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Editorial: The Elephant in the NS2 Room

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  • Editorial: The Elephant in the NS2 Room




    Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a flurry of activity surrounding NS2. UWE announced that they would be funding a small team of CDT members to work on the game again in an attempt to reinvigorate the franchise and grow the number of people playing the game.

    The announcement was met with mixed emotions, and a great dollop of community drama to go with it. Along with the excitement and drama of the new announcement, a variety of new ideas have been hurled around by both the new dev team and community. At face value, it seems like any idea, as outlandish as they may be, aren’t completely off the table anymore.

    The new energy surrounding the game is welcome return to the buzz felt during the old beta days before release. However, the new activity and re-focus also raises many obvious questions about the future of the game and of the franchise.

    Given the new dev team only has 3 months to prove their worth so-to-speak, one can’t help but wonder what they can possibly do in the space of 3 months towards the ultimate goal of growing the community. We’ve seen many posts by Hugh and others attempting to answer this by stating that these first 3 months will be setting up the framework/tools for community driven content as well as lowering the entry points for newcomers to the game and improving the user experience to retain players.

    This is all well and good and has merit, but it still does not address the elephant in the room - why are UWE trying to reinvigorate a game that is 3 years old? (more if you count the beta and alpha periods). Why not simply use this period in time to lay the foundations for NS3 and release all of these new innovative ideas under a new skin, which is fresh with none of the pre-conceived biases that come with NS2?

    We all know that the game is at its lowest player count since launch. We also know through various UWE comments that the game has sold many copies through steam. So it would seem odd that UWE is trying to lower the entry point for new players when a seriously large amount of people already own the game.

    You might argue that by working on improving the user experience for new players and new player retention, UWE is also in turn targeting past players at the same time and making it easier for them to come back and try the game again. Unfortunately, this line of reasoning doesn’t stick. Gamers are fickle people – especially FPS gamers. They are very particular about what they play, and first impressions are often lasting impressions. It would require a herculean effort to get these players to reinstall the game, let alone spend extended periods of time playing it, especially when there is no guarantee that player numbers will increase to healthy levels.

    From a marketing perspective, you can offset this difficulty if you have a large amounts of money to spend on things like tournaments, advertising etc, but UWE has none of these at its disposal. It is relying on world of mouth and the quality of the product itself to do so. It also doesn’t have the gravity that brand such as Valve or Blizzard has, so convincing people that UWE, an indie studio, has managed to turn around NS2 into something they might like to play again 3 years later is an uphill battle.

    We might also like to believe that people who play NS2 are different from those who play CoD or Battlefield or any of the other large franchises, but the reality is, we have all been preconditioned by these publishers and studios to want something new and buy into the short development cycle of the industry. There are exceptions to this rule, but if we are to try and draw in more new players to the game, we have to concede that there are indeed players out there that are more likely to try out NS3 than a rehashed NS2, simply because it is a new game with a new shiny label.

    At the very least, NS2 needs a big relaunch, or an expansion pack of sorts to be relevant again. Whilst the new development team has been trying to argue the case against monolithic updates, at least one large update is needed to create noise about the game’s new features and improvements.

    But even a big relaunch of NS2, at least in my opinion, would not be the best option. It’s a kind of middle ground option that would attempt to mimic the success that TF2 had when it relaunched. Speaking of which, the TF2 relaunch worked due to several reasons – the fact that it was valve doing it, the fact that thousands of people were still playing it and that fact that valve could support it going free to play all made that transition a successful one. This scenario seems unlikely to occur for NS2, which brings me back to NS3.

    NS3 doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t need to be a brand new game with tonnes of brand new mechanics that feel completely different from NS2 or NS1. It just needs to take the best of what was in NS2, fuse it together with stable performance and the great new ideas that have been making the rounds and sell at a price point that isn’t unreasonable. It also makes more sense from a fiscal perspective as well – the potential income from a new NS game means that UWE could support paying more CDT members, as well as dedicating more resources to improving the game.

    The NS community has always been a generous and supporting one despite what some might say; The NS2WC was proof of that. The DLC packs were proof of that. The passionate discussion in the official forums, the various competitive leagues like the ENSL and AusNS2, some of which are still going, are proof of that. People want to support this game, and they want to help it grow, because it’s honestly one of the most unique gaming experiences out there that we all love to play.

    So the question is, after 3 months from now, what will the future be for Natural Selection?

    • kid
      #9
      kid commented
      Editing a comment
      Originally posted by intrik
      They could re-invision NS3 using NS2 with a bunch of changes and additions to make sure that they keep a player base and keep the cash flow happening, without the whole "NS2 Stigma" and then just be done with it.
      I think a lot of people (including myself and Bonage) agree with you here, but the question Bonage is raising is why are we not even talking about NS3 at all and focusing on continued commitments around NS2. I believe that the next 3 months should really be a workflow/training exercise to get the new* NS dev team accustomed to working for the company and then a shift of development go into NS3. Whether NS3 is really NS2.5 as you described or a more major rework, I don't think it matters. What matters is that if the goal is to increase player-base and in turn significantly increase profit then either Relaunch/Rebrand NS2 (NS2.5) or start work on NS3.

      NS3's branding alone will give you a fresh product lifecycle. NS2's lifecycle feels like it is coming to a close and minor updates here and there are going to please us current players, but make little to no impact in actually providing a clean-slate platform for getting it out to the masses, the COD/Battlefield/CS types who we actually want to switch over to NS.

