about how I think this kind of thinking is frequently wrong. How the middle ground solution is often a “toxic slow-burning pit of disillusionment”, and how often times in life there are situations where the correct course of action is either 0 or 1: you either don’t do something or you do it with full commitment, no room for anything in between.

This is an idea that has worked very well for me and that I see working very well for other people, so it’s just one of those things that I think are True about human existence. Given that this is the case, it’s obvious that I’ll also apply it to game design and prefer high level solutions that go hard one way or another.

All of this to say, my initial reaction to all these middleground changes right before the beta started was like: there’s nothing wrong here necessarily, but it kind of isn’t a good sign that they’re playing it this safe. Still, the game is pretty fun, it’s not like the changes are going to ruin it, so let’s see what’s up before judging it too harshly.

But it became obvious to me upon playing the final beta for like a few minutes that I made a huge mistake in my entire assessment of this game.

You see, my heart is so pure, my soul so untainted by earthly desires, that in both my previous posts as well as right up to before I played the final beta, I didn’t even consider the question of: “how are the devs going to monetize this game?”

I looked at the game’s design purely as a design problem and didn’t think at all about where money fits into it. It’s a BR, so it’s best if its free rather than paid, as it needs a huge playerbase. But it’s an extremely high effort game as well. I don’t know how big the studio that’s making this is but it’s certainly at least over like 50 people, which means they need quite a bit of money to bankroll the whole thing, which means they need to make it back somehow.

This is all obvious, yet it never occurred to me. I spent an entire post a few months ago defending John “they’re the biggest fucking idiots” Riccitiello and lightly bullying the indiedev/artist class for not thinking about money and how it ties into design decisions, only for it to turn out that I’ve made the exact same mistake.

And what can I say? I guess in my heart of hearts, when push comes to shove, I’m an artist too.

Now, most of the middleground changes the devs made were made that way with monetization in mind, and that became obvious once I played the beta because the devs also decided to test part of their monetization system during it.

Ticket monetization #

The primary way in which they seem to intend on monetizing the game is with the concept of “tickets” (I may be wrong about their intentions here, so take it with a grain of salt).

You get a bunch of these for free every time your account levels up, but once the game is out you’ll likely also be able to buy them on the cash shop. These tickets do many things, but the most important ones is that they let you open personal supplies without paying gold and also select a specific class that you want to play without paying gold.

Gold is in-game money that you find through playing that won’t be able to be bought in the cash shop. You can reroll your class two times before a match, each reroll costing 100 gold. Or you can pay 500 gold to select a specific class. You can also open personal supplies using gold, and the more items you put in the supply, the more gold you have to pay.

Each match you can find a maximum of 300 gold, so even if you play well and find 300 gold every match, you only have enough gold to reroll classes twice, but not enough gold to select a specific class every match. The same applies to the personal supply, you’ll never make enough gold each match to open a personal supply full of items every match.

This means that for those people who really really want to play only one specific class or always fill their personal supply with items, their only choice is to either flex a little and accept not doing those things every match, or pay for tickets with the cash shop.

Is this a good monetization strategy? I think so. This strategy implicitly accepts that the highly conscientious who don’t like randomness are a majority of players and then says “yea, they’re a majority, which is why we’re not giving them exactly what they want without adding the option to make them pay for it”.

If your goal is extracing money out of people who have it but don’t have time, let’s say the 25-34 year old bracket, then it’s a perfect strategy. Kids who have no money at all can still enjoy a very good free game and not really worry about paying anything for it, while those who don’t have time to grind things out can still play the exact game they want and relax for 2-4 hours every day after they come home from work.

And so with this in mind the changes that they made being middleground solutions retroactively makes sense. For instance, if you’re going to entirely remove crafting, which is something the highly conscientious like, you need go give them back something else. But if you want to primarily monetize the highly conscientious, then what they want shouldn’t be given out for free, which thus constrains your ability to remove things like crafting entirely.

So the solution to simplify it and make it a bit less grindy while also not giving out direct class selection is one that is harmonious when you recontextualize it with monetization in mind. Which means that their solutions weren’t like this because they were playing it safe, but simply because they also needed to take the monetization variable into account.

Skin monetization #

The game also features skins that players will be able to buy on the cash shop. And their system for it will look something like this:

Now, I haven’t seen a system like this in any other game, but it seems like it’s some convoluted gacha/lootbox degeneracy. If this is the case then this is probably where they’ll make most of their money, so am I going to judge it too harshly? Not really.

