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行业人士谈悄然成功的《星际战甲》所带来的启示

发布时间:2021-07-06 15:34:14 Tags:,

行业人士谈悄然成功的《星际战甲》所带来的启示

原作者:Will Luton 译者:Willow Wu

《星际战甲》可能知名度并不高,但它确实是一款成功的产品,让我们看到了一款优秀的PC/主机F2P游戏应该是什么样的——高品质、流畅的游戏玩法、hardcore机制和让玩家满意的盈利策略。

Unreal的合作开发商Digital Extremes在2013年发行了《星际战甲》——那时候他们已经濒临破产,这是工作室的最后挣扎。游戏发行最初的几年反响平平,但是在过去六年,《星际战甲》悄然增长,移植到主机平台后又增加了一些新特色(PS4、Xbox One还有现在的Switch)。根据SuperData的数据,《星际战甲》2018年的营收平均同比增长了27%,达到了1.825亿美元。知名度高得多的《命运2》2019年的收入大约是3亿美元,可以说《星际战甲》的收入是可以与之比肩的。

《星际战甲》在发行时没有大肆宣传,再加上其增长过程悄然而又缓慢,这就意味着我们很多人都错过了这个游戏。更进一步地说,我们也错过了这个独特游戏带给我们的经验教训。

1. 马拉松式旅程

Digital Extremes在《星际战甲》这个项目上主张的是精益原则,主设计师Scott McGregor表示最初发行的游戏是“能做出来的最小可玩版本”。GameSpot给游戏打出了6/10的分数,表示令人失望。但是经过六年的持续优化提升,评测团队最近把分数升到了8/10。

这次的重新打分将人们的注意力吸引到《星际战甲》最显而易见的经验教训上:即开发服务型游戏是一个漫长的持续优化过程——至少对那些成功的游戏来说是这样的。事实上,《星际战甲》的成功很大程度上不仅是因为游戏本身的质量,还有更新速度和频率。在五年多的时间里,吸引玩家不断回到游戏中(并消费)的正是频繁加入的新内容和新玩法。从商业角度来说也是非常合理的,毕竟留住现有玩家所需的成本比获取新玩家更低。

这种发行模式也让Digital Extremes了解到了玩家的需求,让团队只开发玩家想要和需要的东西,避免创造多余的内容,节省了开销。玩家与开发者之间的紧密配合也衍生出了一个真正在意产品发展的、愿意参与其中并提供帮助的社区,最后也正是他们促成了《星际战甲》的病毒式传播,赋予了这个游戏新的生命。

world of warplanes(from gamesindustry)

world of warplanes(from gamesindustry)

2.游戏增长源于社区增长

“我们想要在alpha阶段就深入玩家当中……我们想知道问题在哪里……结果就是我们我无时无刻不在关注论坛。”——Live Ops & 社区总监Rebbeca Ford

Digital Extremes与玩家群体的共生关系从《星际战甲》的早期就存在了,开发者通过论坛、直播答疑和电子邮件与玩家进行讨论。

《星际战甲》最具标志性的特色之一“跑酷式移动”就是得益于两方之间的紧密纽带。玩家之前发现了一个可以利用的bug:中断跳跃的同时衔接上另一个动作,这样Tenno(也就是他们的游戏角色)可以在地图上飞跃很远的一段距离。后来有很多玩家都用上了这种移动方式,但是这种滥用影响到了游戏平衡,开发者必须加以修正。《星际战甲》团队并不是简单地打了个补丁,而是倾听玩家的意见,决定加入一个更可控的移动方式。这样一来,《星际战甲》的游戏感觉就彻底被改变了,但是社区的玩家也感受到了开发团队有在认真倾听他们的意见。

与此同时,Digital Extremes也遇到了困难:传统PC游戏媒体不愿意报道F2P手游。还好有社区玩家的共同帮助,YouTube上有些知名游戏主播开始试玩《星际战甲》。正是这一阶段为游戏创造了病毒式传播,也成为了《星际战甲》持续增长的重要助推力。简而言之就是,发展一个支持你的作品并会积极参与到游戏中去的社区,他们会成为你的免费“传销员”、帮助你获得影响力人群的认可。因此,聘请一个经验丰富的社区运营专家、根据社区的反馈重新调整开发方向都是非常关键的,这些方面非常值得你投资,可以给你带来很大的上升空间。