      Last edited by kid; 15-12-2015, 11:03 AM.

    • Mod
      #10
      Mod commented
      Editing a comment
      Honestly I'd prefer if they stuck to NS2.5 for a while.
      I'm not sure what kinds of numbers the new updates are supposed to pull; 1k-5k new players? But I'd just be happy with another 500 regular players. I think they can do that. I think that as many of us have said before most of the older people who wanted this game own it by now. Yet I think lowering the barrier to entry is supposed to target them rather than to make the game any cheaper.
      That said the story of NS2's supposed rise is probably going to compare to Hi-Rez's attempt to resuscitate Tribes: Ascend.
      Both companies left these games a number of years ago, announced no plans to continue development (slight divergence with the CDT or Hi-Rez's refusal for mod support). Then in Hi-Rez's case they announced a return in September and published their first huge game update in 2 years with little marketing push last week. Looking at the steam charts we can see that Tribes has gone from a nightly peak of ~150 players with dips to ~50 to a peak of over 400 players with dips to ~250. Now there's no real promise that those numbers won't balance out to pre patch levels seeing as it's so early. But even a net gain of 50-100 players is comparatively healthy for that game. I think the NS2 community is more lively so maybe the net gain will end up being 100-200 players more. But I think that'll be fine for a fairly moderate investment over the course of say 9 months to continue to sustain more players in NS2 than there were 6 months ago.

      I want development in NS3 to happen but as a few of you have said it's going to take a lot of time, people, and resources, moreso than UWE can support right now with their other projects active. Maybe pre-production is already being started? Someone in UWE could be writing the NS3 design doc right now. But we're still likely talking about a year or more of development before release.
      Bonage is right that this game lives and dies by it's marketing. We've been at saturation point for games for a good few years now; so much that it's not enough that you have a good game available any more. Big games with large reaches, the types that I see a lot of people comparing NS2's audience to, have marketing budgets that at times dwarf their development budgets. But I think that UWE has traded on it's built in audience of NS1 vets and new converts for too long to just announce a standstill of efforts on NS2 for an eventual release of NS3 in 1-3 years (I'm being optimistic with that time frame). I think the series will end up healthier if by the time NS3 comes around the community has been shown a positive effort in modestly reviving NS2. Besides in 1-3 years when everyone is playing Overwatch/CS:GO/etc how many will come back to the promise of NS3 knowing how NS2 fared, especially near the end?

      I think it's good to talk about the elephant, and maybe we should kill some of the sacred cows of what NS2 is thought to be (removing commanders, cysts, other pve, or pvp elements/scrapping NS2 totally). But I think at least for now UWE's committed to trying to revive NS2 for the next few months or risk damaging their credibility. I'm thinking of Dev's like Double Fine when I say that. DF soured a lot of people with a scrapped early access game and troubled development with other crowdfunded games. I know a lot of our community has been soured/fatigued by constant revive attempts and/or drama But some of that narrative could well be lost on people that haven't paid attention to NS2 since 2013 and only get the news from random articles on games websites; their picture from that could just be that UWE gave up on their active game to find more money on a newer version (which y'know isn't inherently bad, but I doubt most people will see that charitably).

    • intrik
      #11
      intrik commented
      Editing a comment
      Originally posted by kid
      I think a lot of people (including myself and Bonage) agree with you here, but the question Bonage is raising is why are we not even talking about NS3 at all and focusing on continued commitments around NS2. I believe that the next 3 months should really be a workflow/training exercise to get the new* NS dev team accustomed to working for the company and then a shift of development go into NS3. Whether NS3 is really NS2.5 as you described or a more major rework, I don't think it matters. What matters is that if the goal is to increase player-base and in turn significantly increase profit then either Relaunch/Rebrand NS2 (NS2.5) or start work on NS3.

      NS3's branding alone will give you a fresh product lifecycle. NS2's lifecycle feels like it is coming to a close and minor updates here and there are going to please us current players, but make little to no impact in actually providing a clean-slate platform for getting it out to the masses, the COD/Battlefield/CS types who we actually want to switch over to NS.

      I think you hit a spot there. Look what did they with CS, as soon as they removed any "ties" to age or link to another tie, suddenly it's age has made no problems at all for player base or longevity.

      CS 1-1.6 still had numbers: Numbers=age=things die
      CS:Source tied to source engine=tied to source engine release date
      CS:GO: No ties. It's just.... CS.......GO..... ageless

      I think if they want a good business model they need something that doesn't age so easily. Numbers and years have an awful representation of age. Such as "oh.... you're STILL running Windows 7" is the same thing as "oh...... you're STILL running Windows from 2009" has a very different ring to it.

      Same with movies as well, in the 90s it was common: Max Max, Max Max 2, Die Hard, Die Hard 2, etc. If you notice now that movies don't have numbers they use sequences of events or titles. CS:GO is equivalent to Captain America:Winter Soldier, as CS 1.6 is equivalent to Die Hard 2.

      NS3 will have the same stigma in years to come, as NS2. See?





      Keep NS2 as is, rework is, re-brand it, remove the numbers so age is ambiguous, figure out how to keep cash flow happening, without hardening the product so much that people leave. However that could be possible I do not know, I don't make games or justify business models around that so I wouldn't have a clue.
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