It’s a good game, they’re good devs, they need to make money. It is what it is. If I were in their position and made a game this good I’d probably hire some insanely psychotic gacha mobile devs to figure out how to do an extremely good job of monetizing it because it’d be a waste to do it poorly and have the game fail because of a small detail such as “it’s not profitable”.

Ranking #

Now for some final thoughts on the more competitive aspects of the beta. I managed to get global rank #61 by the time the beta ended, but I don’t know if this is actually an achievement or not. The reason for this is that the ranking system feels kind of grindy and like it rewards the wrong things. I guess every ranking system needs grind, but this one feels like it particularly rewards grind and conservative playing more than skill.

The way ranking works is somewhat simple: the better you do in a match, the more points you get. If you get to the top 10 you’re getting a bunch of points, if you get to top 5 you get more, if you win you get even more, and then you also get additional points if you get kills. For instance, someone with 0 kills that dies in position #5 might get like, 30 points, but someone with 2 kills that dies in the same position will get 60 points.

So you’re encouraged to get kills, but not too much, because if you die early, say, you died in position 32 out of 64, then you’ll lose some points. This dynamic gets more punishing the more you rank up. After you have 6000 points the maximum amount of points you can get per match is capped, and after you get 7500 its capped even further, such that if you die early in one 7500+ match you’ll have to make up for the loss by doing well in the next 2-3 matches.

What this does is that it rewards conservative playing a bit too much. This was extremely obvious in the tournaments, which used a similar scoring system. In tournaments pretty much everyone played super omega giga conservative of hell and only moved positions or engaged with anyone else when forced. This is not necessarily the biggest problem ever, and I personally prefer slower and more strategic type of gameplay, but it feels kind of wrong too.

I know for a fact that I’m not one of the best players around because even though I got a good rank, my KDA was 2.29, and out of curiosity I looked at the KDA for most other top 100 players and I’d say 4 out of 5 times it was higher than mine. Now, KDA isn’t the only thing that matters in this game obviously, but some people have a KDA of like 8 or 10, which is just completely on another level and those people should probably consistently be ranked above me regardless of how much more I play than them.

At the same time you don’t want to reward people for kills too much because then you sort of kill off more strategic and high IQ types of playstyles, which also has the added problem of rewarding pure mechanical aim a little too much, which also feels wrong for a BR like this.

I described this problem and its consequences already in the TTK section of this article, but another place where this comes up is the TPP vs. FPP debate. Now, whichever one you prefer, it seems clear to me that FPP rewards more aggressive playstyles, since everyone has less information and thus players are less punished for being aggressive. This also leads to it rewarding pure mechanical aim a little too much, which contributes to the “skill death spiral” problem. This is primarily why I think FPP modes die first when a game offers both, which is what happened to PUBG.

All of this to say, it seems like a hard problem to solve in any concrete way. What the devs said they wanted to do was increase the TTK a little, which would directly reward skilled players more and punish conservative playing, but which would also make the game less fun for a higher number of lesser skilled players. I’m not sure if I can think of a solution that both punishes too conservative playing without rewarding skilled players too much and potentially leading to a skill death spiral. Hard, interesting problem to consider.

END #

But yea, these were my thoughts on the final beta. Doing this exercise and analyzing the game this way over these 3 posts was interesting because these kinds of high level design decisions are both the easiest and most impactful ones you can make when designing a game.

They are the easiest because choosing between high level design decision X or Y takes no effort other than thought, and they are the most impactful because they are high level decisions, so everything is impacted by them.

This combination of both easy and impactful tells me that if I want to be a good designer I need to be able navigate this space of decisions effectively, which means that I need a framework of thought that allows me to cut through incorrect decisions quickly and correctly.

It doesn’t matter what the framework is - and every designer is going to have a different one - the only thing that matters is that it consistently leads me to good decisions in this space where pretty much every decision is possible (since it takes no effort to go from decision X to decision Y).

Personally I think that analyzing a game’s design using personality traits is one such good framework, which is why I’ve been using it more often and why I’ve used it for this game. And I think that it did a good job in leading me roughly in the direction that the game’s devs also went in, despite my mistake of not considering how monetization needed to be woven into the design.

So overall I’m happy with how this exercise went. And I’m also happy with the game’s state and its devs. This is easily the most fun game I’ve played in years and I’m really looking forward to playing it more. Good job to the devs and I hope it does well when it releases!