3.利用程序生成内容

在《星际战甲》开发早期,基干员工意识到维持服务型游戏的长期运营需要依靠大量内容,于是团队做出了一个明智的决策:利用程序来建造关卡。游戏中的每个任务都是从模块中随机生成的,会产生特定的环境来配合的游戏特色。这种方法能够增加重玩深度:尽管是一样的任务,但每次玩的时候你都能获得不一样的体验,由此鼓励玩家反复重玩,不会让他们觉得自己是在机械式地刷资源。

巧妙设计的程序生成内容能够让小团队创造出有宏大感的游戏,还能衍生出应变式玩法——游戏机制意外碰撞,产生意想不到的花火。最擅长用这种设计的就是《矮人要塞》——一个玩法值得载入史册的游戏,尽管开发团队只有两个人。

虽说《星际战甲》吸引到了很多玩家,开发团队也扩大到了数百人,但他们依然还在使用程序生成方法。动态难度扩展&平衡也是频繁应用的策略之一,突显了Digital Extremes即使在庞大的团队规模背景下也会继续坚持精益原则。
4.不要回避复杂性

“人们是很聪明的,他们看到《星际战甲》就能够感受到游戏的复杂程度,他们有预感这个游戏需要投入一定的精力。“——游戏总监Steve Sinclair

《星际战甲》和《矮人要塞》的另外一个相似之处是对复杂性的坚持。在一个由简洁&易上手的手游占主导的拥挤市场中,《星际战甲》果断放弃了跟随大流。为了提高上手门槛,团队替换了常见的游戏术语:比如用Tenno代替游戏角色,用战甲代替皮肤。

所以大部分玩家都会望而却步,但对于某些玩家来说就是香饽饽。你会发现游戏中有各种各样策略,需要努力去理解它。这种快速筛选高沉浸玩家的方法劝退了其它类型的玩家群体(尽管Digital Extremes确实有在努力优化上手体验)。

使用这个方法的还有其它很多游戏,包括对玩家极其不友好但依然非常成功的Game of War及其衍生游戏、EVE Online、还有许多亚洲畅销游戏。对于适合的玩家来说,复杂性并不是他们享受游戏的障碍,而是享受的原因。

5.设计适合的Pay to Win

《星际战甲》的F2P模式做得非常好,这是社区成员一致认同的。作为一名资深的F2P产品经理,我想着这款游戏的盈利方式应该是比较温和的。但是通过拆解《星际战甲》F2P设计结构,我发现了两件事:1. 盈利深度很可观 2. 游戏是pay to win。

《星际战甲》的玩家可以在游戏中购买物品,比如付费皮肤——游戏中的圣装版战甲,它们能够提供绝对的竞争优势。这种F2P策略在PC或者主机平台通常是被视为不可取的。那么,为什么《星际战甲》不仅没有招致不良后果,反而还得到了玩家的认可呢?

要回答的话有以下几个点:

1. PvE内容:尽管有PvP模式,《星际战甲》的重心还是在PvE合作上,也就是说玩家永远都不会成为直接竞争关系。一方花了钱并不会直接让另一方陷入劣势。
2. P2P经济:玩家彼此之间是可以进行交易的。时间充足的玩家可以选择花时间刷材料然后再转卖给资金充足的玩家,这样一来只要你愿意投入,几乎所有物品都是有办法获得的。
3. 用户支持:最后一点就是Digital Extremes非常关注玩家的反馈,他们已经砍掉了好几个玩家反对的盈利机制。这就让玩家对游戏产生了好感。

所以,Digital Extremes摒弃了零和玩法,允许玩家通过合理刷资源获得内容,同时密切观察玩家反馈,从而获得竞争优势并保持积极的玩家情绪。反过来这又给了开发团队拓展内容深度的机会,游戏的魅力远不止于各式各样精美的装饰品。

6.类MMO风格

可能在大多数人看来,《星际战甲》并不能算是MMO游戏。为了坚持精益原则,过去六年《星际战甲》开发团队在核心游戏的基础上构建了一个类MMO框架:部落、枢纽世界、可定制的私人空间和类似突袭的任务,这些都添加了重要的社交元素,促使玩家之间的建立联系,拉高游戏的长期留存率。这也让游戏更有生气,最重要的是,让玩家有了自己的观众。

正如2006年发布的论文“Alone Together?”中所描述的那样,这群观众鼓励了各种玩家行为,包括炫耀装饰品、愿意参与竞争、刷任务。

成为MMO游戏并不是一个二元化的选项。明智地挑选受MMO启发的游戏特色,而不是执着于去创造一个永不停息的世界,这将让你的游戏获得更长的生命周期。

7.开拓自己的道路

对我来说,我从《星际战甲》中学到的最重要的一课就是Digital Extremes通过非常规策略实现成功——这或许是出于必要,但自身的信念肯定也是重要支柱之一。它并不属于任何一种传统类型:独立团队制作的3A水准射击游戏,奇特的科幻主题、内容复杂,又跟PC平台的MMO游戏有些相似。这样的设定很有可能会变成一个混乱的产品,但Digital Extremes确实将这些元素搭配得非常好,让《星际战甲》成为了一个富有吸引力而又奇特的游戏。

《星际战甲》的成功凸显出了这样一个事实:相比以往,游戏行业现在有接近无限条通往成功的道路。而这种悄然成功的案例将鼓励我们这些游戏开发者在观察趋势的同时尝试非传统做法。但《星际战甲》带来的最重要的启示应该是大胆构建创意愿景,创造出意想不到的游戏。

本文由游戏邦编译,转载请注明来源,或咨询微信zhengjintiao

Warframe is a silent success that has defines what a free-to-play PC and console hit can look like: High production values, slick gameplay, hardcore mechanics and monetision that keeps players happy.

Launched by Unreal co-creators Digital Extremes in 2013 – as the studio’s last ditch attempt to save itself – the title was met with mediocre reception. But over the last six years Warframe has grown quietly, layering features while porting to PS4, Xbox One and now Switch. According to SuperData, Warframe’s revenue has grown an average of 27% year-on-year, reaching $182.5 million in digital revenue across 2018. A figure which is comparable to the significantly higher profile Destiny 2’s estimated $300 million for 2019.

Warframe’s slow, silent growth, with no release fanfare, has meant that the game has slipped so many of us by. And this stealth success means we may have missed the important lessons we can gain from such a unique game.

1. Run the Marathon
2.
Digital Extremes embraced lean principles for Warframe, with the game’s Lead Designer, Scott McGregor calling the initial release “the smallest thing we could get out”. GameSpot scored the game a disappointing 6/10 on launch, but following six years of constant improvement the review team recently upped the verdict to 8/10.

This rescoring draws attention to ostensibly the most notable lessons from Warframe: Developing service games is a long grind of constant improvement. At least it is for those that are successful. In fact, much of Warframes success can be traced not only to the quality of its releases but the speed and frequency. New content and new gameplay is what has kept players coming back (and spending) for over half a decade already. And this makes good business sense too, as keeping existing players is much more cost effective than acquiring new ones.

But light launching has also gained Digital Extremes insight in to it’s players wants and demands, letting the team build only features that are both wanted and needed, avoiding costly and unnecessary development. This player-developer integration also builds a grassroots community with a sense of involvement and ownership over the product, which for Warframe has granted life-giving virality.

2. Grow Your Community to Grow Your Game

“We wanted to be in the thick of it in alpha… we wanted to see where the problems were… it had us glued to the forums” – Rebbeca Ford – Live Ops and Community Director.

Digital Extremes’ symbiotic relationship with its player base has been present from early in Warframe’s life, with the developers fostering discussion with players in it’s forums, streamed Q&A and via email.

This close bond resulted in one of Warframe’s most iconic features: The parkour-like movement. Player’s had found an exploit which broke jumping and allowed a player’s Tenno (their avatar) to ping great distances across the map. This movement became popular but was abusable and needed patching. Rather than simply patch the exploit, the Warframe team listened to players and decided to bring a more controlled implementation of the movement into the game. This change revolutionised the way playing Warframe felt, but it also made the community feel listened to.

During this same time Digital Extremes were experiencing difficulty getting coverage from a PC gaming press reluctant to cover F2P games. But the goodwill from the community spilled over in to YouTube where influencers began talking up the title. This early YouTube buzz created a viral impact which has been the backbone of Warframe’s on-going growth. Simply put, nurturing a community that supports your work and feels involved in your game will result in evangelism and influencer endorsement that feels genuine. Therefore, hiring experienced community professionals and reorienting development to be influenced by community feedback is a worthwhile investment with big upsides.

3. Leverage Procedural Content

Warframe’s early development featured a skeleton staff who understood the need to maintain a service game with lots of content. The team made a smart decision: Build levels procedurally. Each Mission inside the game is randomly generated from a tileset, with each set depicting an environment and supporting unique features. This approach allows for greater replayability depth as the same Mission can feel different each playthrough, allowing for mechanics that encourage players to revisit content without it feeling like mindless grind.

When well designed, “proc gen” can let small teams build games that feel vast. It can also allow for emergent gameplay as unintended mechanics bump up against each other resulting in unexpected scenarios. The king of this approach is Dwarf Fortress, a title that creates epic gameplay scenarios despite a development team of two.

Even as Warframe gained traction and the dev team grew into the hundreds, procedural approaches maintained. Dynamic difficulty scaling and balancing approaches are used liberally, highlighting Digital Extremes continues adherence to lean principles even at vast team sizes.

4. Don’t Shy Away From Complexity

“People are smart… they look at Warframe, they see that complexity and they smell that the game will require mental energy” – Steve Sinclair, Game Director (Warframe)

Another similarity to Dwarf Fortress is the game’s unflinching embrace of complexity. Released to the backdrop of an exploding mobile market driven by simplicity and accessibility, Warframe heaped on sprawling overlapping mechanics with abandon. To compound the inaccessibility further common gameplay terms were ignored; Tenno instead of avatar, or warframe instead of skin.

This makes playing Warframe daunting to a majority of players, but for some it’s a dog whistle. The initial exposure to complexity signals, rightly, that there’s a lot of strategy at play in the game but you’ll need to work to understand it. This quickly self-selects a subset of highly engaged players and, despite Digital Extremes’ efforts to improve onboarding, excludes everyone else.

There are many other examples of this approach, including the infamously bewildering but successful Game of War and its spinoffs, EVE Online and many of Asia’s top grossing titles. For the right audience a game’s complexity is not a hindrance to enjoying it, but the reason to enjoy it.

5. Do Pay to Win (Correctly)

One common sentiment from Warframe’s community is that it “does F2P right”. As a veteran F2P product manager this makes me flinch a little bit, thinking the game has a soft approach to monetisation. But from deconstructing Wargrames F2P model I’ve discovered two things: Monetisation is incredible deep and it is pay to win.

Warframe offers players the ability to purchase items, such as premium skins known as Prime Warframes, that offer strict competitive advantage. Something that’s commonly seen as a big no in PC and console F2P titles. So how does Warframe not only get away with it but also appear player friendly?

There are a few answers to that question:

1. PvE Content: Despite some PvP options, Warframe’s primary focus is on collaborative PvE meaning that players are never in direct competition. One player spending does not directly put another at a disadvantage.
2. P2P Economy: The game features a player to player economy that allows time rich players to grind for materials that can be sold to cash rich players, making nearly every item available to those willing to put in the graft.
3. Customer Service: Finally, Digital Extremes are extremely attentive to player feedback having rescinded several profitable mechanics due to player backlash. Again resulting in the generation of good will towards the game.

So, moving away from zero sum gameplay, allowing reasonable grind to gain content and observing player feedback unlocks the ability to charge for competitive advantage and maintain positive player sentiment. Which in turn allows for greater content depth and appeal than cosmetics alone could ever offer.

6. Be MMO-ish

Warframe is not what most would consider an MMO. But, in keeping with the lean theme, Warframe has built an MMO-like structure on top of its core game over the last six years: Clans, hub worlds, customisable private spaces, and raid-like missions all add the important social aspects that create deep bonds between players and generate long-term retention. It also makes the game feel alive and, most importantly, gives players their own audience.

It is this audience, as described in the excellent 2006 research paper Alone Together?, that drives a great deal of player behaviour, including the peacocking of cosmetics, willingness to compete and the impetus to grind content.

Being an MMO isn’t a binary option. Smartly picking and choosing MMO-inspire features, while stopping short of building a fully persistent world, will give your game a longevity that it wouldn’t otherwise have.

7. Forge Your Own Path

For me the biggest learning from Warframe is how Digital Extremes found success outside of convention, perhaps by necessity but definitely from the strength of its own convictions. The game fits no traditional mould: An indie created AAA, unrelenting complex, weird sci-fi, F2P PC MMO-like shooter. It’s could’ve been a mess, but there’s an incredible coherence to the game.

The success of Warframe highlights that now, more than ever before in our industry, there are near infinite paths to success. And that this silent hit should encourage us as game makers to build titles that observe trends as much as break traditional wisdom. But most of all Warframe should inspire us all to be bold in creative visions and make games that confound expectations.

(source:departmentofplay )


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